Velointerlude: A Cyclist’s Calendar

As I write this (14 November), we’re in the midst of our first good, hard cold snap of the year. It’s my first day wearing a real coat on the bike, and I know I’ll be needing full gloves when I lead tomorrow’s ride into DC. For some, it’s time to hang up the bike, or at least spend the next few months in the basement on the trainer listening to NPR. That’s what the sane people will be doing, anyway.

There are many awful things I’ve been accused of. Sanity is not one of them.

Every month, every season has its charms, its unique sights and events. Some are better known than others, of course, but…

IMG_1285January: January is short days, long nights, and watching and waiting for anything that looks like a nice weekend. It’s the start of BikeArlington’s Freezing Saddles, breaking out the really bright lights for after dark road and trail rides, and thinking that maybe—just maybe—that fatbike would come in handy during this infernal snowstorm.

February: The days are just longer, the nights just shorter, but your definition of “nice weekend” is anything where the high’s above freezing. Cabin fever? Time for a ride. Rain? At least it’s not sleet. Let’s ride. Being cooped up inside is no longer an option; it’s either ride like you’re crazy or go crazy. It’s time for winter riding at its best. Afterwards, it’s the Proteus pellet stove, a cup of coffee, and a shopcat who’s only too happy for the company.

March: Time to watch for the first green buds on the trees, the first day you can ride in short sleeves, and the first cherry blossoms downtown. Good days to ride stop being something you sneak in, and heat waves are no longer any days when you can feel your feet when you get home. It’s also time for that last cold snap, the last time you have to think about the winter, knowing each time you hang up the coat might just be the last one.

IMG_1418April: First the cherries, then the saucer magnolias, then the redbuds, then the dogwoods. Out in the streets, you can take in the flowers and trees, noticing their progression through the month, taking in DC’s riot after the monochrome winter. Farmers’ markets return, popping up along commute and weekend ride routes. It’s also classics season for the roadies—meaning excuses to go out and ride hard over the most ripped-up, pothole-ridden bits of pavement you can find like you’re some kind of Pro.

May: Azaleas. So many azaleas. Every neighborhood has its profusion, and in the Arboretum, they’re inescapable. At last, the weather has stabilized–get out before things turn blazingly hot later in the summer. It’s the first round of charity rides, of Eastern Shore centuries, of Bike (or Boat) to Work Day, Baltimore’s Kinetic Sculpture Race, the start of National Bike Challenge, and suggesting a stop for ice cream without your friends looking at you like you’re nuts.

IMG_1556June: Finally, it’s summer! Peaches and strawberries at the farmers’ markets, roses in Brookland monastery gardens, and looking for excuses to ride just that little bit extra during the longest days of the year. It’s breaking out the obnoxiously loud Hawaiian shirts and pinstripe shorts as the heat lets you know that, yes, come to think of it, it did miss you, and it hopes you feel the same.

IMG_1624July: The waterlillies are in bloom at the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens if you can make it out early, and blackberries make their all-too-brief appearance at the local markets. The heat finally makes itself really and truly known, and iced cold brew becomes the order of the day at coffee stops. At the office, colleagues start asking that one cyclist they work with about the Tour de France. Roll with it—it’s a chance to explain that, no, not everyone who rides a bike wants to do that. And, of course, it’s the 4th of July—biking to the Mall fireworks means you cut through crowds, avoid traffic, and get to enjoy unofficial neighborhood displays on your ride back.

IMG_1071August: The heat’s still around, even if the nights (and cool evenings) come sooner. The roadies get their last few races, and the second round of century season starts up again. It’s summer torpor, evening bike barbecues and afternoon picnics by the lake. It’s also a last chance for summer bike vacations, for doing a long tour out to Pittsburgh, bikepacking across the mountains, or finally making that ride out to the Eastern Shore you’ve been talking about for years.

September: I don’t want to say that there’s a best month…but if I did, I’d pick this one. Things have cooled off enough to be civil, but there’s no need for long sleeves just yet…well, except for that one early autumn day when you pull out the wool jersey just so it doesn’t think you’ve forgotten about it. More to the point, though, the apples and cider are in season, and the orchards aren’t going to ride to themselves. WABA’s 50 States ride—the best way to see DC, especially the parts you haven’t—takes place on September’s second Saturday, and fall’s first fallen leaf will crunch under your wheels some time shortly after. It’s also time for the new school year; why not find a way to bike there?

IMG_2013October: Of course, October’s cool days and fall foliage might give September a good run for the money. It’s a chance to sport the wool armwarmers, houndstooth cycling caps, and vintage gloves that are just a tad too much for summer. The Arboretum is in fine fettle now, with the brilliance of the leaves and the flowering camellias rewarding the trek up Hickey Hill. It’s coffeeneuring season, or a chance to indulge my most infamous habits. The roadie season ends with world championships, L’Eroica, and Lombardia—a final climb to the shrine of the patron saint of cyclists, Our Lady of Ghisallo, whose feast day, the 13th, is great excuse for a ride. If all that weren’t enough, it’s also high cyclocross season, giving all of us chances to ride hard, ring cowbells and yell ’til we’re hoarse for our friends on the course, and enjoy the beer and waffles afterwards.

November: Time to admit it: it’s finally getting cold. Sure, there’s going to be that one last great weekend that you make sure to enjoy to carry you through the cold days ahead—a few maples with their red leaves in the afternoon sunlight as you pass—but it’s time to relearn those layering tricks you’ve forgotten during the long, hot months since March before heading out for the traditional Thanksgiving pre-dinner ride. It’s also the time that the singletrack starts calling even the skinny-tired klutzes like me out to Fairland, Roseryville, and the Schaeffer Farms. Something about the cool afternoon sunlight calls me out to the woods, to get back in touch with my earthbiking roots.

December: Biking to holiday markets is the best way to take in the sights and smells, and riding through nearby neighborhoods lets you take in the light displays—especially the really good ones with lines of cars up and down the block. There’s also a certain joy in hitting the trail or road, if only for a short time, in weather that makes everyone you know question your sanity. Sometimes, it pays to remind people that, despite every attempt to keep you in a safe, defined box of respectability and normalcy, there’s still a crazy cyclist who’s alive and well.

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