Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Cold Morning Commutes

A true cyclist is not a fair-weather cyclist. After the summer fades, warm breezes give way to cool winds; blue skies turn grey, and the foliage loses its green lushness revealing skeletal forests, a more defined community of cyclists take command of the roads and trails. They are known by many names, but most common are terms like "hard-core roadies", "cyclocrossers", and "die-hard commuters".

They're also called "nuts", "crazy", and "ridiculous", but the cycling world is sustained over the off-season by these riders, and for these particular riders, thier cycling lives become sustained by riding well into the weeks and months when many a rider has traded bikes for skis or simply a saddle and waterbottle for a couch and mug of hot chocolate.

Such are things I think about when riding to work on cold autumn mornings. Yesterday's commuting weather was in the upper 30s with relentless cool breezes, the kind that present a wall of resistance to a hard working rider and slices through all forms of cycling clothing, no matter how technologically advanced. I could simply take the Metro train to work, sit in a cushy seat, read the paper, and nod off in a heated car watching a cold, morning world blur by.

But I can't. I race cyclocross. I have two races left this season. I still need to be training, still need to be pursuing top results for myself and my team, Bike Rack DC. This season began January 1st, and after 2500 miles of training, many in the form of my morning and evening commutes, it's nearly over but not over yet. The Tacchino Ciclocross in Leesburg, VA and the Capitol Cross in Reston, VA, are the final objectives for me this year, and I plan to max this season out to the very end. I've turned my commutes into training rides; nine miles door-to-door became 20 miles of speedwork here, 30 miles of intervals there, and still more after work in the form of strength training or hill work. For me, these lonely rides on frigid mornings late in the year as as crucial as warm summer commutes at the height of July.

With that in mind, I took one final look at the weather, and matched the right layers of clothing to 37 degrees with a cool northwest wind. Truth be told, I enjoy cool weather riding. While warm sun on skin is a wonderful feeling during the dog days of summer, being bundled up in layers of lycra, polypropeline, and wool has an enjoyable coziness all its own. And as a single speed commuter, I can wear the thickest, warmest gloves possible since I don't need to worry about tapping at small shifter paddles tucked behind a brake lever. So with backpack stuffed and bottles filled (hydrating is as important on cold mornings as it is on warm afternoons; you can cramp in either one), I rolled out.

Hitting the road midweek in the early hours of a cold day is a very different feeling than a Sunday midsummer ride. The blast of cold is evident immediately, though the warming efforts of a strong ride are incentive enough to go hard. That's just the physical factor, but the psycological factor is a much bigger element; the bike paths and roads look, seem, and feel much more deslolate. There is a feeling of loneliness, vunerability. But then it pans out to this; in this solitude, cycling is not longer "hip", "trendy", or "popular". Withouth the fair-weather masses and warm weather buzz, this is when cycling becomes real. In solitude on rides like this, the cyclist is just that; not lost in a crowd, but blatently identified. At this point - mid-November on a cold weekday morning - the riding is the product of, the show of serious love and passion for the sport, a commitment to this lifestyle, which at times has people labeling us as "nuts", "crazy", or "ridiculous".

1 comment:

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