I try not to write about weather too much, even though, as a cyclist, I am fairly obsessed with what is happening outside. I monitor a variety of meteorological services more than once a day to stay up to the minute, to glean every possible detail before I step out the door.
Is it a problem? I don’t know. I think I could quit if I really wanted to.
And in bringing up winter (again), I am only too aware that many of our regular readers are in Australia, not to mention the other cycling nations who cling steadfastly to the underside of the planet. So bear with me.
Yesterday, the local department of public works carted 15 bags of leaves away from my house. This event marks, in my mind, the true beginning of winter. With all the leaves down, there is nothing left but for the snow to fly. Of course, in true New England fashion we marked the passing of the leaves with a bracing round of icy rain showers that made my regular Friday morning ride into something of a survival event.
I find myself wondering when the winter is going to winter on us. I know my friends in Minnesota are no longer wondering. It’s already wintering there.
This week’s Group Ride asks a few weather-related questions. First, how heavy a winter is coming our way? And who do you believe when they tell you what it will be like? Second, how deep into it will you ride? What are your criteria for staying off the bike? If you ride straight through, what is your key to surviving the worst days? For our friends in the Southern Hemisphere, you will be coming into summer now. How did you do this past cold season?
Mostly Sunny. That’s what I was promised, both by the weather app on my phone, and a quick consult with the weather site I look to for more detailed back up. Before leaving the house, I removed the clip-on fender I had affixed. That’s how confident I was in the guidance I’d received.
So when, in the waning hours of my work day, a massive black cloud slid across the horizon, a cloud so pregnant with watery anger that it was tinged with a menacing yellow, I knew I had been betrayed.
As a cyclist, practitioners of the meteorological arts have generally been my friends down the years. How many times have they warned me of a possible drenching? How many times have they informed of a dramatic temperature shift in the offing? If not exactly oracular in their pronouncements, I’d bet on my local weather people as the house bets its own hand in Vegas.
When at last the cloud burst, thunder rumbling from its edges, the deluge overwhelmed drains and gutters and sprang up from the pavement in rebellion at being cast down. We peered from the front office window and wondered at the fragility of our pale forms. Someone, somewhere penned a fresh bible verse.
At that point, there was the suggestion we might load our bikes into the company van and decamp with our tails tucked, but then Neil said flatly, “I’m riding.” And just as quickly as the storm had pitched up, the mood in the room changed as well. The consensus came that, while not Devo, we were still, in fact, men.
Mine is a short commute, five miles, and so I had little more than a pair of regular shorts and a cotton t-shirt with which to steel myself against the elements. I resigned myself to a drenching. I’ve been drenched before and will be again. NBD.
But maybe the thing you just never get used to is that sensation of cold water flying up your backside, that direct assault on your comfort zone. It unsettles. It offends. The cyclist’s bidet.
When I arrived home my wife cheerfully asked, “How was your ride?” This cheery greeting is the just dessert of the cyclo-spouse, the small recompense for having been abandoned for the bike over a period of years. I chuckled when I heard it. Betrayed by the weatherman, mocked by the wife.
Then I turned and showed her my wet, sandy ass. “Pretty good,” I said, “mostly sunny.”
Image: Matt O’Keefe
You have ridden with these guys so many times, but for some reason, over a different route, longer or steeper or stranger in some way, you are nervous. Or maybe it is exactly the same route you always ride with them, but because of work/family/laziness your form isn’t what it should be. It isn’t what theirs probably is. So butterflies flitter in your guts, and you put extra attention into your ride prep.
There you are trying to decide whether one gel pack is enough, one bar. You pack an extra. You dump powder into bottles and shake it up. You check the weather again. You wake up before the alarm.
I don’t know why it is that a thing so familiar and fun, so already a part of our identities, can stir such anxiety, but it does.
How many thousands of miles have we ridden and yet still fear the unknowns of riding? How well do we know those friends who are willing to show up to coffee shop parking lots when it’s still dark out, but worry what they’ll think if we’re somehow off our game? How much nervous, pre-ride blather do we need to get off our chests before we can just settle down and ride?
To me, every ride is a challenge to be stronger and smarter than the last time I turned the pedals over. I catch my attention wandering. I lose the wheel in front of me or overlap momentarily, before I give the brakes a subtle squeeze and fall back properly into line. Why are these things not yet effortless?
I can take a simple thing, turning those pedals over, left-right-left-right, and unravel it into a pile of threads that each leads off in a different direction, so that I arrive at the meet-up in a state of mental disarray over whether or not I’m good enough to ride with a bunch of people who are as half-assed and ill-prepared as I am.
Fortunately, it is no more than ten miles to serenity. Whatever detail I was churning in my mind recedes by the time someone’s GPS dings at that distance. Luckily, the problems of riding are mostly solved by riding, another absurdity to ponder as you stand in your kitchen in the still dark morning, your bib straps limp at your sides to allow one last trip to the bathroom, to work out your nerves, before you go.
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