Just because the clocks have went back and the nights have drawn in DOESN’T mean to say that your bicycle has to be put away until the spring. Indeed, there is many a pleasant ride out to be had IF you have thought it through and prepared yourself and your bicycle properly.
Contrary to popular believe, it is NOT raining constantly in the U.K. (and Northumberland in particular) during the autumn and winter months.
The roads CAN be wet however, but, as long as the due caution is given, winter road cycling can be a fun and rewarding experience. Cycling in the dark will reveal pleasures you have never come across before in as much as familiar views will appear totally different, especially on clear moonlit nights, and you will see wildlife that is not active during daylight hours.
What do you need to think of to start yourself off on your nocturnal wintertime excursions?
Let’s look at the bicycle……..
First things first. Make sure your bicycle is properly maintained. You need to be fairly sure that your bicycle will function reliably, as having to sort out a mechanical failure in the dark is a whole new ball game. Trust me on that. Check your brakes and tyres in particular. If you are not sure as to HOW to maintain it, seek professional help.
Carry the necessary tools to sort out maladies such as punctures, broken chains or components slackening unexpectedly. If you do not know HOW to sort these things out, take some time to learn how. Time spent learning these basic skills will usually pay off at some stage.
Fit some mudguards. They will stop you getting a wet stripe up your back and in your face. Wet in wintertime causes a severe chilling effect, robbing your body of vital warmth.
Consider putting SLIME in your inner tubes. Slime is a liquid puncture sealant that works by flowing through any hole made by a thorn or a tack and clogging it up. It works 99 % of the time, (nothing on earth is fool proof!) and makes life SO much easier.
I have it fitted in my own personal bicycles, (I have 4, at the moment…..) and my hire bikes in the shop. Only 2 of my hire customers have been stopped by a puncture in 7 years – THAT is not bad going. Still, you should carry 2 spare tubes and a repair kit though, you never know……
Get some good lights. Two rear lights is not a bad idea, one set to “on” and the other set to “flashing”, that will ensure you are seen from the rear. Heading out into the countryside means that there will be no street lights. It is necessary to have a BRIGHT front light so as to actually see the road ahead and see where you are going. Modern front lamps are usually LED, and more and more are coming as rechargeable, the latest ones having Lithium Polymer batteries. They are small, light in weight and surprisingly bright with a good run time. Realistically, you need to spend a minimum of £50 on one. I use a MOON X POWER 300,
which is nearly as bright as a car headlight and I have had almost 2 hours on full power on one charge, It can be dimmed in steps to give a run time of up to about 6 hours, still pretty bright though, MORE than enough to see your way. Remember to ensure that the lamps have full charges so they will last the distance you intend going, and that they are clean and bright. Also, carry a head torch. That means that if you have to work on your bike whilst out there, you will have both hands free.
Fit a rear carrier or reasonably sized saddle bag. You will need to carry your tools, spare tubes, spare clothing etc.
As for you……….
Dress as you would for any daytime ride, but bear in mind the following;
It will be dark, wear top layers that are reflective and very visible. Your bike will be lit up like a Christmas tree, but it does no harm to back that up with reflectives. Consider reflective ankle bands,
Reflective ankle bands
your pedalling motion means that they will be very noticeable to vehicles approaching from the rear.
Dress in layers. It will likely be quite cold when you set off, but, you know what it is like, within 10 minutes of pedalling off, you will be too hot and you will need to peel off layers like an onion. Put the excess clothing in your saddlebag that I told you to fit…… Don’t forget full fingered gloves and overshoe as well, extremities can get cold even though your core is warm. And a hat or skull cap. If you wear a helmet you will know they are NOT warm things in the winter…………………
Take some energy food with you and something to drink, Cycling costs energy; it needs to be replaced regularly as you go.
As for the ride itself………
Start short and local, stick to roads that you know reasonably well. If there is no moon, you will find yourself cycling only in the pool of light that you provide yourself. It will be pitch dark otherwise. With no landmarks visible to orientate yourself with, it is easy to get lost on roads that you know like that back of your hand during the day. It becomes harder to judge distances and it is all too easy to take a turning that you think leads to wherever, just to find that THAT turning was the one after and then 15 minutes later, you haven’t a clue as to where you are. Carry an ordnance survey map and a compass and know how to use them. Even for your local area.
Ride slower that you normally would in the day light. AND WATCH WHERE YOU ARE GOING. No matter HOW good your lights are, they are NO substitute for sunlight, there WILL be things that will remain unseen, like a patch of mud or a small stone on the road, these things can have you through the hedge. Take your time and stay alert, you will be just fine.
Some people think that cycling in the dark would be a dangerous thing with regard to other vehicles, but it has one HUGE advantage over daytime cycling. When a car approaches from the rear, you will see its light long before you will hear it, that will give you plenty of time to position yourself correctly or, if needs be, get off the road and let it past.
One final thought. Go with a friend or two.
Out with friends
It’s more fun when done sociably and there is always someone else there to assist if things go wrong.
Give it a go, you may be pleasantly surprised……….
Bicyclist, Motorcyclist, Archer and Manager of Wilson Cycles, Berwick upon Tweed.
“Wilson Cycles – for all your cycling needs.”
17a Bridge Street
Berwick Upon Tweed
Telephone: 01289 331 476