“Why ride at night?” you may be asking. It can seem daunting, particularly after (or indeed in advance of) a full days works, and anyway, what is there to see?
This blog is some of the things I’ve learnt about cycling at night as part of my winter training, all gearing towards my 2020 goals. It’s not really about giving you the advice or tips, maybe more about proving why it’s actually a good thing to get out at night and why you should embrace being nocturnal every now and then!
So, carpe noctem…
It’s actually pretty convenient – training for an event, whatever that maybe, is hard at the best of times and fitting it around your work, family and social commitments often doesn’t make it any easier. Riding at night is conveniently out of the way of the usual routine and can done around your normal day time life. I accept there will be some knock on effects from the fatigue and missed sleep but a bit of planning will go a long way to making your trip work and worth it!
It hones your planning skills – riding at night does require a lit more in the way of planning than your usual weekend club ride, particularly if you are going out solo. While your kit will largely remain the same, checking your route is going to be key – the last thing you want is to be directed down a footpath or a canal towpath in the dead of night (yeah, I’ve done exactly this thing). Not only that, if you’re like me and appreciate a good coffee on route, then you need to properly consider where you’ll find 24hr services (again, don’t assume all Motorway Services are 24hrs…as I found Heston is not!). Frankly I found it quite unbelievable that I was both willing and able to complete a century without a café stop, who knew!?
There is less traffic – I stay well clear of the social media commentary and posts about motorists vs. cyclists, it’s a rabbit hole I don’t fancy going down. But, suffice to say any opportunity to cycle where or when there are less vehicles on the road is definitely a bonus. Riding after the rush hour has passed is glorious, roads are quieter and less pressurised and therefore a nicer experience. I found that the combination of this and the dark results in you being able to keep the legs turning for longer periods, car lights making approaching vehicles easier to spot on bends and at junctions.
It’s pretty silent – unsurprisingly the darkness is more silent than the day and that is a big draw for me. The quiet allows the mind to wander more easily, less to the worries of the day, but more to the dreams and ideas for the future. Cycling for me has always provided that ‘head space’ and a way to manage my mental health, stripping it back in the dark simply enhances its power to mend the mind.
A good quality light transforms the experience – quality lights are expensive, but as long as you can see any obstacles directly in front of you, particularly when descending, it doesn’t matter too much about seeing the wider world around you. Cycling at night with poor visibility ultimately makes it less fun and less safe!
The world changes by night – All of those familiar roads and experiences you have during the day become either invisible or very different under the dark of night. I found on my recent ride out to London that I was mesmerised by the planes taking off and landing at Heathrow. It was a new experience to sit underneath them, watching the clouds become illuminated in shades of white, green and red from the planes lights. Just remember to keep your eyes on the road…or you might find yourself in a cold, wet and rather dark ditch…ditches are not cool in the daylight, so are vastly less cool on a solo night ride!
You reconnect with the wildlife – while glowing eyes in the dark is stuff of childhood nightmares, there is something exciting about catching a glimpse of a wild animal out on the dark roads. Based on my experience they are often as surprised to see you as you are them – like you are intruding in to their secret world. While urban foxes are becoming more and more common, it’s a real treat to see deer’s, badgers and bats along the way. I’ve now become quite adept at shooing foxes off the road…
Hills, Hills, Hills – unfortunately the hills are still there, there is no escaping them, however they somehow become easier in the dark. With your vision narrowed to the edge of your lights, the summit is nearly always out of sight and as such the distance to it becomes a mystery and somehow less daunting. Think of the feeling of staring at a long stretch of almost vertical tarmac and the feelings that generates in the day…well you can’t fear a gradient you can’t see right!?
It’s not as cold as you think – while temperatures during the night are generally, consistently colder, it is true to say that with the right preparation, kit and layers riding at night is no colder or wetter than riding in the day time. My dhb Aeron All Winter Jacket is my go to for anything that’s looking cold and/or wet, as whatever the weather it keeps my core warm and dry. You can ride on with cold fingers and toes, but once your core is wet and cold, its game over!
Sleep can be harder to find – The easy part is that the body can be refuelled and reheated from the hardest, wettest or coldest rides (reference my earlier point on stopping for coffee!). However, finding sleep can be a much harder task once you are back from that overnight ride. When you train, your body produces a bucket load of hormones that increase heart rate and adrenaline production, which in turn increase the blood flow and testosterone in your system. These are the things that power you through the session, and remain in your system long after you’re done, but which are also bad for bed time as they make you feel more awake.
This was my top 10, did I miss something or what would you add as your favourite aspect of getting out after dark?
I’ve touched on lights, but it is important to end this blog with a reminder to always ride appropriately to the conditions and to coin the well used phrase – be safe and be seen. A good quality set of front and rear lights will light the road and make sure you are visible to other road users. Most items of cycling apparel these days incorporate an element of high visibility edging or detail as a minimum, my jacket and bib tights from dhb all have their Flashlight Technology (FLT) added for increased visibility at night. Pair this with the highly visible vest from Proviz sports and you become a glowing beacon on the roads.
Are you a fan of night riding or does something put you off? Let me know in the comments below!
If you enjoyed this blog, why not have a look at my other lists of learnings;