One thing I’ve always loved about mountain biking is getting out on an evening ride after a long day at work. However, come autumn when the nights draw in, evening rides always become an elusive beast and I wait with baited breath for mid-late March when, once more, the nights are light enough to squeeze in a short ride after work.
In recent years, I’ve increasingly seen pictures and posts on social media from people donning a set of bright lights on their bike and heading out into the dark. My husband goes night riding with a group of guys every week (although I reckon the pub afterwards plays a big part in that evening) and from the stories and pictures, it’s always looked like fun…scary but fun.
Hopetech Women launched regular women’s mountain bike rides at places like Gisburn trail centre earlier this year – and when the nights drew in they announced that lights could be booked out so that the rides could continue. I was tempted to go along, but if I’m honest, Gisburn is a long drive for me and not my favourite place to ride (sorry Gisburn, but I do still love your cafe), so there were enough minus points for me to procrastinate.
However, when Rachel from Cafe Adventure in Hope (Peak District) announced that from the end of November there would be a women’s night ride from the cafe, it seemed kind of crazy not to take the opportunity to try out riding in the dark. The area is packed full of natural trails (from easy going to super gnarly) and I regularly mountain bike there, I love the cafe, and well, she offered a free cup of tea!
So I nicked my husband’s Hope lights and hotfooted it into the Peak District. Actually, he donated them (good guy that he is), threw his bike in the van alongside mine, borrowed another set of lights from Cafe Adventure and set out on an abandoned boys ride.
There were 8 women on the the inaugural night ride, all with a range of experience/ability. It was a great group, social and very supportive when it came to mechanicals or falls (thanks to Laura for pulling me out of the ditch when my front wheel slid, my foot stuck in the mud and I toppled sideways underneath my bike).
I found riding at night a different experience, but one which I’ll definitely do again. It helps to angle your lights correctly – once I got my head torch pointing further forward, more of the trail came into view. However, I did find that I had to stick to the line taken rather than go with my usual riding style of looking ahead to pick a preferred line.
That’s both good and bad. Good because it will make me realise just what I can ride. Bad because I’m still much more cautious after taking that bad tumble over the bars this summer. I also ride a hardtail bike so without rear suspension to smooth out the ride, taking a direct line is not always so easy.
The other new experience for me was riding in a group of women. Although I’ve ridden mountain bikes for years, it’s rarely been in a group and less so in a female only group – not for any specific reason, it just hasn’t happened. So it was nice to join a group of like-minded women and despite being at the back for much of the ride (sometimes due to fitness, sometimes through choice), I enjoyed the different dynamics.
If you’re in easy reach of Cafe Adventure, take a look at their evening rides. They hold a cafe ride every Wednesday – women only one week and mixed the following week, so you get twice the choice if you’re female (sorry guys). Check their Facebook page for more information.
All you need is your bike, a set of bright lights (one for your bike and one for your helmet) and a sense of adventure to go along with it. Whilst the trails in the Peak District can be technical at times (that’s the fun part after all), the route we rode was chosen to avoid anything really gnarly.
Getting out on my first night ride has suddenly opened up a whole new side of mountain biking. It’s a different way to ride my bike and, even better, it means I can get out more often throughout the winter months.
Research for a set of lights has begun…..