Words: Jonathan Wolan. Illustrations: Stephen Haynes
When my buddy, Alex, first conjured up the idea of organizing a night ride during the last full moon of summer, I was a bit skeptical to say the least. Bikes and darkness don’t typically play well together, especially on our narrow New England roads. Road riding during the day can present enough challenges without the added danger of low visibility. So I mulled the idea over for a couple of weeks, but eventually let my sense of adventure get the best of me.
Luckily, Alex’s top priority was safety. To my surprise, he had several different lights for the occasion. When I got to his house at the early hour of 10 p.m., he and Paul were already adjusting their headlamps underneath their helmets. After a few minutes of fine-tuning and, more importantly, getting the smoker fired up for Alex’s famous wings, we rolled out toward the local state forest.
Despite our array of lights, it was the natural moonlight that did most of the heavy lifting. Without a cloud in the sky, the late summer moon provided an astonishing amount of visibility, especially as we moved further away from the glow of the town.
While there are myriad bike-specific headlights on the market, I was surprised at how effective our general purpose headlamps worked. These devices are no different than any headlamp available at Home Depot or Ace Hardware. I’m sure in more technical applications a bike-specific lighting system would be warranted, but our all-purpose utility headlamps did a tremendous job of guiding us safely on our trip.
We also fastened some basic blinkys to our seat posts that boasted a less-than-generic laser guide. The lasers projected a thin red line to the left and right of the bike—effectively creating a mobile bike lane. Several manufacturers have since jumped on this concept, making them widely available. Although we ended up passing only a few cars (at 10 p.m. on a Thursday), I’m certain the blinkys helped tremendously. Just from listening, I could tell that cars were slowing down upon seeing our lights.
Despite our array of lights, it was the natural moonlight that did most of the heavy lifting. Without a cloud in the sky, the late summer moon provided an astonishing amount of visibility, especially as we moved further away from the glow of the town. To see our typical road route illuminated by the moon was incredible. The familiar turned strange as we set out on our journey.
We lit our way down country roads toward Myles Standish State Forest, which is one of the largest conservation areas in Massachusetts. This park features miles of paved roads weaving in and out of cathedral pines, cranberry bogs and kettle ponds. In addition, there are dozens of fire roads and dirt tracks arranged in a grid throughout the forest. The majority of these roads, especially at night, are car free. It was the perfect spot for our nocturnal jaunt. In addition to being quite safe, the scenery was incredible. We climbed and descended through the hills, seemingly boundless in the night air. Silhouettes of pines stood perfectly still in the motionless night air.
From the start, the moonlight seemed to work some sort of magic on our pace. Without a spec of wind, our pedal strokes garnered instant acceleration. We periodically turned our lamps off and relished the absolute darkness while coasting along. As we got further away from town and lights, the views got better and better. Every pond we passed was a shining mirror casting the moon’s light back to the sky. Every tree stood steadfast with not a single branch moving. The whole forest seemed peacefully at rest.
Of course, my camera was useless in trying to capture the incredible scenery. Each click only produced a black square. Even when I tried to capture the bright moon, the results were poor at best. While I wasn’t exactly surprised, I was at first disappointed and then relieved. Was the point of this ride to take pictures? Maybe the real value of night riding is to see things from a different perspective. We had been riding this route all summer, but usually on Sunday mornings. Yet, now, everything looked completely different basking in moonlight.
After riding a few laps around some of the major ponds in the forest, we hungrily headed back toward Alex’s place. We wended past horse farms and barns. Then, at roughly 1a.m., a dense mist descended just above the bogs. I had never experienced anything quite like it before. It was a surreal moment, to say the least. Even now, months later, I can’t seem to justly describe the scene.
At the end of the night as I collected my thoughts, I couldn’t believe I almost passed on the ride. I also realized that preparedness can reduce the risk of any ride, during the night or day. The lights Alex had were perfect and still get used on occasion. Riding at night can be safe if the proper planning and safety precautions are taken, just like any other ride. As cyclists, it’s the new and unfamiliar that keeps us going. In light and darkness, we seek the wonder of the world around us.
Editor’s note: This review originally appeared in Issue #34 of Bicycle Times. To make sure you never miss an issue, order a subscription.