Boxing Day and freedom. Everyone who lives for the outdoors is relishing the morning sun of this day after Christmas: runners, horse riders, and, of course, cyclists.
A cold, clear day framed beneath a cloudless, deep blue sky, and a blinding sun that makes a mockery of my decision to continue with clear lenses, it’s hard to imagine better conditions to ride.
It’s desperately cold as I roll off the driveway at 9am: minus one degree, according to the Garmin 510. Amazingly, it will get colder too as I head deeper into the countryside, and certain sections of road crackle beneath my wheels as the fast-melting ice disintegrates in the glare of the sun.
Care is the watchword. Drain covers have a dangerous sheen; small rivers of running water hurry across my path; a slippery paste of leaf mulch lines either side of most of the quieter lanes, forcing me to the crown of the road. Few people are stirring this early on a Boxing Day, however, and on these quietest of quiet country roads, I am almost the only ‘traffic’.
Necessity proves the mother of invention today. The short section of A-road that takes me to my favourite rural routes is closed due to flooding, forcing me to double back and find another route; one I soon find myself wishing I’d discovered months ago. The smooth and unmarked road carries me through one postcard pretty village after another, each displayed to best advantage in the beautiful early morning sunshine.
This the first mission in the recently previewed dhb deep winter kit, which performs well; proof that vast investment isn’t required to buy functional clothing. It’s early days, of course: rain, wind, and several journeys through the washing machine will be required before a final verdict is reached.
Sadly, it’s one of my last missions on Hope’s excellent Mono RS wheelset. The Schwalbe Ultremo ZX tubeless tyres have lost a little of their pressure since my last outing, and I begin today’s affairs by returning them to 80psi. The roads are foul today, but the rubber remains unbreached, despite the worst kind of treatment: slow, seated grovels up gravel-strewn climbs.
A glorious, tree-lined avenue, not even the driveway of the local manor house, but merely marking the way to it, inspires me to stop and take a photograph. Mist rises from the fields framed by the trees, and the rapidly strengthening sun provides an impossibly beautiful orange hue as a ‘fire’ to the ‘smoke’ of the mist. That such views are within riding distance is reason enough to own a bike.
My route home follows a similarly convoluted, but beautiful path. Judging myself to be long past the flooded section of the main road, I head for the village I would have joined from it, but reach nothing more than another diversion.
Improvising, I join a private road close to the manor house and ride alongside the swollen river before joining the main highway. Just a few hundred metres later, I recognise the name of a village that marked a staging post of my outward journey on the signpost ahead, and swiftly abandon the main road. A narrow and twisting climb lies ahead, coated in debris, and I fear that the 100 per cent record of the Ultremo ZX tubeless will be shattered. The rubber survives unscathed, however, and I continue my long and winding road home.
The forecasters are predicting different conditions tomorrow: warmer, but wetter; a good thing for the bike journo with a mountain of clothing to test in wet weather. This Boxing Day, however, has played its part, offering a gloriously sunny antidote to the seasonal confinement of Christmas Day.