For cyclists, at least, TS Eliot got it wrong: September is the cruellest month (though April also had its sadistic side in this freakishly torrential year). The evenings are drawing in, the air is cooling down, making it oh-so-tempting to abandon the bike for the winter.
The solution, I’ve always thought, is to adopt the school calendar and think of it as the beginning rather than the end of the year – January, after all, is merely the middle of the misery season, unless you happen to have been given a new bike for Christmas. One of the consolations of going back to school was the pencil case full of shiny new protractors and sharpened pencils. Likewise, in cycling, it’s a good time to stock up on all those little necessities that will make life tolerable through the grisly months ahead. A stout pair of gloves will go a long way to convincing you that it’s not really that punishingly cold, while it’s a sound strategy to anticipate the lengthening nights by stocking up with working lights (and spare batteries), so that you don’t arrive at the end of a day’s work with a ready-made excuse not to attempt the ride home.
Lights are my weakness. Leave them on and they get nicked; take them off and you either forget them or – most irritatingly of all – they self-activate in your bag so that when you come to switch them on, all you get is a feeble flicker. What you really shouldn’t attempt to do is to ride home in the dark without them, even though the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents points out that cyclists statistically have more accidents in daylight, making daytime conspicuousness just as important. Time to treat yourself to that hi-vis jacket.
More contentious than lights are helmets and bells. The fact that 20-40% of your body heat is lost through the top of your head makes a good case for investing in headwear for warmth, even if you don’t buy the safety arguments, which I certainly do. Though I rather fancy a new hooter, I’m more ambivalent about bells, after a summer of experimenting on old ladies and joggers in my local park. Old ladies tend to panic and lurch in the wrong direction, while most joggers are plugged into iPods, so don’t hear you anyway.
This ambivalence is reflected in recent legislative history: bells were obligatory until Thatcher’s government scrapped the requirement in 1983. They became compulsory again at point of sale in 2004, though – as staff at my bike shop pointed out – one leading manufacturer until recently supplied bikes with bells that didn’t fit, and it’s perfectly legal for cycle shops to remove bells from bikes that they’ve sold, as it’s not illegal for the owner to ride without one if they so wish. Guide Dogs for the Blind, however, says it wants the legislation to be extended because the commonest form of road accidents for blind people are with silent bikes.
You’ve got the gadgets, so what else can you do to cheer yourself on? You could try a cycling version of the detox, which involves taking a good look at the bad habits you’ve acquired over the year and taking action to correct them. One of the simplest steps is to make sure your saddle is the right height (Transport for London research this summer suggested that 71% of the city’s cyclists are riding badly fitting bikes). The DIY version is to measure your inside leg, subtract 10cm and then match it to the length between the top of your saddle and the point where the pedal is attached to the bike frame. Or you could book an appointment with the Covent Garden-based ergonomics specialist Cyclefit, whose two-hour sessions will set you back £175, but will tell you everything you need to know about what you’re doing wrong.
I’m not sure I need to know too much about power leakage and biomechanical inefficiency. On the other hand there’s that creak in my left knee which always seems worse when it’s cold and wet. And I do strongly believe that a comfortable cyclist is a regular cyclist, come cataracts or hurricanes.
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