In the Northeast United States, the Fall is a beautiful time marked by vibrant colors, crisp temperatures, and people in wool sweaters traveling around in Swedish cars and watching trees change color. Personally, I don't get that excited about the foliage, but I do relish the effect the Fall has on the local cycling population, which changes just as surely as the leaves. If you're ever inclined to take a Fall cyclist foliage tour, here's a brief but helpful guide to some of the things you should look out for:
At this point in the year The Triathlete has transitioned from short-shorts and half-shirt to full-length tights and loose-fitting long-sleeved runner's jersey (which is an outfit that is a helmet away from a pair of pajamas). However, he (or she, of course) has not yet transitioned from the 53x14 gear, nor from the "tuck" of questionable aerodynamic benefit that is less Pro Tour time trialist than it is pedantic professor resting his elbows on a lectern. Not even the vibrant colors of autumn are enough to distract The Triathlete from his or her mission of beating leisure cyclists over modest inclines, striving to improve on "personal bests," and abstaining from all aspects of cycling except for the going forward with your head down part.
When the days grow shorter, the mercury dips below 65, and the first leaf turns, The Alarmist bolts upright in bed, throws open the wardrobe doors, and dons every piece of warm-weather cycling apparel therein. Before the clocks have changed, The Alarmist has changed into his balaclava, helmet cover, battery-heated booties, and three-fingered lobster gloves. If Assos makes it, he owns it. If they don't, Craft does, and he owns that too. He lives in mortal fear of illness-inducing chills, goose bumps and nipple erections, and he dreams hot and sultry dreams of cycling vacations to Death Valley, Equatorial Guinea, and the surface of Venus.
The Polar Bear
The Polar Bear is the polar opposite of The Alarmist. This rider is either unaware of or unconcerned with the fact that cycling apparel comes in varying lengths and thicknesses for various atmospheric conditions, and his cycling wardrobe consists of one short sleeve jersey, one long sleeve jersey, and one pair of cycling shorts. He may or may not also own a neon green windbreaker for the really cold days. An opportunistic leisure rider who normally doesn't ride in cold weather but just has to get out of the house occasionally, he can be seen riding on frigid days, his legs pink with cold and his sweatsocks pulled up to the knee as he laboriously turns his triple crank at 35rpm in the big ring. One is tempted to tell him of the existence of such innovations as full-fingered gloves, hats, and leg warmers, but one is also reluctant to break the concentration as evidenced from the determined look on his chapped, frostbitten, and frozen mucus-covered face--a look he will wear for days until it finally thaws.
The Serious Roadie
Even the serious roadie takes some time every year to relax. He's no longer worrying about the season that's just passed, and he's not yet preparing for next season. He's just having fun. As it happens, this period of relaxation was last Thursday, from 12:00 to 4:30, and if you're a roadie worth your embrocations then you're well into training for next year's meaningless park races. At this time of year The Serious Roadie can be seen riding alone, or he can be seen riding with other identically-clad cyclists in tight formations designed to discourage any sort of autonomy or enjoyment. The Serious Roadie has temporarily downgraded from his $2,000 carbon race wheels to his $1,200 aluminum training wheels. He's also got either a Power Tap or an SRM, he's watching his watts more carefully than a security guard at a lightbulb factory, and he is under strict instructions from a highly-paid coach that he is not to ride hard lest he inadvertently compromise his chances for a top-20 finish in a Tuesday night Cat 4 training race, or, worse yet, enjoy himself. And if his spirit is not yet broken completely, or if he doesn't quite trust himself, he might even be riding a pair of Power Cranks, the cycling equivalent of a Victorian anti-masturbation device.
The Undersea Explorer
Picture this: you're in the woods mountain biking on a crisp autumn day. You've stopped at the top of a small incline to take a bite of food, sip some liquid, and enjoy the quiet tranquility of the forest. Suddenly, in the distance, a twig snaps, and you in turn snap to attention like a frightened deer. The snapping sound is followed by the rustle of foliage, and as it grows closer you hear an insidious panting sound. What could it be? A wounded elk? A rabid bear? Some kind of arboreal sex fiend? Suddenly, it emerges--a frogman clad all in black with a hose over its shoulder and a visor on its helmet, sitting bolt upright atop some sort of dual-suspension undersea rover, it bobs and beelines toward you, spinning a great-granny gear whose "inches" can only be measured accurately in microns. It weaves up the incline until it dismounts from the contraption about halfway to the top. Like a deer, you remain stock-still, monitoring it from your peripheral vision until it pushes the stalled vehicle up the remainder of the hill, remounts, passes, and allows you to relax again.