B said, “You’re basically playing chicken with each other,” and I laughed because she was right. The night before Mike had texted me, “Kickstand at 10:30 tomorrow?” A meeting place and a ride time. Sitting on the couch, I glanced at the message, thought for a second and then replied. It’s easy to say yes to riding with a friend tomorrow. Tomorrow is the future.

A quick check of the weather suggested it would  be 22F when we rolled out. I laughed and thought, “Shit, what have I done?”

I used to think I was tough. I used to believe in toughness. I thought the guys who rode Paris – Roubaix and Flanders were tough, but then I remembered they get paid to do it. They get paid a lot.

I used to ride through these Boston winters and think I was tough. But I’ve traded enough in toughness at this point to know that there’s a fine line between tough and stupid, and also that one person’s tough is another’s normal.

My ego used to need that stuff, that sense of superiority that comes from being dumb enough to do what others won’t. I turned it into motivation somehow, and I’m ok with that, even if I see it for what it was now. The point isn’t how you get out the door. It’s getting out the door to begin with. We all have to find our own motivation, but we don’t have to turn it in like homework, to be graded.

I enjoy pretty much every ride I take, whether it’s riding ‘cross bikes around the snowy woods on a Sunday with a friend or a rainy, windy commute.

I run warm, so I don’t feel uncomfortable in the cold. I have all this gear designed to make riding in frigid temperatures possible, and I’m just motivated to ride right now.

But the truth is, whatever I can do at 20F, I shudder to contemplate at 90F. I hate the hot. I am not tough in summertime. Anything north of 80F bums me out. I turn into a horrible whiner. So how tough could I be?

Willingness, though. Willingness can take you anywhere. One part faith, one part optimism, one part action. It’s like toughness, in a way, but it factors out the suffering. It cancels the idea, an idea I clung to, that martyring myself to the bike was somehow a worthy pursuit, which is a negative take on something that, for me, needs to stay fun if I’m going to keep doing it.

But, I’m in a good place with the bike right now. I stay willing, and it stays awesome.

Mike said to me the next day, out on the trail, “I was really hoping you were going to text back that it was too cold. Even an hour before we left, I was waiting for you to bail. But I’m glad we’re here. This is fun.”

I knew it would be.

, , , , ,


  1. michael

    I’ve been fat biking in temperatures hovering between -5F and -30F weather for the last 3 weeks. There is no such thing as poor weather, just poorly dressed people 😉 I actually derive more motivation and pleasure from riding in the cold, dark dead of winter than any type of riding i do in the summer.

    1. Zach

      I agree with Michael – I love riding in the cold. There’s something beautiful about feeling your lungs warm the frigid air and a sense of feeling alive when most of nature is dormant. Fat biking has given me the opportunity to ride any day of the year, especially those days when my wife would forbid me (for good reason) from riding on icy, snow covered roads.

  2. Alan

    Reminds me of a recent trail ride. It was hovering just above freezing with wind and light rain all morning. We had family visiting. Since the brother-in-law hauled his new Santa Cruz FS carbon bike on the 4.5-hour drive, we felt obligated to get some trail time. We had several trails to choose from, with the easiest providing good year-round cedar canopy. The kind of trail you avoid in the summer due to the heat and monotony of the flat terrain. But in the winter the trail drains fast and the leaves provide consistent coverage, limiting the amount of mud encountered. Even with the leaves, the trail was still sticky. Riding in 35-deg weather saps a certain amount of energy to just staywarm. Still, it wasn’t even close to the unrideable conditions of the nearby trail systems. The kind you aren’t even supposed to ride when it’s wet. About an hour into the ride, my brother-in-law said, “You, know this really isn’t that bad.” I definitely agreed, because I was thinking it was actually pretty great…

  3. mechaNICK

    If we didn’t ride when it was below freezing up here in Duluth, MN… well, let’s just say we wouldn’t do a lot of riding. Getting your clothing dialed in is really important, but once you have that covered you can ride just about any time. Even then, sometimes the thought of donning your space suit is just too much to do alone, so it’s much better to have friends to egg you on.

  4. Andrew

    Just returned from a very nice nighttime snow ride. I really enjoy winter riding, but not the hassle of dressing for it. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t looking forward to not layering.

