Tick follows tock, the minute hand creeps slowly round the dial… 5:30 pm is almost here. Important notes on the computer screen have long since blurred into one, and concentration has shifted to plotting the fastest way home: how will I avoid the traffic, and what will I need? Bike, helmet, gloves, winter shoes, lights – don’t forget lights! Who said it’s only the weekend when we can have fun? We are the 9 to 5 daydreamers, and it’s time to shred with some friends!
For many, winters can be the death of ambition. We all know the story: “Are you riding tonight?”… “Nah, I’ve got my Netflix pants on, so I’m in for the night.” If the seasons are like drinks, after sipping the fruity tang of spring’s Rosé and savouring summer’s hoppy Weissbier, autumn’s hoppy red ale brings us to the punch of winter: the black of Guinness, a deep darkness topped with just the slimmest head of light. Winter in the Northern Hemisphere does not discriminate… raising a toast, it cheers, “I am here, now kiss goodbye to your dreams.”
Inventing new hours in the day
When the daylight hours thin, we to be more creative with our time. As much as we pretend to be on the trails, we’re just not kids anymore – our recreational time is in high demand. Heading out on ‘Goonies’-esque adventures now needs to be balanced with family time, shopping, or tidying the house. Hell, even the dog needs a share of precious daylight hours. Free time is no longer free, it has to be earnt, bargained for – or just plain stolen. For many, riding in daylight during the winter is a long-forgotten dream, but night riding offers up a thick slice of salvation, a way to get a bike fix without the risk of getting fired or inciting domestic discord. For a few hours, powerful lights allow us to reclaim our kingdom, trading lumens for fun while sticking up a cheeky finger in Old Man Winter’s direction.
There’s always a wild side to an innocent ride
It not just about salvaging some trail time either, as night riding can be serious fun. Familiar trails become new and exciting, like an old flame after too many beers. The scariest trails become easier (because exposure is no longer an issue when you cannot see the void). Charging on forwards in a bubble of light, freed from the worry about the trees we cannot see, we chase. On the descents camaraderie becomes competition; there’s always a wild side to an innocent ride, and after just a few turns the toil of a 9 to 5 is long forgotten. This is our drug, our stolen time.
We are the 9 to 5 daydreamers, we are the nightriders
From a distance our procession must look like a cultish pilgrimage: a string of lights inching slowly to the top of the peak before carving smooth lines down the hillside. Like cheap bonfire sparklers, we leave a phosphorescent trace of burnt lumens in the air, drawing our achievements on the cold night sky. In the darkness we are kings, rulers of the trails, with no hikers to ruin our flow. Jokes and stories flow faceless from the dark, and it’s the late night conversations between friends that are usually the ones that mean the most.
If you have never joined the night rider illuminati, nor experienced the thrill of careening down a trail in the dark, you are missing out. Here are our five laws of enlightenment to make the darkness your ally.
Buy the Best Light You Can Afford
While it may be hilarious when your mate’s light turns off unexpectedly at slow speed, it’s probably less funny if it happens to you on a full-gas section, or sets fire to your garage while it’s charging. Not all lights are created equally. There are of course many super-cheap lights available, but like any safety equipment, in the long run brands like Hope, Lupine, and Sigma are a good investment.
Use your head
For maximum nighttime fun, we recommend both a bar-mounted and helmet-mounted light. However, if you can only afford one light, mount it on your helmet. Not only will it give you an uninterrupted view of the trail, but when you drop into a 90-degree switchback, you will not be temporarily looking into a black void. When the going gets tough, it’s better to let your head lead the way.
Power isn’t everything – it’s the only thing
The only thing that can beat ample lumens of power is even more lumens of power. The more powerful your light, the further you can see, the faster you can ride, and the more fun you can have. Lights boasting 1,500 lumens of power should be considered the bare minimum, but the best lights now feature twice that figure, really turning night into day!
Use the force… wisely!
With great power comes great responsibility. Battery life is a tactical game, so be like a Grand Master and turn your power down when climbing to save juice. Only unload full power when the trails turn downwards, and never fire 3000 lumens directly in your companions’ faces. A courteous nightrider understands the gentle art of conversation while looking downwards.
Misery loves company
Looking out into the cold and dark, even those with wills forged from iron can buckle. To help you escape the sirens’ call of the sofa and a Game of Thrones boxset, choose a regular night to ride and get the crew together. Nothing will get you out the door in the cold of winter more than having a pre-arranged ride day with a good bunch of friends. What are you waiting for?
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Words & Photos: Trev Worsey