Autumn cycling and Higher Ground
What kind of cycling do you do in autumn? Do the type of ride, the routes you follow, your objectives change with the seasons? Do your target distances drop off, and the motivations which get you out the door vary according to the length of the shadows and the height of the mercury? Here's a glimpse into some of my favourite cycling weathers.
Real cycling weather. October 2012, north of Helmsley
Fancy a bike ride? Your ideal ride? Picture it. Well-surfaced, traffic-free roads, no gradient too steep, but a challenge in places, perhaps. Scenery? Stunning. Clear skies, not much wind to slow you down. Not too warm, but pleasant, certainly.. is the sun out? Of course. Plenty of daylight, so you can cycle for as long as you've got in the tanks. I'm guessing it's summer then? Well, you'd hope so..
Your ideal summer ride? Cycleseven's 100 mile ride in the Yorkshire Dales
But how many of our rides are really like this? In this country you can get better weather in February – higher temperatures, clearer skies and more daylight – than in August. So this ride could be any time of year, and on those magic days we all do get once in a while, well – everything somehow comes together with nothing to spoil your mood, and somehow our cycling wishes all get fulfilled at once. I had a ride like that yesterday. In November.
Yorkshire Dales Lanes, near Brimham
Thing is, not all rides are going to be like this. In fact, the vast majority aren't – unless the rain gods are scared of you, the traffic trolls fear your tyre tracks and you don't need happy pills to put a permanent smile on your face. Oh yes, you probably live in a different country too.. our weather is not always in its Sunday best, and the roads we travel don't always match up to our dream rides'. So, given that we can't always hope for perfect storms blowing on the opposite side of the Atlantic to where we want to ride, what other conditions do we find satisfying in cycling – unless we are truly fair-weather cyclists, what else floats our boat? Well, for me, it's maybe not so obvious. I may just have more catholic tastes than some, and find pleasure in stranger places than most (hell, that's true enough), but non-cyclists and (some) cyclists alike are still surprised by where I go to get my kicks, and how I like to ride. Put simply, I'm the kind of cyclist that likes a challenge.
North York Moors in their best set o'clothes
Now this isn't to say that I jump out of bed when I see the stair-rods coming down, the wind howling or ice and snow making the going treacherous as well as tortuous – I like my comfort as much as the next man, woman, cat. But I hope I share something with some of you in enjoying the sort of weather, and the type of ride, that makes you feel alive. Because it surprised you, with views or lanes you'd not encountered before; because it allowed you, forced you even, into raising your game to battle a gradient, mileage or weather you'd not have chosen for your less-determined cycling nephew/son/brother; because it asked something of you. Sometimes you can have epic rides in the rain. Sometimes you've got it in your legs to pass the hundred mile mark and still be glad you did. Sometimes you can see the road rear up ahead of you, and feel the lights in your power meter come on one by one as you relish the challenge you and the road are setting yourself. Is this flat-road cycling? Not for me, it ain't. Is it summer riding? Well, sometimes.. But where do I go when I want to tackle a new challenge? Somewhere desolate, barren, hilly. Scenic, isolated, sometimes not pretty but always awe-inspiring, generally in the west of the country or at least its higher reaches, and wherever possible, somewhere I haven't explored before. And when do I find conditions matching my desire to surprise myself, not brutal, not comforting, but challenging, daunting, forbidding even – but in so many ways, rewarding? Well – autumn.
Wharfedale at its rawest
Not all days in autumn are foul, though maybe we could be forgiven for believing it sometimes. But fog, drizzle, cold weather, low sun, and changeable conditions or light, can really lift a ride from the mundane to the ethereal, if the planets decide they're all going to line up for you. Certainly if you're looking for an eye-opening, testing ride rather than the perfect-conditions dreamcruise we've all had in summers past, then autumn's your man.
Hidden light, somehow more vivid
Carry on to read more about foul-weather cycling... (next page)