Thoughts about Night Riding

by Dan Miller

TCBC offers two categories of night rides, N/B and N/C, in which members can participate. Their differentiation is a faster and slower average riding speed. Both require a front and back leader and the intent is to ride as a group. Ride length is limited to 25 miles or less. In addition to a helmet, bicycles need to be equipped with a front and rear light. As a member and ride leader who enjoys night riding, I thought it may be worth sharing a few observations learned over the years and encourage you to participate in what is becoming a more popular ride category.

Night riding requires acclimation to riding in less light, and benefits from having a bike and equipment for conditions with unexpected surprises. While sometimes doable on a road bike, a hybrid or commuter style bike with larger tires could help in preventing an accident when encountering the unexpected pothole - which will happen. Bigger tires, less inflation, and a more relaxed bike frame offer a little insurance meeting the unexpected and staying upright.

LED lighting systems have improved dramatically in the past 5 years and are relatively inexpensive. They have improved beams, better battery life, and it’s worth seeing what your peers are using before purchasing. Pending conditions and group size, you can often get by with a lower setting on your lights, managing them for longer battery life as well as not creating a “Close Encounters” starship that could blind motorists as well as fellow riders. Blinking lights are fine as long as you are in the front or back of a group. In a larger group, it can be a big distraction to focusing on road conditions and other ride participants near you. Getting to know your equipment and how it operates in different conditions and that they are fully charged should be part of your ride preparation just like putting air in the tires. A second front and back light are good insurance should you encounter a problem with your primary lights or your riding partner has a problem. Group safety is important to your personal well being.

Bright and reflective clothing is helpful. A simple reflective leg band creates a moving visible pattern and a reflective vest is easy to pull over a jersey. Night ride safety is as much about being seen as being able to see. Dusk, nightfall, moon and no moon are all different conditions that differ in how visible you may appear and what you can see.

Most night rides I have attended or led have been 8 – 10 riders. Even this small size can be challenging for a ride leader. It’s my responsibility to keep the group safe, together, and to follow a route that often looks different at night than what may have been scouted. Between watching the route, calling out turns and hazards, it can be very distracting to have an in-depth conversation. I think this holds true for the ride participants too. Like texting messages, a lengthy conversation can be distracting to your awareness of road conditions and route info being called out by fellow riders.

So why do I do night rides? Perhaps it’s experiencing a world less traveled. The sounds and sights of wildlife - winged, four legged, two legged, on wheels and crawling. The ambient lights of the city, its architecture, and how its rhythm changes. It often becomes less windy and calm. And it all feels safer and more enjoyable sharing with some riding partners.

I will start leading night rides this summer and there seems to be a lot of interest in having more on the schedule. This article only touches on a few aspects of night riding. It’s a topic I like talking about and I’m open to any discussions or questions that may have arisen reading this. See you out there.

Unwritten Recipe for Miller - Old Style Night Ride

  • Ride start is somewhere some will deem “unusual”. Go for it. It’s your ride.
  • Route description will create some confusion and wonder, like describing a magical mystery tour. Having a few gaps (gaffs) is to be expected. Don’t worry.
  • Roll out slow and allow everyone to chatter. Don’t listen to the chatter because it may be about your ride description.
  • Continue onto lightly traveled roads to settle in and let everyone relax.
  • Do a hard turn into some traffic. Always on a striped bike lane for protection. This will wake everyone up going from relatively calm to lots of lights, action and noise.
  • Now back onto a nice trail, first slow to settle at first. Then pick up the pace to churn things up. It was getting kind of cold.
  • Back to quiet road and scenic features, time to rest.
  • Repeats of the last four points as the night goes from dusk through nightfall.
  • At around 12 miles start looking for a rest stop, especially in colder weather, or you will have a mutiny.
  • Near the ride end have an Ah-hah! moment where everyone can do a collective sigh. You may be thinking that they are all sighing for reaching the end of the ride in one piece. However, my experience has been that they are mostly sighs of contentment of enjoying a nice evening.

Proportion of ingredients is flexible and to taste. Remember – it’s the mix, it’s the mix, it’s the mix that’s important. Stir it up!!!