I rode to work for the first time in a week, a hiatus caused by a combination of days off, lingering snow and a series of chores involving the carting of heavy parcels to post offices.
On the face of it this was a decidedly nondescript ride: a misty, barely-light sky framing a succession of damp, unlovely, slush-fringed London streets I've cycled down countless times before. But I was filled with euphoria. A slightly gormless grin even flickered across my face a few times.
In only a week I'd forgotten how cycling presses your nose (literally and metaphorically) so keenly against the outside world. The rush of air against your face and limbs makes the weather so much more real, tangible.
Even as a pedestrian the cold, rain and snow can be sheltered from, huddled against. On a bus or a train they might as well be imaginary. When cycling, they're inescapable and – if possible – to be embraced. Suck in that crisp air. Blink the snowflakes from your eyes.
This is all the more important if, like me, you live in a big city, where it's all too easy to get cut off from the elements. Cycling is a way of experiencing the changing seasons, marking the transitions of each year as layers of clothing are gained and shed.
While it's undeniably lovely to feel the glow of summer sun on your bare legs and arms, I'd argue that all the seasons have their joys, even winter.
It's easy to skimp on the cycling during miserable weather. Keen to embrace my mood I've been pondering the delights of winter riding, whether on a commute or further afield. Here's the five that came to mind most instantly – I'd love to know yours:
• Knowing you'll never really be cold. This might sound counter-intuitive but it's true. Assuming you don't make any really disastrous clothing choices – yes, the man spotted this week cycling through the snow in hip-height 70s jogging shorts, I'm thinking of you – then you'll inevitably warm up after a mile or two. When it's really cold you're also spared rain, the one element that really can ruin a ride. The coldest I've ever been in my life was one April, when endless rain and high wind forced me and a friend to abandon a ride on the South Downs and shiver miserably like dogs on an isolated railway platform.
• The wonder of new technology. I know some readers believe donning anything more sophisticated than an old woolly jumper and an Aldi bin liner is the hight of metropolitan foppishness, but I disagree. What's to fear about winter when you can fight back with neoprene overshoes, high-tech socks and breathable base layers, not to mentionultra-powerful LED lights small enough to fit in a pocket?
• Toasty warm cafes. It's a close call, but I reckon that huddling over a steaming mug of tea and a slice of cake mid-way through a rural winter spin is even more satisfying than that pint of cold beer at the end of a summer ride. Less likely to make you wobble on the way home, too.
• Fewer fellow bike commuters. Of course, in almost every way I love the fact that so any more people use bikes than not too long ago. But the misanthrope in me appreciates the space, the lack of a Tour de France-style scrum at traffic lights, that retro feel of being part of an isolated fringe pursuit.
• It's not for everyone, of course, but few things can beat a crisp, frosty expedition through the countryside on a mountain bike. Apart from the odd hardy Labrador and their owner, at times even over-populated home counties commuter-belt countryside can feel like the wilderness.