Tuesday, November 19, 2013

How Dark Is Your Dark?

Dark Commute
It looks like we've entered that magical time of year... the season of 5pm nightfall. Today I rode home along a pitch black road under an ink blue sky, my path illuminated by a faint hint of stars and my bike's dynamo headlight. There was precipitation in the air that was not quite snow, but a fluffy sort of sleet, and bits of it fluttered, mothlike, in the headlight's beam. I could see nothing else around me, save for the vague outlines of scraggly trees.

Having happily ridden my bike through the past four winters, at some point I began to take it for granted that I was equipped to cycle at night. This changed during my attempt at a 300K brevet last spring, when I found myself absolutely unable to navigate a hilly, winding country road in Central Massachusetts in the dark, despite (multiple) powerful headlights. Part of the problem was no doubt exhaustion and nerves, but part of it was how absolutely dark that particular darkness was!

Those of us who cycle mostly through populated areas are accustomed to streets being lit at night. In cities, the ever-present blaze of street lights and store fronts, and the constant stream of car headlights means we are never in the dark at all. In suburban areas, the lit up windows of residential homes provide a soft background glow. Even many of the unlit country roads tend to have reflective features or white lines along the shoulders that - in the beam of a bike's headlight - reveal the shape of the road ahead and guide us around bends. 

But what of areas where there is nothing - and I mean, absolutely nothing - to provide illumination other than our bicycle's lighting? It's an environment difficult to imagine until you've experienced it, and cycling through it can be just as much about being able to tolerate it psychologically as it is about having adequate lighting. When it's so dark that we see nothing other than what's in front of us, the imagination can run rampant and the mind can play tricks on us. 

I am getting myself used to cycling in the rural dark here - mainly by sticking to short stretches of familiar roads. More than anything, I am finding that knowing the road is helpful, as well as knowing how far I have to go until the next well-lit stretch. So far, I feel fairly comfortable doing this - the biggest challenge being that I tend to get sleepy. Nothing like complete darkness to fool us into thinking it is bed time, even when it's hardly dinner time.

In the winter season, some portion of our transportation cycling will almost certainly take place in the dark. How dark does it get where you ride, and how do you deal with it? Do you feel that, aside from equipment issues, cycling at night requires some mental or emotional adjustment?

70 comments:

  1. I agree it is difficult. I often end up riding in the dark at the end of randonnees or other long distance rides and, when I haven't prepared properly or all my backups have failed, sometimes have lighting issues. It can be frightening riding in the dark but it is also very peaceful and quiet, like Beryl Markham writes in West With the Night, flying a plane in Africa at night, feeling as if she was the only person left in the world.

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  2. When I lived in Wisconsin, portions of my commute were along unlit paved and limestone trails. Not quite total darkness, because the paths would occasionally intersect with a road, but still...pretty danged dark!

    Now living in Connecticut, my route is better lit, but I find that can be a problem, as often there are so many lighted objects around that cars find it hard to distinguish a cyclist.

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  3. funny you should post about this, I just went camping in Algonquin Park with my bike and was quite struck by how dark is dark and also wishing I had camped the following week when the moon was full. I live in the country the rest of the year, and folks from the city say it is very dark here so I had thought I would be quite accustomed to the blackness of the night. Very interesting experience, thanks!

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  4. The few times I've ridden at night in the Catskill Mountains, where there is no light other than moonlight (if that), it's been more of a mental hurdle. It has nothing to do with seeing where I'm going, no, my headlight illuminates my path just fine. It's more that I allow myself to get irrationally paranoid that some evil spirit is going to "get" me. You know, the bogeyman. Yes, I'm a scientist. Yes these things still freak me out at night. Yes it's silly, but true.

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  5. As you now live at the same latitude as Moscow!, as do I, it will get darker still before the winter solstice. I find dark cycling a more visceral experience than in the light months. Colours vanish and vision become a tunnel, but the other senses are heightened. Sounds and smells of the countryside and more noticeable as one moves in ones own small world through the dark.

