Bicycle Touring At Night: A Guide To Riding In The Dark

Riding in the dark is not something many bicycle tourists consider. When night falls, most traveling cyclists are fast asleep, recuperating from a long day of riding. But there are times when riding in the dark is not only possible, but also a good idea!

Today, I want to talk about three reasons for traveling at night and follow that up with a short and simple guide to staying safe when riding in the dark.

It was on my second long distance bicycle tour that I was first introduced to the idea of bicycle touring at night. I was in western Kansas, traveling on the Transamerica bicycle route, and never in my life had I experienced so much wind. Each and every day seemed like a struggle against an impossible breeze… and frankly, I didn’t think I could take much more of it.

But then, just a few days from the Kansas/Colorado border, I met a man pulling a trailer behind his bike. I had just pulled into a small city park when I saw this young man packing up his things. I assumed he would be spending the night in the park with me because nightfall was just an hour or two away, but I quickly learned that this lone rider had spent the last week or two riding across Kansas in the middle of the night. He, like me, had quickly grown tired of the pedaling in the wind, so he committed himself to riding at night when the winds died down and the hot Kansas sun disappeared behind the horizon.

I chose not to join this young rider on his nighttime traverse into Eastern Colorado, but since my meeting with that nocturnal cyclist, I’ve done my own share of traveling in the dark and learned that riding at night is not as bad as you might think. Not only is riding at night not that bad, at times it’s a great idea!

Wind – One of the main reasons for traveling at night is to beat the wind. As I’ve already shared, some cyclists will brave the darkness of night to escape from hour after hour pedaling the wind. Winds will often times die down when night falls and riding in the dark is a great way to escape one of the touring cyclists’ biggest enemies.

Sun / Heat – Another reason you might consider riding in the dark is to stay out of the sun. When I was traveling through Kansas and Colorado in 2002, temperatures were as high as 107 degrees Fahrenheit. I was hot, sweaty and thirsty… and riding at night would have been a great way to beat the heat and travel in relative comfort.

No Place To Sleep – Finally, you might decide to travel at night if there is simply no place to stop and rest. This happened to me in 2006 when I was traveling from Rawlins, Wyoming to Bear Lake, Idaho. It was getting dark and I was on a long stretch of highway with nothing around. Not only were there no buildings or campsites of any kind, there weren’t even any bushes that were high enough to hide behind for a night of stealth camping. I did eventually pass a couple farmhouses and considered knocking on the door and asking for a place to sleep, but instead, I simply kept riding. I rode my bike until about 3 ‘o clock in the morning before I found a collection of sagebrush that were tall enough to hide behind and set up my tent. In the dark I had covered more than 60 miles and thoroughly enjoyed myself along the way. Best of all, I didn’t see a single car the entire time and I enjoyed feeling as though I had the whole world to myself!

Riding in the dark certainly has its advantages, but it also has its drawbacks as well. First of all, your ability to see is going to be diminished. Even with a good set of lights, seeing can be difficult. Passing cars will also have a harder time seeing you when you decide to ride at night. And when traveling in the dark, you need to be aware of people and/or animals that could be sharing the road with you. Personal safety is key and you need to be prepared for whatever might come your way.

If you plan to travel at night, you must have a good light for your bike. In my opinion a front light is not 100% necessary, but a rear light is a must! If you don’t have a rear light for your bike, don’t even consider riding in the dark. Cars won’t be able to see you and you’re simply asking to be hit. Don’t do it!

Once you’ve got your light(s), keep in mind that road conditions are not always great. When traveling at night you are likely only going to able to see a few feet in front of you. Don’t travel too fast or get caught up in the moment. Keep your eyes on the road and be prepared for the sudden pothole, road kill, or random debris that might enter your path.

Finally, keep safety in mind at all times. If you don’t feel safe traveling in the dark, don’t do it! If you are scared, stop riding! Find a place to camp and settle down for the night. You should only consider riding in the dark if you are both prepared and mentally able to travel at night. When you travel at night, keep in mind that an encounter with an animal is entirely possible. A run-in with a bear, moose, wolf, or other large or dangerous animal is quite likely, so you need to be prepared for anything! Maybe be even more dangerous than the animals you may encounter while riding at night are the people you might run into. Beware of drunk drivers, hooligans, or other such people who aim to spoil your evening. When you travel at night, you are on your own and there aren’t going to be many people around to help you out. You have to fend for yourself and be prepared for anything. An encounter with one or more people is a possibility and you should be prepared to defend yourself and/or make a stealthy exit.

Bicycle touring at night is not something most traveling cyclists will ever have to do. For the most part, you should stick to traveling during the day and sleeping at night. But keep in mind that riding at night is a possibility. If you should encounter a situation where traveling at night is a good idea, keep your safety in mind. If possible, travel with another person and be prepared for anything!

What do you think about bicycle touring at night? Is it a good idea? Or just plain foolish? Have you ever traveled at night? If so, why? And how was the experience?


