If there needs to be further evidence that outdoor cycling activity wanes as the hours of sunlight lessen and the temperature drops, I found it today. My ride was 36.95 miles, out to Ashburn Road and back. Along the way I encountered no riders on my side of the trail—I passed nobody, and nobody passed me. I saw maybe seven or eight guys (no women) cycling in the opposite direction. There were several walkers, and a few groups of two or three moms pushing baby carriages, but the W&OD is a lonely place these weekdays.
The loneliness is actually pleasant, because it’s quiet, undemanding, serene. And anyhow I’m not really “alone.” Besides the walkers and the sporadic inline blade skaters and skateboarders there are crossroads with cars (I waved “thanks” to more drivers than I saw cyclists today), overhead contrails and the distant roar of the jet aircraft that produce them, and the quiet but intense action of nature along the trail, from the rippling streams to the flutter of birds to the dash of squirrels to the dogs on leashes to the definitely unleashed seven-point buck who paraded regally along the trail in my direction, but on the grass border on the opposite side of the asphalt.
Riding on a day like this is really comfortable, too. One key is the wind. There was none today, essentially. Flags hung limp. Even though cyclists are sensitive to headwinds and tailwinds—a light breeze can seem like a gale when you’re riding uphill into it—I could never decide today when I had a headwind and when I didn’t. When it’s 45° wind is a cycling factor, because “wind chill” is real. But while all it means to a weather forecaster is that the air will “feel” 5 or 8 degrees cooler when I step outside, to a bike rider it means that the skin on my face will feel almost like it’s freezing if I am riding into a 10 mph wind at 40°. So the absence of wind is a luxury in this weather.
Then there’s clothing. Two or three years ago I discovered Arctic Guard™ Thermaguard base layers. “Baselayer” is a highly technical athletic apparel term. To lay readers, it can be considered synonymous with “underwear.” My Arctic Guard™ baselayer jerseys are thin, light, feel like silk, and yet provide incredible thermal protection. Their thinness is much needed, because my lined cycling jerseys are (intentionally) tight-fitting. They extend the downward temperature range of the jerseys about 10°, and when combined with my Gore-Tex® winter jacket make me confident that my core will remain warm past the point that my exposed skin can take the frigid air.
Such protection is needed, now that we’re at the point when even at noon the shadows of trailside signposts extend all the way across the bike path. The sun lurks so low in the sky that I’m tempted to paraphrase the title of an old comedy film and say that “winter suns can’t jump.” The sun has no “hang time” at all. Michael Jordan or that other “Mike,” Baryshnikov, could get higher than the sun is these days. But of course they were stars, not suns.
©Arnold J. Bradford, 2012.