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    1. Yes, this has been my experience over the years and in varying conditions....I'm much more in the moment and aware. My lights have never been that good and at times I've had stretches through forest roads and trails while pedaling home from work so my mind needed the the distraction and focus from the problems of the day.

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  6. love riding in the dark (as long as it doesnt rain...). Feeling free and strong! And normally I got not to much problems of getting sleepy even if I drive through the whole night (600k Brevet)

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  7. During some of our off-pavement randonneur rides, it can be very dark if it's cloudy or if there is a new moon. I recall one ride where I could see Mount Rainier only because it was a dark triangle in the sky without stars.

    On the bike, I don't find that a problem, even on gravel roads that don't have any markings. In fact, I prefer to ride without light pollution as my eyes can adjust to the darkness (or more likely, the brightness of the road in the beam of my headlight).

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  8. As you know Boston, Cambridge, Somerville are all well lit but lights, lights, lights, and more lights should be on our bikes(is there a bike light anonymous group?).
    I also think that it does take more focus than day time riding. The things that go bump in the night can really hurt.
    Will you be upgrading your lighting to better handle the dark?

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  9. I am new (again) to cycling, having cycled primarily on sidewalks and in very familiar neighborhoods as a young child (and mostly during daylight), only during daylight as a teen, only during daylight and for fitness a few years ago, and finally, recently, for transportation and for the love of the experience. I am struggling to ride in the dark; even with lights, I feel too invisible to cars; on side streets, it's so still - and that's WITH porch lights. It's lonely and alone in a way being surrounded by steel and rubber (instead of perched atop it) isn't. I've been encouraging myself to take shorter trips to, as you mention, build up endurance (mostly psychological) for it, but haven't really wrapped my mind around my 12mi r/t work commute since daylight savings time ended. That's a long way (for me, the better part of an hour) to be meandering on a bike at 8am in the light, much less at 6pm in the dark.

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  10. Paul Bogard wrote a great book called 'The End of Night' on the impact of light pollution not only to our ability to star gaze but psychological and physical well being.

    Highly recommended.

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  11. {in a scratchy, tremulous voice} Back in the day, before there were real bike lights, before the need to shave, we just crashed into trees and parked cars. And curbs. Railing. Nocturnal animals. Discombobulated before the legal drinking age.

    How do I deal with it now? Pretend there are eviscerated goblins behind every tree. Helps the time pass.

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  12. A good headlight with a wide beam helps a lot; currently using a rechargeable Ixon IQ - I can ride on trails with that thing. At this time of year, night is the only time to ride on trails because the deer rifle hunters are out.

    I love riding in the rural dark - and there's a lot of it on the 9 miles between home and the town I work in. In the summer you can see fireflies and hear frogs. In the winter, snow glinting on fields, shadows and shapes of trees, and one night in December last year, a pack of coyotes howling N and S of the road I was on. Magic.

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  13. I live in a semi rural (as in it was rural up until a few years ago, but "town" is slowly creeping in and it's becoming a mix of McMansions and cattle farms...) area that has a mix of roads that are lit with street lights and have reflective lines, as well as roads that wind through the countryside without any lights but may or may not have any reflective lines. And then there's the really exciting, barely paved single lane roads. I'm less concerned about visibility on those roads. My headlight is plenty bright and I just take it slow and steady, but it's the wildlife that makes me want to not dawdle. There's bears out there! And coyote, loose dogs, herds of deer. I'm constantly thinking that at any moment something is going to come crashing through the woods at me!

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  14. This is my first winter commuting primarily by bike path and I was surprised at how dark certain stretches of my 12 mile route can get after the sun goes down. I thought I could get by with a couple USB rechargeable lights, but no. Unless I want to creep along once the paths freeze, I need something much brighter. So, I ordered a dynamo hub and will build up a wheel this weekend. My fingers are crossed it will be enough.

