In Europe…
by Tom Southam | 10/02/09

In Europe it’s the little differences. With the cycling seasons creeping closer together I seem to be returning from my Australian home earlier each year. The earlier I have to come back, the harder the challenges and bigger the differences seem to become.

Aside from the large cultural and social void between the Australian and British folk (to sum up; Australians like to talk to strangers, we don’t), these differences are all based upon the weather. To start with, there is the glaring fact that my body will experience a thirty five degree temperature drop, as I swap the blistering Australian summer sun for the dark depths of British winter.

Winter riding

This in itself is never going to be easy. I love summer, and I love all it brings. The food, the luxury of being outside, the warm nights, the cold beer, the feeling that your life feels like a Bob Marley tune. The UK winter I enjoy somewhat less. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I hate winter, because it does have its quirky charms; scarves, soup, having a red nose, sleeping – a lot, wearing different hats, big bold Shiraz’, and of course lighting and sitting around a fire. All this I can quickly begin to enjoy and adapt to in no time.

The fundamental difference that I always struggle to cope with when I abruptly change hemisphere comes from the very basic and necessary ritual of getting dressed. Or specifically, getting dressed to go out and ride my bike. My summer routine is so radically different from the ordeal of getting kitted up in winter, that for the first week or so it knocks me so sideways I am left feeling like a small child who is yet to learn how to facilitate his limbs.

Not only do I have to get up an entire hour earlier than in Australia in order to consume enough hot drinks and warm food in order to leave the house. I also have to correctly gauge the weather. It’s not just a simple “it’s very hot, I must remember a lot of suntan lotion”. But a long study through the blinds to determine whether it is; dry-cold, damp-cold, warm-damp-cold, flat-out raining, possible showers, or even likely to improve at some stage.

This diagnosis determines what particular selection of clothing I will wear for the day, and what I pile on my back to take with me as extra. Manto-Vent, Manto-Tex, Gore-Tex, Neoprene, Fleece, Roubaix, Lycra?

Take your pick, sir.

A standard undervest or thermal? Headband or hat? The really impossibly thick tights or the normal Lycra ones? An extra rain-cape just in case? My choice is not simply how little I need to wear, but how much and of what exactly.

A staggering 45 minutes is required prior to departure for getting dressed in my selection of clothing. This is a rude awakening, as throwing on a pair of bib-shorts before breakfast and a sleeveless jersey as I slip out the door in Oz is a pretty labour free routine. The kind of layering up it takes to get me prepared to face a January morning on the Mendips? That can take a while.

Thermal socks, an undervest (or two), bib-shorts, tights, jersey, thermal jacket, newspaper down the front, neck warmer, overshoes, hat, glasses. Then stuffing my pockets with the extra bits and pieces necessary to get me through the day, which is pretty much everything all over again, just thinner. An hour later I slip on gloves, always left first, and get ready to push on out the door.

I feel like I am the Michelin man, barely able to bend my limbs and so far from seeing my knees it’s not funny. I am immediately losing an important psychological battle. All the form I reassured myself I had while cruising gently down the street in Oz, casually selecting my tunes for the day and admiring my tanned reflection in cafe fronts is long gone. I am a big, bloated, overdressed unfit bloke, riding through a puddle in my garden path, realising that I’m already running late and I’ve forgotten to switch my iPod on, which of course is the worst part of all, as there is no glove made that will operate the damn touch screen.

Stopping to take one glove off and select a tune, I do wonder how I even manage to get any riding done at all in the first few weeks back in the northern hemisphere. Challenges can present themselves in even the simplest of tasks, and when getting dressed leaves you in a state of mental exhaustion, you know times are going to be tough.