It’s mid December, and yesterday I got in another 50+ mile ride. It’s not unusual to get in a December ride, but having the weather to allow longer rides is unusual. Of course whenever the high temperature goes below 40 degrees, it’s very hard to ride any serious distances, and since it’s getting dark and cold about the time I leave work, getting weekday rides in is also very hard. Yet this year I’ve managed to get through November and into December while riding good distances on the weekends with my cycling friends. I see no benefit to climate change, but while the daytime high temperature on Saturday hovered around 70 degrees, it was too good a day to waste indoors.
Every December, my friend Ron wraps himself up, gets on the bike, and cycles over 25 miles from his home to Mount Vernon, where he picks up the latest christmas tree ornament from George Washington’s estate. The round trip is over 50 miles, and usually cold. Not so today, so in the holiday spirit, 5 of us joined him on the ride. Eric, Rita, Tony, Matt and I made it an adventure, including stops for coffee in Old Town Alexandria, and Lunch at Mr. Smith’s in Georgetown under the Whitehurst Freeway by the Potomac waterfront.
This was among the best of times, because we had the perfect combination of social and unhurried riding, perfect weather, and a goal at our destination. Every bike ride is different. Some are fast and competitive, some are challenging, and some are explorations, but this was simply what I call a ride for the soul. No pressure, nobody gets dropped. Everyone just enjoys the company and rides for the pure enjoyment of moving and sharing the day with others. This autumn has been full of such rides. Fall riding is usually dominated by the scenery and complicated by the chill, but they also tend to have the unhurried flavor of riding for the sake of enjoyment. Usually in the fall you’re in fairly good condition coming out of a busy summer and having made the most of your event rides in September and early October. Some riders hang up their bikes at this time of year, but if you can get the right clothes and some friends to join you, these can be memorable times to ride.
One of the reasons I’m enjoying this time stems from an impulse buy I made back in September. It’s a Cannondale CAAD 12 bicycle. The color was unexpectedly bright, and since it’s a day glow color as if it was radioactive, it named itself – “The Nuke”. This is an aluminum framed bicycle, but it weighs the same or perhaps slightly less than the red Orbea Onix bicycle you’ll see pictured in many of my past posts. I’d been enjoying the Orbea since 2010, and when I ordered the CAAD 12 it was just to get a bicycle that was different in fit and feel, which would also allow me to customize the Orbea to be geared for hill climbing. While aluminum bicycles are often taken to be hard riding frames, this one is surprisingly comfortable. Experimentation with Carbon Fiber frames has allowed designers to make custom tube shapes that actually make an aluminum bicycle much more comfortable, and given that I ride the Cannondale with a slightly wider tire (23 mm to 25 mm) at a slightly lower pressure than before, it does tend to smooth out any differences I might have felt between the frame types. The CAAD 12 has a mid range double crankset (52/36) Shimano Ultegra components, including brakes, and internal cable routing. All for much less than a similar carbon fiber framed bike. A carbon bike at the price point I bought the CAAD 12 at would have lesser components, and I think that it’s an incredible value for the price. Now that I have several hundred miles on it in a variety of conditions including steep climbs, I can report that the bike is a worthy competitor for a carbon bike at that price point. It’s quick, responsive and smooth, and I think it is great for an enthusiast as well as a racer. In any event, I’m really enjoying the bike.
Even though it’s unusually warm as I write this, it’s still December. That means it’s time to look ahead to events in the spring. This is the best time to sign up for spring events, when the price is lowest. So far I’ve signed up for my usual first century of the year, the 6 Pillars Century, and a challenge ride – Storming of Thunder Ridge. Usually, these are cold days and signing up for rides helps you dream of spring – but on a day that feels like spring, they’re a different kind of inspiration. While I’m riding on these weekends, I’m not only thinking ahead, I’m enjoying my rides as I do. It doesn’t get any better. It won’t stay warm for long, but while I’m riding and signing up for spring rides, I feel a lot more connected to the bike than I normally do this time of year. I’m hoping for a short winter!