    Although I do have to say, there is something weirdly soothing about being forced to a slow, steady pace. So often my focus is on getting somewhere as fast as I can that I don't notice anything else. Last night I looked up and saw the full moon hanging low over Minneapolis and wished I had my camera. When I came around the next corner, I saw someone else had stopped and had their camera out, taking the exact shot I would have.

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  15. My strongest memory of cycling at night was trying my bike with the saddle adjusted to a higher height for the first time (I'm a n00b), out on the bike path. Now, it was really quite a tame route but I was quite spooked, and quite surprised by how spooked I was. Though the path isn't particularly lit at all once you get away from buildings and such, so perhaps that's understandable. But I've been a bit put off by cycling at night since then, though it's something I should get over at some point.

    That and I need to get some lights. I had one at the time, but it was pretty poor and it's since been stolen. Bah.

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  16. The worst thing about cycling in the dark with no street lights around ( and I don't cycle in the countryside, there is always some light from houses, even on the cycling paths that are separate from the roads) is that my bike lights don't illuminate far in from of me and I get scared to go too fast in case there is an obstacle. I guess this is what you are referring to when you talk of the mind playng tricks.

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  17. I say this to myself. I know I haven't far yet to go before the amber light of home are before my eyes, and in it, all that I love. Then I say it again.

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  18. With my inner voice...

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  19. I have rarely veered far enough away from city lights to not have at least a little bit of cloud-bounce glow to steer by. Season is a factor. In the summer, my primary concern is bugs flying into me from the darkness. They are larger at night and arrive undetected, and so I wear clear eye protection and keep my mouth shut. Even so, a grasshopper in the cheek can be pretty startling.

    In the winter, particularly in the midwest, the threat of dipping temperatures was always greater than that of darkness. I do enjoy the interesting acoustics that take place in extreme cold at night. But I am only a transportation cyclist and I only use rechargeable lights. When I have let them run out, I feel dangerously invisible to cars and pretty eager to get home and charge them. Sometimes I think I should drag a reflective parachute behind me to get a large-enough reflective surface.

    This is all to say that in the dark, I am inclined to feel smaller and more vulnerable, and the further out in the country, the more I feel that way. In some situations, getting clocked by a deer wouldn't be out of the question. Conversely, there is a sublime freedom to the abyss. But I would never do any of that crazy mtg nighttime descent stuff. It's enough to run out for eggs and milk.

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  20. My dark is not dark enough. I live in a rural area. Some intersections will have street lights but they are very sporadic, not close at all. There are painted lines on the roads, and you do get a bit of glow, but not much as most homes are set back from roads. Traffic provides some illumination but it is usually blinding instead of helpful. There are areas of deep darkness as well. When it is stormy and rainy, the dark is much worse and it can be difficult to see. I have found no bike light thus far has been bright enough for the darkness and what I want for illumination. Even a 650 Lumen battery powered light is too dim. Yes it is retina burning if you look at it from a distance, but the actual light it puts out is not very great for real darkness. I'd like to get a 1200 lumen light and have yet tried any good dynamo lights to know what they are like.
    I would enjoy it to be pitch dark, but I know what you mean about it being difficult and sleep inducing. I sometimes end up walking in dark forest after a sunset and it is primordial. I once was biking in a very very dark wild area and the bike light batteries died, so I was trying to bike in the pitch dark. Either a wolf or a cougar chasing something else ran in front of me and the bike and I just stopped, turned back and went to the B&B. I know sometimes I have felt as if I wasn't moving at all, just pedalling in a black void.

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  21. I've mounted a small hiking headlamp to my helmet using two-sided velcro, which allows me to see things in the direction that I turn my head in addition to seeing things in the direction that my bike is facing. The headlamp isn't bright enough on its own to ride by on a dark road, but it's bright enough to provide some reassurance when I hear strange noises on the side of the road.

