5 reasons to try night cycling
Riding your bike at night will boost your fitness over autumn and winter and deliver some surprisingly powerful benefits.
The cold and dark winter months can be a hard time for road cyclists. Now that the clocks have gone back and the dark nights are setting in, it can be difficult to find time to train during the working week, and your regular riding routine can soon get squeezed. But if you learn to embrace the unique thrills of night cycling, a whole world of exciting new nocturnal riding opportunities awaits.
Many road cyclists feel instinctively nervous about riding in the dark. But once you experience the power of night-riding, whether on road or off-road, you will soon learn that it is a beautiful way to ride your bike, and a brilliant autumn and winter training tool. Here are five reasons to try night-riding this autumn.
1. Squeeze in more rides over winter
Whether simply commuting home from work by bike on dark evenings, or venturing out for nocturnal training rides during the working week, night cycling is an invaluable training tool which can keep you fit, strong and motivated over the darker months. The days may be getting shorter, but riding in the dark unlocks extra hours of the day so you can keep on training. By riding in the evening over autumn and winter, you can build your stamina and fitness while others riders are curled up on the sofa in front of the TV.
The consistency of your training sessions is a key training stimulus. Night-riding enables you to maintain that consistency over autumn and winter, so your workouts are not just packed into long rides at the weekend, followed by five days of inactivity.
However, don’t forget that night rides can be useful in the summer too. In the midst of a summer heatwave, evening or night rides are a great way to train when the temperatures are cooler and fresher than during the brutal heat of the day.
2. Enjoy the unique thrill of the night
Riding in the dark may be a useful way to fit extra workouts into your week, but it is also a uniquely atmospheric and evocative way to ride your bike. Riding beneath the stars is an exhilarating experience. This is especially true if you venture off-road onto gravel or mountain-bike tracks, where you can enjoy the buzz of exploring trails at night and savour the sights and sounds of the forests and other moonlit landscapes. Whether you see shooting stars, full moons, orbiting satellites or the lights of planes above you, night-riding will feel like an entirely new type of riding.
Riding at night also sharpens you mind as your senses and instincts are on a heightened state of alert, so you feel like your brain is firing on all cylinders. After returning home from a beautiful night ride, you will enjoy a warm buzz of satisfaction all evening.
3. It is safer than you think
Thanks to high-powered lights and high-visibility kit, riding at night is not as worrying as you may believe. While it is important to be safety-conscious, millions of people safely commute by bike over winter, and riders who live in rural locations will find that country roads can be blissfully quiet on autumn or winter evenings.
Modern bike lights are incredibly powerful, with some shining at over 1000 lumens (the measure of visible light projected). If you want to be seen in urban environments, a front light with 100-200 lumens should suffice.
On country roads where you need to see where you are going, aim for around 400-600 lumens. And on off-road trails where visibility is poor and the terrain is much less predictable, aim for 1000 lumens. Rear lights tend to be less powerful, but many have blinking or pulsing features to ensure you are seen by motorists.
A good set of lights should be paired with some high-visibility clothing. Many modern high-vis jackets are fitted with reflective materials which light up under the headlights of cars to ensure you remain visible.
Remember, you don’t have to go out at night alone. Many club training rides take place in the evenings, giving you safety in numbers and additional support if you need it.
4. Avoid bad indoor training habits
Following the rise in turbo training during the pandemic, many physios reported a rise in injuries among cyclists when they ventured back out onto the road. That is because turbo training, however useful, is not a precise substitute for riding on the road in real life.
On a turbo trainer you are not dealing with air resistance, you don’t need to balance or turn, you don’t have to navigate any obstacles, and you don’t experience the subtle sideways rocking movements experienced when pedalling in real life.
So if you spend too long training indoors, you will lose your visual and physical awareness and your bike-handling skills, resulting in niggling injuries or crashes. This is a big problem for riders who train indoors over autumn and winter and then head back out onto the road in the spring.
But night-cycling is the perfect antidote to this issue. Riding at night over autumn and winter will mean you keep up a functional relationship with your bike, so it doesn’t feel like an alien machine when you get outside again in the New Year. And riding at night also makes you hyper-aware of your own body, your position on the road or trail, and any obstacles which may be up ahead, ensuring you stay sharp and primed for road-riding all year round.
5. Enjoy the meditation class
Regular night riders often say that the experience is surprisingly meditative. Following a narrow beam of light along the road focuses your mind, and allows you to enter a deeply reflective state. After a busy day at work, this can be a welcome way to find peace and organise your thoughts before going to bed.
The neurochemicals released in the brain also help you to deal with stress and banish the winter blues. Night cycling also restores many of the deep sensory pleasures of cycling, as you tune into the rhythms of your body and the hum of your tyres in the dark.
This makes it a deeply immersive experience, in which you become highly aware of your own body and its movements in the dark. Night cycling is a dreamy experience which is hard to beat.
By Mark Bailey