Some writers who cover bicycling claim pedaling year-round can burn folks out, so even in warmer climates they encourage a layoff in winter, which allegedly rejuvenates the body and soul.

These writers suggest a focus on weightlifting, riding stationary bikes, other exercises and dieting to stay in shape from December through March. It’s a regimen that helps get cyclists into condition by late April after just a few hundred miles of pedaling. This makes the sport more fun sooner rather than later.

In past years, partially because of the advice about avoiding burnout, winter bicycling did not interest me until last spring when a medical problem caused my biking season to start late. So, I made big plans to pound the pavement through the white season and even contemplated a trip to the Carolinas for a week of biking in January.

In mid-December, though, a knee injury from weightlifting – not biking – kept me off the road from Christmas through March 5.

What a winter to miss, too. The weather has cooperated big time and for the past four months, small pelotons, pairs of bicyclists and single bikers have dotted Route 27 heading south to Augusta or north to Route 2 and Farmington. It’s a road I travel often.

My knee problem began so innocently, too. I was locking the joints during muscle-toning, weightlifting exercises – stupid on my part. I know better. I really do. But I was working with 100 pounds and thought poor form would cause no problem with such a light load.

By March 5, the knee had healed fine and my first short trek of the year felt ever so good in the bright sun. That day, I looked forward to the year’s biking as much as I do to fly-casting over insect hatches or hunting deer in season.

In March, cyclists notice microclimates because shaded areas feel so cold compared to open, sunny stretches. Even casual observers take note of the sun’s energy while pedaling along an open stretch in full sunlight.

For example, right now there are road sections slicing though shadowed conifer stands where snow still covers the ground and offers bikers a touch of the arctic. But then the highway comes to snowless fields, baked by late winter sun. The latter almost feels hot compared to the former.

Late winter and early spring biking require dressing in layers, allowing folks to remove or add clothes as needed. Some roads offer nothing but shade while others are open and sun-splashed, so bikers might be adding or shedding clothing quite often on a single trip.

One wonderful new article of clothing in my inventory needs a quick mention – Col d’Lizard black tights (www.coldlizard.com), a Christmas gift from my intrepid companion, Jolie. This product has worked extremely well for warmth and convenience.

Convenience cannot be underestimated, either. Getting into tights usually requires lots of squirming, wiggling and cussing, but my Col d’Lizard tights slip on almost as easily as sweatpants.

Yet, these space-age trousers fit tightly, extremely important for bicyclists. Loose clothing snags on the seat, for example, when jumping off the bicycle to avoid a spill.

I know. I know. Black tights generate wisecracks, but Col d’Lizard makes cold-weather pedaling so much more bearable, even on frigid dawns.

My other attire includes a Gore-Tex jacket and a bright-yellow down vest over a long-sleeve bicycle shirt and waffle-style, thermal T-shirt. A cap made of the same material as the black tights keeps the head plenty warm, too. In extreme cold, a balaclava offers protection for the face, neck and head.

Dressing requires plenty of planning and experimentation, but the effort means pleasant pedaling in a sport that comes with a built-in, wind chill factor. Thanks to the fact that bicyclists average 10 to 20 miles per hour and more, the air can hit the biker like wind.

The day I wrote this column, a north wind in my face coupled with my bicycle hitting speeds ranging from 12-32 mph made pedaling from Augusta to Belgrade Lakes village brutal, but I told myself that I was burning calories and toughening muscles, great for those weeks just down the road when spring arrives on a southwest breeze. Then, long hills will offer a fun challenge rather than be an obstacle to dread.

Biking offers us just plain fun, a way of life, childhood calling and all those cliches – a sport a lot of us would do even if it were bad for the body. However, cycling does benefit the cardiovascular system and muscle toning and helps keep off extra weight.

So, this spring might be the perfect time to buy a bicycle and join those tens of thousands of Mainers who joyously pound the roads or back trails, particularly those of us with thickening waistlines or poor stamina.

 

Ken Allen of Belgrade Lakes is a writer, editor and photographer. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]