“Yes! there is pleasure—genuine pleasure—in winter cycling.”
--R.J. Mercredy, “Winter Cycling.” The Fortnightly
Review 50 (1891)
Review 50 (1891)
Anyone who’s ridden a bike in The Great White North knows that small thrill that comes with the first ride of spring. We pump up the tires, dust off the saddle, squirt a little grease on the chain, lift a leg over and off we go, kids all over again. It’s elemental, this sensation that accompanies the first ride of the season—the shift from darkness to light, from grey to green awakens some deep life-affirming giddiness.
Strangely, though, I found myself experiencing some of that little thrill in my stomach last weekend, believe it or not, as the weather forecast promised the first serious snow and cold of winter. I spent the weekend getting ready for winter cycling—rustling up a winter machine for my 13-year-old son, Gil; switching over to studded tires (and studding up a new set); and digging out the neckwarmers, ski goggles, and longjohns—the thermal wardrobe of winter riders.
Sure enough, I awoke Monday morning to a snowy backyard and a tiny flutter in my guts brought on by—could it be?—the excitement of a new cycling season. Now, the first ride of winter is not, generally, the stuff of poetry the way the inaugural spring ride is. But maybe it could be. The sizzling bacon of studs on pavement, the almost magical defiance of ice, the pure cold, the silent whiteness—there is indeed poetry in that. Add in the proud sense of taking on the elements, adapting to whatever nature throws at us, and I’d say there’s good reason to get excited.
There’s also a certain exclusivity about winter cycling that makes it feel special. Most cyclists (I used to be one of them) put their machines away for the winter. So the few who attempt it get bonus street cred, whether they’re looking for it or not. When you see another winter cyclist grinding it up, there’s an immediate sense of kinship, a fellowship of the snowy wheel.
I can tell that Gil has a touch of the winterthrill too. Monday morning he popped out of bed in a most unusual way, strangely keen to begin his day. I think it was because he knew he’d be riding to school on his “new” winter bike (if you can call a 1980s Kuwahara mountain bike from EBC “new”), in winter conditions, and that his bike would likely be the only one in the school rack. Last year he was the lone kid at his school to ride in the winter, and I think he enjoys the notoriety that comes with being the kid who rides his bike all year.
I know this all will fade. The thrill of winter cycling won’t last. That riding to and from work will soon enough return to being just another part of my day. (In fact, the thrill was pretty much gone by Wednesday when I overdressed and ended up sweating like a pig-drudge on my slow ride in to the office. Not much giddiness that day.)
But when the thrill of the first ride of winter departs, the “genuine pleasure” Mercredy speaks of will remain. Maybe not every day, but often enough. And where there is pleasure, the poetry will eventually follow.