|2006-12-07, 07:54 PM||#1|
Join Date: Oct 2003
First night ride - tyres that go bump in the night
Stuck with the long nights after the black evenings and dusk in the afternoon, tonight was a clear overhead full moon. I use this opportunity to dig out a rather inadequate 3 LED head-torch and try a circuit of my beginners paradise, Norbury Park, at night. I've lost count how many pleasure rides of this circuit that I've done, will my knowledge of the path textures be enough to compensate for the darkness?
As I drive along the empty roads I thought, would I really be alone? I was doubted dramatically thanks to having to perform an emergency brake-stop for some trotting deer that crossed the road without looking, thirty seconds before I get to the car park.
After arriving at the car park I switch off the car's bright headlights and notice that the overhead moon illuminates very high wispy clouds, it isn't long before my eyes adjust to the brilliant light. I don't need to click on my headlight yet, except for the very end of getting ready to make sure that nothing is left behind, before I check my watch at 21:49, freemount and ride off.
My headlight doesn't seem to add much detail to the moonlit tarmac road. As I take things for granted my suddenly strengthening legs tell me I've ridden through something soft and mulchy, quite alarming considering that although no horses should be about at this time, there is the usual significant evidence that there has been. About half a minute later it seems to happen again, so I dismount and point my head and the torch toward the tyre. There's no green on it, so I look at this recent obstacle. Fortunately it's no solid equestrian exhaust, but simply a pile of loose tiny stones caked together in dampness caused by the recent gales and rain.
As I ride along I enter some slight tree cover, the shadows in the moonlight cast an illusion of black and white stripes across the road, like I'm riding along a giant barcode. My headlight fills in the black stripes but doesn't add any brightness to where the moonlight can still peer through the trees. A few more damp stone patches and my leg muscles suddenly tell me I've ridden over a bump in the road that's pushed up by a big tree root, which I swear I didn't notice in the faint light.
I reach the first of three lone cottages at the end of the road. I see colour for the first time as the conservatory at the back of the cottage are lit up yellow-like, to add to the tiny blue-ish tinge of my LED patch of light. As I veer to the right across the uneven driveway I tilt my head so the light attached to it can confirm the wooden barrier is closed. I ride around it and a sudden increase in rolling resistance causes a surprise UPD. I look back at where it happened and I see general mud churn caused by horse hoofs and bicycle tyres.
Just after the barrier I remount and attempt to power up the short hill, but somehow the rough track causes another UPD. Two remount attempts and I'm back on again, having difficulty choosing which side of the path being the smoothest. Nothing feels smooth to me on this short uphill, but eventually I get to the top. The sky seems to have changed colour from deep blue to orange-ish, but noticing that subtlety is not the reason why I fail to see more mud churn and only finding out about it by having the wheel stopping and me running forwards off the muni again.
As I turn around to retrieve it a sudden flutter of wings beats from one of the trees. I push the muni through the first mud section and I'm about to remount for the second mud section, except the apparently black featureless ground has a barely noticable patch exactly the same orange colour as the sky. It's a puddle, and stepping through it my footsteps change from tapping, to squiding and then to splashing. I have to step up onto the hardened sloped mud and balance on my feet, dragging the muni tyre through the mudbath. The thorny bushes on the edge of the track do their best to entangle me by gripping my polyester jersey, but eventually I stumble through.
I'm back on for about a mile of drier, but still uneven path below some tree cover that's enough to block out the moonlight. There are occasional sludgy mud bits here and there, which despite my tiny patch of light I simply do not see, only knowing about them after my legs have torqued through. It seems my tiny light is making the path appear to be two dimensional, seeing what's there but virtually no feedback as to whether things are up or down. A couple more UPDs are a result from this invisible third dimension, and several more times I hear sudden flutters of wings as I ride along.
After a while I reach the stony root section and prepare to stand on the pedals slightly, but an unseen depression blocked by a stone exit catapults me away from the uni. In less than two seconds I take two grand strides before crashing downwards onto my knee-pads and rolling over onto my back with my legs in the air. As I recover I notice some drops of water on my jersey sleeves, has my Camelbak started leaking? In positioning for the remount my headlight illumates the occasional drop of drizzle falling from the sky. Taking a sip from the mouthpiece isn't pleasant, as some grit suddenly manifests in my teeth afterward, I wipe the mouthpiece against my jersey.
