Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The pre-season itch: A cyclists spring fever

Part of the the "joy" of going without comfortable outdoor bike riding for 10-12 weeks, is the long delayed gratification of the first spring ride. Once the snow starts to melt enough that the skiing is poor, and the temperature is 10 degrees above freezing, cyclists in the New England get anxious to ride on the road. Of course the trails will be covered with snow and slop for several weeks, but its time to get cracking on those base miles. The excitement and yearning for those first few long fast rides is intense. Its opening day, the last day of school, and getting out for early recess all at once. It is Cycling Spring Fever, temp. 104 degrees.

There are several problems with Spring Fever for cyclists. First and foremost is that up North, the weather rarely cooperates with the calendar. We may want to abandon the heavy gloves and booties, leave the wool helmet liner at home, but you may get a good case of frost bite that way. We all want to ride like this:

But typical March weather in New Hampshire is 40 degrees with 10-20 mph winds and a chance of snow. So we almost always have to ride dressed like this:

Even when the weather is nice, the roads are not. 4 months of rain, freeze, snow, ice, thaw, re-freeze makes the pavement look like it was carpet bombed. I never knew that frost heaves existed until I moved to New Hampshire. Now I appreciate them for the axel breaking, lower back pulverizing, teeth rattling, force of nature that they are. But if you're going to ride in the spring, you just have learn to bounce and weave over them. Much as you may want smooth flat pavement, you get this:

The third problem with early spring cycling in New England is the "Spring Classics". Since the pro calendar in Europe includes major races in March and early April, all the fans of pro cycling are geared up for the great events. This encourages amateur cyclists to attempt truly stupid training rides. Each time I watch the Milan-San Remo, or Tour of Flanders, or worst of all the Paris-Roubaix I am tempted to go ride 120 miles, in 40 degree weather, with hills, at race speed. Never mind that the pros have 5-6,000 miles in their legs already, and my longest ride of the year is about 30. The thrill of watching the hard races added to spring cycling fever is a lethal combination.

The weather has been better than average so far this March. Riding each day in knickers and a light jacket has been pleasant. But I know better than to get comfortable. I've seen road races in May cancelled due to snow storms. We could have 6-8 more weeks of hard sledding. But I'll take what I can get for riding in March. Every ride this time of year is a good ride. Anything to remedy the pre-season itch.

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