I can deny it no more – the signs are all there. The fluorescent jacket on my back at least as often as it’s left on the hook. The lights I find myself having to use if I leave work only a little bit later than usual. The stripy, knee high socks given their first outing in months.
Yup. As much as I’d like to pretend otherwise, winter is definitely on its way.
And I know what that means. It means cycling home in the dark, night after night after night. It means always carrying a full set of waterproofs in my pannier bag, in readiness for the inevitable downpours. It means putting my feet on the pedals and gasping in shock as the first blast of icy air hits – and being so numbed with cold that, when I get to where I’m going, I can barely feel my hands and feet.
You may well be wondering why I put myself through all this. Indeed, I often wonder why I put myself through this. It’s not as if I’m overjoyed at the prospect of cycling through winter. Why not put my bike away until the nights get lighter and the weather gets warmer?
But the fact is, if the thought of cycling through the winter gets me down, the thought of not cycling through the winter gets me down even more. Given the choice between commuting every day on overcrowded trains or tubes, or getting soaking wet and freezing half to death on my bike, I’d choose the latter every time.
I love cycling. I love the freedom it gives me. I love the way I’m not tied into timetables and routes – I can go wherever I want, whenever I want. I love how I’m rarely held up by traffic, and can usually weave my way through any jam. I love the feeling of openness and space I have on my bike. I love how I know my way round London far better than I ever would if I’d stuck to public transport. I love getting to work already having done more exercise than some people do in a week. And I love those random encounters I have on my bike – a friendly hello to the school lollipop lady I see everyday, a smile and a thank you from the pedestrian who wasn’t expecting me to stop for them.
And there’s the actual physical act of cycling. There are plenty of times I’ve got on my bike with tired, aching legs, feeling like I really don’t want to – or even can’t – cycle all the way to wherever I’m going. And yes, for the first ten minutes or so it’s a struggle. But then – most days – my body gets used to it, and I feel like I could go for miles and miles. I forget I’m even cycling. It’s as natural as breathing or walking. And that’s the bit I really love. Because I’m not focusing on the cycling, my mind is free to concentrate on other things. It’s the best thinking time I ever have. It’s a chance to come up with new ideas and work through things that have been bothering me – I even thought out most of what I was going to write in here while I was on my bike.
OK, it’s not always like this. Sometimes it’s truly horrible, and sometimes I have to work hard to persuade myself I really do want to get on my bike. But in truth, even as winter approaches – even when it’s dark, cold and wet outside – I wouldn’t have it any other way.