I finally remount and try my best to avoid stones that look loose, but a rooty UPD and my confidence plummets. I take the saddle in my hand and push the thing past the semi-technical downhill towards the second wooden barrier at the T junction. As I prepare to remount, the sound of squishing and the slight feeling of sticky ground from my boots forces me to change my mind and walk a few metres past the tractor tyred churned junction onto the right bend before getting back on. The drizzle has stopped; it's not going to rain after all.
end of part one
|2006-12-07, 07:55 PM||#2|
Join Date: Oct 2003
There is an open field to my left with thick tree cover staying on the right. This is where the easier stuff begins, a flat and wide road with a few big stones and bricks buried in at odd angles. The night situation still makes things interesting by my light faintly illuminating those obstacles in the nick of time, dodging some and riding over some others. Somehow I miss a loose stone and another UPD occurs, as I look into the field I suddenly discover I'm not alone, a couple of cows are standing with their left sides to me and heads facing towards my eyes, watching like sentinels.
There's another wooden barrier with another quick ridearound that I suspect has more churn, and yet again I get flung off. There are orange spotlights fainly illuminating the cottage walls but no lights from inside windows are apparent. As I continue to ride along the track I quickly adjust the angle of my headlight with a loud click, my lit-up glove passing in front of my eyes blinding me for a second or two. As I reach the crossroads the moonlight increases and I catch sight of something bright buried in the hedge edge, it turns out to be the reflection of a car registration plate that isn't attached to a car.
At the crossroads I turn my headlight completely off for a minute or two and look around me, it's not often that I'm alone in the dark in the middle of apparent nowhere. If I didn't have a tyre to rotate I wouldn't need any light at all for this trek, the wispy clouds have dispersed leaving me with nature's worldwide streetlamp beaming amongst the constellations against the deep blue sky.
I switch on the light again and remount for my least favourite part of the ride, the two thirds of a mile of rough track leading uphill, and uphill. Only on a few recent occasions have I managed to ride this in one go, and that's during the daytime. I discover that thanks to the darkness I've cautiously put more torque on the pedals all along, and my legs begin to burn up much sooner than expected. After a few cranking minutes that feel like hours, the "nearly there" point is the thicker tree cover leading out to the opening with the steepest gradient, but thanks to my extra torque combined with the wind spread damp stones my legs simply run out of power, so I have to come off.
I'm surprised to see the fourth wooden barrier that signals the steepest gradient has been left open. A couple of remount attempts fail, and a few more metres of this rough gradient seems too much. I dismount and walk past the barrier into the big triangle opening, again the flood of moonlight makes me switch off my own light, leaving only a distant pair of yellow and orange illuminated windows from the third cottage somewhere to my right. An owl hoots as I push the muni up the rough hill, and as the track levels out I finally turn the light back on for the final section with the thickest tree cover. Thanks to the moonlight disappearing I don't see that the fifth wooden barrier is also open until the very last minute, somehow I manage to power through several muddy puddles on the junction and ride around the final barrier to the home straight.
It's still only me and my light on the final tarmac path, which seems to appear slightly more debrised than usual and definitely feels like it's not that super smooth as it usually is. A faint rectangle of white slab appears in my light, the first of the unnecessary speed bumps that appear yellow in the daytime which are no problem to get over. As I pass the viewpoint sign I dismount, click the light off and divert to the hill viewpoint on the left for another night view. There aren't that many city lights from this angle but the occasional white and red headlights tracing the path of the A24 can be seen, and even a fast flashing blue spot from some kind of emergency vehicle.
Just when I think about how many X-files episodes I've seen that are set in dark woods, the silence is shattered by a howling hound and rattling wood branches coming somewhere from my left. It must have been the Norbury Park mansion garden, except it sounded a lot closer. I try not to feel scared as I make my way back into the dark wood cover, click my light on and continue on the dark tree-tunnelled tarmac. Light reflections catch my eye every now and then on either side, caused by the bright exposed wood of recently chopped logs. I never see the subtly increasing downhill gradient but I gradually but unexpectedly feel it more and more. The second bright speed bump is expected though, and again no problems getting over it.
