"I don't have time to ride."
Like all popular false beliefs this one seduces us with its veneer of logic. Because, let's face it: Even under the best of circumstances most of us adults are ever so busy. When we aren't plagued with work, we are riddled with household responsibilities, family commitments, social obligations and miscellaneous errands. It's a testament to our superior time management skills, really, that we can manage to get on the bike at all. And then on top of that things happen. Sad things, happy things, scary things - all requiring strangely similar degrees of swift, high stress responsiveness. There are health problems and bouts of severe weather. There are work emergencies. One day the plumbing breaks and we wait for a handyman who never arrives. The next, a bear cub with an English accent is left at our door in a basket, with a note "please look after me" attached, compelling us to search for its parents while the household sinks into chaos from its merry ursine antics. In the midst of our already hectic lives these random crises erupt when we least expect them and gobble up those precious few tidbits of time that we do have to ride, compelling us to exclaim in exasperation that - while we'd love to ride our bikes, while we truly wish we could - we simply don't have the time! We then feel completely justified in wallowing in self-pity and calling those cyclists who do manage to get out "lucky."
And it's a reasonable enough stance. Except here is the thing that deep down we already know yet do not always take advantage of: Time is elastic. We've all had that paradoxical experience where, the busier we are, the easier it is to fit one more activity into our schedule - whereas had we been doing comparatively little that day, that very same activity would seem like a tremendous feat.
Time also has a way of getting lost, or misplaced - which, looking on the bright side, means it can be found. So when we really need to do a thing, we conduct a frantic search until - voila - we find the time, much as we would find loose change in the sofa cushions when pressed for money.
Finally, as the popular expression reveals (and don't be fooled into reading it as a metaphor), time can be made. When we truly want to do a thing, we make the time. We cobble it together out of scraps. We whip up a big bowl of it out of a tiny trickle until we get enough for our purposes.
Not convinced by these grand pronouncements? Well, okay, let me come down to reality a bit - and share some tactics I myself have adapted to keep riding when I don't have the time.
No ride too short
For those of us accustomed to long rides, it can be extremely difficult to switch to a mindset where, say, a sub-1 hour bicycle ride feels like it's "worth it." Our instincts tell us not to bother, to wait till we have time for a proper ride. Except if we're in the midst of a busy spell, that time may never come - particularly in the winter season, when days are short and weather is bad. Which means we'll be off the bike completely until our circumstances change. Fitness will fade, frustrations will mount, and getting back on the bike will grow more difficult with each passing day. The idea that no ride is too short is one I resisted for some time, but finally had to accept if I wanted to keep riding during a busy spell. When a multi-hour ride is not an option, even a 45 minute ride is better than no ride at all - both for my present state of mind, and for later on - so that when I do have time for long rides again, it will be easier to jump back in. To get the most out of a short spin - in terms of both fitness and maintaining interest - I try to make it more intense: do intervals, ride in a higher (or lower) gear than I normally would, climb a nearby hill. But even a meander is better than nothing. Anything that keeps me in the game.
Ignore the schedule
It may seem counterintuitive, but I've found it best not to schedule rides for specific times during extremely busy stretches. It only frustrates me, as inevitably other, important, things have a way of popping up at the last minute and taking precedence. And on days when that doesn't happen, the weather will do its best to ruin my plans. So instead, I wait till there is a gap in my day - any gap at all that promises a crisis-free 45 minutes (see above) - and just go for it. Go, go, go. Go!
Always be prepared
Which brings me to the next point. In order to take advantage of the gaps in my day and of the "no ride is too short principle," I need to be ready to go at any given moment. That means cutting down ride preparation time to an absolute minimum. To a accomplish that, I've found it helpful to employ time-saving tricks, such as: limiting my cycling clothing options to reduce decision making, keeping all accessories in one place and properly maintained, so that no frantic gathering/rinsing need take place before a ride, topping up the air in my tires before I go to bed, and storing my bicycle close to and pointed toward the exit. Basically, the goal is to reduce the time out the door to an absolute minimum, which makes short spontaneous rides more realistic.
Expanding definitions of acceptable weather
The adage that beggars can't be choosers certainly applies to the currency of time. The relationship between how hectic my day is and the type of weather I find acceptable for cycling tends to be directly proportional. Checking the forecast this morning, for instance, I was delighted to discover the wind to be a "mere" 27mph - whereas a couple of months ago I would have considered that an off the bike day. The more limited a resource time becomes, the less squeamish I am about things like rain, wind, hail, floods, locusts. I have rain gear hanging by the door, overshoes next to my cycling shoes, and fenders on my bike (see "always be prepared") - ready for any weather. And besides, once I get going it all kind of disappears anyway - as the pedals turn and the bicycle keeps its own time.