Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Cold

Cycling is an offering to the sun. Going for a bike ride is a way to say “thanks” to your maker for the summer months. With the sun beating down and the wind rifling over your body, it’s easy to be grateful for a good life and abundant health.

Indoctrination into serious road riding and racing happens by degrees, much like peeling layers from an onion. But there comes a point when cycling ceases to be an expression of the best of times. We experience the same transition in romantic relationships. At first, we date. Our most hallowed hours of the weekend are saved for the object of our affection, but soon, we can’t get enough of our heart’s desire and we begin to spend as much time as possible with them. For romantic partners, that means trips to the grocery store together and cleaning house. For cyclists, it means riding in the cold.

You probably remember the first photograph you saw of the peloton racing in the snow. For me, it was a shot from Het Volk and the guys were covered in the best in thermal cycling wear. Mutts, balaclavas, thick gloves and thermal booties were the rule.

The shot altered my world view. Seeing the world’s great pros race their bikes in falling snow seemed more than just implausible. It seemed impossible but inspired a kind of hope that was crazy. That’s why science fiction can generate such a compelling hold on the mind. How else could you explain the fascination of men interacting with dinosaurs?

Simply put, riding in the cold is antithetical to the reasons why we took up cycling. It isn’t the breezy pleasure of a summer day. It isn’t carefree. It isn’t a triumph of the will. Or isn’t it?

To be sure, cycling in the cold, if done well, is a submission. It is a submission to the temperature, to the wind, to all the crueler elements. It is a submission to the larger demands of the season, an admission that we cannot hope to be at peak form year-round. Even so, it does take a force of will to leave home when temps reach freezing. A frozen water bottle is only cool as part of a story told months later. The humility required to keep the heart rate in check requires banishing the ego for months at a time.

But with that submission comes a reward. Base miles are pennies in a piggy bank: They aren’t sexy, but they do add up. Each new sunny day of the spring is payback for every effort you didn’t make. And like a flower in the sun, you open with the warmth to show a new you, the one worth watching.

But for now, the miles tick by unremarkably. The ego sits in a box on the shelf and each of us waits, waits for the change of the seasons that returns us to our real home, the true self.

Photo Credit: Presse Sports

24 comments:

Jeremy Haynes said...

Yes.

Erik said...

Couldn't have said it any better...sweetness.

Frenchy aka Bike Boy said...

"Base miles are pennies in a piggy bank: They aren’t sexy, but they do add up." - So true...great.

Anonymous said...

Some of my most fun rides have been on the mountain bike plowing through the powder of a fresh snow!

jknotzke said...

Fantastic stuff.

PS said...

In Sweden, you almost ride more in snow and in freezing temperatures than you ride inte the sun during summer. Almost. God I love cycling.

Brooke Hoyer said...

My co-workers stare at me in wonderment as I arrive for work each morning wrapped in my winter kit. While the PacNW isn't the frozen tundra, it's still plenty chilly and wet this time of year. I just think of it as a lifestyle choice -- dress right and get outside.

Plus, bad weather riding is excellent preparation for cross.

+sp+ said...

Maybe one of these days I'll take up cross to add meaning to the frozen miles. Until then, just pennies in a piggie bank.

Thanks for posting this-- if I reread it in June it will look pleasantly foreign.

Sorelegs said...

Love your writing!!! Thanks for the good work.

Fer rilla said...

Great one!! Where did you find that pic?!

the mostly reverend said...

i enjoy getting cold weather base miles.

http://theorphanageandyou.blogspot.com/2007/12/cyclists-dictionary-tough-guy-points.html

Heidi Swift said...

This is one hell of a post. And timely, too. Oh so timely.
The last post was also killer. It reminded me that I had The Rider on my shelf.
Krabbe is genius. The book is astounding. Thanks for remind me to go back to it.

FartlekVedett said...

"glory through suffering" as they say at Rapha, riding my steel Fondriest over here in Belgium nowadays is pretty hardcore, bad weather for now. But o so beautiful in a way ...wich we cyclists all know ...

IC3 said...

I ride my bike for a lot of reasons. However, the reason I come back to it time after time is suffering. Some how, between the turning wheels, a pounding heart, contracting muscle and an endless climb suffering becomes sweet? You know what I am talking about, the good suffering!

Riding in the snow and cold is a catalyst for this good suffering! There is a satisfaction in knowing I won! I defeated the weather, elements and that small voice inside saying “Stay in today, its too cold”

pompier said...

a great post! the words intertwine harmoniously! You would make Hemingway proud!

the cally kid said...

Yes. . . or you move to California.

Interesting how many national CX champs in this years brutal conditions were from Cally and had rarely (if ever) ridden in the cold/snow. I count at least 4.

Better weather=better training=faster cyclist in any conditions.

Ron said...

Poetry!

bikesgonewild said...

...you deserve an honorary doctorate of philosophy this time around...

...riding in severally adverse conditions is also a submission to that part of the subconscious that carries you beyond your own expectations...

MavicMotoGuy said...

Change the post title to " Belgian Knee Warmers" please.
Otherwise truly inspiring and, yes, poetic.

mathias_d said...

riding in cold, snow, cold sideways rain and the like is the gradual and painful tempering a rider subjects themselves to that one day they be considered hard enough. who knows from whom the consideration is registered.

the pacnw has been a tough place to ride every day this winter...I commute at 5am every morning in it. more power to ya, rubber side down.

Anonymous said...

Mavic Moto Guy -- Belgium Knee Warmers is correct. That's how the old guys in the Belgium Mafia would say it.

i.e. it's not Belgian Waffles, but rather Belgium Waffles.

Sure, you'd get Belgian Waffles at the IHOP, but you'd eat Belgium Waffles ducked in from the pouring rain at Moline Criterium.

Radio Freddy knows his details.

Anonymous said...

Can you please tell me where you got this photo? I need it framed in my basement for the winter.

Thanks!

Anonymous said...

well it's Hinault in LBL in 1980 it seems. Now where do I find the poster? Anyone have any ideas?

Radio Freddy said...

Anon: The image came from the February 2001 issue of CycleSport Magazine. The photo credit (Which I mistakenly forgot to add to the post) reads Presse Sports. I hope this helps. It was a gift from a friend who worked as a graphic designer. He scanned the image, removed the caption at the lower portion of the image and presented it to me in a frame. I have admired this image for years and it remains my motivation when the temps are cold and the conditions raw. You are correct, LBL 1980.