    I can also point it toward drivers approaching me from the side to catch their attention. It's not bright enough to blind them, just enough to remind them to pay attention. :-)

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  22. It may be dark where you are but at least there aren't cougars. I'm serious. Here on Vancouver Island we have one of the world's largest populations of the big cats. I was on an organized bike ride in the middle of the day, with hundreds of cyclists. A volunteer was up ahead directing us around a corner. Crossing the street a couple of dozen metres behind her was a full grown cougar. She couldn't understand the shocked look on the faces of the cyclists approaching her. And, yes, sadly, there have been instances where the cougars have taken cyclists for a prey animal, like a deer, and stalked and attacked them. But, as the saying goes, you're much more likely to be "attacked" by another human in a car.

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    1. I ride on VI as well. The cougars are always on my mind, along with the bears. My commute takes me on busy roads, gravel rail trail and single track. From the wet reflected light of the road to the light fog shrouded bubble along the trail to the leaf and branch and moss of the single track. At the beginning of the season it is always a bit disconcerting but as the season continues I find it beautiful and a wonderful way to both start and end my day.
      Some of the best things about this time of year are the full moon, sun rises and sun sets, and the bracing cold of the frost and fog shrouded mornings.

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  23. I love riding in the dark (so long as it's not raining - major problem for people who wear glasses).

    A good light with a well shaped beam is essential. Very bright lights can take away from the experience and if the road is genuinely unlit, you need surprisingly little light once your eyes adjust. The beam pattern of the light is most important as the light needs to be put on the road. It is other lights that distract and take away your night vision.

    I have been known to switch my lights off on moonlit nights if there is no traffic around. A moonlit ride in open countryside is something to be savoured.

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    1. Ah, another one who does moonlight rides. When I lived in Madison Wisconsin, I would sometimes ride unlit in the countryside. Dane County is nice for that; it's a wealthy dairy county so there are $ and political will to keep the back roads well maintained. This is a huge factor, because the main hazard I worry about riding unlit is the unseen pothole.

      The overall road and countryside are if anything easier to see with the lights off. Lovely.

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    2. As strange as it sounds, may I suggest wearing a sun visor when you ride in the rain? I don't wear glasses but I don't like having my eyes pelted with raindrops, either. I have started wearing a sunvisor under my rainjacket's hood. This has the dual benefit of pushing the hood aside when I turn my head to see what's behind me, but most importantly with the brim pulled down low, I no longer get the rain in my eyes. This might help the glasses-wearing crowd as well.

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  24. I can't express with words how much I love to cycle in the night! Especially when I am near nature. It's like meditation, magical!

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  25. If I am honest, the cold that comes with every winter has a much bigger effect on me mentally than the early darkness. I do not know what the breakpoint is exactly, but suddenly, could be at 5ºC, could be 6ºC, the air seems to be a lot denser than it used to be. So wind has much more effect as well -- especially a headwind.

    Suddenly the same ride I cycle all year can take up to 20 minutes more; with the same effort put in. Whereas the shorter day and early darkness in October never had as profound an effect. Even though I do ride a bit slower in the dark -- probably because there is not enough visual information anymore to judge my speed as well as during daylight.

    And yes, it gets very dark around where I live as well. Though on the clear nights, the city I cycle to is clearly visible in the distance as a glow on the horizon. But ever since the hub dynamo and good German made LED-lights that darkness does not bother me.

    But then, I am a man. And men do not always see dangers that might be obvious to women.

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  26. Reading about large animals, I realized that I had forgotten about the wolves and deer I used to see in Wisconsin. But my favorite animal story is about the pair of rabbits I saw in the distance, hopping one after the other. One would hop and then pause while the other hopped ahead. As I got closer, I saw that my lights were illuminating the shoes of a jogger--who was otherwise entirely dressed in black and carrying on reflective material whatsoever.

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  27. Here up north in Helsinki most will get used to the darkness. But, usually darkness comes with coldness, rain, snow and slippery leaves covering the cycleroads.

    After christmas it will get icy and very cold, so driving along by bicycle might be a venture. I usually leave the bike in the cellar for the winter months and switch to busses and trains. Now and then i might go for a ride, equipped with spikes.
    The wintertime is nice for cleaning/serviceing my bicycle or to build up a new one and wait till spring is calling out for new adventures.

