Riding Out The Storm

Over the past year, my regular cycle rides to replace all those Covid-quashed gym sessions have proved to be a great opportunity for thought. No thumping music, giant screens or shouty men anywhere. Just head space and a chance to check out how many brave heroes/idiots have taken a sea plunge that day.

Apparently, I’ve been fartlekking during my rides. Swedish for ‘speedplay’, the fartlek is a period of cycling (or running) at differing speeds and at irregular intervals. You change pace and gears whenever you fancy - none of that structured training hell. Though this is surely how most people cycle, if all that’s waiting for them at home is the de-bobbling of their tracksuit bottoms, and yet another attempt to reach around the corner kitchen cupboard for the lost tins? If I can manage to keep on fartlekking post-pandemic, along with some dietary herring and rye limpa, maybe I’ll be fitter than before all this began. On the other hand, what is lockdown good for, if not trying out allrecipes.co.uk’s 75 Ways With Bread And Butter Pudding?

Having been a pedestrian for most of my life, the glamour of vehicular speed has generally evaded me. Cycling, however, has now introduced me to the joy of reaching 20 mph. While walking can only show you one analogue event at a time - a slow, unravelling sequence at human level – I’ve realised that cycling has a God-like quality, allowing many events to be viewed in quick succession when you zoom past, as if consecutive moments are being experienced simultaneously. Driving is too boxed-off for this to work: you need to be as exposed to the weather as what you’re looking at, to get the deity effect. But feeling celestial does not last. After an hour I’ve usually had enough of virus-y visitors to the local beaches, and I’m happy to reach our basement flat where we hide underground like rabbits at a barbeque.

Since wind force and direction can make or break a coastal bike ride, weather has become something of an obsession. I am forever checking the forecasts and muttering nonsense about double-figure sou’-westerlies doing my knees in. A nice east wind at no more than 9 mph is preferred, the equivalent of a warm hand on the back rather than a face-off with the aircraft engine power of a Kentish gale. The only solution on bad days is to cycle further inland. Here, I’ve come to know the quiet roads lined with affluent housing built on Victorian and Edwardian certainties, sufficiently far from the promenades to be unruffled by the crowds and their gaudy pleasures; close enough to benefit from a seaside economy. The shore-front buildings are constantly being remodelled by fashion and commerce but the inland neighbourhoods seem to remain forever stable and unfazed by progress, the back teeth of the town’s jaw.

Cycling through a year of diminished traffic flow really lets you observe seasonal change. Not only which month signals the return of Jellytots under your thermal vest but also the life cycles of shrubs and trees. It occurred to me this month, as spring budding kicks off and the race to first leaf begins, that we tend to notice a tree’s beauty so much more when its foliage starts to die. Bright young leaves are no match for the spectacular range of autumn colours and textures which arise from loss of pigment. It’s very different with people. No-one is dazzled by a group of us past the shiny green stage. And yet the late-age palette contains so much more variety. Ah, spoken like a pensioner without a hairdresser.