Bike sheds are emptying all over Europe. Colleagues who all summer have been arriving at work in full dirndl skirts with adorable puppies peeping from handlebar baskets and oppressively buff men who spent the last few months half naked on the road in shorts that left absolutely nothing to the imagination have gone into hibernation – or on to other forms of transport.
True, some will be cycling through driving rain this autumn one-handed with umbrellas held aloft, but not for long. Like cyclists who roll down the Aston Expressway while listening to the In Our Time podcast or circle Hyde Park Corner with shopping dangling from handlebars, they are tomorrow's death stats.
Until next year's forsythia bursts into a livid yellow prelude of spring, the cycle lanes therefore are ours – the hardcore, the brave, the fearless. We're so tough we don't care about damp shoes, mussed hair, numb fingers or – let's be honest – the Highway Code. Frost, rain, snow, spray-doused jaywalkers shaking fists at your retreating bike – bring it all on.
OK, so that makes me sound more like an urban warrior from Blade Runner than what I really am: a 47-year-old man who every day cycles the three-mile-long length of Islington borough in order to reduce middle-aged spreadage and transport costs and – this is the most pathetic part of the story – who is even scared of taking the towpath shortcut ever since the incident earlier this year that left me nipple-deep in canal water.
The nights are drawing in, there's a nip in the air and the rain is going to reduce you to a leaf-like mulch unless you dress appropriately. This is the problem with winter cycling: it's hard to look like anything but a gender-non-specific fluorescent pre-schooler unless you want to join the casualty figures and/or get chilblains.
One answer is the bespoke cycling three-piece suit, featuring jacket, waistcoat and trousers or plus fours soon, to be made available by Savile Row tailors Timothy Everest (rapha. cc/timothy-everest-and-rapha-threepiece-cycling-suit). It'll make you look like Elgar if you start growing a moustache to rhyme with your handlebars (facial hair that would, incidentally, stop your face feeling cold as you barrel down icy avenues towards certain death). Why would this £3,500 formal suit, cut from Prince of Wales check, be useful this winter? "The undersides of both collar and sleeves are pink, a contemporary twist that also makes the rider more visible," they claim. It cries out for a cycle helmet with deerstalker over-hat. But, as someone who has been repeatedly stoned as I've rolled down north London's meaner streets, I'm actually looking for ways of increasing my life expectancy this winter, rather than reducing it.
Why bother persevering through the cold months at all? Well, these are some of my favourite winter cycling things: the romance of a low sun burning my retinas on a crisp morning, the beautifully streetlit curved sheet of water that descends from the bus before it crashes down my neck, the rush of turning off the lights and heedlessly racing down dark streets to oblivion, the painless 2mph slo-mo fall on to an untreated icy street that makes strangers rush needlessly to my aid (I've always liked the comfort of strangers).
How you manage to arrive at work as fragrant as Mary Archer is another problem entirely. The socially considerate answer means that I have to stuff my saddlebag with towel, shower gel, deodorant, a full change of extremely crumpled office clothes, yucky-coloured hi-vis gilet, yucky-coloured hi-vis ankle cuffs, helmet, intra-helmet thermal beanie, gloves, puncture repair kit, pump, change of shoes. Plus sandwiches and novel – both destined most days to get as sodden as if I'd dropped them in the bath. What a fuss. No wonder so many of you are fairweather cyclists.
But, as soon as the bus and train fares go up again in January, you'll be back – unfit, unseasoned and improperly attired, taking up space on roads and in bike sheds that was, for a few moments, ours, damn you. No offence.