It might look ugly out there, but it’s worth looking a bit harder…
For road riders all over the northern hemisphere – and certainly here in London – winter rolls around with some degree of menace. Our favourite club runs take on a whole different hue when the sun doesn’t rise enough to dry the dew off the asphalt, and the turbo looks a lot friendlier than the drudgery of Richmond or Regents Park laps in the drizzle. Our usually svelte machines are lumbered with puncture resistant tyres and mudguards, and it does feel like every year the conditions increase in magnitude. But I think I’ve worked it out. Winter isn’t worse, it’s just different – right?
Now, the inclement weather systems that traditionally accompany the seasonal surplus of darkness are a valid concern. We’ve all heard the hackneyed phrase: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing” – and this is true – but I ask, “What constitutes bad weather anyway?”
Torrential rain, howling gales, and potholes materialising without warning from the gloom do have their benefits. Velominati rules aside, riding in adverse conditions – while unlikely to immediately provide Strava KOMs – improves bike handling, road reading skills and fitness. Personally I am not fast enough to give any serious competitors a run for their money, even in the summer, so a spot of rain increasing my braking distance doesn’t bother me in the slightest. I’m still getting thoroughly knackered out, and every ride makes me stronger. Little personal victories. And I don’t think I’m on my own in deriving as much pleasure from reaching the crest of a sodden peak with my frozen corpse shrinking from the headwind while trying not to ingest too much of my own mucus, as I do cruising at 40kmh on shimmering continental tarmac. Though I also feel like I’m cheating nature every time I use an umbrella.
Also, a myriad of new pleasures can be discovered with a few alternative equipment choices. The ‘winter trainer’ is all well and good, but I’d say it’s worth pushing it a little further…
While road racers turning to cyclocross in the off-season is by no means a new concept, for those of us who don’t race every week, ‘cross influenced bikes can be year-round hardy commuters that come into their own at winter. My Genesis CDF is hefty by anyone’s standards, but the full steel frameset combined with large volume tyres, disc brakes and lowered gear ratios make for something that can be chucked around with the kind of irreverence I would never dare submit my road bike to, not to mention the option to ride on near enough any old surface.
That’s a whole lot of childish fun in itself – but bikes like that are true go-anywheres, and as such there’s some exploring to be done. In my opinion, the British landscape does rather well in the bleaker months, and with a bit of out-of-the-box route planning (or deliberately not planning) the London rider might just find more pleasantries than they expect.
Gems like this spot sadly tend to be a little disconnected from any real destination, but with the right tyre choice, you can link up your favourite road sections with these tracks through common- or heath-land, gravel tracks, canal and towpaths, and end up with a diverse and uniquely challenging ride. The same destinations can be reached in a multitude of ways, and making your route up as you go can bring some welcome relief from the competition of the tried-and-tested runs – let’s be honest, few of us can turn down the opportunity to chase the rider in front, especially when you know the road.
So show two fingers to the wind and rain, and chuck a heavy bike up a massive hill. Then down again. And repeat. You’ll be a whole lot quicker back on the slicks when spring comes round, plus you’ll still have the opportunity to maintain the obligatory roadie tan lines – Jack Davey / Wimbledon, London / @jackcutthechord.
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