Fear of the Dark
Early bird catches the worm.
This Christmas I decided to drop some heavy hints for a decent set of front and rear cycling lights and was duly rewarded. Now cycling in the dark is not something I go out of my way to do, but in recent months, thanks mainly to some excellent posts from the audax UK facebook page I’ve been coming around to the idea. Much of their night riding is actually self-inflicted, as these cycling fanatics would think nothing of undertaking anything from a 200 to 1,200 km cycle. Certainly once you get into the 400 km distances night cycling is unavoidable.
So what’s the draw? The quiet roads, a totally new perspective on a particular routes and the excitement of witnessing a vast array of wildlife.
With the new lights fully charged and the bike freshly cleaned I decided to take advantage of the extremely mild weather we have been experiencing this winter. Avoiding the temptation to jump in with both feet, I opted for a 6:30 am start. This would give me a good hour of total darkness and a chance to return home in the more familiar day light hours.
The start was delayed though, trying to fit the front light! I foolishly underestimated the “easy” fitting of the front light. A strong elastic looped band around the handle bars, that fits either side of the front light bracket. Believe me, these thing are a tight and an awkward fit!
With the lights fitted, high vis top on and all the other bits pocketed it was time to hit the roads, 15 minutes late!
I decided on a scenic route from Tralee to Castleisland that avoided 95% of the main roads. No point getting a good set of lights and allowing the street lights to take the glory!
For those of you who know the area, it was a case of cycling up to Ballyard from Tralee centre and out past the rugby club. Within a kilometre of the town centre the street lights become sparse and the halogen front light kicks into action. I was pleasantly surprised how well it lit up the road in front of me as well as casting out a good beam of light to warn any oncoming vehicles. Taking a left turn I headed across to Caherleaheen and out past Farmers Bridge. Once past Farmers Bridge the road narrows slightly with sporadic grass down the centre, that can become an unwelcome obsticle. Certain stretches along this route are rolling and pot marked. A decent light is a must! My early experiences were a heightened awareness of any noise and a greater need to concentrate on what was around and in front of me. Overall a nice experience which was heightened by the glittering Christmas lights adorning various households along the route.
Once at Ballyfinane East it was a case of crossing the N22 road bridge and proceeding down into Currans village. At this stage there was early morning light starting to show in the sky, but far from some of the spectacular sunrises we’ve been experiencing lately in Kerry. Once over the main N23 and moving towards Currow the morning light was coming quickly and the light beam was having less of an effect on the road surface.
By the time I reached Castleisland normal day time vision was resumed and the lights became more of a safety device to warn oncoming traffic. The town was very quiet despite the time being 8:20 am and the only place to catch a well-earned coffee was the local Supervalu supermarket!
Conclusion: Despite the potential calls of “cycling in the dark is dangerous” and “unnecessary journey” I didn’t feel certainly that it was any more dangerous than doing the same cycle in the day light. For one, I only encountered 2 cars between Tralee and Currow. Secondly you can hear vehicles a few minutes before the are passing and with the right gear I’d expect they see you well in advance. Doing such a cycle is certainly something to take your time over. I found myself giving the road way more respect than normal and slowed or pulled over to allow a car to pass on a narrow stretch. Experience wise this is a totally different ball game to day time cycling, with different senses coming to the fore. Mainly hearing touch and smell. I wouldn’t advise anyone to do this sort of thing fast or in a big group, but certainly easy going with a small group of no more than 4 might be a nice alternative spin.
As for the wild animal…not this time I’m afraid. Just the usual chorus of yelping dogs and the occasional cat slinking across the road.
Gear: For the front light I went with the Electron Terra 1 Evo Front Light
The rear light was a Lezeyne Hecto Drive Rear Light
As for high visibility clothing, I used a green vest a back up battery light isn’t a bad idea either, especially if you are cycling through a good bit of the night. Before a spin like this giving the bike the quick once over and making sure the tyres are in good shape and the right pressure might be worth the few minutes. Changing punctures in the pitch dark in the middle of nowhere might not be everyone’s idea of fun!
My advice would be, if you have the gear get out there and try it. The early mornings are the best and there’s nothing to beat cycling into the dawn chorus.