The seasons matter to cycling. And cycling makes the seasons matter.
In the north-west of England we’ve finally emerged from the harshest Winter. The days are growing longer and warmer. The deep cold has gone and life is returning to the land.
Struck by a cold, I was off the bike for a week but, with my strength coming back, each of the past few days I’ve ridden out of town for a short, gentle ride towards the end of day. It’s a lovely way to spend an evening, enjoying the quiet lanes and lengthening shadows as the sun falls over Morecambe Bay.
Last night I left the house at 7:30 to do a little loop into the Forest of Bowland and up to Jubilee Tower. Lambs bounced round the fields, hares sprinted off at my approach, and birds busily prepared themselves for the coming night. Occasionally a farmer’s tractor or quad-bike trundled somewhere in the distance, but the lanes were empty of cars. I love the feeling of having all this countryside, all this space, virtually to myself; I sink into it, become blurred, am content.
I hurtled back down to the quiet Sunday night city, passing the Town Hall clock as it chimed a-quarter-to-nine, some light left still in the sky. For the next two months each evening will grow a little longer, and hopefully warmer too. Isn’t this the very best time to be on a bike, the longest days and best weather still ahead? Our bodies turn with our pedals towards the optimism Spring surely brings.
Winter’s cold and dark tempts the closing of curtains and indoor retreat. Spring seduces us back to the world outside. The scope for cycling becomes so much greater. The traditional pro-cycling calendar reflects this – we’ve had the early season Classics and can now anticipate the Summer’s Grand Tours. Locally too Winter’s dormancy has retreated and the cycle racing season begun, the weeks now crowded with events.
Winter cycling is great, but includes a certain amount of ‘getting through’. Winter cycling matters, but there always lurks an orientation to brighter, better days ahead. Many people cycle only once it gets warmer, but surely no one cycles just in Winter.
We know how seasonal cycling is, how warm weather triggers the inclination to cycle. The bike shops get busy, new people on new or refurbished bikes are out and about. Of course we need to create conditions which compel people to cycle all year round, but in the absence of bolder, broader institutional support for ordinary cycling it’s understandable that most people’s interest in riding changes with the weather.
We’re ‘a cycling family’, but cycling is seasonal for us too. On Saturday morning I went with Bobby and Flo to our brilliant local children’s cycling club, Salt Ayre Cog Set, where weekly sessions have resumed. Both complained bitterly at being made to go; I was ‘the baddie’ breaking their winter hibernations in which lazy stasis inspired by staring at screens has taken centre-stage. But the sunshine, sociability, fresh air and exercise boosted their energies, and they came away bubbling with enthusiasm, as though participating had sprung Spring within their little souls.
Springtime cycling is a mechanism for lifting our spirits and horizons, taking us to other, farther, more interesting places.
Of course for those of us who ride year round Spring feels good partly because of the Winter that came before, as well as the Summer that lies ahead. Contrasts are everything: even the places through which we most regularly ride change dramatically; and as the temperatures rise and the days lengthen cycling becomes less shackled by some Winter essentials: lights, layers, gloves and hats; things can gradually be discarded. There’s a ‘freeing-up’ both of cycling and our selves.
My little ride last night wasn’t cold, but we’ve yet to experience a truly warm evening this year. At long last, though, it’s feeling possible; the dreamy, delicious prospect of the after-dinner short-sleeve and shorts ride through warm and windless air has moved one step closer.