The hardest month

Wet Wibble

Or, February – it’s a proper bastard. Aside from a few over-medicated nutjobs, there is a collective and plaintive whinge from the cycling community come November. Too cold, too dark, too bloody miserable to ride, too much effort for too little gain. Too much kit, too much washing, hit the hibernate button and wake me in Spring.

I am one of the over-medicated nutters. Although individual rides may trigger mad delusions that my life had ended only to be reincarnated as a dolphin, the collective revolution of a million* moist pedal strokes leaves Al’s world sunny side up.

Not that much of that sun is going on outside. Which brings me back to why February can only be conquered through gritted teeth, and the vague promise of something better soon.

November is fine, really. Some ace riding on still dry trails, bits of the commute lack benightment, still time for a trip away or two. December can go either way, but dicking about in the snow is the only Christmas present that makes you feel ten years old again.

And while the road bike is tending to the grim, it’s worth it for the looks on the be-suited faces of people not quite like you. Short month as well, before the excesses of a holiday period where getting out is the pefect release valve for being stuck inside with relatives who are not obsessed by cycling. Honestly, what’s wrong with these people?

January is brutal. Always cold, not much light, the misery on the faces of those swapping pasties for lentils. A spike in the number of off road riders spotted spluttering up the hills early Sunday morning. It is always like this – when the year turns – and it never lasts.

February tho, you feel cheated. Daffodils break through the winter crust, white ice is replaced by snowdrops of the same colour, occasional bright and warm days are snatched away by freezing easterlies and bands of spiteful rain. And you know it might snow again, which gets old so damn quickly and sends you back indoors in a grump.

Having missed a couple of rides already, my last commute was powered from a position of weather forecast denial. 6am in the wind and the wet confirmed the tea-leaf readers actually had it about right. After drying out at the office, the train home provided a further opportunity to view the hard rain slashing at the windows.

Wet weather gear is fantastic, but the problem is that it does not wateproof your brain. It’s a struggle sometimes to install the “it’ll all be alright in a few minutes” template as everyone else is rushing for their cars.

No choice but to get on with it. Displacement strategies include marvelling at how damn fab this is going to be in the light and warmth, calculating savings over the easy-drive option and wondering if hitting something is the right approach, as road bike brakes have a “work to rule” clause in the pissing rain.

Arriving home, you signal to the family that – contrary to all appearances – you are not an avenging swamp monster in control of an epic storm. Accept you’ve lost a bike and acquired a wheeled shed, peel off layers of dampness and hurry into the light.

Then do the same again on the Mountain bike the next night. The mud is up, the grip is down, the brakes are so much better but tyres – slicked by slushy crap – offers them nothing to work with. A dirty brown protest marks your rucksack, crack and back, but two hours of this beats an inside job with the TV.

So it’s time for a change. No more low-rent, truculent light mocking your motivation. Spring has to crank the season-ratchet and turn up the sun. What do we want?Double digit temperatures, more light that dark, sunshine and no snow“, When do we want it?RIGHT NOW”.

Maybe I’ll get some posters made up.

* well possibly not that many. But close enough if my not insignificant investment in bottom brackets is anything to go by.


Winter Colours

Odd looking thing isn’t it? Back in the days before the tiny chip inside the camera sensor became sentient, such an effect would have required a depth of knowledge around focus and field. Whereas now one just twiddles the idiot dial to “1cm macro” and hits the “go” button.

What’s stranger still is that a few of the default settings are actual quite useful. The “Pan Focus” essentially selects a depth of field from the front to the back of the image making everything in between quite sharp.

Although sometimes it has to use such a punchy ISO to get there, and the resulting noise is a bit irritating. Still I have two children, so irritating noises are pretty much the background day to day hum 😉

Winter Colours Winter Colours

This cold spell (or in Daily Mail Speak “We told you all those hand wringing hippies were talking shit about global warming“), will see the final few leaves – clinging onto frozen branches – soon to join the mouldering winter carpet. So I thought I’d best all snappy with the new camera before naked trees and dead stuff dominates the landscape.

Winter Colours Winter Colours

I’m pretty impressed with the results (if not the composition, there’s only so much the Camera can do to be fair) in decent light. Focussing seems pretty quick, two macro settings are really spoiling me, the jury is out on black-dog mode and low light images tend to the grain, but generally bob on. Battery life appears to be an issue compared to the S80, but this may be either unrealistic expectations, or something more warranty related.

Winter Colours Winter Colours

Talking of woody, that’s where I’m off tonight. Minus anything with a biting north wind make the Malverns Hills a tad bleak for night riding, so it’s off to the Forest where frozen mud and much merriment awaits.

I wasn’t sure which clothes to wear, so decided to go with “everything I own“. The only downside of such a fashion choice is I dare not strip off in those dark woods – It would be a cross between American Werewolf in London and Deliverance!

Mud in your ice.

As trail conditions go, a sprinkling of fresh white stuff covering a crunchy layer of corn snow atop a bed of mid winter mud doesn’t trigger an enthusiastic “Let’s Ride” response to a 7am Alarm call. Except today when two of your five tomorrows include 18 hour London Returns and a whole week of shitty looking weather.

We kept to the South side of the Malverns with the high ridges and peaks being properly deep in snow. This still didn’t make our passage easy as every climb had to be forced through the greasiness and energy sappin g slippiness of trail wide mud. Which you only found as tyres broke through a thin crust of snow on the fourth day of a freeze/unfreeze cycle.

Malvern Ride - Feb 2010 Malvern Ride - Feb 2010

I’m fairly bored of snow. Only our last descent was on the right side of conditions nirvana with hardpacked snow on firm trails. The rest of a rather weedy sounding 10k loop had to be hard earned with granny ring gurning, and significant pushing. Downhill was pretty exciting to be fair, with fantastic levels of grip being attained right up until the point when there wasn’t any. At all. I’ll be going straight on then regardless of the spiky vegetation blocking my way.

Malvern Ride - Feb 2010 Malvern Ride - Feb 2010

Momentum was truly your friend – my old mud riding memories surfaced from years of Chiltern Winter* allowing be to blaze a stinky trail over half frozen stutter bumps and endless draggy slush. It was more fun that is sounds, especially as we had the hills to ourselves and most of our tracks were the first ones.

Malvern Ride - Feb 2010 Malvern Ride - Feb 2010

A final climb up a quickly renamed “Mist-Summer” found us finally on harder tracks where pedalling brought a proper forwards, rather than sideways, reward. A brief stop at the top ratified our choice to stay away from the high places with wind driven snow making riding difficult and a bit dangerous. Off the top we went, carefully on the narrow, snowy tracks and then faster – sometimes unintentionally – through the steep, muddy tree section.

Malvern Ride - Feb 2010 Malvern Ride - Feb 2010

A comedically heroic snow spraying plunge back to Hollybush brought forth icy tears and big grins.

Malvern Ride - Feb 2010

If I’m still loving riding so much in these conditions, what’s it going to be like when it’s dry, dusty, fast and warm? I’ll hardly be able to sleep 🙂

* And Spring. And Autumn. And Summer as well on too many occasions.