A winter reprieve

Blue sky has been a relatively frequent visitor to these parts recently, which is unusual given the season. This has enabled riding in a bright and clear sky, despite temperatures only just around 5 degrees C above freezing. Winter riding in the sun can be a deeply, deeply satisfying outing; but a recent ride, when the sun was hiding behind the clouds like a chastised child, was a reminder that it can also be profoundly cold and miserable.

Three factors have made riding at this time of year bearable for your author. The first has been an absolutely essential winter riding cap from Gal Studio. The Flemish model is all wool, has generous but not overdone ear protection, and looks stylish to boot. You could wear it on the Schelde canal bike path in Belgium, or anywhere, really. Essential.

The second has been that the problem of rear flat tyres (why is it never the front?) seems to have been solved. The solution is a something-or-other model from Specialized that features their ‘flak jacket’ protection. This is basically a tread that is rubber several millimetres thick stuck on top of the tyre casing. You probably couldn’t hammer a nail through it. The tyre also has a bizarre minimum inflation recommendation of 115 psi, but it’ll run just fine closer to 100, which should rule out pinch flats. It has a wire bead, probably weighs twice as much as a Michelin Pro 3, and it cost $25. But who wants to be pulling off two pairs of gloves and struggling with frozen tools for the sake of a few grams.

The third has been a new variation on your author’s interest in tipples & tonics. It being too cold to get thirsty on a ride, and warm drinks never staying warm in the bottle for long, recourse has been to the mid-ride coffee stop to warm up. Now, your author drinks two kinds of coffee: single espressos or double espressos. Everything else is just a variation – like a macchiato, where an espresso is ‘marked’ with foam. The new variation is the caffè corretto, where the espresso is ‘corrected’ with the addition of an appropriate liqueur (brandy or Drambuie is a good choice). Given the state of the North American café, ordering such a drink is not possible here, but this can be, er, corrected by carrying a hip flask with the required tonic in a jersey pocket. Pulling out a flask, along with a Moleskine notebook or a small George Orwell novel, also adds a touch of savoir-faire (or dangerous eccentricity, take your pick) to any café visit.

The drawbacks

It has not been all bucolic winter riding, however. A tricky schedule has meant last minute, truncated rides, often without the opportunity to organize the riding partners to help to while away the cold kilometres. A quick scan of the ride diary for 2011, as well, has revealed distances down a minimum of 25% from previous years – such is the challenge of keeping up appearances with a busy job, plans on the side, and a new addition to the family. Sometimes, getting out at all seems like a miracle.

Some recent wheel maintenance also depressingly revealed small cracks around several of the spoke holes in the rear wheel of your author’s much-treasured (and sub-1500 gram) HED Bastogne wheels. The cause is not immediately clear, but may be related to the challenges of building long-lasting and lightweight Al clinchers with minimal spoke counts and high tensions. But who can say? HED is known for their attention to customer service, even offering rebuilds at discount rates for wheels that have been damaged during crashes (not this scenario, unfortunately). It remains to be seen, however, whether they will respond at all to your author’s inquiry for advice via their website.

If repair is not possible, replacement is not an option (try adding daycare costs to your budget – yikes!), so there seems to be two ways forward. First, ride the wheels until there is some sort of failure. The cracks are very small, and may not get any larger. There may be much life left in the rear wheel yet. Or, second, keep the wheels for ‘hillclimb TTs’ and baby them for as long as possible, and ride one’s winter wheels on the race bike instead. Decisions.

A festive break

Stop! Have you taken the de Vlaeminck test yet? Good. Onward. This will be the last post on this blog for 2011. Thanks to all those who took the time to read the articles presented here, and extra thanks to those who gave feedback. To the many, many folks who spammed the comments section (always on the same post, strangely), my apologies for not replying to you all individually, or taking you up on the (surely) excellent product offers that you were advertising. Perhaps next year.

In a previous post, your author foreshadowed some upcoming posts on the meaning of cycling. So far, there has been ‘Sport as spectacle’ as well as numerous recent interludes on diverse topics, all of which you have hopefully enjoyed. To paraphrase the writer and critic John Updike, the problem with blogging is that it is “almost impossible… to avoid the tone of being wonderfully right.” It is a problem, indeed! One can therefore hope, dear reader, that you have found the opinions presented here to be thought provoking. Your author bears no riders any ill will, no matter their riding choices (okay, with the possible exception of anyone who sits on your wheel in races and yells “pull through” –  if you’ve breath left in your lungs, pull through yourself…). Cycling is a big enough tent for everyone. But that still doesn’t mean we can’t have – often quite strong – opinions and we should hear them out.

Looking ahead, 2012 presents some uncertainties for this blog, as a fresh year always does. There are a number of posts in the ‘meaning of cycling’ series still to complete: the anti-hero, Mont Ventoux and memory, and the sociology of the peloton. One hopes to be able to complete those in short order in the New Year. Subsequently, your author would like to return to a series of posts on the essence of le grimpeur – climbing. There has been an absence of focused articles on said topic here recently, so there should be some correctives offered. Finally, having discussed the decline of Italian cycling, there is going to be some effort on your author’s part to better understand Italian cycling. Despite having one ostensibly Italian-named bike (Marinoni, although it’s really a Quebec bike), your author has to profess having little real understanding of Italian cycling; one can know its history but not its passions. Some research will be required, and the fruits – such as they are – will be presented here in due course. And, with the opening of a new, authentic Italian café (Tre Galli – Three Roosters) nearby, your author is feeling inspired. So now it’s skipping past the French creperie (“Salut! Ça va?”) to the hone of fine espresso (“Ciao!”). We’ll have to have a talk about caffè corretto…

Finally, don’t forget Rule #58 from the Velominati. Even if your budget has been blown by daycare costs or the like, support your local bike shop when you can this festive season. They’re doing more to keep cycling going in your community than you realize. Merry Christmas, Joyeux Noël and, er, Buon Natale until the New Year.

Why we love cycling: spectacle; suffering. Humanity.

2 thoughts on “A winter reprieve

  1. Since I found your web page a couple of months ago, I’ve enjoyed reading what you post. We’d be able to discuss plenty of the topics further if we were riding together. It would pass the time, but would not be essential.

    So, if I think in terms of essential, why am I making my first comment to someone’s blog. “Health, safety and welfare”, that’s why.

    If HED won’t replace or fix your wheel, take it apart! We’re not talkin’ flat- tire failure here. Take it apart and everything works out for the better. Then you can wiggle those typing fingers, kiss your wife, and play with your little one while you or your local bikeshop person puts a rear wheel together.

    Happy Holidays from Maine!

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