For those of you old enough to have watched the Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour or at least to have seen pictures of them in the 60’s, you probably remember the ridiculously funny mohair vests that they often wore over their crazy-funny 60’s clothing. Sometimes Cher even wore these awesomely silly furry leggings or leg warmers or whatever you would call them; like you see in the picture above that I found somewhere. Why would I possibly be talking about this in a blog about cycling?
New England just experienced record warm temperatures for 3 days. Generally, after my last race of the season (usually early to mid-January), I stop shaving my hairier than normal hairy legs for a few months or until the first time that I ride outside in shorts, usually in March or April. The feeling of riding with exposed legs with a full bush from ankle to the bottom of my shorts is like I am riding in Cher’s fuzzy leggings. You can feel the wind blowing from every direction and, at least psychologically, the wind resistance from my leg “freak flags” seems like it is sucking at least 2 or 3 miles-per-hour from my ride. It might be great training, I suppose, but nothing compared to the feeling of freshly shaved smooth skin as I slice through the air.
I did not shave my legs (my weed whacker was in the shop) on my ride on the first warm day and I kept looking down to see if a newspaper or something had blown up from the road and had wrapped around my legs to make them feel so weird. My rides on days 2 and 3 were with smooth legs and, I have to say, felt like I had about an extra 50 watts at my disposal. No comparison. Back in the old days, before I raced and therefore before I shaved my legs, it just felt normal. So this is the new normal and as climate change results in warmer days, maybe I’ll just have to shave year round. I know at least one person that’s not going to be happy about this and it’s not Cher.
Would we all be better riders if we lived someplace with perfect year-round weather like San Diego? As Chris Carmichael argued in the April 2016 issue of Road Bike Action Magazine, tough conditions make for tougher riders. Mark Twain famously said, “If you don’t like the weather in New England, just wait a few minutes.” At almost every place I’ve been in the world, except for maybe Southern California, the locals say something approximating this. I think this is just the nature of weather, made even more unpredictable by the wild and crazy effects of global climate change leading to increasingly extreme weather. The last few days in Massachusetts have been no exception.
Friday, I trained in summer-like conditions; Saturday, I trained in early spring; and Sunday, I trained in winter. That’s 48 hours, three seasons and completely out of the natural order of what we expect from the way seasons generally work. The upside is that this is great training for the upcoming cyclocross season (which begins in mid August and ends in early January). If you substitute spring for fall, you’ve got the range of seasonal conditions we encounter compressed into three consecutive days in April. Friday was a 2-hour road ride in almost 70o sunshine. I was dressed in bib shorts and a short sleeve jersey. Saturday was a 3-hour dirt road ride on my cyclocross bike and I was kitted out in thermal tights and 3 layers with a rain jacket on top. It was 42o and raining when we left. Sunday saw three inches of fresh snow. The temps were hovering around 32o when I left and in the mid twenties when I got home. I was out on my fat bike and dressed in almost all of the cold weather gear that I own. There’s something special about riding trails with fresh powder and 4.25” wide knobby tires that make the hour and a half seem like nothing, even in this kind of cold.
Given my stated goal of winning a National Cyclocross Championship in my age group at some point in my life, I feel it important and necessary to train in these sorts of conditions. In every National Championship event that I’ve competed in, it has been some combination of cold, windy, icy, snowy, muddy and wet. Providence, Bend, Madison, Louisville (World’s Masters), Austin and Asheville were the previous venues. Hartford Connecticut is certain to be tough conditions in 2017 as well, if not the worst ever. Since rounds 2 and 3 of the latest storm system are moving through today and promise to dump another 7 or 8” of snow, maybe I should bite another bullet and head out into this opportunity.