The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted virtually every aspect of our day-to-day lives – and continues to do so.
Cycling is no different and whether it was being forced to ride indoors more than we would like or cancelling a big trip, we have all had to adapt over the past year.
It would be tone-deaf to describe these annoyances as even minor tragedies – in comparison to the havoc and heartbreak wrought by the pandemic, not being able to ride with my gang of go-fast chums is hardly the end of the world.
Nonetheless, as the various vaccines are rolled out and we all learn to live within this much-changed world, we can look back on things we would have once taken for granted and dream about what our future cycling lives may look like.
1. Riding with friends
Though one of my cycling resolutions for last year was to enjoy more “contemplative chamois time”, I ended up spending enough time riding on my tod in 2020 to last me a lifetime.
Lockdown and social distancing made riding with friends illegal, inadvisable or impractical for much of last year.
It’s unnecessary at this point to spell out why this was a bit of a bummer, but from a personal perspective, it also made this winter seem endless.
Solo post-work night rides are far less enjoyable and indulging in the latest tech gossip of the cycling media world is far less fun when done over instant messaging.
Of course, I’m lucky to have a partner who also enjoys cycling (doubly lucky to have one that co-discovered tandem riding with me), and we’ve done some fantastic rides together during this time.
That said, Laura and I also live and work together at home, so I’m sure she’ll be glad to see me boosted oot the door and back playing with my pals on the roads again soon.
I’d much rather we all stay Covid-secure for as long as is required, but still can’t wait to give my riding friends a loving pasting on our favourite climbs when it’s safe to do so.
2. Eggs on toast
My Platonic ideal of the perfect winter ride looks something like this:
We set out early for a ~100km ride with four or five chums, most likely across the water from Bristol to the Wye Valley.
The weather will be bright and sunny, with the temperature hovering around 5ºC. The roads are dry but there is a bit of snow remaining in shady spots.
Midway through the ride, we stop at a cafe for a heaped portion of eggs/beans/cheese on toast and a gallon of coffee.
The ride back takes on a more moderate pace until the last half hour, where chaos ensues and it becomes a full-on sprint for home.
All of this is completed by 2pm and I spend the remainder of the day snoozing on my sunny sofa while listening to the lilting tones of Richard Gordon commentating on Sportsound.
This is the form many of my weekends have taken since moving to Bristol nearly five years ago and the perennial mid-ride winter cafe stop is one of the things I have missed the most.
The cosiness, camaraderie and craic of coming in from the cold weather into a cafe is just unbeatable, and I will be smashing my way over to Tintern as soon as I am able.
3. Sleeping outside
I love cycle touring and I had grand intentions of indulging in a multi-week cycle tour on the tandem with Laura last summer.
That didn’t happen for all of the obvious reasons and my every waking thought has been consumed with the idea of cooking meals in the vestibule of my tent for weeks now.
The simple pleasures of being warm, well-fed and sleeping soundly are all amplified ten-fold when on a tour, and I’m craving that satisfying ache and lean build that multi-day riding brings.
I vow that I will steal every chance I get in 2021 to sleep out of doors – whether it’s a quick bikepacking overnighter, a local bothy smash or a more involved tour, I’ll be there loving every minute spent being consumed by midges.
4. Everything being available all of the time
While I must acknowledge BikeRadar’s privileged position within the cycling industry affords us nearly unparalleled access to kit, the chronic shortage of bikes, components and accessories has even affected this band of sheltered cycling media elites this past year.
Getting hold of test bikes has been a nightmare and, in many cases, brands are selling out of their entire run of 2021 stock before it has even hit shop floors.
All of this means the lead time for components, let alone complete bikes, is running to over 12 months in some cases.
In the UK, at least, Brexit has only compounded the issue and prices have increased significantly since the start of the year.
(For an in-depth look into exactly why bikes have got more expensive and harder to find, check out our investigative feature from last month.)
I have no doubt that the juggernaut of global commerce will kick into action as restrictions ease and next year it’s possible things will be back to normal, but only time will tell.
In the meantime, I’ll be stocking up on chains, brake pads and inner tubes like some kind of maintenance prepper.
5. Riding somewhere that isn’t Bristol
I make around a half-dozen trips home to Scotland each year. While seeing my family and friends is the primary purpose of crossing the border, I also pack in as much riding as possible whenever I visit.
I grew up in Crieff, Perthshire, which as well as boasting some phenomenal riding of its own, is located centrally enough that most of the best bits of the country are reachable within a day’s ride.
I only managed one trip home last year and today I’m still savouring the thrill I had of riding somewhere that wasn’t Bristol.
The highlight of the trip was a daft 420km, two-day bikepacking trip that roughly circumnavigated the Cairngorm massif.
Despite it being over six months since the ride, when revisiting my photos and Strava files, the whole experience felt strangely familiar.
Switching to working from home full-time and fewer stupid ‘expeditions’ like this have meant there has been a dull uniformity to my life in 2020 and into 2021. This has clearly done odd things to my perception of time.
Perhaps because of this, I can recall the ride with weirdly intense clarity.
Spending so much time alone in a remarkable place while doing something hard and savouring every moment – perhaps subconsciously knowing it would be the last chance I had to do a trip like this in 2020 – has transfixed the whole experience in my mind. It really stands as a highlight in what was an otherwise rubbish year for all of us.
Though I love my life here in Bristol and the riding nearby is truly excellent, there is also really nothing quite like exploring the endless superb roads around the country I am lucky enough to call my home.
Of course, if we want to get to a point where it is safe to do any of the above, it is imperative that we all follow local guidance, wear masks where appropriate, be patient and, most importantly of all, be nice to one another. See you on the road soon.