It’s winter. No doubt about it. As I sit inside looking at the snow falling lightly, I contemplate what I’ll be doing today in terms of exercise. Will it be sitting on the bike trainer or will I venture outside on the bike?
The roads are sure to be slick and icy. The thermometer says -4C (25F). OK, not too bad. It is this middle of January after all. I’ve got the proper clothing to stay warm, so the biggest hurdle is mental. I decide to layer up and head on out into this cold, grey day in Dresden, Germany. This is the second winter that I’ve spent here and this year is noticeably colder and snowier than last. I managed to squeak by last year with barely any snow and therefore spent the entire winter out on the open road. This was great for training and morale. Not a single day on the trainer, watching the TV and counting the workout intervals. I considered myself pretty lucky. If this was the “harsh European winters” that people talked about, this wasn’t too bad. I didn’t really believe it though. I figured we just skipped a year with regards to the cold and snow.
Seems to reason then that this year, a true winter should return. And indeed it has. I’m not sure exactly how long it’s been since the sun has appeared in the sky, but I think it’s been at least a few weeks. In fact, when I was out the other day with friends, we were all startled by the sight of bright, whitish circle up in the sky, trying to shine through the clouds. It never succeeded.
But rather than focus on the grey and the cold, I look at it as mini-challenge: me against the winter. And since it really isn’t that much snow outside, I figure my odds are pretty good. Besides, I truly believe that there is rarely something better than a bike ride to uplift one’s spirits. It doesn’t really matter what the weather is. If you’ve got the right gear, you’re ready to ride. Which brings to mind the Norwegian proverb, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong choice of clothes.” For the cyclist, that about sums it up. Although I would add that proper tire choice for the winter is probably not a bad idea either.
So deciding to avoid the busier, main roads today for safety reasons, I pull out the cyclocross bike and head out along the snowy cycling route running along the Elbe River. Even in the winter, this is a great place to ride. This is just a section of the bike route that stretches over 840 kilometers (520 miles), all the way from the border with the Czech Republic in the south, to the North Sea, just above Hamburg. I actually think I prefer to ride this in winter versus summer for many reasons, not the least of which is that there are so many fewer people out there in the snow. At this time of year, you’ll typically see runners, walkers and a few cross country skiers, but for the most part, it’s pretty quiet compared to the summer.
Riding in the brisk air was exactly what I needed. January can be a tough month for cyclists. In many parts of Europe and North America, we’re still deep into winter. The daylight is creeping back a few minutes every day, but the days are still low on light and pretty brisk. It is also the time of year that many of us are working off those few extra “holiday pounds” that were so fun to put on. But with our minds on our summer fitness goals, we know we need to put in the time and effort to be ready for warmer days. I think that’s, in part, what makes these wintry rides so much fun. It’s not only a challenge to ride, slipping along with snow underneath our tires, it’s a training challenge which will lead to better form later in the year. It’s not always easy to get out there and ride in the snow, but it sure is fun. And in the end, it does wonders for both my physical and mental well being.