October is a grand old month. The leaves are exploding in a riot of colors, the pumpkins are ripening, and the pain from the Red Sox will soon be but a faded memory. Plus, itís my birthday.
And yet, if you are a cyclist, October is bittersweet.
Bitter, because the after-work rides are no more. Unless you like biking in the dark and sharing the roads with motorists who donít always like to share. Even the brightest of lights wonít allow you to pick out all of the potholes and debris. And even if you leave work early, the sun sits so low in the sky that itís hard to see the road up ahead. Flying blind, I call it. Riding dumb, I think.
Bitter, because soon the roads will be crusted with a layer of ice and snow. Sure, studded tires will keep you upright. But when the wind is howling and the flakes are falling, I prefer to pedal indoors. I know, I know: stationary bicycles are boring, and arenít you supposed to go somewhere when you swing your leg over the saddle instead of just staying in one place? All of this is true, but the older I get, the harder it becomes to ride outdoors when my fingers and my feet feel like theyíre encased in ice.
In October, the roads are littered with a carpet of acorns, some the size of ping pong balls. They sit, sometimes alone, sometimes in a clump (A gaggle? A school? A herd?), patiently waiting to take me down. Some people swerve around those pesky acorns. I will have none of it. I ride right over them and show them whoís boss. Crack, they split open, pop, they break apart. Sometimes they rocket to the side of the road, shooting out from beneath my bike like a clown in the circus who is shot from a cannon.
What to wear when you ride? In the summer, the choice is simple. Light is good, lighter is better. The only question in the warm months is, how many drinks do you bring.
In the winter itís also a simple choice: you wear everything you can find, layers and layers that are best sealed with Duct Tape. I like black Duct Tape, but green or pink will do fine.
But what to wear when riding in the fall is a bit trickier. Do I need arm warmers or a long sleeved jersey? Knickers or tights? One or two pairs of socks? To glove or not to glove, that is the question. Decisions, decisions, decisions. Fortunately, thereís the hourly weather forecast, which can be of some help. Did you know that there can be a 10 degree drop in the temperature from Boston to Concord? I wonder how Paul Revere managed to ride without Gore-Tex and Lycra.
But riding in the fall has its sweet side, too. Once the riot of colors disappears, the curtain of leaves is lifted, and fields and streams that were once hidden are now revealed. The roads are usually less crowded, and thereís more time to reflect. And the cool fall temperatures mean that overheating is not a problem.
And then thereís cyclocross, which is like NASCAR on two wheels. The muddier, the better. Crashes? For sure, but in the mud, on the grass, away from traffic, itís not so bad. Plus, cross racing fans are fun. They ring their cowbells and enjoy their chocolate, French fries, and beer. The cross racers enjoy their chocolate, French fries, and beer, too. Usually, but not always, after they finish riding.
But if all of this sweetness is not enough to take the edge off of the bitter, remember this: sometime in March, or maybe April, it will feel like spring again. Time for the Red Sox to come out of their funk, and for us cyclists to enjoy another year on the bike.
Jonathan Simmons is a Brookline psychologist and avid cyclist.