    To overcome the relatively unsporty wintertime i will start cross country skiing this year.

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  28. What is the light source in your photo?

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    1. Direct flash on my DSLR. Usually looks terrible, but worked surprisingly nicely here.

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  29. Night riding in the country is great. If it's very cloudy the blackness can be akin to snow blindness when you don't really know which way is up ... thank goodness for decent bike lights.

    Animal encounters here in Southern England are less dramatic. I remember almost running over a family of almost invisible ducks waddling down a totally dark road at 10pm!

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  30. I did a Summer's worth of almost exclusive night-time riding in the country and it didn't take a huge adjustment. I was riding an old Rudge with the original dynamo and front and rear lights, so I think the gentler beam didn't blind me to my darker surroundings. I've heard from trekking cyclists that too high a contrast from bright lights to dark country can make it difficult to see anything outside of the range of the beam; the eye just can't adjust quickly enough.

    I also found after a while that my eyes adjusted to the darkness too. It came to the point that if the moon was bright I wouldn't need a light for anything but being seen.

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  31. I've never been a huge fan of night riding in heavy traffic, just because I find it irritating, and that's been made worse by the fact that I recently got clipped in the dark (no injuries). Now I'm a bit twitchy of people approaching me from behind at night. It's improving -- but I'm still a bit nervy about it.

    When it's quiet, though, I love it. I did a night brevet last summer, which was just plain awesome -- some of it was fairly rural/dark, though most of it was taking advantage of being in the off hours to go through more populated areas. It was in completely unfamiliar territory, which made navigation interesting. It was mostly flat, so I wasn't trying to do pitch-dark descents, though -- there was really only one big downhill, and we'd specifically been warned that the pavement had some serious problems and not to build up too much speed.

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  32. I remember taking sunrise photos early in the morning. In the fall, with the help of cold weather or special cloudy atmosphere we can collect romantic pictures. For instance, contrast between dark earth and some cold shades like red crimson, purple or lemon yellow is sometimes gorgeous.

    Nevertheless, it’s not easy to get up and stand up at night and, as I have been reading on the net, maybe it provides stress to the body. It’s not really healthy: the price of beauty?

    The last about morning dark riding: you don’t need an emergency light, the sun will help you fixing the failure.

    Laurent

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  33. I really like that photo. Was it a hand-held shot or did you happen to put the camera on a tripod and "paint" the surroundings with your strobe?

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    1. Ugh! Sorry for the dumb question. Didn't read the above post.

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  34. One simple trick almost always works for me in the darkest, blackest night. I go slow. Even in the big city I find myself on occasion on some very dark, spooky places. We have a problem with broken street lights in New Orleans and there are many very dark blocks with spotty street conditions that are real hazards in the dark. I also bike the City Park trails after dark. The park is open very late and its empty of people and full of after dark wildlife. It's an exhilarating, wondrous ride, but nerve wracking just the same if you don't slow down. Bright lights, go slow, be aware and take familiar routes. Nothing brilliant there, but it works for me.

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  35. Being out in the night and dark, doing anything, is a surreal sort of experience--until it becomes normal. I used to work, as a teenager, in the dark moving sprinklers at a rural golf course. I biked there and back through farmland and had to walk the course, which also involved paths through the woods. It was quiet, very quiet. Then I had to cycle about a mile up a hill to the pond which was the source of our water to check the pump and height of the water before heading home. Those rides are etched in my mind (this was the late 60's)....I guess it was an early sign that I'm a loner and like it that way :)

    I've also had other jobs through the years which required night riding or walking and it often ends as the highlight of my day. A quiet space to forget and just be in the moment. There can be stretches when one moves along quickly because of street lights or whatever and then complete darkness when heading through woods and the key is to slow down....the only times I'm frightened is when the road or trail seems to just disappear in front of me...often when a sharp turn is required and my light is pointing straight ahead, or there's an unexpected dip or sometimes a car will appear and temporarily blind me!! But the opposite is riding the same route on a night with a full moon....magic!! I gulped those nights down with extra passion and joy.

