Monday 13 May 2019

8 Top tips for nocturnal adventures on a Brompton

If you have read my blog post ramblings over the years, you will already know I enjoyed nocturnal adventures on my Brompton and other bicycles. I have written several times that it is quite addictive and nothing has altered my view of this. The vast majority of my night rides have started at midnight and seen me cycling to the coast, arriving there at about 8:00 a.m. having cycled anything from 58 to 70 miles. The great thing about living in London (or starting these rides in London) is that you can do this quite easily and end up at a seaside town the following morning. In fact. you can also do this from almost any location in the UK.

A few readers have asked for some advice about nocturnal adventures from yours truly, so I thought I would put together some tips. I have to say straight away that I am no expert and what follows are merely what has worked for me on dozens of nocturnal adventures of over 50 miles. So, here goes. In no particular order:

#1 Lights

Lights are pretty fundamental for night cycling. You might have commuter front lights that are more for being seen however these will not cut the proverbial mustard as far as nocturnal adventures are concerned. In short, you are going to need a set of lights that are much more substantial.

There are many different types of lights with as many different price tags. If you are cycling at 03:00 in the a.m. on a dark unlit country lane, under a canopy of trees, you are going to need lights that illuminate the road ahead.

The vast majority of lights available today are the USB rechargeable type. These typically will have a number of settings and basically the brighter you have them set the less burn-time they have. I use an 'Exposure Toro Mark 7' which can happily pump out a constant 600-700 lumens for 10 hours. If I need more power - usually reserved for descending hills in darkness - I have the option of increasing the lumen count. It is probably overkill but I like this light a great deal. Its one drawback is that it was quite expensive but I recently bought and reviewed a 'Moon Meteor Storm' front light that was a great deal less and I think its a great light for nocturnal adventures.

For many, dynamo powered lights are the ultimate solution. With them there is no worry about your battery running out of juice. As long as you are peddling you have power. On my Orange Special Edition Brompton I have a SON dynamo powering a SON rear light and an Edulux II front light. I have used just the dynamo powered lights on nocturnal rides to the coast and not felt the need for another light. My new Flame Lacquer Brompton has an SP SV8 dynamo hub powering a Busch and Muller front light and a Spanniga Solo LED rear light and although not having as much power as the Edulux II is still great light.

I would however steer clear of the cheap lights you can get online powered by a battery pack, boasting thousands of lumens power. In my experience they will not last as long and if anything the beam they emit does not make you terribly road friendly to oncoming traffic.

As far as rear lights are concerned you have a little more options as you can normally still buy a descent set of rear lights that a powered by a AA or AAA battery in addition to USB rechargeable. When riding in a group it is advisable to have your rear lights on a non-flash mode and one that will not burn our retinas as it isn't too pleasant for those behind. All it needs is to be able to last the night.

Personally, I cannot stress enough the importance of a good front light, whatever option you decide. On my adventures, good front lights have  helped me see all manner of objects in the road ahead. These have included:

  • Rats
  • Mice
  • Voles
  • Weasels
  • Foxes
  • Deer
  • Badgers
  • Sheep
  • Horses
  • Bats
  • Dogs
  • Cats
  • Fallen branches and trees
  • Potholes
  • Gravel
  • Bollards
  • Abandoned cars
  • Pedestrians
  • A drunk gentleman sleeping in the middle of the road
  • A couple having a heated row, oblivious to oncoming traffic

#2 More the merrier

My nocturnal adventures have involved cycling with lots of other people, typically over 30. I have cycled to Brighton from Hyde Park Corner alone once but I didn't enjoy it a great deal for reasons that will become clear. There is definitely safety in numbers when cycling with others. If something goes wrong - normally a puncture or mechanical - having someone else around makes you feel better.

When I cycled alone to Brighton there was no one else to share the ride with, no one to talk to and generally a feeling of being alone that was very different to when I cycle alone during the day.  Cycling with at least one other person is the way I would go. I have cycled on several night rides last year with my friend Dr John - and plan to do the same later this year. With a good friend the journey shared is just more enjoyable.

#3 The right gear not the wrong weather

I can still remember a ride to Brighton where I met my friend Geoff at Charring Cross. We cycled to the start of the ride at Hyde Park Corner which was just over a mile away and didn't take long to get to. It was raining so heavily by the time I got to Hyde Park Corner I was wet through. My waterproofs were the cheap and cheerful type and not really up to it. Luckily, knowing this I had a spare in the saddle bag and had to resort to using straight away. A lesson learnt. I invested in a jacket that cost a little more but offered more in the way of waterproofing but with that magic ingredient of breathability.

Over the years I have tried waterproof gloves, socks and overshoes but don't bother with such items anymore. The only waterproof items I bring are a jacket and if the weather is predicted to be surly awful, over-trousers.

I find that a good pair of gloves with gel inserts on the palms, neck-buff and a packable gillet are all I need.

#4 Reflective elements

For me at least, I like to wear something that has some reflective qualities. The 'Proviz' range are perfect for this but thinking about what I wear the following items also have some reflective qualities too:

Cycling helmet
SPD shoes
Bib tights
Top - usually stripes or piping that is reflective

I know many cyclists who go on these rides don't care for this at all and wear darker colours. I just prefer something with lots of orange on it some reflective bits on them.

#5 Tooled up!

The vast majority of my night rides have been on one of Myanmar trusty Brompton bicycles. As such I am aware that I need to bring a few Brompton specific items.

For me the Brompton toolkit is just brilliant. Stored in the frame I don't really have to think too much about it but know that I have the spanner needed to take the wheel off if I had a puncture and all the Allen key bits and other spanner bits needed for anything else.

I always carry a spare chain. Yes you ready correctly, a spare chain. It does't really take up a huge amount of space but if you want to find out why, CLICK HERE!

The other items I take:

Pump - it is actually attached to my Brompton so a no brainer
Couple of spare tubes
Spare tyre patches in the Brompton Toolkit
2 x CO2 bottles and inflator valve

#6 Fuel

It is probably important to say that no one  has ever starved to death on a nocturnal ride. I always carry at least one bottle of water (more in the summer months) and a snack to keep me going. If I know that there is nothing open at all, I will take some food with me.

#7 The route

The route is important. With a nocturnal ride that starts at midnight by the time you are an hour or two into the ride traffic is going to be a greta deal lighter than daylight hours and sometimes non-existent. You can - for limited stretches - stray onto busier roads if you have a larger number of riders. When it has just been myself and Dr John I have deliberately chosen routes that are on generally very quiet roads wherever possible. 

For planning the route I use Ride with GPS which creates a route with turn-by-turn directions that I can load onto my Wahoo Bolt. This has worked well. I have been on lots of nocturnal rides and always choose the route I feel better suited to this. 

On rides where there are several riders I out my faith in the ride leaders, knowing that they will have chosen the route very carefully. 

#8 Everything else

On nocturnal rides I always take a phone with me and more times than not I have ensured that it is fully charged before I step foot outside the door. In addition to this I always carry some cash - £20 and a credit card.

There you have it, 8 top tips for nocturnal adventures on a Brompton. Of course much of this applies to those you without a Brompton.  If you go on a nocturnal adventure do drop me a line as I'd love to hear about it. So, what are you waiting for?!

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