When you live in Scotland it doesn’t seem to take long for the summer to be leaving and the dark nights to start creeping up on us. Obviously this change comes with a decent chunk of temperature difference just for good measure.
Having recently sold my turbo trainer bike, due to a lack of training time, I try and make what bike rides I can squeeze in be real world rides. Yes it’s cold and dark in the morning / evening but it’s nothing some decent clothing and a bright set of bike lights can’t fix.
The Golden Rule – Be Seen!
My first night ride of the year was last week. An impromptu little spin once the family and I had eaten and my little boy Arthur had been in the bath and was away to sleep. It was 7:15pm by the time I slipped into my bib tights, base layer, and long sleeve jacket. The sun was down and what remaining light lingered was getting swallowed up by the night time hours.
Ah well, I clipped the lights onto the bike and switched them on. The driveway lit up like a Christmas tree and just like that I could see, and more importantly, be seen. Perfect. I held my thumb down on the power button for my Wahoo just to see the battery symbol flash up. It did switch on but when I checked the charge it was at 2%. This impromptu ride lacked my normal preparation and this was the cost.
I could fix this. I could make this work. I didn’t struggle into these bib tights for no reason! I opened the garage back up, walked across to the shelving units, and took down my Bikepacking box. Full of all the goodies I needed when out on longer trips I carefully moved items aside until I caught a glimpse of what I was looking for – my power bank charger and an assortment of charging cables. All that was left to do was to wedge this power bank into a top tune bag, somehow secure it, and run the cable from the bag to my Wahoo. Cable ties to the rescue!
It might not be the prettiest set up in the world but below is what I ended up with.
Not pretty but effective. Much like myself…
It didn’t budge an inch the whole ride and by the time I returned home I had 84% battery. I class this as a mini win.
Now I’m sure we all know this feeling I’m about to try and describe. Those first hundred metres of your bike ride where you get a true feel for how the weather / temperature really feels. Not how it felt when you stepped out the door but how it feels once you’re pedalling along on your bike. That wind created by you pushing your way through the air is the real weather you will be dealing with for the duration of the bike ride.
Well, that weather was a little bit chillier than I thought it was going to be. Winter really had been sneaking up. No moaning though, I had a little 30km loop lined up to stretch the legs and a handful of climbs thrown in which would soon warm me through.
Along the the main road, hang a left, freewheel down the hill and across the mini roundabout, and within a few minutes of getting started I was on one of my favourite cycle paths underneath the tress. The only things I could see were those illuminated by my front light. A tunnel that was ever expanding as long as I kept moving. What a great feeling.
I love how the concept of speed changes when it is dark. Forget going out on my fancy road bike and averaging 30kmph for 4 hours. 23kmph under the trees in the pitch black was equally as exhilarating. I didn’t see anyone for the first 3 miles but what I did see was nearly enough to send me to the floor. As I cruised along the narrowest part of the path 2 rabbits, clearly playing a game of chicken, ran across in front of me one after the other. Rabbit number 1 missed my wheel by a good metre or so. Rabbit number 2 was lucky he wasn’t left with a Continental Speed King tyre tread pattern across his back. My experience taught me not to panic and grab a full handful of brake but a little handful of brake was definitely on the menu.
However, disaster had been avoided. No rabbits had been injured and my heart rate was returning to a reasonable level. I skirted around the back of one of the local towns and when I reached the back end I turned left and climbed back up into the middle of town and out the top end. A climb that is about 1 mile long with a few steep sections at the start. The legs and lungs were well and truly warmed up now and the cool wind that rushed by my ears was quite pleasant.
This small climb leads straight into another with about 200 metres of rest. I was heading out of the town now and the orange glow of street lamps soon faded into the background. It was just me, a local ‘B’ road, and about 10 miles of darkness before I saw some sort of civilisation again. Bliss! As I headed up the hill I imagined how I must look to anyone who could see me from the town. I compared myself to a boat out at sea. Blackness all around and then a set of lights moving along steadily. The only difference was I wasn’t heading somewhere exotic, there was no crew, and no fancy or important cargo. It was just me out in the cold on a circular route trying to keep some fitness going.
