O come all ye faithful: the joy of Christmas-New Year riding

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It’s Christmas time which, for most of us, means time spent with family and friends, reflecting on the year that’s been and eating far more food than we need to. And for many of us cyclists in warmer parts of the world, the Christmas to New Year period also provides a rare opportunity to get out for some quality time on the bike, as Australian tech editor Matt Wikstrom explains.

Ride-time. If you’re lucky, you can count on it at least a few times a week, but it’s normally a bit of a struggle, a juggle, with all your other commitments. Hence, the early start — an early rush — to get the ride done. Once done, you peel off your Lycra playsuit with a bittersweet satisfaction: if only there was a little more time.

So it goes for 51 weeks of the year. But if you’re lucky (as I have been) Christmas ushers in an enforced break from the work-a-day/work-a-week routine for the final week of the year. Waking up to presents on the 25th is always nice, but the days that follow are a bigger gift.

There are a variety of ways to approach the Christmas break, but it all depends on the weather. As an Australian cyclist, I’m afforded the benefits of the local climate: the days are long, dry and sunny, and the only risks are sunburn and mild dehydration, so there is no need for deliberation.

I think it’s generally understood that Christmas Day is a no-ride zone. Riders who have started their own families understand this implicitly. Eat, be merry, and enjoy the company of your family. It’s not a hard day to give up, especially if it’s surrendered in favour of a Boxing Day ride.

I’m not a gifted climber, but my ambition to conquer specific climbs has been the premier motivating force for my Boxing Day rides. My earliest attempt was at Macquarie Pass in New South Wales — on a BMX bike, no less — and while I surrendered to the gradient well before the summit, I was satisfied with my effort. Twelve months later, the notion took hold once again to become a custom that has continued for almost 30 years.

There was a period where I celebrated Boxing Day with a group of riders, and four or five hours were given over to the event. An experienced leader devised a unique route and managed the day’s effort; all I had to do was arrive on time and let the group carry me away.

I’ve become less dependent on that group in recent years. I miss the camaraderie, but I’ve discovered there is extra indulgence in ignoring the rules that apply to the rest of the year. That means doing away with a formal start time and any kind of schedule to lose myself in the world at my doorstep.

I removed the GPS device from my bike one Christmas a couple of years ago and it added to my invigoration for the festive season. I stopped looking down and started looking up. They say if it isn’t on Strava, then it didn’t happen, but every mile leaves its mark, as indelible as growth rings, encircling the muscles and adding to the bones.

There has been a subtle shift in my motivation in recent years. Where once I was driven to conquer, now I’m more explorative and hedonistic. That I always seem to end up with a special bike to review over the Christmas break (see feature image) encourages my self-indulgence further.

I don’t find it necessary to spend the whole week on the bike — rest days are a luxurious indulgence too — but I always look forward to a New Year’s Day ride. I’ve known more than a few riders who use it as their hangover cure, but the first ride of the year needn’t be so grim. Indeed, I’ve taken to surrendering late night revelry in favour of a clear head for my New Year’s Day ride.

There is no other day like the first day of the year for an early ride. The streets are preternaturally quiet — abandoned, save for a few shell-shocked stragglers — and there always seems to be more space and time to take it all in. It’s the perfect day for riding through the city rather than trying to find a way around it, and while there’s extra risk of broken glass, I feel like a bandit making off with the scenery while everybody is asleep.

So, how are you going to spend the Christmas-New Year break?

This article was originally published in 2015. For more about how to get into the Christmas spirit on the bike, check out this article over at our sister site, Ella.

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