Before you read the following, please be warned that the following are essentially based on my experiences. Your experience might be slightly (or drastically) different, but a large part of my experiences and the experiences of my cyling friends seem to overlap. But in general, it helps if you ride regularly at night, its even better if you have regular ride partners that share your passion for night riding and match you closely in terms of riding speed.
Some pointers for a night ride:
- Try and get as much sleep the night before the night you ride. If possible , knock off some sleep in the afternoon before you ride. It will help you stay fresh longer and ride longer with less sleep deprivation (Common-sensical point, but still worth a mention)
- Get used to riding at night *before* you get into a situation where you have to ride at night. Riding on a highway with nothing/nobody for company in pitch blackness, with only your headlight guiding you, interspersed by a speeding vehicle whooshing you by followed by extended periods of silence and darkness can be disconcerting, *especially* if you are not used to it. It can feel really creepy. Get used to it,you’ll actually learn to enjoy it.
- Riding on Indian roads, you are never sure where the next pothole is going to come from. You might have been riding on 200km of awesome tarmac, and out of nowhere be greeted by a crater that would put the moon to shame. You have to stay alert while riding at night, at all times.
- It is very difficult to get a sense of how fast you are going. During the day time you have a much better sense because of the surroundings. On a pitch dark night, on the highway where both sides are largely open, it takes time to get a sense of how fast you are going. You probably get it after some time, but the first time you ride at night, chances are , you may not be able to guess your speed. Over time, you probably get a sense of the speed by correlating your effort and the gradient and headwinds. A visual sense is tough to get , even after riding regularly.
- Make sure you have powerful headlights with you, and a spare light for looking around, focusing on your tyre if you end up with a puncture , etc. Also ride with a tail light and be sure to wear a reflective jacket when you ride at night. You should have enough visibility in front to ride comfortably at a pace of 25kmph , preferably even a little faster.
- I fell at night while riding alone at night on a road ( I believe the first instance of me riding a unlighted lonely road at night), because I misjudged my speed. Was probably going too fast when I pressed the brake and that resulted in me toppling over the handlebars ,thankfully with minor bruises. During the 600k last February (2012) in Bangalore, one of the riders (Nirmal Iyer) hit a speed breaker suddenly and fell down. He was bruised badly enough to have to call off the ride.
- Between midnight and 5 am (sometimes 6) , it is very unlikely that you’ll have eating and drinking options on the road. Most places on Indian highways (at least in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu) close at midnight , or 30 minutes past midnight. Make sure you eat and hydrate before midnight. Stock up a liter of hydrating fluid (Electral, Gatorade , whatever – choose your poision) before midnight. And make sure it lasts till the morning. Keep dry fruits , chikkis, chocolates or energy bars handy during this time in case you need nutrition.
- The best part , of course is that the time from midnight to dawn is the best time to ride. There is very little traffic. By 2am most Truck Drivers will call it a day (or night ) and be parked at various pit stops. You’ll have the occasional Volvo bus whizzing past, but other wise , you have the road to yourself . Of course, there is always the danger that someone would lose control and run over you, but that danger exists anywhere, anytime, not just in the dead of night.
- This is the time of the night when riding also requires least effort. I had rode a distance of 100+ km between 2 to 6 duuring the 400 brevet with just half a liter of water (no electrolytes). You can ride at a steady rhythm without exhausting yourself. The ambient temperature is typically at its coldest, and riding continuously actually helps in keeping you warm.
- If you last the night, you’ll probably experience a high as dawn breaks. The sight of creeping daylight on you and enveloping your surroundings as you whiz past on the highway is something that makes the experience of riding at night really really worth it.
- If at all you end up being severely deprived of sleep , and somewhat dehydrated/exhausted from the cycling itself, beware that you can face any of the following
- Hallucinations : I imagined riding on a narrow lane with steep ledges on both sides. At times I could not focus beyond 10-20 meters ahead. Imaginary people seemed to be crossing in front of me. Pretty whacky, and there is no way at that moment for you to realize that its virtual reality. Its like being high on ‘Bhaang’ – Reality and imagination weave a smooth co-existence. Of course its not helpful.
- Complete exhaustion due to lack of sleep – You just cannot go on. There was a time when I found it difficult to stand up. I tried to find a place on the side of the road which I felt was safe enough , and just swept a wide area with my torch to ensure there were no snakes crawling about and promptly slept on my back.
Notable memories from my cycling experiences at night
- Seeing a shooting star streaking past the clear sky as I rode between Ramnagara to Bidadi.
- Zooming between Belgaum and Dharwad as dawn broke, assisted by good tailwinds, at the end of an eventful night.
- Riding in pitch darkness with strong crosswinds as I cimbed my way to Chitradurga in the dead of night, and windmills emerging in the distance, one at a time, till you are staring at an army of windmills, all the while, struggling to grapple with the wind and riding steady.
- Riding a steady uphill between Vellore to Pallikonda after an exhausting night. On the way to Vellore we never realized the slope. On the way back, the slope wouldn’t let us forget it.
- Feasting on Omelettes at 4 am along with a gang of 4 other riders on our way back from Koratagere , again early Jan 2012.