The former indicates that winter is in full swing in our neck of the woods, whilst the latter is mandatory if you’re going to brave that oh-so-extreme of sports, winter cycling. I am lacking studded tyres to make any sort of safe attempt at this, but I know a couple of people who are just crazy enough to get out there and practice their bike skills on the ice, grit and salt.
Yes, you’ve met them before. Relatively normal, at least outwardly, you would undoubtedly get on with both of them and would not think twice if one of them asked to borrow a few dollars. You just know you’d get it back – they’re good people. Put them on a bike, however, and the animal inside (a badger perhaps?) is released and I’ve got a feeling that the upcoming season is going to be even more competitive than the last.
Why do I think this? Well, it’s not complicated. Put a man on anything that can be moved and he will want it to move as fast as possible. Doesn’t matter whether it is a human powered vehicle or a machine propelled by the internal combustion engine, it must be made to go as fast as is possible. We all have a little bit of this in us. I know I feel it when riding with these two. You don’t want to be at the back all the time ‘accepting’ the easier ride in the draft of the rider in front of you. You push yourself to get out to the front and every now and then you think “I’m going to drop these bastards! They won’t know what hit them”. Sometimes this self-inflicted and completely un-necessary breakaway is successful and you feel the swelling of your chest as you look over your shoulder and it is confirmed that you caught them sleeping. On other occasions it can back fire in the most humiliating of circumstances as one, or worse both, of them seem to effortlessly accelerate past you as you are standing in the pedals and pumping your legs for all they’re worth. It’s on days like that when you are thankful to end the ride picking up the rear. You slip back into place and lick your wounds trying to think of an amusing excuse for your lacklustre performance, knowing that it’ll be heard but certainly not believed.
Riding with people that push you is very rewarding and the three of us do just that – we push. I have lost count the times we have started a ride with the words “Just an easy one today. No pain. Just spin the legs”. No more words are spoken but it is soon very obvious that no-one has heeded the lame plea at the start because a glance at the speedo indicates an average speed of over 35 kph. We’re all pretending that it’s normal and that this is just “spinning the legs” but inside we’re more often than not trying to work out which of us has decided to turn this into a bloody competition again. The reality is that you don’t have much time to think about that because you are starting to hurt everywhere. Your thighs are burning from the inside, right down by the bone, and you have to consciously think about each pedal stroke. Your chest, heaving with the strain, is starting to hurt, again from the inside out. Your lungs feel inadequate and finally you get that sensation in your lower gut that feels as if you’re going to throw up. Each of us is waiting for the other to break first, praying for an end to the suffering but refusing to be the one to sit up first.
I miss those rides. It’s hard to generate that kind of suffering on the indoor trainer, although perhaps climbing Mont Ventoux on the fixie might do it. Now there’s an idea……