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  36. Were those round spots created by the flash? Seems strange that they have a sort of trail to them.

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    1. Those are the sleety flurry things, exaggerated by the flash.

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  37. Interesting that this should come up. Last night I took my first night time "utility" ride this season -- I'd earlier done a few recreational, bike path rides along the Rio Grande Recreational Trail – during the evening commute on busy roads. 17 miles rt, Parish Council meeting.

    Until 2008 I had a 15-16 mile return commute that involved city traffic at rush hour in the dark, post DST, and I found that I’ve got to re-learn certain night riding skills, such as gauging distance of headlights, particularly when looking behind me before making a turn across traffic. I am rather “out of shape” in these habits.

    Still, the big problem is not pure dark, at least if you have a decent light. The best of the new and recent German-spec LED headlights are huge, quantum leap, light years away from the old halogens and puny flashlight beams of the past. Even with my very poor night vision, an Edeluxe or Cyo is perfectly adequate for unlit routes. The problem, for me at any rate, is riding against the glare of oncoming headlights, particularly the headlights of idiots who feel obliged to run their high beams all the time.

    (Intereting: I noted last night that my Edeluxe was bright enough to make many motorists pause at intersections far ahead, when they had ample time to pull out before I came even near. I may have it tilted slightly higher up than others do, but I like the beam to spread quite a distance ahead.)

    ***It is not lumens that make a good headlight!!!*** At least on the road. 10 years ago or more I had one of the early HID systems, as bright as a car’s high beam. Motorists would crowd their right curbs as I rode by. But the light was scattered about anyhow, with so much nearfield brightness that my eyes were too dazzled to see the distance. The well-shaped beams of Edeluxe and Cyo, that put the light up ahead where you need it, but cut it off so it doesn’t go up into space, give far more useful light than this huge-lumen thing did; and they draw less than 3 watts.

    The only places I wish I had 20 million lumens is when riding on bike paths adjacent to oncoming auto traffic, where the nearby auto headlamps overwhelm my night vision. A bright, heavy-lumen light would probably not let me see any better, but it would make the oncomers suffer a bit.

    At the other extreme, as a boy living in mid-60s Bangalore (father with Foreign Service) I briefly owned a bicycle oil headlamp, still on the market in that place at that time. Adjustable wick, bulbous lense, spring loaded clip to fit on the “L” shaped bracket that came on all rod braked roadster clones. More smoke than usable illumination.

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  38. Yep, suset her in the SF Bay Area is already the late 4PM digits. In the mornings when I leave, if not for the street lighting in would be pitch black. I get a couple of miles through the wetlands which of course, is not lit but there is still city lights aways a way. But with the black ocean to the right, my mind does play tricks. Especially when I see a pair of glowing eyes of the trailside.

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  39. On the roads surrounding my neighborhood, one can go 1-2 miles through thick woods with 150' tall tree cover before encountering any streetlights or houses, depending on the route. It's in a steep river valley and light comes late and leaves early. It absolutely requires some care and adjustment. (Some of my neighbors will not even *drive* the more rural of the two roads after dark.)
    One has to have faith in one's own ability, and a certain comfort with night operations. There really are goblins behind every tree…plus the aforementioned cougars, and more commonly, coyote. I stopped and had a conversation with one this last summer.

    As a teenager in the early 1980s, I and several friends used to cycle at night along a road following a long chain of lakes starting southwest of San Francisco, where there were often no streetlights for miles at a time. We used moonlight! My middle-aged self has kicked my teenage self in the butt a few times over the memory.

    *Pro tip: do not ride through a motionless herd of deer in the road at 15 mph by moonlight; it frightens them.

    There really weren't good lights available in the local shops then, not for anything approaching decent money. The availability of quality halogen and now LED dynamo & rechargeable lights is a vast improvement. (Like, er, night and day.)

