The birdsong and gunshots of spring

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Here in the north of England, as the dregs of winter gurgle down the plughole of another clunky metaphor, the ambient sounds of the Sunday bike ride are on the change.

Of course there is always one friend who is struggling with a phantom squeak in their bottom bracket (not a euphemism) – misdiagnosed, as usual – but spring brings other sounds.

After four months clinging grimly to your handlebars, with nothing but the muffled rushing of wind in your ears, a sunny ride in March feels like you’ve been gifted about three extra senses with which to enjoy yourself.

Throngs of bird-life appear along the lanes, tweeting and chirruping like excitable fans cheering on Quintana and Contador, and gleefully throwing urine at Chris Froome. Wrens and warblers fly alongside you, more hindrance than help, semi-clad in tiny avian mankinis.

And the quacking of ducks in a nearby stream sounds more like laughter than usual; are they passing judgement on your heavy pedalling style and distinctly average power output?

“I’m still on winter pace!” you shout back, exasperated, before realising that when you argue publicly with ducks there is only one winner.

Along with the delights of birdsong, here in Lancashire there is another familiar and slightly less relaxing sound to contend with. The local shooting clubs, in training for the grouse season late in the summer, have been motivating cyclists for many years.

There are many ways to become a quicker cyclist – you can train harder, lose weight, buy a better bike, and I hear EPO is good – but in my experience nothing offers the same sudden improvements in performance as the sound of gunshots ringing out from behind a nearby hedge.

As you pedal past, the first shot makes you jump. With the second you feel a rush of wind past your temple. Number three has you convinced that whoever is wielding that gun has mistaken the stylish flourishes of your best cycling kit for the markings of a pre-season grouse.

You are out of the saddle and sprinting, every man for himself, like Djamolidine Abdujaparov in the 1991 Tour de France.

This terrifying form of interval training has proved the catalyst for my summer cycling form for many years – the perfect transition from the slow grind of winter to the sprightly lightness of summer. And let’s be honest, the statistics on cyclists being brought down by gunshot in Lancashire have been stable for many years.

Take the positives, I say.

Come the English summer, of course, this ambient backdrop will be swelled by the traditional sounds of an English summer; fat bumble bees buzzing, lawnmowers, the thwack of leather on willow, and the musical sing-song of drunk people with sunburn paddling in streams.

But for the cyclist, the birdsong and gunshots of spring are a magical time.

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17 comments

  1. Out here in the Pyrenees the hunting season has luckily finished. However, this means that the deer and wild boar can get back to their usual habits of descending from the forest where I live to go down to the river to drink morning, late morning and evening. Two near misses in descending the local col in the last two weeks, The second at 55 kph with a very large deer bounding off the bank to the left, bouncing 5 ms in front of me and then bouncing down the righthand slope. I had to check my shorts for stains after …

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “I’m still on winter pace!” you shout back, exasperated, before realising that when you argue publicly with ducks there is only one winner. <– That is wonderful.

    Liked by 1 person

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