VecchioJo’s recent Road.cc piece on just riding was a lovely stab at the business of epic, heroic, and sometimes fictional cycling. Similarly, Gavia wrote a magical piece which captures the serendipity of an enjoyable ride.
However, there are days when even rules 5 and 9 of the Velominati are not enough to stimulate us to ride: just riding when the elements are against us can be motivated by the mythology of toughness, a Belgian disregard for muddy and inclement precipitation, gale force winds and painfully low temperatures.
// If you are out riding in bad weather, it means you are a badass. Period. Fair-weather riding is a luxury reserved for Sunday afternoons and wide boulevards. Those who ride in foul weather – be it cold, wet, or inordinately hot – are members of a special club of riders who, on the morning of a big ride, pull back the curtain to check the weather and, upon seeing rain falling from the skies, allow a wry smile to spread across their face. This is a rider who loves the work.
Sometimes, more is needed.
Of course, one can make up ridiculously difficult challenges, and publicly commit effort, time, money and others’ work in such a way as to make backing out almost impossible. Mike Cotty’s recent jaunt across the Alps is an example of such admirably impressive folly (the videos here and here are essential viewing). Such challenges have their history in the development of long-distance organised cycling in France and elsewhere, and since the mid-1970s in the UK a small and dedicated band of organisers and riders have dedicated themselves to finding cruel and unusual goals regulated in accordance with Audax UK or Randonneurs Mondiaux regulations.
My first 200km brevet was the permanent version of the Dorset Coast, finishing in Keith Matthews’ back garden with a cup of tea (20 or so years ago). The first 50km or so, including the famous ferry crossing were done in zero visibility, and I will never forget the sight of Corfe Castle emerging out of the fog like some scene from Macbeth. Last week I completed the North-West Passage, which along with the Dorset Coast is the other of the first two AUK organised 200s. Both of these rides would never have existed if it wasn’t for the need to qualify for future versions of Paris-Brest-Paris (the previous year, 1976, AUK was formed and the first Windsor-Chester-Windsor was run as part of qualification for PBP): a full Super Randonneur series was now going to be required (Audax UK/Minter). The North-West passage is infamous for it’s tricky navigation and use of main roads, which in 1977 probably seemed fine. I don’t mind a bit of A-road, but it is unusual to ride down the A6 in daylight for ‘fun’. It is also renowned for its early season weather. In the UK mid-February can bring almost any kind of inclement weather, and this edition came after some of the worst winter storms we have seen for a while (I was stranded in Leeds without transport just two days earlier).
Without my desire to ride Paris-Brest-Paris in 2015 I would never have got out of bed. In order to pre-qualify I need to complete a BRM Super Randonneur series in 2014, qualify in 2015 with another SR, and gain the necessary experience and endurance fitness to ride 1200km without breaking down either physically or mentally. As I rode the 25km to the start realising that I was already colder and wetter than I had ever been on the bike before it was only the fact that this wasn’t just a ride, and the reward was beyond the moment that spurred me on. For me, cycling is part of a tradition, and however atavistic it my be I want to be part of that tradition of long-distance cycling. This does not mean I have lost the ability to enjoy riding for itself: there were moments of sheer joy and beauty to savour: sunset over Lancashire; the sound of tubular clinchers on tarmac; a welcoming control. However, these experiences would never been available to me without the structure of Audax UK and its embedding within the traditions and regulations of organised long-distance cycling.