If you’ve been reading this column for a while, you’ll know apart from technical ramblings on everything from fleeces to future bike developments, it’s also something of a dipstick on my current levels of bike related dementia/euphoria/doldrums. So here I am at the end of what’s seemed like a particularly long January wondering how I’m going to get through February when I’m feeling more knackered and slower than I have in a long time. But you know what, if you force that gritted-into-a-freezing-headwind-grimace up at the edges a bit, I reckon there’s a bunch of ways to make the final furlong to spring not just bearable, but genuinely fun.
F off February
First up, there are two groups of people who don’t need to bother reading this and are excused to go and do something more useful than watching me try and polish a potential turd of a month.
Firstly, if you’re in the southern hemisphere or close enough to the equator for bare skin to feel warm rather than raise goosebumps then you can go do one. I can see what you're up to on social media and it really isn't helping.
Secondly, if you’re determined to get fit for racing, a specific event or just because you're sick of being slow and saggy, then this is the month where you really have to prove that determination is real. The bit where training plans become exhausting rather than inspiring, rapid initial gains level off and you’re sick of being cold to the core on a calorie counted diet. Well, if that’s what you signed up for, sticking with it throughout February is when that dedication will become hardened habit. So go you, dig deep and by March you’ll really start bringing home the benefits.
Difficult second month
But what about the rest of us? The hibernators who decided dry January means staying out of the rain and off the wet trails entirely. The stalwarts who went out anyway but now feel they spent more time washing bikes and kit or waiting for feet and fingers to thaw out so they could get in the shower than they actually did riding. Or those like me who charged into yet another annual ‘fitness crusade’ but didn’t even have any focus or plan at the start, so unsurprisingly have no idea if they’ve actually got any fitter from the random sessions that have happened haphazardly since New Year's Day.
What I am sure is that while the handful of random interval sessions, underwhelming weights waving and ‘dying fish on a riverbank’ core workouts haven’t unlocked any sudden henchness, they have been a useful distraction and better than sitting on my arse. And I think that distraction and doing something different might be the key to making February more bearable and maybe even fun.
Make February great again
Looking back at January, it’s the rides where I’ve gone out and done something different to normal that have been memorable and made a difference at least mentally and physically. Not just going out into properly foul weather and fully embracing it by riding the highest, most exposed route we know – and then adding an extra bonus climb to an even higher, more exposed bit – felt awesome when we got back. It also makes a bit of damp and murk in a sheltered wood feel like no weather at all in comparison.
One morning I decided to ride to the Sunday Service meet point, do the lap with my mates and then ride back. That added three rides to an already tough gig. I did it on my silly light hardtail with road bike gears too, so descents were a pinball comedy and my legs totally came off and dislodged my head in the process on the way home. In fact, I’d probably be a crow picked bag of bones in Stainburn forest now had I not remembered that second lump of Christmas stollen my mates waved me goodbye with. Pushing way out of my comfort zone in several ways was a real eye opener though and once I’d recovered (about a week) later, it had been a great reset of what I considered doable.
Last weekend I dragged myself over the hill on a sticky tire mullet bike to the secret schralping kindergarten of beautifully built berms on the other side of town. A place where you’re regarded as a pensioner if you’ve gone through puberty and is therefore pretty intimidating for a 51-year-old. But I watched a technique video before I went, twisted and thrust my hips like it said and got my back tire to make the appropriate growly noises and I properly pumped a few corners too. I even pushed back up rather than pedalling to get the authentic look.
And when a woman walking her dog responded to my cheery hello with, “you shouldn’t be in there” and didn’t seem interested in engaging in a conversation about how much better it was for the three kids who were there at the same time to be out in the fresh air, having fun rather than getting fat staring at a screen, I thought “you miserable old bag”. Despite the fact she was probably much younger than me. And then when I heard one of the lads trying to negotiate a later return home for tea on the phone to his mum, the thoughts of similar conversations in scruffy woods 40 years ago meant I had a massive smile on my face all the way home.
Hell, I even did a road ride one day, which was fun in some ways (mostly the lack of cleaning up afterwards) but ultimately made me realize why I like mountain biking so much.
The cheesy, inspirational sign off bit
So with that in mind, maybe make February the month where you try something new to lift your head out of plugging round the same muddy ruts. Push your comfort zone, play around, pick up some iron and put it down again, ride a different sort of bike. Even if you don’t like it you can cross that off the ‘is it worth doing’ list and if you do then that’s something else to be excited about or a skill/strength gained for when things get warmer and drier.
And if you don’t fancy getting out on your bike then fine. It’s only February and it’s the shortest month of the year for good reason. It’s also a cracking time for sorting stuff out now that will get you more riding time in the summer. Whether that’s doing that DIY you’ve also been dodging or just planning a better Valentine’s Day gift than flowers from the petrol station round the corner.