As the autumn draws in close and winter is on the horizon, I enter a favourite time of year. Yes, I’m a bit weird in that respect. I love the wet, cold wintery conditions, I welcome the bleak days and long drawn out nights…and I love the new challenges on the trails and the chance to test out the new-ish knobbly tyres out on the mud.
However, whilst I love all things wintery, the lack of daylight can be a bit of a problem at times. Riding in the dark is not a problem for me, but on the dirt trails…it’s not something I would necessarily advise unless you’re desperate to get somewhere or they are no more challenging than riding on farm tracks.
The problem is less about being exposed in the middle of nowhere in a spooky dark forest where any homicidal maniac might be laying in wait to pounce upon you as you ride by, but rather because you tend to miss out on all of the nuances of reading the surface of the trails and getting all of that extra information from the peripheral vision.
If you’re on an open track, then riding in the dark isn’t that much of an extra leap…if you can hold your nerve that is, however when under cover in the forests or on narrow trails which might be overgrown on the veggies still…then it becomes a big issue and one that I would suggest you avoid.
Light has a funny way of tricking the senses whilst riding in the dark. It’s limiting enough whilst riding on the main roads but on the trails it is even worse as you can easily misjudge the terrain, verges, rut depth, pot holes in the mud, debris or masked rocks and tree stumps. However, you can still get a lot of great riding in just before dawn or at the end of sunset…but not for long mind you!
This time of year I am always looking for shorter trails to ride when I’m commuting to and from my daily toil. I tend to get up earlier than I normally would so that I can ride to the mouth of a trail and arrive just before dawn and commence it in the dark but soon break out into dawn. The trail is still dark, so I’ll take extra care but the peripheral vision is increasingly improved with the early light…especially when on open tracks.
I’m a great fan of the early morning anyway because most people are still tucked up in their beds, walkers and horse riders are still slurping their coffee and other bikers are still nursing their hangovers…or whatever else they are doing that’s keeping them in bed. The tracks and trials are deserted and there is a peace that is only mildly broken by the hum of your engine and the eddies of the panorama.
At the end of the working day, if there is still some light left, then I’ll enter a trail and aim to exit as it gets dark or very soon afterwards. There is a different sensation doing it this way but there is a finality to it. The light fades fast, especially whilst under the trees and the trail becomes a dark rail that would sooner spit you aside than let you ride on her back.
Of course, in the dead of winter when my commutes are always in the dark, I tend not to seek such adventures, but in the changing seasons of autumn and spring, there are lots of trails to exploit and all it needs is a little forethought and mapping out…but beware of the shadows that will try to fool your thinking and have adrenaline dumped into your system. Be shy of the black nights and the trails that caress your thighs…but mostly be careful of ghosts and ghouls that come out of nowhere and will make you go bump in the night.