  5. Mike C

    The cold is really tough sometimes, especially when you can’t feel your nose, finger tips or feet. The heat, now that can be another story in itself. I laugh when I watch a race and they talk about how hot it is because it’s over 85 degrees. Hell, we get that mid-winter here in Florida sometimes. A two bottle ride? Almost every time you throw a leg over the top bar you beget have both filled. This time of year when we wake up to 51 degrees and the day warms to the mid 70’s it just feels like the world has an air conditioner running. :^)

  6. Michael

    Robot – I am with you on preferences –> cold is SO much easier to handle than heat. Especially humid heat, where it isn’t even cool first thing in the morning. But then, when I have ridden in heat (doesn’t happen often for me), I am always amazed how enjoyable the ride is anyway. The hardest part is finding enough water to drink. So I guess it is the blessing of willingness that gets one out there in the cold, heat, snow, or rain – not to prove oneself, but to enjoy oneself.

  7. peter lin

    I’m a southern Californian at heart living in Worcester and I hate the cold. The last ride I took was right before the new year around central MA. When I got home 90min later, my bottle of skratchlabs was half frozen. That is my last ride of the winter until it warms up. I can handle 90F or even 100F, but below 10F with a 20mph windchill and I’ll stay indoors. As much as I used to hate the trainer and curse every minute, Zwift has made the trainer fun. Plus, I don’t have to freeze my feet, nose and nuts off!

    1. kurti_sc

      I was in the Woo just before Christmas. Cold, bleak, and I don’t think I ever saw the sunshine. This is where I would insert the line above about “a sense of superiority that comes from being dumb enough to do what others won’t.” My hats off to you guys up there that keep motivated this time of year. Of course, ending a ride with a bowl of stew from the little cafe next to the theatre (theatre cafe?) would be reward enough. cheers, K

    2. Mark Young

      Peter….. Shot of a good whiskey will help your bottle. Just enough to keep the water from freezing and maybe enough to also warm your inside. (Good retro solution!)

  8. John in Miami

    Riding in 90°F temps doesn’t fade me, but if it gets colder than 50°F no one in my group wants to ride. Riding your environment dictates what kind of riding you are.

  9. Dan Murphy

    Getting dressed is the hardest part.

    Yup, if I can just convince myself to start throwing bike clothes on, I’m 99% there. The momentum builds, and next thing I know I’m outta there. It’s that first step, and I can come up with the best excuses to wimp out.

    Like everybody else, I’m getting older and don’t get out as much during the cold weather. When it gets <40F, the mt bike gets called and usually no more than an hour. My limit is generally 20F. To the dude from Duluth: good job, man.

    But I'm always glad I did it.

  10. peter lin

    @Mark I wish I could drink alcoholic drinks. I am allergic to alcohol and lack the alcohol dehydrogenase, which means if I drink it, the next day I have to put up with a rash. On the upside, I do turn bright red like a stop light, so that may be useful in some situations.

  11. Kadence

    Amen Robot. Amen. Willingness makes toughness possible. “It ain’t about how hard you hit. Its about how hard YOU CAN GET hit and keep moving forward.” Nice write up. Spot on.

  12. Peter Kelley

    So long as I keep my hands and feet from freezing, I can take the cold. Have never found gloves that can keep me warm. Got a set of MTB Bar Mits this year – and I get made fun of – but they work!

  13. Ron

    Very nice! As an upstate NYer now living 1000K to the south, I have nothing to complain about. I don’t mind the hot and the winters are not “winters” like I grew up with.

    My current willingness problem has to do with having my first 9-5 job since I’ve grown into a true roadie. I developed into a roadie during grad school, as I had a flexible schedule AND cycling is more fun than homework. I cycle to work daily, but am not finding much time for longer rides. Some mornings I’ll hit the park for CX, then ride in. But, after work it’s dark and before work it’s dark and cold. I play soccer on Saturday, so that leaves Sunday. Last Sunday was building a new fence in our backyard.

    I’m hoping with warmer weather and more evening light I’ll find more time to ride, but right now I’m fitting in maybe 1-2 long-ish rides a week. I’d like more, but it’s tough. I feel guilty, like I’m no longer a true roadie. Also doesn’t help that I’m still riding 5 days a week minimum.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *