The author of Lost Lanes: 36 Glorious Bike Rides in Southern England brings a cheery face to cycling on the darkest days of the year
Winter miles make for summer smiles. That’s how the saying goes, but even with the firmest of intentions it can be hard to maintain the momentum, especially if all you see is dull, dreary riding in difficult conditions and gratification – in the form of early season fitness – very much of the delayed variety.
It’s so easy to let things slip: when the alarm goes to burrow deeper under the duvet, to put off that after-work spin in favour of a festive pint at the pub.
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Instead of seeing winter riding as something to be endured, I prefer to seek out its subtle pleasures. Days are short, but morning and late afternoons can be blessed with a low, piercing sunlight that brings the monochrome landscape into stark relief.
With autumn leaves long gone, trees reveal their naked forms, majestic and fascinating. A hard frost silvers bare fields and encrusts vegetation with ice crystals that sparkle in every colour of the rainbow. Mist hangs low in valleys and rises steaming from rivers and lakes with the first rays of a weak winter sun. After a couple of hours in the bitter cold, or riding through rain, a warm, steaming café feels like an oasis to a desert traveller. Warm too is the fellowship among the handful of cyclists out on wintry roads.
With daylight in short supply, winter is the time to acquire a taste for night riding. The era of cheap, super-bright LED lights means no more riding down dark country lanes in fear of an unseen pothole; no more worrying if the car behind has seen you. Modern bike lights are now the equal of any other lights on the road, progress that is almost inconceivable for anyone with the memory of the bulky, dim Ever Ready lights of not so very long ago.
Each year I try to mark the winter solstice – the shortest, deepest day of winter – with a special ride. Sometimes it’s a weekend tour with an overnight stay in a pub or B&B, sometimes just a longer-than-average day ride with friends, with a few fireworks to mark the occasion.
This year I’ll be heading deep into the Brecon Beacons National Park, recently certified as an international dark sky reserve. Comet Ison may be no more but, clear skies willing, the shimmering arc of the Milky Way and the shooting stars of the Ursid meteor shower will be enough to remind me that winter miles can make for their very own smiles.
This article was first published in the December 19 issue of Cycling Weekly. Read Cycling Weekly magazine on the day of release where ever you are in the world International digital edition, UK digital edition. And if you like us, rate us!