Cycling at any time of the day is wonderful, but in London a serene night ride tops peak-hour pedalling for me.
And as the days are getting shorter and our cycle shorts are getting longer, this seems like a fitting opportunity to write about it.
I travelled from Putney Bridge to Turnpike Lane last week, letting the Thames guide me home.
Here’s why I chose to do the ride at night.
Most of the perks of night cycling stem from the fact that there’s less traffic about – both on the roads and on the pavement.
On top of that, the capital has a completely different vibe at night: it becomes a more relaxed and all-round joyful place. You can feel as it as you pass through boroughs with lively chatter and hearty laughter. I don’t know about you, but it actually makes me feel happier.
I particularly felt it when I was met with a burst of brightness from the Islington Assembly Hall as concert goers went in search of a post-gig bevvy.
Unless there are temporary traffic lights in place, roadworks will pack in after hours, leaving you with a quicker and smoother journey.
London is something of a massive building site so it’s a welcome break when you’re travelling.
That said, the dark won’t save you from those nasty little dents in the road that aren’t quite potholes yet, so beware.
Fewer red lights
Fewer pedestrians means fewer stops at pedestrian crossings.
Knackered cyclists who are pedalling to bed can be assured in the knowledge that their journey will be a touch shorter. Only a couple of minutes, mind you, but it all counts when you’re chasing the zzzzzs.
More places to park
For a variety of reasons, fewer people cycle at night. It could be that they don’t feel safe, they’re having a drink or they just don’t feel like it.
The good news for you is that it frees up more parking spots that are probably closer to your destination.
If you’re shooting the breeze on a Santander Cycle, you’re more likely to pick one up at the first docking station you go to as well.
I was amazed to see whole cycle racks free in central when I made an emergency bonk-stopping dash to Sainsbury’s mid-ride (I hadn’t eaten much that day).
More time to play with
Many London cyclists are commuters and constantly asking themselves: ‘How is that the time?!’
People tend to be less pressed in the evening, giving us cyclists a chance to slow down, take in the atmosphere or even try a new route that we wouldn’t get to explore normally. Very therapeutic indeed.
Far from the ballistic rush of my commute, the back roads between Holborn and Angel were wide open and quiet, though it was fun to pelt my pedals on the hills, something you seldom get to do in London. It also took me quite a bit longer to get home because I kept jumping off my bike to take pictures, mouthing ‘ooo’ as I framed shots in my head.
Looking around, you realise how many photo opportunities are lurking within London. It was calming yet energising – I’m starting to see why so many people rate mindfulness.
Weird stuff happens at night
As some pockets of the city slow down at night, others come to life and show you something that you might not have seen before.
These rollerbladers emerged around the corner on the turning at Embankment Station, tunes blasting. They were owning the road!
Weird stuff happens at other times too, granted, but flashing rollerblades just don’t look the same during the day.
You get to try out some cool lights
We’ve all been travelling through a cycle lane at night when a little green bike-shaped light creeps into view. If you’re in a cluster of cyclists it can make you feel like you’re in a real-life game of Space Invaders.
But it’s not just the Santander Cycles that get to project. Road cyclists can get their hands on their own version as well as quirky gadgets like spoke reflectors that you can customise with your choice of animation.
In this situation it’s no bad thing to be more of a dazzling spectacle than a light show on the Thames waterfront.
Of course, this all comes with a caveat. Night cycling can be risky, especially in areas you you’re not so familiar with.
Just because the city mellows out, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t stay alert and visible.
Make sure you have a light source in case you need to fix a puncture on the side of the road and that you have a back-up plan to get home if there are no trains running and no bike shops open.
It’s even more important to stay out of motorists’ blind spots too as they’re even less likely to see you.
TfL offers supervised night cycling practice on its advanced cycle skills course to give you more confidence when you’re out after dark. Or if you’re really just starting out, there are courses available to get you used to pedalling around the city and coping with the traffic. Find out more at the TfL courses website.
So, are you a night cyclist, a day cyclist, a twilight cyclist or an any-time-of-the-day-or-year cyclist? Let us know in the comments below!
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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.