By Barry Gantenbein
The second Saturday of January, the sun was shining, the temperature was in the mid-20s, and there wasn’t a spec of snow on the ground. I took advantage of the day to take down the Christmas lights on the outside of my house.
That same day, I pulled my bike down from the rafters in my garage, and went for a ride. I hadn’t expected to get out for another six weeks, so I didn’t have a chance to properly clean my bike, but that didn’t matter. I was riding a bike in January, something that I don’t believe I’ve done since the mid-1980s.
In January 1984, I was living in Madison, Wisconsin, and in my last semester as an undergrad student. I remember riding my bike from my apartment near campus to a temp job on the west side. The following year, I was living in Milwaukee, and didn’t yet own a car, so it is possible that I rode that January, too.
Typically, January is the heart of winter in Wisconsin. It is the coldest month. Days are short, though growing longer each day, and the ground is usually covered in snow and ice. This January has been cold, but not brutally so, and roads are bone dry. So, my bike’s tires have been pumped to 80 psi, the chain has been lubed, and I have been riding.
The first half hour that I was out, I regretted every cookie that I ate and each beer that I drank over the holidays. Blech! After that, my blood began to circulate and my legs warmed up. For a couple of minutes, I was able to reach that state of nirvana where the bike and I were one and there was nothing but the moment.
On Monday, I rode to work and even managed a short ride along the New Berlin Recreation Trail on the way back home. This is the earliest start to a season in the 10 years that I’ve been bicycle commuting. As I write this, I’ve ridden to work three times.
Temperatures have remained in the mid-20s, although I’ve faced 15 mph winds in the evenings. Riding for me is possible only by wearing two jackets, two pairs of gloves, leather boots, and ear muffs.
Conditions are tough, but it is better than not getting out. I know that I’m riding on borrowed time, and this January respite will not last much longer. Soon enough, snow and ice will dominate the landscape, and my winter bicycling will come to an end.
But I’ve enjoyed my time on a bike, and the riding has helped me to sharpen my focus on the upcoming season. More reasonable cycling weather draws nearer with each passing day, and I’m determined to be ready when spring truly arrives.
So, I’ll ride as much as I can during this strange bubble. And before spring arrives, I’ll clean my bikes, patch that hole that I punched in my panniers last November, watch what I eat, and walk as much possible to ready myself for the 2019 riding season.