Original photograph by Latryx

Out of Darkness

Out of Darkness

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The dark makes everything worse; something primal awakens in us when the sun has gone and we are wrapped in the black cloak of night. Laying in bed, my worst thoughts and fears come knocking like some used-car salesperson who won’t leave me alone. There is no shutting down of this process, our imaginations are given free reign to do their worst.

Darkness makes the cold feel colder, and the rain more wet; it wraps us and removes all the visual cues that might otherwise distract us from their lightless work. This is a difficult time of year, when the days are at their shortest; we leave for work in the dark and return home in it too. It never leaves us.

Leaving for a ride at night takes the same sort of resolve that riding in bad weather does; you need not think about whether you want to do it; you simply set about kitting up, and then placing one foot before the other until you’re standing outside with your bicycle at your side. Then you pedal.

Riding at night puts me in an cocoon of isolation, there is life inside the cone that spills from my headlight; beyond its borders I do not know what creatures and thoughts dwell – I don’t need to know. There is only the small triangular section of road within the cone. Like a carrot spurring on a donkey, perhaps if I push a little harder on the pedals, I can overtake the far edge of the light and explore what lies beyond.

Winter Solstice is behind us now, and for the next half year, our days will get longer. Though the days will remain dark for some time yet; each coming day will be a little bit longer until finally, the headlights will be put away. Until then, I will ride inside my cone when I need to, and cherish daylight rides when I can.

// La Vie Velominatus

  1. I’m not crazy about darkness either. Throw in some ice–and I’m freaked out! Even with studded tires. Ever have wipe-out dreams? Kinda like wet dreams except you suddenly wake up in the middle of wiping out on a patch of ice. Darkness and ice. Freaks me out.

  2. @frank


    Yes sir! I can handle this northern hemisphere positive vibe. Past the trough.

    The cone. I’m sure many of us have ridden with bike mounted headlights and also helmet/head mounted headlights. With both, you get a lot. With one, you get some. Having only a bike-mounted headlight and hearing something loud in the dark, nearby, and turning to look at it, and realizing you aren’t wearing a helmet-mounted headlight.

    That is scary. It’s also fun. And it reminds you to bring yer helmet light, if you so desire.

    In reality, I ride with both a helmet and handlebar light, both by Lezyne. You need both, not just for the visibility, but because the two lights move independently, cars are better able to realize you’re not another car or moto. Whenever I’ve ridden with just one or the other, cars make many more bad moves around me, particularly in the way of pulling out in front of me when I’m going 60km/h down a hill in the rain.

    But the helmet light is about as useful as a candle in a horror movie as far as helping you discern the source of the light when you’re moving at a reasonable speed, so the effect of the cone is honorably retained.

    Which one do you use on your helmet?  I have the Power Drive XL on my bars (475 max lumens / 1h:30min), which I imagine could be converted with the helmet mount.  And it would be an excuse to get the Mega Drive for the bars (1200 max lumens – that’s crazy awesome).

    However, my vanity has caused me reluctance in considering mounting one on the helmet.  This summer on a pre-dawn team ride, I showed up without my front light.  I found an LED flashlight in the glovebox and gaffered it to my helmet.  At an unscheduled convenience store stop, I was curious why people kept giving me squinty-eyed stares.  We weren’t that far into redneck country yet.  The moment I stepped outside, it occurred to me I had 1) worn my helmet inside the store and 2) kept the light on.  My teammates just laughed.

  3. The ‘reality cone’ also figures prominently in rock climbing by headlamp. You look away from your hand placement, and while looking down for a foot hold are briefly clinging by the remembrance of that finger jam. Then you glance down for a piece of gear, and that crystal you’ve delicately poised yourself upon dwindles into a less trustworthy ephemeratum. The void, spot lit by your partner a worrying distance below, expands in all directions.

  4. I do most of my road cycling at night.  In the town I travel to work n, the daytime traffic is quite dangerous. At night, the cars and truck traffic subsides and I feel safe to venture out.   It has been very hot here too, being summer and very humid.

    I run a Supernova Airstream, and a bunch of flashers, for which I have been mocked.  They are very effective.   The night holds little fear for me.

  5. Today’s schedule of family festive fun meant a 5am start was the only time I’d get out but a beyond Rule #9 gale meant that at 2am I was more concerned that the big horse chestnut in the neighbors garden was going to end up in the bedroom. Now, I can’t help feel that I wimped out slightly. I’ll have to get out before the kids get up tomorrow.

    I’ve got a Hope R4 and Hope District. Great lights – the front lights up the road in front beautifully while the rear can’t fail to be seen. I’m considering one of the Lezyne rear lights as well to be able to have constant as well as blinking but the helmet mounted debate has got me thinking.

  6. Would it be worth adding to the Notes On Darkness that it makes it bloody hard to read the data from your power meter ?

    I’ll get me gilet…

  7. I live in the New Forest (Hampshire) and riding around at night can be truly terrifying and yet the peace and isolation can also be incredibly calming – it all depends on how many twigs I hear snapping in the darkness! (which funnily enough tends to dictate how fast I ride).

  8. Very well written but an article I find it hard to identify with considering the hot weather we are having here. Reading about cold, dark weather makes me feel guilty about the cycling I will be doing in the Snowy Mountains and in Bright over the next two weeks. Sun will be shining and the tan lines will be sharpened significantly.

    Merry Christmas to all.

  9. @Darren H

    I live in the New Forest (Hampshire) and riding around at night can be truly terrifying and yet the peace and isolation can also be incredibly calming – it all depends on how many twigs I hear snapping in the darkness! (which funnily enough tends to dictate how fast I ride).

