Night riding

Posted by SuperClydesdale on October 27, 2010 under Commentary | Be the First to Comment

Normally, I don lights when I am heading out for a ride and suspect that the sun will be setting before I return.

Occasionally, usually when taking part in a charity ride, I head out for a ride very early in the morning, and need lights for the first hour or so of the ride.   Often, I attach only a taillight and  try to poach someone else’s headlight by riding in close enough proximity to get the benefit of their light without having to carry a light and battery around all day.  Hey, as a super Clydesdale, every ounce matters.  At any given time, I’m probably close to the breaking point for some component of my bike.   The light & battery could be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.  Or his bicycle frame.

Last night was different.  Last night I did a night ride – with a 9PM start.   I actually put lights on my bike – headlight and taillight – and headed out.  I did this voluntarily.  Nobody had my wife & children held at gunpoint.   No compromising photos arrived on my doorstep (they come in anonymous e-mails these days).  I just had a momentary soft point in my mental acuity.  I’m better now.

I have a friend named Mark who is a former racer with a large family and who claims that the only time he can ride is pre-crack-of-dawn or at night.   I will never be in such a diminished state that I would show up for a pre-crack ride.  No 4 AM start times in my forecast.  But, a nighttime  ride is doable.

I had been threatening to join Mark on one of these rides, then I happened to run into the guy at lunch and he said, “hey, I’m riding tonight!”   So, I took him up on it.  With winter fast approaching and the sun setting earlier by the day, my riding opportunities are becoming rare.   Indoor trainers are out of the question, so I thought, “what the hell?  I’ll check this out.”

I get to Mark’s house at 9PM, expecting to see other riders because throughout the day, he had been implying that other riders would be participating.   Nobody’s there, so I figure it’s just me and him – nobody else was stupid enough to come along.   I knock on the door, and he answers it in jeans & a T-shirt.    I had to drive 30 minutes to get to his house, and he’s not even close to being ready.  I headed back to the car to get my bike out and finalize my own preparations, and slowly people started showing up.

Eventually, we had a total of nine riders.   Almost everyone had full lights on and was bundled up, because it was already 49 degrees.   I was amazed that there were that many people willingly going out for a ride at 9PM.  It had been a nice day, 70+ degrees, and yet these people waited until it was pitch dark and 48 degrees to go for a ride.  I was wondering if they might be vampires. It was a little disturbing — I may be riding to my doom with a bunch of vampires who use the group ride ruse as a way of luring victims.

Vampires or not, this night bunch was fit.  Really fit.   But then, vampires always have superhuman strength in all of the movies I’ve seen.  It couldn’t just be outright fitness could it?   Is there a whole “other” world of superfit riders that ride at odd hours?  How big is this alternative-lifestyle riding scene?  One of these guys said that he hadn’t ridden in daylight for some time.

Despite my fears of being killed, we headed out a little after 9PM.   It’s a very strange sensation, heading out in a swarm of lights.  It’s very different from the daytime where you have to be especially concerned that drivers can see you.   You have to assume that they do not – that you are invisible.  At night, all lit up, cars can see you for miles and give you plenty of room.   Everyone – but one headlight poacher – had a very bright headlight and a flashing red tail light.  From behind, we must have looked like a huge police action with all of the flashing lights.  Perhaps that’s why drivers stayed away – they thought it was a sobriety checkpoint.

The group moved quickly, and because I didn’t really know where we were going, I was being pretty conservative with my energy.  I didn’t want to come out strong only to be trashed later in the ride.  The pace was pretty fast – and the group stayed  tight.  On major roads, it stretched out into a loose paceline.  With the lights, we must have looked like the fire serpent in the movie The Thirteenth Warrior.

I don’t like riding in pacelines, even in the daytime.  Every time I’ve had a disaster or near disaster, it’s been in a paceline.  Plus, I’d never ridden with any of these people, nor they with me, so I had no comfort level with how they rode or their consistency in identifying hazards.

My concerns were justified – paceline/group communication was not what I am accustomed to, and I hit a couple of potholes.   Hard.   I was impressed that the Spinergy Stealth PBOs really took the blows with no problem.  I’ve had that “BAM!  Sha-sha-sha-sha-sha…..” – that sickening sound — so  many times, I was shocked that I didn’t even pinch flat.  I had put 120 psi in before I left (I normally go with 110), perhaps that kept me whole.

Our mid-point destination was a State park, which was closed.   We had to go over the gates to get through.  I was certain at that point that we were heading to an ambush point.   I pulled up my jersey over my neck.  I knew that my lycra jersey in combination with my Craft vest would help repel any fangs coming my way, so I went on.

The roads in the State park are not ones that you could race through during business hours.  They are narrow, at many times one-lane roads that wind through the various parts of the park.   There are many blind corners, and the road just follows the terrain so there were a lot of little climbs thrown in.

Sacramento had just received record rains a couple of days before, and the road was littered with tree branches, leaves, gravel, and dirt.  Not ideal conditions for blasting through at night, but that’s what we did.    Me and eight guys I had never ridden with before scorching down winding litter-strewn roads in the dark of night.  For the first time, I really got a sense for the true meaning of the term “scorching.”

Scorching:  to ride at high speed in a reckless fashion.  See the Clydesdale Glossary.

On the return trip, we went a different route, one that I’ve ridden many times in the day.  This route brought us back over the newly constructed bridge in front of Folsom Dam – aptly called “Folsom Lake Crossing.”  The road is a ¾-mile long climb of about 6%-7%.  It was here where the competitiveness of this group got the best of one of them.  They began jockeying for pre-sprint position when one of them got their handlebars locked onto another guy’s, and went down into the road.  Luckily, it was on a climb so the speed was relatively low, and no cars were coming.   Apparently, it was not the first time such competitive antics bit someone on the night ride.  Earlier in the year, one of them was sprinting downhill when one of their shoes came un-clipped, and the guy ended up on the ground at 30 miles per hour.  He ruptured his spleen and was out of commission for a while.

But, the night riding experience was… exciting.   These guys sprinted to the top of every hill, then went down the other side with reckless abandon.  I can feel that the same danger-junky gene that is pulling me into mountain biking is also attracted to night riding – at least in the manner that these gentlemen do it.   I don’t know that I am willing to do this as a regular thing, but for an occasional thrill…  I’m in!

Note:   For those of you who read the first version of this post, you may notice that I removed the reference to Joy Behar.    It was a bit over the top, and Joy Behar is just… unbecoming.  I decided to remove the taint.

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