It’s easy to become unmotivated when the sun goes down, and the natural instinct to settle inside often wins out over any ambitious plans you may have. However, when the days start getting shorter, it can become impossible to fit everything into those few hours of daylight.
Cycling at night may seem daunting at first, but with the proper gear and research there’s no need to lock yourself in the basement with your wind trainer. In fact, it can be oddly addicting to whip through the night on your bike, and I want to help you get to that experience.
Why should I cycle at night?
Everyone has their own reasons for hopping on their bike in the dark, whether it be commuting to and from work or training for a big event. One of the main reasons I head out on dark cold nights is for the simple fact that it can be exhilarating and almost meditative. The roads are quieter, and with the absence of all the scenery you’d see during the day, you really focus in on your breathing and the sound of your wheels on the pavement. Plus, I find I feel like I’m going a whole lot faster in the dark!
Riding at night safely
The first thing you’re going to need are some good lights for both the front and back of your bike. Fortunately, new LED lights are both affordable and long-lasting for those longer rides. Drivers have to be able to see you to have enough time to react, so better to have too many lights than not enough. I would suggest at least two lights on the back (one flashing red and one solid light), and one bright light on the front.
If you’re planning on heading down any low light or country roads, you’ll want to ensure your front light is bright enough to light your path. Be sure that all your lights are fully charged before heading out with more than enough battery life for the duration of your ride, and it’s a good idea to have an extra backup light as well.
You’ll want to pick up some reflective gear for both you and your bike. Luckily, cycling gear has come a long way in the past few years and there are some great options other than your typical safety vest to make sure you light up the night. Many cycling jackets include reflective strips, with some including full 360 degree coverage.
It’s been proven that drivers will notice the up and down movement of pedaling before the smoother movement of the whole bike, so it’s important to get something reflective on your pedals or feet. Reflective pedals, tape, shoes, or ankle bands are all great options to achieve this.
Plan your route
Whether it’s night or day, it’s always a good idea to plan out your route, but this is especially important when cycling at night. I always want to ride routes I’m familiar with, and that I know have minimal hazards like potholes or small shoulders.
As it’s rare to head out on a 3-hour night ride (not that it can’t be done), it’s a good idea to plan a route that will challenge you the most in a short period of time. If I go for an hour ride, I plan to hit at least a couple good climbs to make the most of the time.
Obey the rules of the road
Obeying the rules of the road becomes especially important when riding at night. Even if the roads are quiet never run a stop sign or red light, and always assume motorists cannot see you. During the day you have the benefit of making eye contact with drivers before turning and making use of hand signals, but at night you always need to be on the defensive.
The right bike
It’s fair if you don’t want to cover your new carbon frame with light mounts and reflective tape, so many cyclists choose to have a second, cheaper bike that will serve as their night ride.
For your first ride you want to set realistic goals. You’re going to be a lot slower than you are during the day as you adjust to the feel of riding at night. If you head off down a completely unlit road, it can seem overwhelming to have things appearing out of the darkness as you ride, so better to stick to a well-lit route for your first few rides. Try out a lit bike path or roads with a bike lane and plenty of street lights.
Don’t let the the shorter days get to you and try out a night ride instead! You may just find it’s a whole other cycling experience that you can’t get enough of. For more on this, check out “Biking at Night – Light Up!“