Posted by: Ian | January 7, 2010

White roading

This week I’m missing my London cycling commutes and I haven’t done much compensatory riding around Somerset. Instead, I’ve read a bit more about “building my base”, flicked through Cycling Weekly and been for a swim with Heidi. Today, though, the snow-covered fields and car-free roads were too much of a draw. I was tempted to take the Felt – when I wheeled it across the drive yesterday its black chilli tyres screeched through the snow, evidencing the science fiction magic of their molecular grip on any surface. Notwithstanding this, I plumped instead for the Van Nicholas, my “take it anywhere” tourer. The flat bars are more suited to the twitchiness of the sheet ice, the titanium frame is less precious than the Felt’s carbon one, the Rohloff hub gears are less fussy and more robust in deep snow than derailleurs, the tyres themselves have an extra 5mm over the Felt’s and all in all it’s a more solid ride.

I started off on B roads that had had sufficient car use to be exposed down to the tarmac and graduated to quieter, snowier roads as the ride progressed. The country lanes were a delight and completely car free – the only vehicle I saw on them was a tractor. Once I stopped to ask an older guy who was pottering outside his house where the lane that he lived on led to.  “Nowhere, really,” he told me.  “I wouldn’t go down there if I were you.”

The sense of recklessness, almost prohibition, as I politely eschewed his advice enhanced the pleasure of it. “It’s flooded at the bottom,” he called after me.  “With water.”

“I’m sure I’ll come off,” I called back.

It was indeed flooded with water, which was surprising given that the brook at the side of the lane was completely frozen over. It must have been the fast movement of the shallow water that stopped it freezing. Worse, there was a pot hole hidden beneath the water that my front wheel clanked down into. But the Van Nic just ploughed on, and then out of the water back onto the icy snow.

The uphill stretches were the most fun. I kept pedalling, sitting down squarely on the saddle to keep traction, waiting for the moment when I’d lose grip. It only happened once and afterwards it was predictably difficult to get going again; I had to walk the bike a couple of yards to an area under a tree where a patch of exposed gravel gave me enough purchase to get moving up the hill again.

The downhill stretches were more tense as I had less control. Fortunately, none of the inclines was too severe or prolonged and the little twitches from the back wheel were all survivable. I can recommend riding on these lanes in these conditions as an exercise in balance.

When I arrived back home it seemed as if I’d been out for no time at all and spent no energy on the riding. It turned out that I’d been out over an hour, with an average heart rate of 146 bpm, equating to about 900 calories of exercise. I can’t remember a more effortless workout.

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