Just before I lost the sun.
These were the kind of rides I was going to have to get used to. Time isn’t something I have as much of these days so sneaking in a cheeky night ride when everyone is getting ready for bed was a little treat for me. It is now a case of make the time when I can or go without and I’ve worked far too hard on my fitness to let it fade away because the weather is a little cold or the sun decides to head to bed at 5pm!
I was on my final climb of the evening when it happened. That one car who clearly had no idea I existed, despite my ridiculously bright flashing rear light punching them in the face for their entire approach to my rear end, they drove past me giving about 2 feet of room. I did the usual shake of the head and shouted a sarcastic thank you accompanied with a wave of my hand as they drove away, most likely still unaware of my presence.
As cyclists we know this is a risk we run on every ride and you can do everything right and still have other people on the road who fail to appreciate the vulnerability of a cyclist. Lights on front and rear, hi-vis jackets, helmets, reflectors etc. We like to think this will be enough and the truth is that most of the time it is. I know a few people who use the Cycliq rear camera / light these days to record these ‘close passes’ on camera. I am in favour 100%.
The nature of my job has seen me attend more crashes than I would have liked with cyclists so anyone who decides to drive that close to me in their large metal motorised box can explain themselves to one of my colleagues. The Cycliq is on my Christmas list so if you’re reading this Santa…
However, I have deviated away from my bike ride story! All that climbing I have mentioned was now about to pay off, a descent was coming and once I reached the bottom I was only a couple of miles from home. My legs and mind felt equally good. They always did when I was close to the end of my ride. I freewheeled the entire way down. Not enjoying the view as much as I normally would because for one I couldn’t see it due to the dark and secondly I needed to follow my bike light tunnel to ensure I stayed upright and on the road. As the road levelled out I found a nice gear and pushed on towards home.
A little rise in the road got me out of the saddle for one last stretch of the legs and then I peeled off into my housing estate. It was getting on for 9:30pm when I pulled up at home. I quietly opened the garage and popped my bike back. I cut the cable ties to free the power bank and carted everything back into the house. That lovely wave of warmth hit me as I opened the door.
I caught my wife cheating on me with Netflix and a large bowl of Rice Krispies. She is 7 months pregnant with our second child and I’m now wise enough to not question the snacking habits of a pregnant woman. Lessons were learned first time around. Comments such as “this baby will be made of chocolate” have now been removed from my vocabulary… Self preservation is key!
So there we have it – my first night ride of the year was complete. I had made time for it and it had been great. So much so I’ve already got another one lined up with a friend. The night adds a completely different dimension to riding your bike and if you haven’t tried it I would highly recommend it. However, do the basics and do them well. Be visible! All the lights, the correct clothing etc. Don’t give anyone a reason to try and use the excuse of “I didn’t see you”. Their car won’t feel it but I promise that you and your bike definitely will. I’m going to pop a few links below for some of the gear I use just in case you need some safety equipment to get you out and about in the darker hours.
Endura FS260 Pro Adrenaline Race Cape 2 – Need a barrier to keep the rain and wind out? This is it! Super light, highly waterproof and when it comes to being a wind barrier it is like pulling on a portable radiator. Great piece of kit that will have a separate review soon.
Lezyne Zecto Drive 80 Rear Light – Super bright, massive battery life, attaches easily. What more do you need?!
Halfords 500 Lumen Front Light – A basic light that does the job nicely. I will be upgrading soon for a brighter light and increased battery life but this will do nicely to get you started.
Le Col Hors Catégorie Deep Winter Gloves – I bought these in a sale as there’s no way I can afford £80 gloves! However, these are brilliant. I struggle with cold hands in the winter but these lock the cold out and still allow you to handle the bike / gears adequately. Worth considering if you can afford them.
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