The magic of cycling at night

Until recently I didn’t see the appeal of riding at night, but I’m increasingly drawn to venturing out after hours.

A bike leans on the bench at the top of the hill, its red rear and white front lights bright in the darkness.

In the past, rides like my dash down the Ridgeway from Avebury to Streatley and back felt like a race against the setting sun. Dusk signalled the end of my cycling day – a barrier to further progress. The practicalities of riding at night seemed too much hassle to grapple with; the powerful lights I needed too expensive and my bed just too tempting.

I always thought cycling through darkness was something to be endured, not enjoyed. Then, one Christmas, there was a high-powered front light waiting for me under the tree. I tried it and was hooked. After setting up everything else I needed to be legal on the UK roads at night, a new world of darkness opened up for me to explore.

Night is a time of opposites. As moon replaces sun, stillness replaces busyness on the roads out of town, cold replaces warmth in the air I draw into my lungs, and familiar ways become unfamiliar in the shadows cast by moon and bike light.

The view from a hill at night, with the orange and white lights of a town below.

Ride into the night and, as dusk turns into pitch black, the world both shrinks and expands. I feel I could reach out and touch the constellations, yet in the foreground I can see no farther than the beam my light projects on to the track. The hinterland of fields or forest lies unseen, dark and silent.

Cycling after sunset seems subversive, like I’ve broken through a door into the nocturnal world. It comes from knowing most people are tucked up inside, slumped in front of the television while I fly free. It’s my escape from the mundane.

This escape is precious, yet fleeting. The time always comes to acknowledge the fun is over, that I have had the world to myself long enough and must head to bed. Not for me, the through-the-night rides of the Dunwich Dynamo or the Ride to the Sun. Not yet, anyway.