I previously spoke about the miseries of biking in the rain– cold, wet, and a time when nobody else who has a car would choose to ride their bike. But giving up my car has also forced me onto my bike when riding is anything but horrible, in fact, it’s actually quite pleasant. Riding at night is this for me.
Living in Boulder is great. The fitness culture here means that there are plenty of bike paths to take advantage of, a plethora of bike shops, and lots of restaurants and shops that are willing to let cyclists use their restrooms in an emergency involving too much dietary fiber.
This culture, however, also means that during the nice parts of the day, all of these resources are shared with other enthusiastic cyclists– hoards of spandex clad men and women, sporting hundred-dollar sunglasses and riding bicycles that cost more than I’ll earn in a year. Where is there room for me, riding around on a beat up bike, not wearing a shirt or sunglasses– with old running shorts that ride so far up, my thighs are tanner than my girlfriend’s?
Working an ice cream job means strange hours, and I’ll often get off work well after 10 o’clock at night. If I then go and hang out with a friend, I can easily be biking home in the early hours of the next day. Because of this, I’ve discovered a little secret: most of the cyclists I compete with during the day– whose outfits cost more than two years of my rent– have jobs with normal hours. Which means they’re all in bed in the middle of the night. Which means the bike paths are all mine.
The reason I now refuse anyone’s offer to drive me home is no longer a stubborn quest for independence, but rather for the absolute reign of late-night Boulder on my bike. When else is it possible to tear through Pearl Street without a touch on the brakes? I could never sing loudly to myself through town in the middle of the day without receiving at least a few odd looks. But when done in the middle of the night, with only drunk people, transients, or just weirdos out and about, I’m more likely to get a round of applause.
If you’re new to riding in the dark, I would like to offer a few tips to enjoy your nightly biking experience. First, lights are a necessity. I prefer a front light that is not overly bright, as a bright one doesn’t allow my eyes to properly adjust to the darkness and limits my vision to the small amount of space that is lit by the strong beam. In fact, my light is purely for the enjoyment of those trying to avoid me. I also have a flashing red light on the back of my seat post. It’s standard, cheap, and will make you much safer from cars, but not the existential crisis that can creep up on a night ride– when you realize how alone you really are, and how none of what you’re doing really matters. Related to lights is reflective gear. I’m not good about wearing it, but tires can be bought with reflective linings on the inner wall which helps with being seen from the side where your lights aren’t.
Second, don’t stare at the stars for an extended period of time. Being out at night when there are no cars around means the sky opens up and the stars call for attention. Glances are fine, continued pondering looks are not. Even on bike paths, turns and trees present possible dangers to a philosopher on a bike.
Third, if you aren’t singing, or at least talking to yourself, what is wrong with you? All day you can be a boring version of yourself. Never speaking up, never causing a stir, but with everyone else in bed, make a fool of yourself. My personal favorite is to try to beat-box and rap over that beat at the same time. But maybe you’re a singer. Or maybe you’ve always wanted to bike in a thong. It’s all in the same vein. You’re alone at night, take advantage of it.
No matter how dire it is that you’re in bed by ten and up by six, deviate from that every once in awhile for a night ride. Be safe about it, have the appropriate lights and reflective gear, but get out and do it. Biking in packs during the day is great, and so is riding through a busy town. But at night, with lunatics hiding in the bushes and hippies running naked through the sprinklers, it’s a whole ‘nother world.