Longer Days

Setting sun

The seasons matter to cycling. And cycling makes the seasons matter.

In the north-west of England we’ve finally emerged from the harshest Winter. The days are growing longer and warmer. The deep cold has gone and life is returning to the land.

Struck by a cold, I was off the bike for a week but, with my strength coming back, each of the past few days I’ve ridden out of town for a short, gentle ride towards the end of day. It’s a lovely way to spend an evening, enjoying the quiet lanes and lengthening shadows as the sun falls over Morecambe Bay.

Long shadow

Last night I left the house at 7:30 to do a little loop into the Forest of Bowland and up to Jubilee Tower. Lambs bounced round the fields, hares sprinted off at my approach, and birds busily prepared themselves for the coming night. Occasionally a farmer’s tractor or quad-bike trundled somewhere in the distance, but the lanes were empty of cars. I love the feeling of having all this countryside, all this space, virtually to myself; I sink into it, become blurred, am content.

Forest of Bowland

I hurtled back down to the quiet Sunday night city, passing the Town Hall clock as it chimed a-quarter-to-nine, some light left still in the sky. For the next two months each evening will grow a little longer, and hopefully warmer too. Isn’t this the very best time to be on a bike, the longest days and best weather still ahead? Our bodies turn with our pedals towards the optimism Spring surely brings.

Winter’s cold and dark tempts the closing of curtains and indoor retreat. Spring seduces us back to the world outside. The scope for cycling becomes so much greater. The traditional pro-cycling calendar reflects this – we’ve had the early season Classics and can now anticipate the Summer’s Grand Tours. Locally too Winter’s dormancy has retreated and the cycle racing season begun, the weeks now crowded with events.

Winter cycling is great, but includes a certain amount of ‘getting through’. Winter cycling matters, but there always lurks an orientation to brighter, better days ahead. Many people cycle only once it gets warmer, but surely no one cycles just in Winter.

We know how seasonal cycling is, how warm weather triggers the inclination to cycle. The bike shops get busy, new people on new or refurbished bikes are out and about. Of course we need to create conditions which compel people to cycle all year round, but in the absence of bolder, broader institutional support for ordinary cycling it’s understandable that most people’s interest in riding changes with the weather.

We’re ‘a cycling family’, but cycling is seasonal for us too. On Saturday morning I went with Bobby and Flo to our brilliant local children’s cycling club, Salt Ayre Cog Set, where weekly sessions have resumed. Both complained bitterly at being made to go; I was ‘the baddie’ breaking their winter hibernations in which lazy stasis inspired by staring at screens has taken centre-stage. But the sunshine, sociability, fresh air and exercise boosted their energies, and they came away bubbling with enthusiasm, as though participating had sprung Spring within their little souls.

Springtime cycling is a mechanism for lifting our spirits and horizons, taking us to other, farther, more interesting places.

Of course for those of us who ride year round Spring feels good partly because of the Winter that came before, as well as the Summer that lies ahead. Contrasts are everything: even the places through which we most regularly ride change dramatically; and as the temperatures rise and the days lengthen cycling becomes less shackled by some Winter essentials: lights, layers, gloves and hats; things can gradually be discarded. There’s a ‘freeing-up’ both of cycling and our selves.

My little ride last night wasn’t cold, but we’ve yet to experience a truly warm evening this year. At long last, though, it’s feeling possible; the dreamy, delicious prospect of the after-dinner short-sleeve and shorts ride through warm and windless air has moved one step closer.

Springtime evening sunshine

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7 Responses to “Longer Days”

  1. Steve A Says:

    The second photo is reminiscent of a pennyfarthing!

  2. Ian Says:

    Very nice. The hills up here (Strathspey) still have snow on the tops, the lambs still struggle, and the winds are a bit strong. But as you say, finally the possibility of warm evenings comes closer.

  3. The Ranty Highwayman Says:

    Yes, compared to last year, the winter has seemed very long. For me, it is not needing lights on my commute!

  4. khal spencer Says:

    Beautiful essay; thank you.

    When I think of winter cycling, I often think of seeing the world through the light provided by my headlamp, with much of the surroundings a dark and mysterious blur at the edges of a narrow white light shining down my path. One has to watch for deer or other animals leaping out. To some degree, it feels like a metaphor for life itself. Spring comes and once again, I’m riding in the light at the end of a work day. To some degree, it takes a while to adjust to the light. I feel like I have left my office too soon, having gotten used to leaving in the dark for the last few months.

    This morning as I was riding down our little street on the way to the collector, I was overwhelmed by the number of birds chirping. It reminded me of a day back in Honolulu where I decided to avoid the highway and ride to work along an abandoned old road that led from windward Kailua, over the Koolau Range, to the University in downtown Honolulu. Off on the abandoned road, all one could hear were birds and the rustling of leaves. On the highway, all one can here is engine noise. Small wonder motorists get grumpy.

    Longer days have returned to Los Alamos, too.

    • Dave Horton Says:

      Thanks very much Khal. I agree with you about there being a process of readjusting to daylight. It’s magical really, isn’t it? I know you don’t have to cycle in order to realise and/or appreciate the turning of the year, but because using a bicycle makes this re-orientation so active (changing what you wear, what you add to/take off your bike etc) and almost – as you say – creates an-ever-so-slightly unnerving if temporary kind of discombobulation – I think cycling gives you an especially powerful appreciation of it. The birdsong is currently glorious here too – the sound is sufficient by itself reason to ride a bike.
      Lovely to know you’re still reading! Thanks.
      Best wishes

  5. Jonathan Abra Says:

    Thanks for the link to Cog Set, Dave. It does, however, remind me that we need to update our web site as it is looking very tired and doesn’t at all do our marvellous club justice. Very glad to hear that B&F were more positive after the session. I do worry a bit that when we get those sorts of numbers a little of the individual attention is lost (regularly getting 75 riders to Saturday training sessions!)

    By the way, City Centre racing in Lancaster on the evening of 28th June. Marshals needed – spread the word (and apologies for hijacking your blog for recruitment purpose!)

    • Dave Horton Says:

      No need to apologise at all Jonathan. Always feel free to mention anything you fancy via here (though I don’t have very clear sense of how much my stuff is read locally; I sometimes think that those people who know me have learnt best how to ignore me! 😉 You and everyone else at Cog Set do a magnificent job in providing opportunities for children to ride; Bobby and I are going mountain biking this weekend, but he’s asked if he can get to Cog Set first!
      It’s great that we’ve got the City Centre racing again this year; bigger, better and hopefully drier! Yes indeed, anyone relatively local who wants not only to see people racing around Lancaster city centre, but actually to lend a hand in making that happen, please put the date in your diary and feel free to lend a hand!
      See you on Saturday Jonathan.

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