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Mad Dogs & Canadians

November 30, 2011

Today’s Ride: 52km—Burlington to Sioux Lookout Park; home via King Rd.

Weather: Cold. Wet, horizontal snow on the return leg.

Magic. Setting out on a cold ride, garbed in the proper gear. Cool air, but feet are warm under booties, hands warm inside lobster claws, ears toasty under skull cap, and rain jacket as an extra layer of protection from the cold. Riding casually deliberate: easy pace, but looking the part. Some riders prefer the summer heat. They’re probably Tour de France fans, too. For me, there’s nothing like the Spring Classics. And bundling up on a cold day relives that kind of riding.

Almost a week since my last ride, I was chomping at the bit to get out this morning. Yesterday saw ~40mm of rain, but the weather looked to be a bit drier today. Cool (-1c; -4c with the wind chill), though. Gentle riding in cool weather is great. The pace is dictated by core temperature: spin fast enough to warm the body, but at an easier gear. The cycling season runs a bit like the sun’s trajectory across the heavens. At the beginning of the day/season, the sun is low on the horizon and the cyclist’s gearing is low, too. By the time the world has become warmer—the sun at its zenith—the cyclist rides predominantly in the big ring, the completion of a multi-week progression. As the sun begins to descend, so too does the gearing. Perhaps not as low as the beginning of the season—the form is, after all, still there. But end-of-year riding doesn’t demand the same kind of urgency as the beginning of the year, when the race to fitness is a critical issue. This time of year, riding is a bonus, not a necessity. And the pace reflects that.

Which is curious. Logic might dictate that cooler temperatures would insist upon higher tempos in order to maintain a comfortable core. Properly garbed, however, tempo is a minor consideration. Hills are less of a challenge when attacked at a more relaxed pace, but with this comes the arrogance of form: climbing slower, but without the struggle, serves as a dismissive rejection of cycling’s obstacles. Riding not at the limit can be difficult in warmer weather. In the cold, it’s fine. And it provides the added thrill of the quintessential antithesis of the British adage of mad dogs and Englishmen. A relaxed winter ride: only good for mad dogs and Canadians.

All well and good. After turning around at Sioux Lookout Park, snow started to fall. Lightly, but enough to add to the ride’s ambience and to encapsulate the musings above (developed over the course of the snow-free portion of the ride). Turning onto King Rd., the snow became heavier and was accompanied by 30kph headwinds. In the space of a kilometer, my eyewear was covered in ice on the outside and fog on the inside, making them useless. Or so I thought, until I decided to take them off. Snow stinging my eyes, I wished I’d brought a cap to shield them just a little. Up King Rd. in the saddle to avoid the back wheel skipping—the world now quite wet with snow and torrents of water flowing down the steep climb—but at that easy pace I alluded to. Glasses back on. Snow, ice, slush covering all the front-facing parts of the bike. Brakes not really doing what they’re supposed to be doing. Water now seeping through tights and shoes and socks. Descending back into the valley and stopping at Domestique for a post-ride espresso.

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