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Be a Denizen of the Night!
By Jim Saulters
This piece originally appeared in Spoke Notes, the newsletter of the Mountain State Wheelers, Charleston, WV. Spoke Notes features "Dirty Thoughts," a monthly column written by Mr. Saulters, who is fondly known in print at "The Curmudgeon."
Night riding has grown in popularity over the past several years as more powerful and more dependable (and more expensive!) lighting systems have been marketed. It is now possible to equip your bike with 45 watts or more of light to allow you to bomb down fire roads at daytime speeds. But I think that nighttime single track is the most fun to experience: twisting along through the trees, a tunnel of visibility illuminated by your helmet and bar lights, oblivious to all else that falls outside of your lighted world. And when you stop for a break and douse your lights there is the inky blackness of a forest filled with the sounds of insects, night hawks, tree frogs, owls, and the snort of a buck. And then a cougar pounces, and drags an unsuspecting rider into the bush! Only kidding! The DNR sez that there are no cougars in West Virginia. But night riding is yet another variation on the wide world of bicycling, and I heartily recommend that you give it a try.
Are there any precautions? You betcha, baby! Obviously, you need a dependable light. Plan on buying or borrowing one with at least 6 watts of power. The smaller AA-powered units usually have no more than 2 watts, and it is very easy to "out ride" the beam. Helmet or bar-mount? I like a combination of both, with the bar light serving as the main illumination source and the helmet light reaching around corners in twisty single track situations and adding oomph for fast fire road downhills. Just like a spelunker, you should carry multiple sources of light. Riding in a group you may be able to squeak by with only one light system, but you may be reduced to being a parasite on a buddy's system. Choose your friends wisely!
If you lean towards solo night rides make sure to carry at least three independent sources of light. You should also carry: spare clothing, extra water, food, a way start a fire, a whistle for signaling, and some way to shelter yourself from the elements, such as a space-blanket. (Disclaimer: While The Curmudgeon often rides solo, he takes precautions so that in the event of his being benighted he will survive the night. Also, you have to be a little eccentric to solo night ride. The Curmudgeon fits the bill).
Yeah, there is an element of danger to riding at night, but there was an element of danger to hopping that first six-inch log you encountered. It's just another challenge on the trail.
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