12 thoughts on “Bicycle Touring At Night: A Guide To Riding In The Dark

  1. Chris Kmotorka says:

    While I have never toured at night, I have done my share of nighttime cycling and generally like it. It’s definitely best in low traffic areas and, contrary to what you might think, it’s better away from city lights, street light, and such things–you stand out more and your own lights are more effective. And, living in Tucson, AZ, it’s definitely a lot cooler at night!

  2. brian says:

    Me and my brother were travelling up the Withlacoochee State Trail coming through Inverness when we found a decent hiding spot to camp alongside the trail. After getting the tent set up and starting on cooking dinner, a park ranger can cruising down the trail in a pick up truck with his brights on. We didnt have a chance, he threatened to write us a ticket but sent us on our way with a warning so long as we packed up and left. We made our way into town and found a local sheriff chatting with his partner. They were more than willing to divulge a secret spot along the trail several miles north that they had camped “illegally” before. We rode through the dark for about an hour on our way to the new campsite, and it was a good ride.. no sun, no cars, and there actually was a decent breeze blowing through to cool us off. It was a late night but it taught us a few theings.

  3. Russ dunn says:

    Cut a mesh flourescent highway workers vest in half for a quick on / off set of night pannier covers. It works !

  4. Wayne says:

    How can I prepare for running into animals, especially those dangerous ones like a bear, wolf, or other large or dangerous animal while bicycling for long distance?

    What can I do if I do get into such sistuation while travelling during day or night?

    Much Appreciated!

  5. Darren Alff says:

    The only dangerous animals I have encountered on my travels include snakes and a single mountain lion. In both cases, I simply got away from the animals as fast as I could. I’m sure they wanted to get away from me as well.

    I also carry a knife of me while traveling, but many people disagree with this… and in some countries you can get in big trouble for a carrying a knife (or a knife measuring over a certain size). In the end however, I’ve never actually used the knife for any kind of self-protection. I mainly use it to put peanut butter and jelly on my sandwiches.

  6. Bruce says:

    i have never toured at night but have done quite a ot of riding at night. living far from large cities and large towns in country NSW AUSTRALIA . One of the main reasons for riding at night especially during summer would be to avoid the heat. Last year 14 months ago we had a heat wave where the temperature soared to over 115F nearly every day for the first two weeks in november. not only was the air hot but there were strong winds as well The night time temp dropped to only about 85F still very warm but I would imagine that travelling at night in the still air and coller temps would be more manageable

  7. Steve says:

    I’ve been riding for years, mostly as an urban cyclist, and I only recently began riding at night. This year I came to the realization that, while it has certain hazards, riding in the dark may not be any more dangerous, or even as dangerous, as riding at dusk when drivers may think they can see better than they actually can. I enjoy it now: less traffic, cooler air. I use a mirror, and cars are more visible to me–blocks away–because of their headlights. Yes, there are more drunks on the road at night, but I just have to be a bit more aware of what’s coming. I’ve invested in lights and more reflectors. Thanks to all of you for your helpful comments above.

  8. suzanne cyr says:

    a head light is important, or even a solar yard SPOTlight [$10 from Walmart] so to not run over ROAD KILLs they could make you crash, I came accross lots of trash on the side of the road,, if a car runs you over they won’t get in trouble if you had no lights, and was wearing dark clothing, we rode in the night just in the neighborhood, not too fast, and we ran into some cows that got loose, we could not see them, thank God we were going at a slow speed, I also almost ran into a person who was walking, he could not see us and i could not see him because neither had lights.

  9. Yukon says:

    Rode into midnight darkness during completing Tour Divide Race, especially in Colorado and New Mexico where my fear of bears was diminshed. In BC, Montana, Idaho after a day of pedaling and pushing up hefty or rocky climbs…I was happiest if I found an out house with a lockable door to sleep near…and a number of times after darkness arrived I pulled my tent and bike inside for a safe feeling and a preferred night of sleep. One night near dusk, I passed a black bear who jumped back in the woods on a dirt portion in Montana and doubled back in the dark to find a road grader, happily the door was unlocked. Slept in my one pound sleeping bag in the cab, crikled but bear free.

  10. lynn oliver says:

    I am really considering traveling at night during the hot summers and camping during the day. Florida, South Georgia, South Carolina. Are there sites for finding wild or stealth spots in the daytime?: thinking of using open requests from others in the area and also using quiet, high areas with much cover.

    • Bicycle Touring Pro says:

      I would suggest that you try and travel during the day. Or at least… early in the morning and late at night before it gets dark. It’s so much safer that way. But yes, you could find places to camp or stay during the hot middle part of the day.

  11. Emily Taylor says:

    I like night riding, less traffic and with a bright set of blinkies you’re even more noticeable than daytime. As for wildlife I carry a super bright surefire Flashlight that’s been very effective at scaring them off, also helps find a good place to setup camp in the dark.

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