Winter storms can have a curious effect on a dedicated cyclist. Their greatest effect is to curtail riding. Whether it is snow, rain or something more ambiguous, any precipitation in cold weather makes riding less convenient at the very least, but has the ability to make it downright impossible for days at a time.
But for other sports, namely skiing and surfing, winter storms are the Promised Land, Christmas day, the prologue of the Tour de France. It’s times like these that I start thinking it’s time to broaden my horizons again.
Each of these sports shares some similarity in appeal. They require a fair amount of balance and coordination. They are also much easier to participate in if you have some fitness and strength. That’s why you never see zombie skiers, surfers or cyclists; they have mad strength, but terrible coordination.
Skiing—any variety of it—and surfing both have the advantage of being less equipment-intensive than cycling and, therefore, the potential to be less expensive as well. Yet for every feature that makes these sports attractive, I can think of a few reasons why cyclists are more fortunate. Now, given that you’re already reading this blog we can assume you are a dedicated cyclist and therefore need no sales pitch on cycling. However, a celebration, even at this time of year, of just how good we have it can’t really hurt.
The first and perhaps most obvious difference between cycling surfing and skiing is its lack of restriction due to geography or season. Surfing is confined to the coasts, so if you’re a waterman in Salt Lake City, yours is a life of ennui. Even if you live near the beach, there are plenty of days when the surf is just kind of eh. It’s even worse for skiers. Skiing is but a vacation endeavor if you live in Texas. But living near the mountains isn’t enough; the best ski areas are still open fewer than six months. Sure, there are wintery days when getting on the bike would be no fun, but there aren’t many places where you can’t ride at all for six months and terrain isn’t much of an issue. If there’s a road, you can ride.
My favorite feature of cycling is that it has the ability to be social in a way that skiing, surfing and virtually every other sport is incapable. Sheltered within the bubble of the peloton or just out on an easy ride with a friend, we can ride in close proximity, pedal and chat, all at the same time. Just getting close enough to another skier to speak while moving can be suicidal. I really cherish that ability to do and share simultaneously.
It’s true that straddling a surfboard and waiting for waves can be a great opportunity to catch up with friends. Similarly, the trip up on the lift is best spent chatting, so that you don’t focus on the cold. The problem for me is, compared to cycling, both of those periods are not doing. Compared even to soft pedaling deep within the group, that still counts as riding.
Here’s one of the unfortunate corollaries to cycling’s more social nature: With surfing and downhill skiing, much of the sport is about taking turns. While that’s a good way to learn social graces, it does hold the potential for conflict if someone doesn’t much feel like waiting their turn. Even getting a wave at a surf spot you are new to can be very difficult. I’ve never had someone tell me I couldn’t ride a road, though.
And whether you’re talking about downhill or cross country skiing, going downhill fast—as fast as possible—is rarely an option unless you’re in a race. Odd to say, but in cycling, many of my fastest descents came on roads I wasn’t racing. Even more frustrating for me was the fact that the steepest trails I most wanted closed during a cross country ski race—so that I could utterly rip them without fear pile driving another skier—never were used in races.
Let’s not forget the front door quotient, either. Being able to step out of my garage and swing a leg over my bike instead of having to load up equipment and drive anywhere from five minutes to five hours to enjoy my sport of choice really helps me maximize my time. There’s no doubt that Mammoth Mountain is worth the drive, but it really can’t be part of a practical daily regimen.
Ours is an opposite problem. We have the opportunity to do our sport too much, to overtrain. In some places, riding 365 days per year is possible; as a result, we actually have to choose days not to ride. If you make sure to take one rest day per week, that works out to about 313 days of riding per year. We never get that many days of riding, but it’s nice to know the 313the limitation is more inner than outer. Skiers and surfers can barely fantasize about so many days of their favorite sport in a year.
I’ve thought about what life would be if I, as a cyclist, faced the challenges found in other sports. What if I got a hostile reception on an unfamiliar road? What if I didn’t live near roads where I could ride? What if I could only ride during vacations? The reality is, I’d want a new sport.
That thought scared me, made me wonder if my devotion to cycling is less than a surfer’s who may wait years for a massive swell to hit his favorite break. What I realized was that my desire is no different from the motivation to get married. I want this thing in my life on a daily basis. I’ll take the mundane of base miles, the could shoulder of the wind, the disappointing days when the form just isn’t there. I’ll revel in the big days where every climb feels like a honeymoon. I love it enough to take it all and not just wait for date night, for vacations.