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?