I say Sunday, but it could be any chosen day. It’s the day of the big ride, the high spot of many a cyclist’s week. The time when home, work, family are all left behind (temporarily at least), the time when cycling is given the priority it deserves. If we are really pushed for time, we might squeeze in two hours; if we have greater liberty (or just get up really early) we might get four or even more. The only things that might derail the Sunday ride are serious family commitments or atrocious weather (I draw the line at ice or heavy rain). Otherwise it prevails over all else.
As well as being an escape from domestic reality, it is also a test. What sort of shape am I in? What sort of shape are my mates in? Who’s going to be quick up the hills today? Will I get any Strava PR trophies? The wrong answers to these questions can be dispiriting, the rights ones uplifting.
It is also a test of willpower. Sometimes it is an achievement just to get round, battling the wind, rain and cold, the potholes, puddles and punctures. Often the Sunday ride is not necessarily a lot of fun, but there can be a huge sense of satisfaction when it is done: as Frank Bruno said on winning his world title, “It was tough in there, but I done it”. The post-ride mug of tea, and the hot shower as fingers and toes come back to life, can be near-religious experiences.
It’s often an important training session, both physical and mental preparation for the big rides to come – hills and mountains to be climbed both at home and abroad.
So all in all it’s a pretty important event in the week of a cyclist. Missing it is, if not unthinkable, then certainly highly unpalatable. The week is incomplete with out it.
The Sunday ride is not without cost, however. There are invariably jobs to be done when we are back – perhaps lunch to be cooked, kids homework to help with, a trip to the park, a shelf to be put up, admin to be done. When what we would rather be doing it sitting on the sofa with a cup of tea, perhaps drifting into a gentle snooze for just a few minutes… There is an impact on family life – it is half a day out of the weekend after all – which should not be dismissed lightly. But we tell ourselves, and those we might otherwise be spending time with, that the Sunday ride is important for our health and our sanity. And I think there is a lot of truth to those statements. But we should be careful not to become dogmatic about it.
And so what of this week’s ride? Just me and one buddy, the Nicest Banker in England (NBE). As well as being just a really nice guy, NBE is skinny. Scrawny even. He will never be overweight, his body seemingly physiologically incapable of that state. Always has a beer, always has dessert, never puts on a pound. Unlike me. This winter has seen a significant “variation” (i.e. increase) in weight, mainly due to the chips, beer and cake consumed whilst skiing. Apparently Chris Froome puts on 5kg in the offseason. That is about the only thing he and I have in common. OK that’s a slight exaggeration but only slight.
So a lean NBE and a rather less lean me, both of us claiming to be “not bike fit”, set off on one of our usual hilly routes back and forth across the Kentish North Downs. It was grey-cold, with damp low cloud on the hilltops and just the odd glimpse of brightness in the sky. At least there was no rain, although there were puddles a-plenty and some of the roads were in a shocking state.
As I suspected, NBE killed me up the first two or three proper climbs. Over 10 minutes or so of climbing, he put at least 30 seconds into me each time, and not for lack of trying on my part. Hmm. Not unexpected but slightly depressing nonetheless. But as we went on he tired a bit while I seemed to, if not actually get stronger, then at least maintain my form. On the last climb, I stayed within about ten yards of his wheel the whole way, which cheered me up significantly. Overall, a satisfactory result – a job done and reasonably well at that.
It started of as a ride to be endured and finished as a ride to be enjoyed. If I can shift some of my newly acquired spare tyre, I might even catch him on the last hill next time. It’s February, the end of winter is nearing, and it’s time to be optimistic about the coming season.