There are times when nothing other than riding a bike makes any sense. Endless sunny days where the trail is polished, buff-dry singletrack and you’ve discovered your inner riding God*, when you’re best mates are on top joshing form and all that stands between you and a few cold beers are hours of high speed, endorphin pumping mountain biking nirvana.
Those are the days when you absolutely have to ride. Then, right in the middle of your cycling bell curve, are days when you should be riding. Be it a ‘get-my-arse-out-of-this-comfy-bed‘ commute, or an evening blast when you’re so tired from work, or slashing your weekend to-do list with a sword of selfishness and getting back two hours after you promised. Rides that are easily bypassed by thin excuses, but everyone missed is a lament, a regret of what might have been.
And then there’s riding when you’re sick, it’s dark and wintry, cold hands fumble easy summer tasks, legs hurt from the start, breath rasps in a death rattle on every climb, tyres squirm and slide through mud and grime. Drivetrains visibily erode under corrosive grit forged from wet dirt and rock. You’re half as fast as the summer and twice as knackered. Descents that are baked into a sun kissed ribbon of joy become desperate ‘hang on and hope‘ under the grim clag of winter.
You return home totally done in, but long gone is throwing the bike in the shed and grabbing a cold one. Now it’s a logistical sequence of frozen hosepipes and clammy clothes. Standing in the midst of steaming ride gear and dripping bike, a beer is the last thing on your mind. Or at least behind, a bath, an excuse for why the washing machine is going to be broken, a mental tally of components needs replacing and the worry that non responsive toes might be a symptom of frostbite or trenchfoot.
Mentalists will regale you with the joys of winter riding. Fitness, blah, deserted trails, Yeah Yeah, amazing moonscapes, whatever you fucking hippy. They miss the point, the reason we ‘normals‘ ride in winter is simply because we need to. Not have to, not want to, not should do. Need. Riding bikes is a balance to the lunacy of what we spend our day doing. A see-saw with frustration, angst and irritation that needs a wheeled offset to leave you refreshed and level headed.
It is far to easy to attempt equalisation by kicking the cat, shouting at the kids, grumpily watching TV clutching a grape placebo. None of this stuff works like a mud splattered two hours with those who share your weekly therapy session. This week, one new bike was sailing on a muddy maiden voyage accompanied by two hacking coughs, one set of recently serviced forks, a non working rear brake and our Malvern Labrador SuperFit team member knackered by lots of training.
So we didn’t go that far. But we didn’t go to the pub either which was my first, second and oft repeated idea. Instead slithery progress was made on trails glassed with tractionless dirt to the inevitable accompaniment of poorly a-tyred mountain biker on tree. My lack of rear brake was easily offset by a mud tyre on the front which carved inside a man on all-weather** rubber to set up perfectly for a) a fab jump over a tree route and b) an accident.
A committed if foolhardy approach to a) failed to result in b) only because Fate clearly believes I’ve suffered enough lately. No way that closing my eyes and bracing for impact kept me on a trail bounded by sharp fences and eye-pokey branches. The fact that I then nearly wiped Martin and his new bike out in the ensuing “whooooaahhhsshiittnooooIvegotit………..probably” slide shows that particular God has a sense of humour.
As did we on our heavy legged return to the warmth of inside. If I had control of Wikipedia then the Mountain Biking entry would read lit 1/to gain a sense of perspective, to remember what’s important 2/to prevent obsession of unimportant things 3/ to stave off comformity.
20 kilometres on a Mountain Bike while racked with cold can do that. I’ve changed my mind about it being therapy. It’s better than that.
* who may still be a bit rubbish. But he’s better than you are that’s all that matters.
** If all-weather means Summer. In California.