    I can make a plug for a new light- I just obtained a Light & Motion Taz 1000 USB- rechargeable headlight. I have not used it for any really long rides yet, but the light pattern is impressive, and there is very good fill on the sides.

    Still, that alone in the world feeling is pretty hard-wired. We humans have not been night-hunters for very long in the scheme of things.

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  40. So, V, how far are you riding in the dark? Do you wear your helmut or is that only for your road bike? I found myself adding a helmut and mouth guard to my night commutes....The mouth guard because sometimes animals would scurry across my path or a tree would all of a sudden appear :) and the mouth guard saved my tongue and teeth!

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    1. variable distances, but no more than a few miles at a time yet; no helmut, mouthguard or kneepads, but I'm considering some hi-viz options.

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    2. Hi viz does have its uses in such conditions. It's even possible to get stuff free from the likes of the Road Safety Authority in the south. Not everyone wants to wear building/construction worker chic. It even possible to buy more stylish options such as the D1 Vest from a Dublin based designer, Georgia in Dublin. She seems to have a whole range of products mostly aimed at women, which is great to see. I have seen some riders of upright city bikes wearing some of it.

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  41. In the early years of rail trails I went through a few nearly mile long tunnels with only penlights. We had to walk the bikes because our perceptions were so addled by the total deprivation of the senses (no light, no sound, no wind etc.) At least there was the dot of light at the end of the tunnel.

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  42. As a shift worker - my cycle commuting can be in full darkness all year round and I agree that familiarity with the road can make all the difference - over half of my regular route is on unlit country roads so knowing where the potholes are helps a lot! I'm in Northern Ireland too and will be following your observations with interest.

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  43. Spooking little critters in the bushes along the roads at night used to freak me out; but that has been replaced by how easy it is to get really close to deer when riding at night.

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  44. Wow! It is amazing what youth will contemplate. I hope I have misunderstood the intent here. Besides the obvious hazards to oneself when cycling in the dark, a cyclist is a threat to others when not adequately illuminated. It is one thing to have a death wish, it is something else to casually disregard the wellbeing of others. I sure hope this post does not encourage riding in the dark.

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    1. My bike is illuminated with very bright dynamo lighting with standlights. Additionally my tires have reflective sidewalls and my basket a surround reflective strip.

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    2. That's good! I did misunderstand the intent. I have ridden a great deal at night and use both dynamo lighting front and rear, a Dinotte LED up front and supplemental flashing taillight, plus reflective gear. We love riding at night. You have never really felt alive until you descended one of Seattle's big 10+% downgrades with an old L&M halogen headlight! That will put hair on your chest - but thank god that kind of dimly lit riding is history.

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  45. I know what you mean. When I go over to Ireland to visit my wifes relatives in the country near Kilkenny the night is so different from the suburban night time at my home in the UK. I mean it's so dark over there that I can hardly see my hand in front of my face. Curtains in the house are almost irrelevant! The pitch blackness does bring with it an emotional response. It is almost as if there is a sense of panic or a feeling of feeling somehow being a smaller part of the world - I am more glad than normal to return into a house with people, somehow an Oasis of humanity in the landscape. Rural Ireland has so few people living in it that I anticipate this must add to the sensation when riding in the dark over there. Riding at night in the urban night time at home I have gotten used to a lesser level of darkness. I imagine the world when it is light and think of it as the same place, which comforts me in the darkness. I have come to enjoy the sensation. A 360 lumen LED torch with a handlebar mount is also a great aid!

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  46. In some spots it gets very dark. In some spots, less so.

    I solve my "problems" with it using a brute force approach: http://www.lightandmotion.com/bike/stella500p.html

    I use that light, only the 300 lumens version. It is quite nice. Works well in the city. Effectively illuminates MUPS. Not too shabby for rail trails in the dark (want dark? Forget back roads, grown over rail trails or actual "deep woods" are dark...)

    Should funds ever come my way for more lights, that light goes to the helmet, and this one (or the newer version of it most likely) goes on the bars: http://www.lightandmotion.com/bike/seca2000e.html

    The world in front of you is as dark as you want it to be. Or not...

