The best thing about winter is not the cold, crisp days, lovely though they can be. It’s not the bit where the clocks go back, so that some preternaturally enthusiastic fool can go training at 7am, while the rest of us are plunged into darkness sometime shortly after lunch. The best bit about winter is winter bikes.
Once upon a time, any cyclist worthy of the name rode a bespoke steel bike made by a man called something like Reg, who normally worked in the fetid back room of a bike shop. Reg measured you up according to no biomechanics known to science or to God, relieved you of £500, and told you it would be ready in an indeterminate period, called, in the argot of the frame-builder, “six-to-eight weeks”.
When, after a year or so, the bike turned up, it would be a perfect reflection of its owner. It was their size and their shape. It had the colour and graphic design they wanted, which told how old they were and what riders they admired.
Each part of the bike was carefully selected according to taste, ambition, political orientation and the exact extent to which they didn’t care if their children never saw fresh meat again. To buy a bike from a Reg was to make at least 100 small decisions, each one offering up a little bit of yourself.
Avoiding a damp derrière
We lost all that with the one-colour-fits-all off-the-peg Trekarello. And that’s the joy of the winter bike. Like the old steel bike, it reflects its owner. For instance, anyone whose winter bike doesn’t feature mudguards is both a fool and a blackguard, and should on no account be trusted with the cake money at the cafe. Even the most sociopathic of professionals prefers a dry arse, and so should you.
Equally, the purpose-bought winter bike, supplied new and compete with a saddle like a mediaeval penance and tyres that combine great weight with unbelievable permeability, is the sensible and dependable transport of someone who folds their underpants before having sex.
The true winter bike is the one that just coalesces in a corner of the garage. Long forgotten and usually deeply-flawed components quietly gather themselves together until one day you find there are enough to build a bike. It’ll be a bike like no one else’s.
Ideally it should contain at least one component so old or so useless that no one normal has ever seen it before. My friend Bernard’s winter machine includes a pair of plastic brake calipers which he refers to as his ABS, because they flex so badly he can’t lock up a wheel even when he’s sliding across sheet ice.
Pilfered from Paris
He has been preserved from multiple deaths only by the bike’s wheels, which he swears he found sitting beside a team car at Paris-Roubaix and labelled ‘Spare for Fabian ONLY,’ but which, despite their noble lineage, appear to have gravel instead of balls in the bearings. They limit his top speed to something so modest that he can always stop by dragging his feet on the ground.
This marks Bernard out as a) a danger to himself and others, b) a petty thief and c) a man to whom you should never lend your shoes.
And I don’t think I could summarise his personality better.
Everyone should own such a bike. Like tree-rings, the ages of the components will mark out your years in cycling. The way its apparently mismatching parts are carefully assembled (“Pass me that hammer… yes, you fool, of course the big one.”) will be a testament to your mechanical skill.
It will be uncomfortable and it will rattle, but it will be yours in a way your summer carbon wonder-bike never will be. You will hate it, of course you will.
But you’ll love it too.