Cycling in winter can be enjoyable but it is sometimes difficult and often an unpleasant time, so the arrival of spring comes as something of a relief and really marks the beginning of the year for cyclists. At the heart of the many changes that take place during spring, most noticeable are the warmer, longer days that result in more comfortable and extensive rides. During winter the challenge is to stay in shape; having usually failed the task in spring is therefore to get in shape in order to undertake more ambitious rides during the coming year.
By the time of the spring equinox in late March the sun has moved much higher in the sky since the winter solstice, with positive consequences for cyclists. Warmer temperatures not only make cycling more pleasant but enable muscles to work more efficiently. As temperatures slowly rise it’s also time to shed bulky winter garments and gradually transition to lighter, more relaxed clothing. As a result the cycling becomes less encumbered, easier and all together more enjoyable. The very low sun in winter can create problems with vision, often obscuring forward sight or creating difficult strobe effects as it shines through passing bushes and trees, both of which become less evident during spring. March and especially April are also noticeably windy, which for cyclists will be good or bad news depending on the direction of travel.
As the winter dirt disperses and the roads become drier it may be time to change bikes. I tend to ride the Trek MTB bike for much of November through to February, though with ongoing problems associated with last year’s TKR operation I’ve almost exclusively ridden the Airnimal Joey this winter; I am pleased to say that I’m now back on the Audax. At the end of winter it’s also time to clean, service and lubricate the bikes, which though something of a chore results in better riding.
Thus with dry, clean roads, warmer days and lighter clothing the cycling becomes faster and longer. However, there is still one issue lurking at the end of winter that may take months to deal with, if ever – potholes! Road conditions in the UK are often poor but during winter new, unseen potholes open up making matters worse. Venturing back onto routes not used during winter, I am initially wary of such potholes, particularly going downhill or on fast sections. Once aware of this year’s new holes I make a mental note of their location and can take avoiding action thereafter; however, such is the poor maintenance of roads that these dangers may remain throughout and even beyond summer, but at least forewarned is then forearmed.
Of course the real pleasure of cycling in spring is the emergence of new flora and fauna, which together transform the landscape, sights and sounds creating a new ambience for cyclists. Daffodils are generally considered to herald the arrival of spring and they literally light up the roadside edge when cycling. However, following this year’s unprecedented mildness over winter I saw daffodils before Christmas, so the advent of tree blossom and magnolias will play this role in 2016, whilst later on carpets of woodland bluebells will point towards the end of spring as summer then starts to beckon.
Meanwhile, spring farming activities mark a crucial time for the forthcoming growing season as new crops are planted that soon emerge above ground, rapidly changing the colour of the landscape. The bare branches of trees come into leaf soon thereafter providing shade and dappled sun for the passing cyclist.
Throughout this period the new offspring of wildlife becomes apparent from the bike, with lambs, calves and foals in the farm fields and birds’ nests in the trees and hedges. Furthermore, after the relative quiet of winter, birdsong seems to erupt from all areas and audibly fills the air with sound as you cycle along. Certain bird calls are characteristic of the seasons and in spring I find it’s the blackbird and latterly the infamous cuckoo call; however, this year I’ve already heard a skylark in the first week of March, a bird usually associated with summer.
Finally, winter is the time I usually start to sketch out ideas for possible cycle tours in the forthcoming year, followed by more detailed planning in spring. Unfortunately since 2014 I’ve had to place such thinking on hold until I know how my knees are going to be following last April’s TKR operation. I’m hopeful of at least some day riding trips from centrally based locations in the UK and France but am not expecting to be able to return to full touring until at least next year, if at all – we shall see.
Spring holds the promise of better things to come later in the year but more so, as the world comes to life again after winter it is perhaps the most beautiful of seasons for cycling.