Cycling in the dark

New to riding at night? Your questions answered.

Until you begin cycling at night you’ll never know how much fun it can be. But most people think there are a lot of reasons not to try it in the first place. We’ve brought together some of the great misconceptions and questions about riding at night both on and off road and answered them one-by-one.

Q: Isn’t cycling at night scary and dangerous?

A: Cycling at night is actually great fun and often rather exhilarating. As for being dangerous, with the correct clothes and equipment, cycling in the dark can be as safe as cycling during daylight. Imagine somebody wearing a grey jacket, cycling on a grey road in daylight. Now imagine somebody with bright lights, wearing a bright and reflective jacket, cycling at nighttime. Which one is easier to see?

Q: What’s so fun about riding at night?

A: The first thing to remember is that night cycling doesn’t just have to be on roads. With good lights, cycling among the natural environment after dark is perfectly possible and a fantastic experience. Places such as canal paths, park trails and disused railway lines are all exciting and safe options to use in the dark.

Riding off-road trails at night allows you to see and hear a whole different night time world, there’s really no better way to learn and understand this than to get out amongst the stars riding your bike. Not only can riding at night be huge fun, but a side effect of cycling at night is that it really helps to bring on cycling skills and technique because you learn to feel the ground through your bike and not just rely on your eyes as we tend to do in the daylight.

Q: What lights do I need?

A: Wherever you ride, it’s important to see where you’re going and for others to see you. Runners, dog walkers, commuters and other leisure cyclists may well have the same idea to enjoy a peaceful evening excursion, not to mention if you are on the road other vehicles need to be able to see you easily.

Good lights are the perfect starting point to staying safe, and effective front lights are necessary to illuminate the way ahead as well as being seen. Don’t worry purely about absolute brightness focused in one small pool of light. At night obstacles can take you by surprise, so a wide spread of light coming from the front of your bike is important, especially if you’re cycling off-road.

Rear lights are also crucial. Unlike front lights that have to provide a constant beam, rear lights often have a range of bright flashing options, which help to catch other people’s attention and extend the battery life.

We’d always recommend buying the best lights you can afford. Look particularly for lights that provide some element of side visibility as well as directly behind or in front. Keep your lights clean and topped up with charge and if your batteries are replaceable make sure to carry spares.

Q: I’ve seen some cyclists with lights attached to their heads, what are they?

A: These are helmet-torches and they can be extremely useful. They allow the rider to direct the light where they need it, such as the exit of a corner, or to explore the route and its borders simply by turning the rider’s head.

Q: I also always see commuting cyclists at night wearing hi-viz jackets. Do I need one of those?

A: A vibrantly-coloured outer layer is important for the reduced light conditions found in the evening. However, for darker times, you need a jacket with large reflective elements as well. In recent years an impressive selection of high-visibility cycle clothing has come onto the market. These garments make a rider’s presence really felt on the road and are very effective.

However, your outer layer isn’t important solely to make you more visible, it also has to work to keep you warm and dry. Your jacket should be the final component in a system of layers that you can add or remove as necessary.

Q: Is there any other special clothing I need?

A: One thing night riders commonly forget is that although cycling mitts may be good enough when the sun is up, you probably need full-finger gloves to keep your hands warm at night.

Q: OK, I’m all ready. How should I start night cycling?

A: Find a nice quiet route initially making the most of any off-road options to start with. Include a few road sections as you grow more comfortable. Once you realise that riding at night really isn’t that different to riding during the day, your confidence will rise and you can then spread your wings as much as you like. A good ride in the hours of darkness can be truly invigorating, and it really doesn’t have to be any scarier than cycling during the day.

Quick night cycling checklist

  • Always tell somebody where you are going and avoid riding alone
  • Find some interesting and exciting routes
  • Use decent lights. The front should have a good spread of light, the rear should be nice and bridge
  • Put on reflective clothing and have reflectors fitted to your bike
  • Wear layers and full-finger gloves to keep warm
  • Do take into account that you may travel slower at night so when route planning give yourself some extra time

Don’t forget, if you have a question to do with anything cycling related, just call us at Islabikes on +44 (0)800 008 6297 and one of our experienced and knowledgeable staff will be happy to help.

Cycling in the dark