Rules of the Nighttime Ride

By CJ Rudy, Rides We Like

Rides We Like: Rules of the Nighttime Ride

Dec 23

With the winter solstice upon us, nighttime riding can be a great alternative to the trainer as long as caution is expressed. To ride in the dark, regardless of season, requires numerous observations to increase the likelihood of a successful ride. We have had our fill of trainer hours, so a checklist is reviewed before a nighttime outdoor ride is considered. Areas for outdoor nighttime rides vary, so use discretion after reviewing our rules. 

We once worked with a former trash collector who stated there were ten rules that were non-negotiable. Those rules were firm because someone lost his/ her life. While our rules are not as serious, safety is the number one attribute for riding at night. That being said, it is agreed upon that if two of these rules are compromised, an outdoor night ride will be canceled. Here are our non-negotiable rules to riding in the dark:

1. Ride familiar roads – It can be tempting to take advantage of the night’s lighter traffic and hit roads normally out of the question, but knowing where obstacles are is important. Stick to roads that are familiar to the point of boredom. Knowing where potholes are can add to the ride’s safety. Have a tight turn on the route? Having knowledge of the twists and turns can reduce nighttime riding anxiety. It is also important to note that riding at night does not ‘open’ up other roads. Don’t try to tackle a normally busy road just because there is no traffic; busy roads are best avoided, especially at night.

2. Bring proper illumination – Lights have made gargantuan improvements over recent years, often negating the need for heavy batteries. With a handlebar-mounted 1300 lumens and a helmet-mounted 500 lumens combination, much of the approaching road is lighted. Meanwhile two strobing red lights, one attached to the bike and one clipped to the jersey pocket, alert motorists we are not the usual traffic. Further, what good are lights if they are not charged? Make sure lights are fully charged before every dark ride to avoid the very real anxiety of a dwindling light source.

3. Dress for success – Wear at least one piece of bright clothing while riding. Though lights carry the job of visibility, a little extra brightness can never hurt. Purchase a bright windproof vest that doesn’t make a ride too hot or too cumbersome. Standing out from the dark woods can improve visibility from approaching motorists.

4. Check the forecast – Per weather enthusiasts, temperature readings are taken six feet off the ground. This is the reason why cars alert motorists of potential road ice when it hits 37 degrees fahrenheit (2.5 degrees Celsius), that the surface temperature is likely at the freeze point. If it has rained recently and the temperature subsequently plummets, it might not be safe in certain areas to ride. Black ice can be hard to spot in daylight, never mind with headlamps. If the forecast calls for temperatures lower than 37 degrees, it’s best to stay indoors and not risk it. And if the weather experts are calling for a chance of rain higher than 40%, it’s best to stay inside than get caught out in the rain, sleet, or snow.

5. Check the calendar – There are only three nights when night time riding is considered: Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Most people are working the following days, so the roads tend to be quieter. Consider avoiding riding after happy hours such as Thirsty Thursday or Friday after work. Those who are a bit tipsy may resort to back roads to avoid police presence and may put themselves on a collision course with your night ride. Many motorists are confused by the strobing/ cycling lights on a good day. An intoxicated motorist could likely become a safety issue later in the night.

6. Check the sports calendar – Even if a ride is possible Monday – Wednesday, it’s best to avoid riding when local sports teams play. For instance, around here it’s best to avoid outdoor riding when the local American football team is playing. As mentioned before, backroads become suspiciously busy post event. It is unnerving to be out for a ride and suddenly have numerous cars populating tertiary roads. Any time a local sports event is taking place, rides with lights are put on hold.

7. Tell someone your route – Borrowing a technique from hiking, be sure to tell someone your loose route as well as your return time. Better yet, have someone as your safety contact in case something happens. From frustrations like mechanicals to major safety hazards such as accidents, having a person at the ready is a must for night rides. The night time brings out all sorts of characters and having someone tracking your progress can help if things go south. Plus, who wants to repair a bike in the glow of a headlamp?

8. Slow it down – After hours riding is all about avoiding the indoor trainer and that’s that. Riding at night is not about taking advantage of empty roads to try for a KOM. In our experience we have had herds of deer scatter in front of us, opossums chase us, raccoons growl at us, and that’s only what was visible. Riding faster could have welcomed calamity toward animals and hazards. Nighttime riding is about getting outside and enjoying the unique experience, not about hammering down a backcountry road. 

Should any of these rules get violated, or should several of these rules risk compromise, it’s best to err on the side of staying inside. However, should the conditions warrant a nighttime ride, complete with clear skies, nothing beats the feeling of rolling through peaceful roads knowing we are the only cyclists for miles. There have been more times than believed that another night time cyclist has passed by. It shows just how alluring the concept of night riding can be. There is one experience that cannot be surpassed riding at night – turning off the lights on a clear full moon night and finding the glow of the moon provides predictable illumination. 

Consider all these thoughts to take the next ride outside. It’s certainly an experience that takes some adjusting, but at the end of the day, it’s just that – an end of the day ride that would have been a canceled route or an indoor trainer night.