How to: Your first bicycle night ride
In this post, Eva talks about cycling at night and a first bicycle night ride. She shares tips and tricks from equipment to route planning. If you haven’t cycled at night yourself, maybe you’ll give it a try after reading this blog article. It’s worth it, because a bicycle night ride is simply something else altogether.
The first reaction when I tell people about cycling adventures on the road at night is usually: I wouldn’t dare. I’m actually a bit of a scaredy-cat myself. And even today it occasionally costs me a bit of an effort to set off alone into the dark.
And then I’m on my way. The world shrinks down to the small stretch of path in the cone of light from my lamps. And everything beyond disappears into mysterious darkness.
In the trees the wind rustles, there is a sudden intense smell of grass or something. No human being is on the way. And then the forest opens up, and the sky is studded with stars.
Riding a bike at night is mystical and meditative. I started doing it because I wanted to complete longer brevets (which are tours of several hundred kilometres to be completed in a certain time) that required continuing to ride at night. I found it to be a whole new way of cycling that I knew after the first time would never let me go.
You want to try a night ride? I’ve put together everything I think would be helpful to get you off to a good start on this adventure.
Find a suitable route
- For the first time, choose a track you know. The surroundings look different enough in the dark. I found it good to know what it’s like there during the day at the beginning.
- Pick a clear night in which the moon is rather full. With a bit of light, it is easier to find your way in what is at first an unfamiliar situation. Let your route take you across open country rather than through dense forest. Plan in such a way that you will pass through inhabited areas from time to time. Lighted windows, the occasional laugh from a front yard, there’s something friendly about the night.
- I make sure to stay on low-traffic roads and off state highways and. And I always try to have a petrol station on the way that is open around the clock. Or at least open long enough for me to get a coffee and fill up my bottles late at night. Before that, I take a quick look on the web to see if the petrol station really does have a shop and isn’t just a self-service petrol station.
- It doesn’t have to be a full night’s ride. Start in the evening so that you are on the road for two or three hours in the dark. Or start very early in the morning. Biking into the changing times of day and experiencing a sunrise or sunset in the saddle is one of the best things I know. If necessary, make sure you don’t ride directly east or west so that the slanting sun doesn’t take away your view. Such “partial nights” in the saddle are also a good way to find out what makes your own biorhythms tick. Some people get very tired in the dark, others can stay awake all night on the bike. This is a good way to test it.
- For longer distances, I look for one or two stations that I can reach (with a buffer) before the last train leaves. Important to estimate:driving at night likes to feel faster than it actually is, so you should allow a bit more time for the same distance.
Solo or accompanied?
- If the night is still too big a chunk for solo bike rides: find company for your first bicycle night ride. Being with more than one person helps to banish one or two moments of creepiness, and conversation keeps you awake. There are now also some group rides through the night that you can join to try it out. However, when riding in a group, you have to pay extra attention to what the person in front of you is doing. In my opinion, you have a little less of a “night experience”.
- Perhaps even imaginary company will help you. The first time I rode alone through the night, I chose the starting point of a cycling marathon as my destination. There would be something going on there from 4 o’clock, which made the night shorter for me. Also, people had already started there the night before, so I knew I wouldn’t be cycling through the night alone. I found that reassuring, even if they were two hundred kilometres further north.
First bicycle night ride: Lighting, clothing, food
I always ride with two light sources, one on the bike, one on the head (helmet or headlamp). You can move the latter independently of your direction of travel. For example, you see the path a little further ahead of you in tight bends, or quickly shine it to the side if there is a funny rustling noise next to you in the woods.
You also need the headlamp for everything you do off the bike. Like searching in your pockets for food, going into the bushes and, last but not least, in case you get a puncture. And finally, with two lights you always have a backup. That’s why I always have two rear lights on my bike. In this case I have a backup when one of them should give up.
Consider whether and how you need to charge your lights at night (and your navigation device, if applicable). You don’t need light only when it’s already pitch black, but also at dusk. I add about three hours to the time from sunset to sunrise that I need light (and much more if it’s overcast). I have solved the charging problem by connecting the lamp and navigation device to a power bank in a top tube pocket. This allows me to charge both while riding. However, this is not possible with all models and must be tested in advance. To start with, you can perhaps borrow an extra light if you can’t charge while riding.
I go by the nightly temperature forecast for some places on the route and subtract a few degrees from that because it’s always colder outside of towns. Besides, I get cold quickly when I’m already a bit exhausted. So I prefer to take one layer more than I need in the end – I want to enjoy the night ride, after all, and not just hope that the freezing will end. This includes (even in summer) long-fingered gloves, a buff and a cap that fits under the helmet. A long vest in my luggage I think is good in case I get stranded somewhere and stand around for a while and my clothes get wet with sweat.
Tool & Co.
I take exactly what I carry with me during the day on longer tours – spare tubes, tyre levers, pump, multitool, cable ties etc…. Of course, it’s not a nice idea to be standing somewhere in the dark with a puncture. But it can happen to me just as easily during the day. I always find it important to have something to cover up with, as well as light and electricity, so that I can find my way around and call someone if necessary.
At night, of course, the opportunities to find something on the road are rarer, which is why I take more with me or fill up the supplies again in the evening before the shops close. Or – see above – I plan for 24-hour petrol stations or a fast-food “restaurant”. I also change what I want to eat at all. Late at night I usually feel like something hearty, in the morning I’m most likely to bring down bananas. But this is something I find over time.
So much for the theory. In the end, it should above all be fun, like everything on the bike. Therefore: Try it out for yourself and see what suits you best. Have fun with it! And let us know what you have experienced and learned.