It had been a long time since I'd thrown together a Dark Side Ride, so I bit the bullet, checked the forecast - and smiled - and sent out the emails.
The route, tried and true.
The group, solid.
Noah wrote up a great photo-companion here on his blog. I don't even bother busting out the camera when Noah rides with us - he's got a good eye, and is fast on the draw. Hard to compete when I'm carrying a lowly Palm Centro "camera", especially after dark.
In fact in addition to the photos his write up is stellar, so I'm not going to reinvent the wheel here. Just know this: if you are the least bit interested in what it's like to ride after dark to the tune of 30-to-40 miles at a modest 13.5mph average, scan this page and join the Dark Side Ride's mailing list. All that I ask is that you read and understand the rules... but the best advice I can give: see Noah's blog post again, and check out the photos. You should look like we do. You'll do fine, and we'd love to have you along!
1) The sounds of night are SO different, and I really love them. Assuming you stay away from major roads and traffic dies down like it normally does, the entire area changes. Roads are quiet, as they were Friday night, the frogs sing, the light fades, bugs come out - usually after our lights - and, if you're lucky, a whippoorwill might be calling. Traditionally heralded as the call of bad luck, I suppose it was fitting to hear the call from the side of the road as we climbed a 15-17% grade on the return route. No, not all of the DSR routes are that hilly... just this particular one.
2) In this age of streaming audio, MP3s, SD cards, and multi-functional phones with speakers - well, there is something about the night that begs "techno". Groove, trance, or just a good tempo to keep the legs moving. I've made this a habit in the last 10-15 miles of many a long brevet that ends after dark - especially if I find myself alone. It was just kinda fitting this time out, about 2/3 of the way back to the start line, I busted out the phone and punched up SomaFM's Groove Salad. The other-worldly, tinny, unidirectional taps and samples emanating from my back pocket just seemed to fit the moment. Before long, others joined in as the groups spread out on the road. Pretty flippin cool
3) Something else that other rides don't offer, and I can't take credit for it: radio support. Noah brought along some FRS radios, and the front and back of the group was able to stay in contact. This was especially helpful during the flat we had, and the other mechanical we experienced later on. It kept the group from getting too spread-out, and kept the slowest riders protected and accompanied. A good system.... system.... sysysysstem.... doom doom doom doom doom doom doom doom the system... is down.... the system... is down... DO_DOO-DA DOOO!!!! Yeah, thanks, Noah & DB... that's been in my head for DAYS NOW. LOL!!!!
4) Lights, lights, lights. I love the enabling power of LED lights affixed to bicycles. The shackles of daytime are cast off, and cyclists take off into the night.... growing ever smaller in the distance, finally blinking out as tiny red dots on the horizon. Cool. Headlights have become amazing... from the sheer candlepower bombs of the latest LED helmet lights and other battery-powered wonders, to simple $16 flashlights attached to handlebars with silicon wristbands. EVERY possible combination of ingenuity and technology meet at these rides. There's a LOT of ways to do it. You're probably not wrong, whatever system you run. If you DO happen to be wrong, your ride leaders carry spares.
5) Ever see the moon rise from a bicycle? You're missing out.
6) Descending on a c-store at all hours like a rogue biker gang... except we're dressed like traffic wardens. Sweeet confusion for the locals.
7) Contrast to the revving engines and close-call flybys of daytime riding, the last few DSR rides we might as well have been in France being cheered by the locals. Tongue-in-cheek or not, who cares? There is nothing that lifts the spirits like the cheers of teenage girls in passing cars while you ride your bike. Nothing.
Come join us... the Dark Side has cooler weapons.