Sometimes, in cycling we just hit that ‘float day‘ – everything seems to combine to make cycling an effortless joy. In zero wind, and perfect conditions, we seem to hit that cycling sweet spot. We can ride fast and still feel good. Even hills don’t dent the sense of forward movement. You can just float along – bike, rider, and weather all combining to give that rare combination of fortuitous circumstances.
But, what’s the opposite of a float day?
It’s when everything seems a struggle – a permanent headwind with deadened legs. Record low average speeds and a relief to get home.
Sometimes, you float, sometimes you sink. Last week I had one of those rides where you’re counting the miles to get back to civilisation.
Unless, you’ve been on a five month training camp in Tenerife, the biggest news since 1964 is that it’s cold. The coldest March of recent decades. There are some scientific reasons why cold weather makes you slower.
- The atmospheric pressure is heavier
- Cold muscles take longer to wake up.
- Cold air is less efficient to use.
However, the remorseless cold seems to leave you with less energy. Also, your body is wrapped up like a Michelin man, restricting movement and making everything harder. You may spend considerable time wiggling your toes or fingers to keep them warm. I’m sure there are some years, when at this time of the year, I’ve already shaved the legs and showed off the bulging biceps in cycling shorts. But, this year, there has been no chance of going out in just shorts. At least I haven’t had to bother with shaving my legs – an unexpected boon of the cold weather.
Anyway back to my sink day. It starts off with a puncture 10 miles in. One of those punctures which is surprisingly difficult to fix and by the time you’ve done it, the cold has chilled the fingers and body. Restarting with cold muscles is difficult. You can’t really get going on the first climb and the intention of doing a hard interval meekly evolves into just getting to the top of the hill.
The second hill is slightly better, but it’s nothing to get too excited about. By the time I get to Henley I’m 30 miles from Oxford and I realise I’ve actually had a tailwind on the way out. The cold biting headwind on the way back sinks the spirit and the speed. There are times when I can do 20mph along this slow rise from Henley, but today it’s more about survival with chugging a big gear to slowly work through the bleak landscape. On the last 20 miles, a light rain becomes heavier and the temperature plummets even further. The so called waterproof jackets and waterproof gloves, prove surprisingly unwaterproof and soon the cold chill seeps into the body.
When you start to get cold, there is a strong incentive to pick up the pace, ride harder – get warm and get home quicker. But, although it makes sense to go hard, the body doesn’t always co-operate and you’re caught in a no man’s land of wanting to go fast, but not actually doing it. You resort to periodic moments of lifting the pace trying to get the speedometer to register 20mph before dropping back. Finally, you get closer and you can start to count off the landmarks and villages which mean you’re nearing home.
We’ve all had these days. As my Sunday school vicar would say, you can’t enjoy the downhill without having to go uphill. It’s the same in any area of cycling. Without these five months of dreary cold weather, we wouldn’t appreciated the two glorious days we will get in June. Let’s just hope we’re not stuck in an office when these two days come…
Not, that I want to put anyone off cycling. It really is fun – even when it’s cold and wet. Because then you can engage in that most popular of British activities – complaining about the weather and when you do get home after 60 cold miles, you do feel like you’ve earnt that chocolate protein shake. For every cloud, there is a silver lining.