Autumn cycling and Higher Ground

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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.

Real cycling weather. October 2012, north of Helmsley

On the cusp.. colours starting to turn, but the seasons yet to bite

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..

Mick, Patrick, Dan and Hilary

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

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

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

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

Hidden light, somehow more vivid

Carry on to read more about foul-weather cycling... (next page)

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5 comments on “Autumn cycling and Higher Ground”

  1. Patrick wrote:

    Lovely article Dan. I agree with your thoughts about cycling in Autumn and the beauty of the English landscape – British, even.

    Dan wrote: ...a patch of this world that is seemingly untouched by the hand of man

    It's worth remembering there's hardly a square yard of the British Isles that remains 'natural' as such. Even the Scottish Highlands. When one considers the mess that humans are capable of, our landscape seems miraculous. My only complaint is the weather, especially this year, but I suppose dampness is all part of it. We should also thank farmers and other (often posh) landowners, plus national institutions like the National Trust, National Park authorities, Forestry Commission etc, and even the planning system (I do have another complaint actually: wind farms – UGH!).

    Variety, accessibility, and history are what our landscape has in abundance. I've mentioned bridleways before... cyclists' rights of way over private land are a national treasure and do not exist to the same degree anywhere else in the world. And moderate climate, so far anyway. So it's not just autumn: gloomy December, great for cycling – from three years ago.

    One more thing... you do get around!

  2. Daniel wrote:

    Thank you Patrick, and agreed – I remember once someone posing the question of how much of the UK would be as it is now, were man not present. The answer, in fact, was none – where man hadn't altered the landscape, his animals had – if only through erosion and affecting the vegetation cover. But some statistic nevertheless. Still, if one feels that somewhere is untouched, or nature has had more of a say than man, then that can be enough.

    Yes, I do like to explore these isles, though my remit has recently expanded and I do feel like casting my net wider.. but there's a fair bit of this country I've explored. Having said which, I have a UK map I've marked with where I've been, and it's depressingly empty.. more to explore methinks! 😉 Cheers, Dan

  3. Hilary wrote:

    Splendid article Dan!
    There is undoubtedly something about the remote wild places that stirs the soul and I do miss that now I live in the deep south. But once out of towns there is so much beauty everywhere, even if only on a miniature scale, in flowers and hedgerows. Its great to explore new places but no two rides are ever the same even if you've ridden that road hundreds of times – good news when you live on a small island!

    I find I tend to do longer rides in autumn, you know good days won't come often so you can't afford to waste any. I think its the cycling equivalent of the squirrel hoarding his nuts – storing up rides in readiness for lean times ahead!

  4. Kern wrote:

    This is a great meditation on the "opportunities" of the seasons. It provides a ray of hope when looking out a window at 8 inches of snow on the ground 🙁 .

    ... the closer the landscape gets to appearing untouched by man, the more elemental the feel and the rawer the experience for me

    I'm in for that one.

    There is a depressing train of thought that we have entered a new geological era, the anthropocene, a "man-centred geological age", in which humankind is changing the surface of the earth more than nature. (Example: the Canadian tar sands move more soil in a year than all the rivers of the world combined.)

    Patrick, I'm with you on wind farms when they are situated on mountain tops. In Connemara we passed a windfarm stretched along a mountain ridge. The turbines utterly dwarfed the hills beneath them – it was deflating.

  5. Chris wrote:

    Kern wrote: This is a great meditation on the "opportunities" of the seasons.

    Yes, meditation is the right word here. Dan, I think I would have only managed a line or two about how my stubbly chin tickles when it captures the moisture of a morning ride during autumn, so it was probably for the best that you got in with a post about this time of year before I did.

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