I Used to be a Were-Cyclist*

It was Jo’s fault, she made it sound so attractive:

I’d been wondering on Twitter whether to cycle back from Bigtown last night after a couple of things I had on, the last of which would finish at 9pm. Normally I’d get a lift back, via the pub, but this time I’d have my bicycle with me and as no kind anonymous benefactor has left a Brompton on my doorstep for some strange reason, my bike remains stubbornly unfoldable and awkward to put into a car, especially when someone is going out of their way to get you home. So I had two choices: cycle home last night in the dark, or leave my bike to the tender mercies of Bigtown’s nightlife and arrange some way of going and getting it today.

I’ve cycled after dark before – I did it in London all the time, although ‘dark’ is a relative concept there, and I’ve cycled to and from the village all through the winter. But while I know every curve and hill and, crucially, pothole between here and the village, the Bigtown road is less familiar and it’s much longer. My problem with cycling in the dark is not so much seeing the patch of road right ahead – my lights are fine for that – it’s seeing where I am in relation to everything else. A car’s headlights light up the whole road whereas on a bike on a really dark night it’s like peering through a letterbox, going by feel and memory as much as anything else. You have to concentrate, and you have to slow down and there’s times when you’ve no idea where you are and what’s around you, apart from that tiny patch of illuminated tarmac just ahead.

But then, last night was the full moon, with clear skies and when I stepped out at nine o’clock it was a beautiful evening, just perfect for cycling, and with plenty of light in the sky and I decided to take the plunge. If I couldn’t cycle home that night, then I’d never be able to do it at all and I’d be stuck scrounging lifts (or worse, driving) forever. So I set off and the scariest thing was taking my usual off-road route through some of Bigtown’s less salubrious parks, hoping that my Marathon Plus tyres would see off the scrunch of broken glass. Out on the open road, the fading sky was enough to show the outlines of the hills and the hedges and dykes lining the road and while I found a few potholes the hard way, I didn’t end up buckling a wheel, I didn’t hit anything and it really was just me and the screech of night creatures, probably meeting sticky ends (the owls, on the other hand, were silent).

They say that the Rurals here used to meet every night on the night of the full moon because that was when people without cars could see to ride or cycle or walk into the village. The Full Moon Society had a similar schedule. It wasn’t just werewolves and vampires that were freed by the light of the moon – it was everyone. As I turned into our driveway safely home it struck me that for at least one or two nights a month I’d be free to cycle to evening engagements without having to worry about getting home becuase the moon made such a difference. Only, thinking about it, I couldn’t actually see the moon. Stars, yes, the glow of Bigtown on the horizon, yes, moon no. The bugger hadn’t even risen yet. I’d cycled home by the light of a placebo moon…

*but I’m all right nooooooow

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13 Responses to I Used to be a Were-Cyclist*

  1. Kim says:

    You just need to get some Bright lights for dark nights, or ride with someone how has them. There was one night when three of us were riding back to the B&B from dinner in a pub a few miles away, just using my lights…

  2. Mr colostomy says:

    Dynamo lights are the way forward for a good night-riding experience. Busch and Muller IQ Cyo is very good, I have the much poorer-rated Lyt and it is so good I relish to opportunity to cycle in total darkness. Expensive up-front, but you’ll never need to buy batteries ever again, and you can even use the dynamo to charge your phone.

  3. Jo says:

    Obviously the Somerset owls are more sociable than the Scottish ones :)

  4. disgruntled says:

    Kim – what’s the battery consumption on those things? MrC is right, I think, dynamos have to be the way to go if I’m going to do a lot of night riding

    Of course in a few weeks it all becomes moot for a few months because it will be light till almost 11 … roll on the summer

  5. Kim says:

    Depends on the light setting, but even at full blast I can get a couple of hours out of it, last longer at lower light setting, which is enough for spotting potholes.

  6. disgruntled says:

    Jo – yeah, or too busy killing things to be wooing a mate
    Kim – ah, right, that might be a pain if you’re as disorganised as I am. Although with rechargeables maybe not too much

  7. Kim says:

    It comes with it’s own rechargeable battery, but you also get bigger, longer lasting batteries as well. If you press the switch once it tells you how much charge the battery has, but you have to be careful to only press it once when looking directly into the light unit (press twice to switch the light on).

  8. Joe Dunckley says:

    I have some £60 cateye rechargeable headlight thing that does a proper job lighting the road and hedges and verges ahead. Not quite car headlight stuff, but does what you need it to do. Says it lasts 3 hrs per charge, but I’ve never needed to test that…

    I’d quite like a dynamo on the tourer, though, if only to charge my phone while using google maps…

  9. Spokes says:

    All well and good you were able to see ahead but did you have a light…reflector so that those coming on you from the rear could see you?

  10. disgruntled says:

    Kim – that sounds like a lesson learned the hard way?
    Joe – I’m not sure about the practicalities of retrofitting a dynamo, but it’s worth investigating
    Spokes – yes, I always have a rear LED & the usual reflectors.

  11. WOL says:

    Have you considered a miner’s/caver’s helmet or mounting a light on your bike helmet? It would light where you look.

  12. [...] helmet and hi-vis vest giveaway following a Twitterstorm of protest from cyclists. Town Mouse takes a lovely scary ride home under a placebo moon, without encountering any creatures of the night. A cyclist complains about [...]

  13. [...] potholed, puddled roads, a journey I normally only ever tackle when there’s a full moon (or I think there is). By the time I’d left the limits of the town it was a clear and sparkly frosty night, [...]

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