I’ve recently invested in one of those super-bright front bike lights which claims to pump out a gazillion lumens (whatever they are…I’ve had my rant about this already), which means that I’m now more than happy to head out in the evening to some of the really inaccessible spots which make up the bulk of my local area. I’m talking about the kind of remote lanes where your lights have nothing to do with making you visible to traffic and other passers by, because there is no other traffic or passers by.
I went for a ride the other night on one of those inky black winter evenings, heavy cloud cover was concealing the moon and the only source of light was the beam lighting the patch of tarmac just beyond my front wheel, and a red glow from my rear light behind. To add to the drama, it was also windy, wet and cold.
Now, this kind of mini adventure is a great way to forget about a long day at work, as you have little choice but to immerse yourself in the moment; concentrating on puddles, potholes and the wildness all around you. It’s great fun, and part of the thrill is the fact that from time to time your mind can start to play tricks on you.
Something makes you steal a glance over your shoulder into the blackness, for example, and you think ‘can I see something? Is that a light’. A fellow cyclist emerging behind you at pace, distinguished only by a bright white light bobbing and weaving, would no doubt be a friendly encounter as you share with each other this tale of derring do, but as the light approached it would also be a little unnerving somehow. You look again…no…just my imagination, and you’re back in the moment.
Next you think, ‘here I am a good few miles from anywhere, its 9pm, dark, and wet, crikey, wouldn’t like to get a puncture here…is it just me or is my back wheel feeling a bit spongy’. You see a mental image of yourself, crouched at the side of the road, battling with tyre leavers and inner tubes by bike light, with claw-like cold hands thinking ‘ok, you’re going nowhere until you get this sorted’.
Nothing like it to focus the mind…but all is well, tyre pressure is good, it’s all in your head…and hey, you know that you know what you’re doing, if you get a puncture or some other mechanical, you steel yourself and fix it…no drama.
So you pedal on, taking in the primal weather conditions, almost feeling the wildlife in the grass verges and the trees, and you snatch glimpses of bats and owls, and imagine all the nocturnal life out braving the conditions. And then…
…the green indicator light on the back of your headlight goes red, telling you time is of the essence and the battery is on the wane. But this is a new light, you’re thinking, ‘how long does that give me?’ You didn’t read the instructions, of course. You play a game with yourself, and flick the light off mid-pedal stroke to see just how complete the darkness is tonight…and you cannot see a thing. The blackness envelops you leaving your eerie red rear light to cast a mild glow, and you realise that to ride anywhere from here, without a front light, would be impossible.
Now you understand why the old timers carry back up lights. A puncture is one thing, nothing more than an inconvenience, an unlikely snapped chain is well fixable with a small tool, even in the dark, wind and rain, but a failed headlight out here…at the end of the world…that’s a phone call home, at 9pm on a Tuesday night, when the kids are already in bed.
My wife is a reasonable woman…but she would struggle to tolerate that.
But…this is the fun of a dark winter ride. It’s a mini epic, battling the elements on some windswept lane. It is also, without question, an impressive session of stealth training; not many of your mates will be out in this, and the ones that are will probably stick to the less remote and more well lit roads. In other words, the flatter, easier roads where you can simply tuck in, head over the bars and crank out a few easy miles.
But if, like me, you’re out in the wilds and surviving on your wits alone…you’re training mind, body and soul.