Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Learning Curve - Becoming a Night Rider

Light and Motion Urban 500 illuminates pitch-dark bike paths.
It's a new frontier. I knew that switching jobs, nearly a year ago, would bring transformations in my personal and professional life—that's a given—however, I didn't understand to what extent the transition would have on my bike commute. I was open to new experiences and opportunities so thus I became a convert to night riding not only to extend cycling beyond the end of Daylight Savings Time, but to also avoid driving a car and/or put off using the inevitable bus service, which I will eventually embrace once I become uncomfortable riding on slippery roads.

Hogging the bike rack at my workplace.
Will is a powerful motivator.
  • I do not like driving a car. Never have and never will. End of story. 
  • It takes 5 minutes longer to ride my bike than driving, plus an additional 5 minutes to change clothes, not to mention all the health benefits, self reliance, etc.—if you are an avid bike rider then you know that 10 extra minutes is a small price to pay for peace of mind.
  • Bus service takes twice as long as driving.
Knowing I have transportation options lent a certain comfort—if my experiment failed, the other avenues were always available.

One of the perks of riding at night during the holidays: enjoying the decorations
at human powered speed. I love this simple 20 foot high framework with sparse lights.

What did I learn?
  • Buying a good light paved the way. Mounting the light on my handle bars was adequate for my needs, which has transformed my thinking about feeling safe.
  • Riding in the dark lends the illusion of traveling faster. I started slowly to get my bearings on several rides homeward until I became accustomed to the route, the blind spots, and where I was most likely to encounter other path users. 
  • I had to relearn to shift without looking at the drive-train. With non-indexed thumb shifters, I realized I'd relied on visually inspecting the freewheel to determine which gear I was in. With my hilly route, I continually switch gears so I had to readjust my shifting technique and pay attention to which gear was adequate for what type of terrain. I also learned to listen closely to the chain rubbing on the front derailleur and adjust when needed.
  • I take advantage of lit areas to tackle problems, etc. Midway home there are a couple of well lighted store fronts that I can duck into and inspect my bicycle. In one instance, I discovered I had a slow leak in my rear tire. I pulled over and inflated the tube, which allowed me to get home.
  • I love the peacefulness of night. I expected to only tolerate the transition to night riding, but in fact I have come to embrace and enjoy my journey homeward, sometimes with friendly moonlight. I dread when I will need to switch gears (ha ha) at some point and take a bus to work.
  • I am heartier than I thought. So far, I can handle temperatures to 15F. On recent excursions I wore a balaclava and winter boots. The footwear didn't fit properly inside the toe clips, but I made do, and more importantly, arrived at my workplace with warm feet. 
  • Make contact with other path users. I've always enjoyed greeting path users in the daylight, but in the darkness connecting with people takes on more significance. Politeness means sharing the space, alerting someone to your presence, even though you may be blinding them with a super bright light. There are many regular walkers, joggers, and riders. I'd like to think we're a community. If I was in danger or had somehow fallen, I would appreciate help and, conversely, I would gladly stop and assist others. 
50 foot high lit tree in a yard. How did the owners decorate the monstrous evergreen?
An amazingly decorated home, complete with nearly life-sized nativity scene.
So far, it's been a positive experience. I'm even doing a little holiday shopping on my way home.


  1. I enjoy riding in the dark. Granted, I only do so twice a week in the summer months (more frequently as we lose daylight). I agree with you that learning the route (or routes) is helpful so that I know what to expect. Losing distance vision in the dark usually causes me to slow a bit, but I don't mind.

    Locally, we've already had a decent dumping of snow that hasn't melted off the streets (and has mostly now turned to ice) so it's been more challenging to ride at all and has eliminated dark rides completely for the time being, but I find that I enjoy the quietness of riding this time of year. I'm currently looking at buying some studded tires for one of the bikes to perhaps allow a bit more riding through this season, but all of the reading I've done has caused me to wonder if I'd really be any better off than I am without them. It's a sizable purchase to make and not know if it will be worth the investment for me personally.

    Glad to see you're still making it in the dark on your bike! :)

    1. It shows I'm never too old to try new things. :)

  2. Yes, I love how just a modest amount of lighting has opened up a whole new world of freedom and opportunity for my own bicycling. And it has enabled me to commute to work every single day for the past 4 months without fail. My favorite time of day is the early morning, 5:30am. Very quiet and peaceful, and some of the most wonderful celestial displays, moon and venus...

    On the other hand, I feel my ride home at night has gotten much more dangerous as the winter has progressed. After 5:00pm it is already pitch dark, and the amount of traffic is formidable -- with all the drivers impatient and possibly careless in their haste to get home. My puny bicycle lights and reflective leggings do not seem much protection from these hazards, and I have had a few close calls. Not to mention downed branches and slick leaf debris on the edges of roadway one is forced to navigate...

    Still and all: bicycling! How awesome!

    All the best,


    1. I'm fortunate that most of my commute is on unlit bike path so traffic is never a problem. I've chosen to ride through a college campus the last mile in place of on a busy road, so I feel very safe. I know that in many situations other folks may not have this opportunity.

  3. What a great description. This sounds just like my own experience. I never imagined that I would really feel safe, let alone enjoy, riding in the dark. Yet once I embraced the experience I found it exhilarating and liberating. When I ride at night I feel fearless and fast. The computer says otherwise, but I feel like I'm flying!

    I actually prefer riding in full dark to riding at dusk. I feel much more visible in the dark. Even the small things, like reflective side walls on the tires, stand out dramatically in the dark.

    1. Yes, lights work better in extreme darkness. Here's to all the women night riders!


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