The summer is now over , or as some might say , the milder part of winter has passed . The mornings and evenings are getting shorter by the day and chances are you’ll get wet whenever you throw your leg over the saddle . We are now entering the Irish cyclists peak time of activity .
Why ? you may ask does the onslaught of dark wet mornings and evenings indicate a time of growth in the numbers of cyclists on the road . Well , here’s my take on the matter ;
You can divide winter cyclists into three basic groups : Racers , Tourists and commuters .
The Racers : Even though the racing season is from March to September the racers season begins in October . After a two week lay off ( he had promised himself four but was too keen to wait ) the racer is back in the saddle and rearing to go . The winter bike has been serviced and looks so inviting with those lovely mudguards that he just has to get out for a few spins .
All of the disappointments of the past season are now forgotten and all roads point forward toward the potential of next season . He is determined to improve and that is why he is beginning his winter training so early . He actually stopped training seriously around mid June but continued on racing to the end of the season so that he would be stronger for next year .
Every extra day’s head start will give him the edge over everyone else and this is what he thrives on . When a car containing his training buddy passes him at 9.00 pm on some wet and miserable tuesday night in October and beeps the horn he is delighted . He will be ‘the man ‘ on the Sunday spin with all of this extra training .
The Tourist : This used to be the domain of the fair weather cyclist . The ones who cycled for fun and not for speed .However they have changed and are now made up of cyclists who will not cycle 50k a day around Ireland but who will do 200k in the Alps in one day . This bunch of riders is growing exponentially . They have taken up cycling late and have the renewed sense of purpose and youth that they had been searching for . They enjoy being fit and healthy and also enjoy the ‘manliness’ of doing something tough to get fit . For them a cold dark wet winters night poses no obstacle . They have been dealing with pressure all day at work and the spin on the bike acts as a release valve .
They will usually have a goal in mind , possibly The Etape , The Wicklow or The Kelly . At age fourteen Chrs Hoy wrote on a sheet that he wanted to be Olympic Champion and this year he did . The tourist will also mark his calender with the date of his target event and will ensure that he has the training done when he gets there .
Time is crucial to this group and so if a spin is scheduled for Tuesday evening , then the spin is completed no matter what the weather . They just love the feeling of being a teenager again . Whilst their work colleagues are in watching prime time they are out hammering the roads and loving every minute of it .
The Commuter began life as a motorist . Over time and styrofoam coffee cups spilt onto the dashboard they became disenchanted with their daily commute to and from work . The twelve mile round trip was taking over two hours to complete and a friend suggested cycling instead . They bought a bike in the supermarket for 99euro and for two weeks tried to understand why the newer bikes were so much harder to steer than the bikes they had as a kid . Then one day they were passing a bike shop and stopped in . As they admired the cool looking aray of machinery which looked nothing like the single speed super deluxe with back pedal brake from their childhood they began chatting with the guy in the shop .
When the commuter enquired as to the reasons behind the difficulty in steering new bikes the guy said he thought that most bikes had actually improved but then said that he’d have a look at the commuters bike if he liked . Immediately the bike shop guy spotted the problem . It wasn’t anything new , it was the third time that week he had come across it . The front fork was mounted backwards and the brake cable was wrapped around the head tube .
The commuter had seen a giant crs hybrid which caught his eye and the following day he went in and bought it . The difference was unbelievable . Night and day . The bike felt so free compared to the cheapo dual suspension model which always felt like work . He began to enjoy the cycle to work and also the extra fifteen minutes in bed as opposed to driving . He is also fitter and even his wallet has seen some improvements .
Many commuters have been on holiday during the summer but now that winter has arrived they are all back with their noses to the grindstone and their collective numbers have increased .
Some people have concerns about the safety and comfort aspect of winter cycling in teh dark and here are a few tips which may help with those matters ;
1 : Always make your self as visible as possible . Lights are a must especially at dusk or dawn , a time when many people just take the chance . LED lights are good but rechargeable are better on the front . Also consider junctions and roundabouts and try to ensure that you are visible from the side .
2 : Make eye contact : When approaching a junction or a roundabout , if you are unable to make eye contact with the driver always presume that they will pull out in front of you . Sometimes even if you do make eye contact they will still pull out but your chances are much improved if you always err on the side of caution .
3 : If possible try to avoid peak times : When training at night or early in the morning try to avoid being on the road between 7.30 -8.30 am and 5.00 – 6.30 pm . These are the times when drivers are rushing to get to work or rushing to get home in time for their soaps .
4 : Wrap up well : Always wear leggings and long sleeves . As the winter progresses a good pair of thermal leggings and a Windproof breathable jacket are essential as are overshoes , gloves and a thermal hat for under the helmet . Think cozy and you won’t go far wrong .
5: Pedal smoothly : If the roads are greasy or even icy it is very important to try to pedal smoothly and to relax your upper body . Try not to get out of the saddle if its slippy and always remember to do your braking before the corners .
6 : The bike : You won’t be able to keep it clean all of the time but do pay particular attention to the transmission , ie: gears , chain , cassette , chainrings and jocky wheels . It is a good idea to put on a new chain at the start of the winter as this might save the price of a cassette later on . Also look after your brakes , you will need them to be dependable so watch out for pad wear and bits of metal in the pads . Mudguards are a must especially if riding in a group as your spray will drench the riders behind you . Many groups will not let you ride up the line during the winter if you don’t have mudguards fitted .
7 : If the weather really is too bad and you don’t want to go out hop up on the indoor trainer and do at least 30 mins to 1 hour . Remember to drink plenty and to leave a window open or you’ll fog up the whole house .
Finally I hope that you all enjoy the winter . I’m looking forward to it , especially since I’ll be extra motivated with the imminent arrival of my new winter bike – a Dolan Prefissio which should have me really flying for December .