I have been accused, by those closest to me, of being a fair-weather cyclist.
My defence is that I’ve ridden my share of winter rides. I’ve pedalled through the shivers, changed punctures in the snow, and cried in the post-ride shower. I’ve got nothing to prove.
But still the criticism stings.
Ironically, like the frozen sideways rain of a northern November morning.
It seems my name no longer brings to mind the sepia-toned glory of a wintery Rapha ad. Fortunately, I have a thick skin – it’s windproof, and waterproof, and made by Castelli.
And so it was that I pulled on my overshoes, supped the dregs of another espresso, and peered out of the kitchen window. Where twenty minutes earlier there was just enough blue sky to make a Dutchman a pair of trousers* there was now none.
In fact there was rain, surrounded by a blanket of murk.
The rain was clearly going nowhere (other than into every crack and crevice of my body) fast. Last week I may – may – have bailed out at this point, but times have changed.
Teeth were gritted, loins were girded, questioning raised eyebrow emoji texts from my riding buddy were ignored, and I pedalled out into the breach. We met up, made gallows humour, and resolved to do the local loop and “see how it is.”
I was reminded of things that happen on mucky winter rides.
You get a lot of time to think. To dwell on how cold it is. There’s a wooden lack of feeling in fingers and toes, and the deterioration of fine motor skills. You’ve spent the last half hour in the same gear and you haven’t braked for thirty K’s.
Hands like claws.
Once the gallows humour has run dry it’s replaced by a stony silence. You’ve each retreated to an inner world where a personal survival strategy is in progress. Mine, for the record, invokes the spirit of 2013 Milan-San Remo winner Gerard Ciolek.
That being one of the all-time mucky winter rides.
Tucked amongst this silent progress is a band-of-brothers team spirit.
You’re surviving, in your own quiet way, but with the occasional thought of your riding buddy and how they’re coping. You’re alone, but in it together. Taking turns on the front, the whole world shared in a nod or a grunt.
Mileage done (for that is all it is – a bike ride suggests pleasure) you approach home and part your separate ways. An attempted handshake becomes a botched fist bump ends up a mangled tangle of frozen fingers.
It says “well done mate…that was cold, eh?”
And off you go.
And that shared moment of frozen friendship kind of makes it worth it.
So look out for me – no longer the fair-weather cyclist – in future sepia toned wintery Rapha ads. I will be playing the part of stoical and bearded semi-veteran, riding in defiance of the cold but with the unmistakeable bearing of a man who knows he’ll be forking out for the mid-ride coffees.
I’m a natural for the role.
*I dunno. It’s a nautical thing apparently!?