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  47. My dark is very dark....but i'm thinking you mean what's it like to experience the night.

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  48. I've associated riding in the dark with less traffic for so long that I tend to feel, if anything, safer when it is really, really dark because that means that there is no traffic, and if a car comes, I can see and hear it from a really long way away, and it's driver can see me from farther away and with fewer distractions, too. I find it peaceful and relaxing to be in the middle of nowhere in the dark, although at times it could really stand to be less so, because it is no help when it comes to staying alert, especially after 24 hrs + on the bike. There is definitely an aspect of sensory deprivation to it, when all there is to see is the little pool of light on the road from the headlight. Commuting at rush hour when it's dark AND the weather's bad kinda sucks, but rush hour aside, lots of places that are totally crappy to ride in during the day are perfectly pleasant in the middle of the night when there's no traffic.

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  49. The experience you shared of your brevet reminded me of my first 24 hour mountain bike race, were I tried to save money on lights... I should have splurged. When I tour, I normally camp, but maybe this year I'll ride at night for a new experience...

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  50. Hmm, you get sleepy while pedaling in the dark? That's something I'd never think possible.

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    1. I didn't either, but it is not dissimilar from the way driving at night can make you sleepy.

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    2. You can DEFINITELY get sleepy. It's amazing how much a little light can perk you up, too. I've often found that when I'm riding someplace really dark and getting drowsy, if I go through an area with street lights, or go into a convenience store, I'll perk up and feel less sleepy. And almost as soon as I'm away from the lights I start to get drowsy again.
      A compounding factor is that when you've been on the bike for a long time, lots of other things can manifest as feeling sleepy or make you sleepier, such as needing to eat or drink more or even just being chilly.

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  51. "My dark is very dark..." I love it !
    Riding / commuting Brooklyn to Manhattan does not have these issues (except after superstorms!).

    Riding the Belt Parkway bike path along the water going North is near impossible. Maybe use a cap with small visor to block out the car lights? I'll take the streets at that point. You can't see holes or other people, totally blind without good lights.

    I remmember riding around, now I have to look it up, ... Orange, Milford, Woodmont CT, as I brought my bike along on a trip for work.
    It felt like getting caught in the rain or snow or cold without being prepared. Beautiful night, but my Blackburn Fleas or CatEyes were woefully inadequate. No matter how I pointed them. There were times when the road just disappeared and it felt like I was just flying (roads were smooth) and seeing outlines of trees every now and then.
    If I go into the heart of darkness again, I'll be sufficiently lit up.
    Recently though I have sat it out a couple of times because of the cold. Totally wimping out, because it's like beach weather now compared to what's coming. Maybe tomorrow.

    Great classic post and commenters !!

    Victor K.

    vsk

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  52. I moved from SF Bay Area to the countryside of Oxforshire in June. I ride to work about 15 miles each way on country roads. For me the transisiton to total dark has occurred with the seasons making it easier to adjust. It is hard to appreciate how black , darkness can be until you do move to the country. Riding on a one lane road is a joy. There are moments when I swith the lights off just to see the sky.

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  53. The type of light you use makes a huge difference. The best German generator lights (B&M, Edelux) have a shaped beam that puts more light into the distance to compensate for the fact that the light hits the road at a shallower angle. This gives you more even illumination.

    Lights with a less sophisticated symmetric beam put too much light into the nearfield, so your eyes don't adjust to the darkness. However, further away, there isn't enough light, so everything looks washed out.

    The latest generation of B&M's IQ Cyo Premium and Schmidt Edelux have a much wider and more evenly lit beam that really makes a difference on dark roads.

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  54. I've tried many a time to write comments on many of your posts, but also use my Wordpress ID. It seems to disappear. I've given up. Maybe you'll get this one?
    DummyDiva

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    1. Sorry about that. WordPress comments should work but Blogger has always been mysterious and finicky :(

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  55. "Fear of the dark...I have a constant fear that a pothole is always near" ;)

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