I keep a look out for the eventual path branching on the right leading back to the car park, several times after the third speed bump I think I'm about to see it but I don't. Eventually I do at the last minute, the smooth downhill gradient suddenly becoming an uphill bumpy one. I make it to the top and the very last section, and in the dimness of my little light I seem to have lost track on where the edges of the path are. This section has very subtle ups and downs but again I never see them, only feel them at the last minute and have a slight feeling of being out of control.
I know that the descent back to the car park is a very short technical downhill section, but it seems I won't be able to see when the gradient suddenly changes at that point and for some reason it seems too risky to me to attempt it. I dismount and expect to walk down that gradient in about ten seconds time, then I expect it for the next ten seconds, and again, and again. Finally after a minute I come across it, and plod down back to the car park, the white reflecting circles of the hubcaps providing a beacon to welcome me home.
My watch reads 22:35, so my daytime 4-mile ride of 35 minutes became a night ride/walk/UPDathon of about 45. In the darkness I feel clumsy as it seems to take longer to find my car keys and put everything away, checking at least twice before I drive away that I haven't left anything beside or behind the car, or on the roof. The drive back is uneventful, no deers to run down but two pinhead eyes of a domestic cat peering out of the bushes.
For those still reading, it was my first ever night ride with a piddly 3 LED head-torch. Despite the familiarity of the route there were at least ten UPDs on a circuit that usually only has one or two, with gradients that either tire me or plummet my confidence, leaving me feel somewhat clumsy. I don't think there'll be another night ride by me just yet, at least not until either the conditions dry up a bit, or I get some more powerful lighting.
|2006-12-07, 08:18 PM||#3|
I love night rides! But my light is only 2 leds so I can't go far
also why diden't you shorten it down?
I didn't spell it wrong, you just read it wrong!
|2006-12-07, 08:20 PM||#4|
...feeding the machine...
Join Date: Jul 2004
Location: Albany NY, US
I've done a bunch of nighttime muni rides, and it always feels freaky and acid-trippy. And that's with a pretty good light. When you're deep in the woods, with only a small circle of light, it can be very disorienting and even quite spooky. Combine that with the vertigo caused by 2 dimensional vision and that strangeness of reacting to changes in terrain only by feel and night Muni becomes entertaining, to say the least.
|2006-12-07, 09:24 PM||#5|
man of the woods
Join Date: Nov 2004
Location: Aldershot, UK
Nice writeup Gavin, it reminds me that I really need to get out and do some more night muni. My lights are getting plenty of use at the moment, but it's all commuting on my bike (still fun, but not in the same league as muni!).
|2006-12-07, 09:50 PM||#6|
Join Date: Jun 2006
Location: Davis, CA
I also enjoy night riding. I have done quite a bit through city parks and reasonably smooth bike paths, but recently have been venturing off into the dirt. I enjoy the extra challenge and the alternate view it gives you of the same terrain.
Here's a light that I've found works well, and the lower mounting shows the trail features better than a head lamp.
Just because you can, doesn't mean you should.
|2006-12-07, 09:59 PM||#7|
Life's a beach
Join Date: Mar 2005
Nice night write up.
I have been riding in the dark almost every evening since it got dark so early cos it's either that or only ride at the weekend if the weather's nice. I ride on the streets though. I'm too scared to even ride on the prom in the dark.
I find that I'm slower in the night. I'm more nervous but am less concerned about each lump and bump. Navigate with my ears and the bottom of my feet rather than my eyes. It's kind of fun but I miss the light.
|2006-12-08, 11:29 AM||#8|
Join Date: Sep 2002
Location: Belper, Derbyshire, UK
Buy this, ten of your fine English pounds, enough light to night ride with, way way more than your 3 led torch will have.
That plus a battery charger and some aa rechargeables and you're sorted for about 1.5 hours of decent light, plus ages on get you back home mode.
It isn't nearly as bright as my very expensive bike lights, but it's just about good enough for night muni and only a tenner, what could go wrong.
I mounted it gaffa taped to the top of my helmet, and it was fine, even when I crashed hard. An alternative would be to use velcro tapes, then you wouldn't have hassle when removing it.
|bump, night, ride, tyres|
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