You can taste the air on a bright, cold autumn day.
Dry, but with its own distinct flavour, it’s synonymous in my mind with my favourite season, and as I ride out into picture perfect mid-afternoon there is nowhere I’d rather be than humming along the deserted country lanes before me.
The mechanical efficiency of the bicycle is often remarked upon, its unmistakable selling point even to those unacquainted with its pleasures, and on a still, dry day its charms are unequaled. My companion is Raleigh’s excellent Militis Comp, a machine I hoped would perform well for all sorts of reasons, sentiment not the least of them, and which glides beneath me with the bare minimum of effort.
I’ve dressed perfectly for the conditions, too, thanks in part to judgment, but, as always in these matters, also to luck. It’s the ‘go to’ winter kit that I’ve gone to, but with a subtle variation. I’ve only previously worn the De Marchi soft shell in the coldest conditions, and then as the last of three layers. Today is too warm to wear the accompanying long-sleeve jersey in between, so for the first time I’ve worn it directly over Rapha’s merino base layer. Spot on.
You know you’ve got it bad when you rejoice at the discovery of a new favourite tyre, and I pedal with an inward smile (perhaps outwardly, too – who knows?), soaking up pleasure from the performance of the Schwalbe Durano S as it soaks up the road beneath me. Firmer than its sister tyre, the Ultremo ZX, now supplanted in my affections, but seemingly with no less grip, at 100psi my new favourite offers everything I want. Many more miles will be required to assess its durability, of course, and wet conditions should offer a greater test of puncture resistance, but it’s fair to say we’ve got off to a fantastic start.
I expect a headwind at every turn but today, miraculously, there is none, just mile after mile of perfect stillness and accompanying near silence. The few cars that approach are audible from some distance and pass at civilised speed and distance. Earlier in the ride, on my route out of town, I’m passed by a sizable lorry, which, I judge from the engine note and the time taken to move alongside, has waited for a sensible moment to overtake. I raise a hand instinctively in acknowledgement as it passes and it is not until the lorry is far up to road that the driver steers back across the white line and into lane. Assuming there is a war on Britain’s roads, the cyclist’s principal weapons are good grace and courtesy.
Lights are a necessity now, a further sign of the season’s change. To be caught without on roads quickly engulfed by darkness is an unnerving experience, even when it represents the final few kilometres of the ride. A quick stop to borrow a set from a riding buddy sets me on my way in safety. Home, a shower, and food beckon.