As autumn kicks in and daylight decreases, we cyclists are left with a choice to make.
We can follow the approach of legendary French cyclist and five-time Tour de France winner Bernard Hinault who simply propped his bike up in the garage, lived the good life for three or four months, and then killed himself the following spring to regain his fitness.
We can become a devotee of the indoor trainer and tolerate the boredom and the puddles of sweat in the name of maintaining our muscle tone and aerobic capacity.
Or, we can strap some lights onto the bike and head out into the darkness.
For me, there is always a window of around two or three weeks where the novelty of riding in the dark has me out in all weathers, seeking out remote country lanes.
You could live for many years in my little corner of Lancashire and never come across my secret stash of country lanes. They cut through empty farmland and emerge in surprising places, and they’re all but deserted. Being well away from anything resembling civilisation they are also very, very dark.
And even though I’m a big brave grown-up man they’re sometimes a bit creepy.
The lights on my bike are approximately a gazillion lumens in brightness (whatever the hell a lumen is!?), and light up these lanes like the floodlights on a football pitch. This only serves to enhance the sheer blackness when I pull over to the side of the road and switch them off.
I do this every now and again, just for the fun of it.
An interesting thing happens when you are in almost complete darkness, out in the open, on your own: you start to imagine what might be beyond your field of vision. When your field of vision extends to about 20 centimetres and you know that mile after mile of flat, waterlogged farmland sits all around you, harbouring who knows what creatures and serial killers, the imagination can easily take over.
Of course looking at this rationally, let’s be clear; I live in the north of England, where the wildlife consists of cute little field mice, voles, rabbits, the odd startled fox or grumpy badger, and nothing much that is likely to even approach me never mind savage me.
Serial killer wise?
Well, life’s too short – if a serial killer is on the loose in the salt-flats of coastal Lancashire and is targeting placid cyclists with excessively bright headlights, then so be it. I’ll just take my chances.
On a recent ride I’d pulled over for a snack and a drink next to a gate which led into a farmer’s field. I turned my lights off as per usual, to bask in the primal atmosphere, creepy shadows, and the alarming sense of open space.
And then I sensed something.
I’m vaguely aware that there is a phenomenon where we humans can sense that something’s behind us or around us when we can’t see it; but spinning around sharply I was faced with only more darkness.
I resisted turning my light on.
Then I heard breathing, and a kind of wet snort, and turned my light on REALLY-BLOODY-QUICKLY!!
I reacted and pointed my tremendously bright light in the offending direction, probably causing the residents of the International Space Station to flinch and think, “oh wow, look at that light…ragtime cyclist must be out for a spin tonight.”
And guess what?
My nemesis, and current bete noir…
The cow did that startled half-jump backwards thing that cows do, and I did the same. I may also have yelped. Then I laughed, but the cow just looked back at me, dazzled, before wandering off with a facial expression that I interpreted as, “bloody cyclists.”
And so, with heart pumping and adrenalin putting a spring in my pedal stroke, I headed off. This is the point of these night time rides; a little mini-adventure here and there.
Until the novelty wears off and I hit the home trainer for a few weeks.
Bernard Hinault didn’t know what he was missing.