A night ride is a wonderful way to roll whether it be a leisure ride or a commute home. The darkness can transform a familiar route into something very different and exciting. However, for many a night ride can seem intimidating, foolhardy; even extreme. It needn’t be.
With the appropriate kit and knowing how to cycle safely, a night ride should be a magical experience.
Kit for cycling at night
Whether it be a long or a short ride, it is important to carry kit that allows you to see and be seen.
If your route is well lit then you only need lights that allow other traffic to see you. A small LED light attached to the body or a bag however is not fit for purpose. Standard bike lights (front and rear) should be fine. Remember lights are a legal requirement if cycling at night. Front lights should be white with the rear lights being red. Lighting-up time is sunset or when visibility is seriously reduced. If in doubt, switch your lights on.
If you are pedalling off into the black then you either need powerful lamps that light up your route or have fellow cyclists to follow with strong beamed lights. A steady light is recommended on the front white light when cycling in areas without good street lighting.
A bikes rear reflector and pedal reflectors are extremely important for night time riding. In the UK, it is illegal to cycle on the road without a back red reflector on your bike. Adding additional reflectors to your bike can be useful such as adhesive-backed strips of reflective material for the bicycle frame/fenders.
Any clothing you wear should contain an element of reflective piping or be a reflective colour. Reflective legbands or arm bands are a good idea to wear on a ride. If taking a rucksack, it would be good idea to put a reflective cover over it.
Most cyclists have been caught out by variable weather conditions and regretted their choice of clothing. However, on a night ride you know it’s going to get colder as the night progresses so select your cycle clothing accordingly for the length of ride you have to do.
If out on a longer ride, have warm clothing to put on when it gets cold, damp or wet. Pack a jacket,a hat and some gloves. You may want to carry an extra light jacket just in case. You’ll be happy to have some warm dry clothes if rain strikes or temperatures drop.
Tools and spares
You should also carry tools and spares to deal with foreseeable mechanical problems. This could include a pump, tyre levers, a spare inner tube or two and a multi-tool kit for your ride. Having your mobile phone on you is more important than ever if you are cycling at night, particularly if you get lost or get into trouble.
Carry a small flashlight. It will be useful if you have to make any mechanical repairs. If on a long ride, take some spare batteries for your lights just in case.
Food and water
If you are heading out on a long ride you will probably be used to taking food and water with you. When selecting your nutrition for a night ride it is worth bearing in mind that corner shops are unlikely to be open. Searching for an all night garage that will sell you a Mars bar will materially affect your enjoyment of a night ride.
Cycling safely at night
It seems obvious but riding in the dark means you should be extra vigilant out on the road. Always position yourself assertively in the road, and never assume that other road users can see you.
Riding in the dark can be exhilarating but watch the speed you cycle at. Remember you need to cycle at a speed where you’ll be able to see hazards in the road, other road users, animals etc. As a rule of thumb you want to be able to stop safely within the reach of your light beam.
Know the road
The better you know your route, the easier it will be to ride it in the dark. This is particularly so if you commute. You can make a mental image of the route and know where the potential hazards are on the road. For longer rides, always ride routes that you are already familiar with. Exploring new terrain at night will most often get you lost
Be visible on the road
In the dark, you should ride at least a metre from the edge of the road. Be in the driver’s focus instead of his peripheral vision. Riding there means you’ll be more visible to drivers. It will also give you some space to go left if you have to avoid a hazard.
Be prepared for oncoming cars, as they may have their headlights on high beam, which can dazzle you. Do not look directly at cars in front of you. Traffic isn’t the only hazard at night, animals, pedestrians and even cyclists heading in the wrong direction with no lights might surprise you in the dark. Look out for them carefully, and give them wide berth when you see them as you wouldn’t want to run anyone over.
Obey the rules
Don’t ever assume drivers can see you. This is more relevant at night. As such, obey road rules and that means stop at all traffic lights and stop signs. We know the majority of cyclists do but you are just asking for trouble if you run a light in the dark.
Image courtesy of Bicycle Images, Photographer: Roman Skyva