    Absolutely.  I loved the occasional night ride until the day some sort of animal shot between my front wheel and cranks one night.  It scared the shit out of me.  When you ride and night you become so self absorbed in thought that anything unexpected is liable to leave you needing to scrub out your shorts afterwards!

  10. There are many joys to night riding, full moon in the autum months after the leaves have gone – no lights nessecary is a past memory I cherish.

    Now city riding lit up like a Christmas tree and the fantasy of my wife at the trial of the drunk who hit me screaming “Which fucking light did you not see??”.

  11. We have a Thursday night offroad group through the year, one thing I notice most is the different wildlife you head at night, mainly owls and barking foxes.  The odd set of eyes in the bushes foxes and deer (I hope).  I quite look forward to the winter rides in the dark.  For lights most of us use Exposure with Diablo on helmets and one of the bigger units on the bars.   Not so keen on road riding at night in the South UK.

  12. Riding the bike in the dark of night is an art form all itself. Riding at night in the woods of NWNJ is one creepy experience. The best lights cannot negate the increased awareness of sounds and smells that somehow become louder and thicker in the darkness.  Images of the boogyman, the hookerman or the JeseyDevil become more fixed in the brain. That stump that was so easily jumped over during the day appears twice it’s natural size. And speeds that during the day time that you would consider a joke feel like top speed. Oh I like riding in the dark but man the thought of some beastly creature eating my face after I fall off the trail and into a picker bush  freaks me out.  Perhaps this is why my pile of high quality lights sit untouched in the  bike drawer down stairs…..Enjoy the night fellas.

  13. Well said as always @frank.  I’m not keen on night riding, particularly as the roads around me resemble a war zone with all the pot holes these days, as @teocalli can testify.  However, my family commitments need to balance with training, so very early starts are a must that I do my utmost to embrace.  I love the growing sense of expectation as those mornings do start to lighten.

  14. Very succinct as ever Frank. I’ve often wondered if  deposits made to the V bank whilst earned at night were of a stronger currency than standard daytime deposits? It sure feels like they took that much more mental stamina to earn….

  15. Night rider

  16. The twilight hours are by far one of my most antisapted rides. What the darkness takes in visual white noise emerges in greater focus and energy. I like to think of it as going to the bank of adrenaline and writing the check that feels oh so good.  Like finishing off that third recovery beverage after one of  your  hardest rides.

  17. I used to love going on rides at night. Now, the population boom here has made me a bit leery about doing it as often. The mornings that I commute to work are always dark, except for those couple weeks in June when the skies lighten around 0530.

    I should start dong it again. More often.

  18. @Pedale.Forchetta Great shot! Really captures the tunnel effect of night riding.

  19. @Pedale.Forchetta

    Night rider

    Bella fotografia!

    How technology has advanced in our short lifetimes.  I remember well a night around February 1995, I was riding home after helping backstage at a local theatre.  It was past midnight, misty, and chilly, but only a few miles and I’d changed the batteries in my big white Eveready lamps for brand new ‘D’ cells.  As I crested the last hill however, the front lamp died (not that this made a great difference to its brightness), and I noticed that the whole village laid out in front of me was in darkness due to a power cut.  I rode the remaining mile or so in complete darkness and complete silence.

    Now, for £15, you can buy a light bright enough to either put a dot on the moon, or ride at full speed off road, in a forest at night.


  20. Winter solstice is behind us now….  Amerckx

  21. @Deakus

    Just returned from a forest loop – my god I need to scrub my bib shorts! Whatever the time of year and the weather, why is it always blowing a gale at Stoney Cross?!

  22. @Optimiste

    Which one do you use on your helmet?

    I run a Super Drive on my helmet, and a Mega Drive on the bars.

  23. @Mike_P

    Well said as always @frank. I’m not keen on night riding, particularly as the roads around me resemble a war zone with all the pot holes these days, as @teocalli can testify. However, my family commitments need to balance with training, so very early starts are a must that I do my utmost to embrace. I love the growing sense of expectation as those mornings do start to lighten.

    When we did the East Maui Loop Cogal last winter, Gianni and I started with lights and then rode into daylight. It really sucked starting that early, but it was great watching the sun rise and finally being able to take the light off the bars partway through.

  24. I had the most exhilarating ride of my life recently when my friend took me over the South Downs on an evening ride. We set off at sunset and by the time we were warmed up it was pitch black. He had a decent front light and I had the decent back light so I just tagged behind him for 2 hrs. God knows where we went, it was just a maze of narrow tree tunnel lanes, virtually zero traffic and navigating by the air traffic lights on the hills. At one point I fell behind my friend and got separated off. I just rode in the dark, feeling every bump in the road as I hit it, discerning the route ahead by the camber on the road or just staying on the white lines in the middle which made a slightly different noise on the tyres. When I finally caught up with my friend I remarked on how it felt like I was drugs, all my senses were completely buzzing.

    At one point we forded a river or something, all we knew was the road suddenly dipped and we were in 12 inches of water not knowing if it was going to get deeper.

    I know this seems crazy but if I had had a 300 gazillion lumin searchlight I wouldn’t have got half of the buzz that I did that night and because it was so dark I don’t really have much of memory of it.  it was two days after a big storm so there was a lot of crap on the roads, at one point I was just crucnhing through a logs and twigs that I would never have gone over if it was daytime.  It felt like pure riding and I can’t wait until I visit my friend and we do it again

  25. You Sir are a poet.

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