“My ideal cycling day is in November or December, when a keen frost has held the earth in its icy thrall for some time and the roads are beaten flat and smooth. When not a breath of wind is stirring and the sun shines brightly and with a warmth which is genial, but tempered by the sharp clean air. Then to the well-trained muscles mere exertion is a joy… the wild scamper down-hill affords an intoxicating pleasure, and one can gaze forth on the glories of an ideal winter scene until one is possessed with the soul-sufficing enthusiasm which animated the bard.”R. J. Mercredy “Winter Cycling” (1891)
The end is near, friends. No, I’m not talking about the Greek economy or the Rapture; I mean the end of the road-cycling season, in these parts anyway. As I left the house for a bracing ride this afternoon, I said to my wife, “This could be the last ride.” “That’s what you said last week,” she reminds me. But it’s true. The snow could fly any day now, and that will be it until the distant spring.
Back in September, when the leaves were scattering but the afternoons were still warm, I couldn’t imagine putting my bike away. As I seem to do every September, I tried to convince myself that this would be the year that I would ride all winter, at least to work: I’d gear up, get those studded tires I’ve been mulling over, buy some proper booties.
But now, in chilly November, when the charms of autumn have faded, things feel different out there on the road. The sunlight has changed—it’s thinner, as the sun’s arc across the sky gets lower. The stubbly farmer’s fields are brown-grey, lifeless. The creeks are iced over—even the river is filling up with chunks. And I have begun to feel, well, done with road cycling, ready to put the road bike into hibernation for the winter.
This time of year, I find that I get lazy about looking after my bikes. I stop doing even the smallest repairs and regular maintenance and cleaning (which, in my case, isn’t much to start with). For instance, the fork-mounted sensor on my computer fell off a few weeks ago. It wouldn’t take much to hook it back up, but I just haven’t. I pretty much stopped even cleaning my bikes about a month ago. For two weeks now, I’ve been riding to work on a half-flat tire; I can’t even be bothered to put air in the damn thing! There’ll be lots of time for such repairs and cleaning soon enough, I think. I’ll have all winter to take care of such details.
I’ve actually lasted pretty long this year. We’ve had no snow yet, so the roads are still clear. Last Sunday, we fellows bundled up and ventured out with the temperature at 0 degrees C. My toes were a bit frosty but otherwise I was comfortable for the first couple of hours. But as the sun dipped in the final hour, I felt a deep chill in my bones, and I just couldn’t get warm, no matter how hard I pedaled.
Part of me wishes that, like R.J. Mercredy of yore, I could be more open to the romance of winter cycling. The sharp, clean air, the glories of an ideal winter scene—it all sounds grand…until I think of my poor toes. I remind myself that Mercredy lived in Ireland, and while I’m sure Irish winters are pri-tee crappy—all that damp and chill—they’re not in the same league as an Alberta winter.
Val is the hardiest of our crew, a stoic year-rounder who has the gear, the body hair, and most importantly, the resolve to take on Alberta winter roads. Me, I am lacking in all of the above. When the temperature dips much below freezing or ice appears on the roads, I’m done. I blame my semi-serious ethos: Winter cycling, with all that layering up and peeling off, seems too much like work—the minimum-wage-Wal-Mart kind that offers little in the way of payout or satisfaction.
Val would never say so, but I suspect he finds my aversion to winter cycling mildly disappointing, if only because he’d like some company on his fat-bike snow rides. I suspect that given a time-travel option, Val and ol’ R. J. Wednesday would get along great guns.
I know I’ve been going on about the grey, the bleak , the sterile feel of November cycling around here, but here’s the thing: the season is over, and it doesn’t feel sad (or S.A.D.). In fact, it feels right, natural. Even spin class and lane swimming (my regular winter substitutes for cycling) don’t seem quite so lame as they did a month ago. It’s time.
That’s not to say that cycling won’t still be on my mind during the long winter months ahead—just in a different way.