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Nocturnal Cycling – Planning Your Route

By Jiri Kaloc

Planning a route is never more important than when you’re heading out in the dark. Everything looks different at night and a peaceful, enjoyable ride can quickly become a frustrating series of stops and starts if you keep losing your way. Here are a few tips to help you plan out your route whether it’s in an urban area or out on trails.

Planning doesn’t have to take all of the adventure out of your nocturnal ride. The main point is to make your ride safe, avoid areas that are closed or restricted at night, and get back home without getting unpleasantly cold and wet. For longer and more relaxed rides, it may be enough to choose a few markers to guide you. Other times you can make full use of GPS and apps to take care of the navigation for you.

Play it safe in urban areas

Cycling at night
Be extra careful in the urban areas. © Jochen Tack / Alamy / Alamy / Profimedia

Cities and villages may seem like the safest for night-time cycling but the opposite may be true as you have to deal with traffic. You definitely want to be well-equipped with lights and reflective elements so that drivers can see you as we discussed in the last part of the series. Also, be extra careful when the sun is low and close to sunset because the glare can easily make you less visible to some drivers.

It’s best to stick to well-lit cycling paths or low-traffic roads for your night cycling in a city and avoid isolated areas. When planning, check whether some paths or parks are closed off at certain hours of the night.

Avoid unwanted surprises on trails

A well-planned route enhances the joy of cycling under the serene, starlit sky. It allows you to explore the quiet beauty of the night-time landscape without constantly navigating unexpected obstacles or challenges. When planning at home, you can check whether there are construction zones or other roadblocks in the area ahead of time to avoid an unwanted surprise.

Choose moderate terrain, especially when you’re starting out with night rides. Even your local trails that you’ve ridden before will look very different at night, with shadows and blind spots and rocks you never noticed before. You can up the difficulty as you gain more experience and comfort riding with just your front light for illumination.

Use navigation and technology to your advantage

Having a phone in your jersey can usually bail you out of trouble if you get lost at night. But remember, phones can run out of battery and they don’t always have reception. You can improve your chances by downloading a map of the area ahead of time and if you’re going on a longer adventure, consider taking a good old-fashioned paper map as well.

Use an alert system on your smart device. Your Garmin device as well as your phone have the option to send out a signal to the emergency services or your family in case you get in trouble. This could be a literal lifesaver under certain circumstances.

Check the weather

The weather can change dramatically after dark. If you don’t have experience with night riding, definitely check the forecast when planning your route. Nocturnal rides can feel like riding in winter, even if it’s still warm during the day. Also, you don’t want to get caught in heavy rain unprepared in the middle of the night. If the temperatures at night are getting close to freezing, be extra careful when planning routes close to rivers as they turn very slippery very quickly.

Ride with a friend

Night riding is a fantastic group activity, sharing the adventure always creates lasting memories. It also increases safety by having more lights on the road and more friends to help in case of a mechanical issue or a fall. And you get more phones with more battery time when you need the GPS.

With your equipment ready and route planned, you can safely head out for your first nocturnal ride. If you catch the night riding bug, check back for the next article on advanced tips to master the dark.

Next up in Nocturnal Cycling series