What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.
Back by 8 a.m. and out after 8 p.m. During the hot summer months in Texas, that is the adage I use to avoid the hottest times of the day for a ride. They are also the times when the winds tend to be the lightest. By riding early or late in the day, I am also able to avoid lathering up in sunscreen. The trees that line my usual route provide shade from the sun while it is close to the horizon.
Winter months bring with them a different combination of variables that need to be assessed before determining the “when” of cycling. Mostly, I ride short 10-15 mile rides nearly everyday with longer rides with students on weekends and usually on one early evening ride per week during the training seasons for our BRAT rides. Besides occasional charity bike rides, the BRAT adventures provide me the opportunities for my longest rides in a sitting. BRAT rides provide opportunities to string together 40-100 mile rides day after day.
To prepare for our winter BRAT rides, we begin riding together as a group shortly after the start of the school year in August. We ride together a couple of times each week and also rely upon individuals to log time on bikes or exercise bikes to build strength and stamina. As we plan our late-afternoon rides during the week, usually on Wednesdays, we become keenly aware of the days growing shorter each week. From our first early-evening ride together in September until the time change occurs in early November, we have to adjust our departure and return times by up to an hour. Once the time changes and we approach Thanksgiving, our required departure time for a 20-mile ride gets so early that it encroaches on late-afternoon classes and lab times.
Here in the middle of December, the sun sets about 5:30 p.m.–with remnants of light in the sky until 6:00-ish p.m. Having been in Seattle over Thanksgiving week, I know that cities farther north and more eastern in their time zones get darker much earlier in the evenings. To sneak in even a short 10-15 mile ride before it gets too dark, I have to start getting ready to roll by 4:30-4:45 p.m. In order to do that, I have to head home from school by 4:00-4:15 p.m. When doing so, things are often rushed at school at the end of the day and once I get home and on the bike. It is always a race against daylight to squeeze in enough time to get the needed time in the saddle. Morning rides before going in to work tend to also be rushed, however, the rush comes from schedule rather than astronomical constraints.
Late Fall and Winter give us Texans a break from the oppressive summer heat, but at the price of shorter days and time to be outside. We are fortunate in this part of the world to be able to ride outside most of the year. The colder and darker days of winter make the long days (and rides) of the summer that much sweeter.