Zwift has a lot to say for the softening of the cyclist. We are all to quick to jump on our turbo trainers in a nice cosy convenient environment and tap out a few virtual reality miles in relative comfort. In fact the very description of the rooms people setup their Zwift in (£500+ smart trainer, warehouse fan, 40″+ tv, apple laptop, sound bar, towel) “the pain cave” couldn’t be further from the truth. Oh your going to your “pain cave” to punish yourself? you mean your specific, temperature controlled, room in your house so you can pretend to train like a pro cyclist for an hour in total comfort. I’m speaking from experience, I had one. Oh and I’m planning to go one step better on my next build. (If thats not a statement of privilege I don’t know what is).
Now to get to where this is coming from I must first quote Pablo Picasso. “Every act of creation is first an act of destruction”. I had a “pain cave” in the form of a conservatory on the back of our house, but apart from being ok to set a turbo up in it was a pretty useless addition to the property. We are replacing it with an extension, open plan kitchen and utility room. Replacements don’t happen over night and we are currently in muddy trench territory….. in fact I’m almost convinced its a set tribute to the film 1917. The conservatory was the only place in the house where I was able to set up my turbo, and thats gone. So what happens if I want to ride in the evening? It’s outside or nothing.
Prep time then, if i’m riding nights outside I can’t go out ad-lib. For winter night rides I’ll need decent clothing, lights, mudgaurds, puncture kit, and phone. Most of these I have as normal kit but clothing and lighting are key here, they both work to solve the need to see and be seen. Clothing needs to have some strong reflective elements to be seen at night, if it’s “hi vis” that can help as well but only in certain light conditions. Straight to the Lusso online store it is then to refresh my kit. Needed new jacket and bibs, perfect for the job were the Aqua Po Extreme jacket and Termico bib longs. Both fitted the visibility and conditions requirements perfectly. Now for lights, and having foreseen the occurrence of outdoor nighttime cycling I took advantage of Aldis cycling special buys and purchased two of their CREE LED light setups. These things are bright and for £15 a shot they are a steal, it shows that no bicycle owner should be without lights. Kit list complete, there were no excuses for staying inside.
This is where the ability to be a big Jessie kicks in. As tough as you think you are ‘going into the red’ or ‘going into a dark place’ on your turbo trainer you are doing it in comfort. No wind, no oppressive sunshine, no harrowing rain, no road surface to track or potholes to avoid, no vibrations, no braking, no traffic, perfect visibility, and no fear of bonking miles from home. Hell, you don’t even have to balance! So tell me how hard you go again indoors? I know I come off the turbo sweaty, but compared to real world possibilities it’s low key.
But I didn’t realise, or should I say remember, how much of a difference real world, winter, evening training sessions were. Whilst I live in a built up area I’m also lucky enough to live a five minute cycle from the New Forest, a great place to ride right in my back yard. Although thats in the daytime, at night its a different animal. Things you don’t even think of in the day suddenly change into a real challenge at night. There are zero street lights, potholes have a lot less warning, road edges are missing, wildlife can suddenly be in the road (ponies/cows!), cattle grids appear at what seem an incredible rate of knots, and cars just don’t know to judge things. Mix in some inclement weather and multiply all of that by ten!
So far I’ve completed two evening rides, and yes they were an eye opener. I haven’t trained outside in these conditions for at least four years. They were, for want of a better description, stressful. Ride one and I’m kitted up and ready to go, lights, clothing, and attitude (much needed to get out of the door in the first place and more than half of the battle). The first five minutes were relatively sedate with the street lighting and 30mph roads, although it had been raining heavily and the spray started to fly. Suddenly I realised that in my keenness to get going I had forgotten my mudguard. Plugged on regardless. The wind was up, around 30 – 40mph, and that would have been enough of a workout on a good day!……onto the 40mph limit country roads and it was a different story. This is where the street lights ended, and seemingly motorists ability to read road signs. I encountered all of the passes. Low speed wide pass matching my pace to the point it felt like the window was about to be rolled down and my directeur sportif would bellow a workout at me, high speed close pass typically by a Range Rover owning wanker trying to eliminate cyclists from the New Forests roads one at a time, low speed close pass sticky bottle come domestique bottle run style, and high speed wide passes by drivers who think they just need to get past you as soon as possible without considering any road conditions that could be coming up.
I started to wonder if this was a good idea or not, partly based on the weather conditions, but then I thought I’m as best prepared as I could be. I reminded myself of those people who commute year round and do this daily for nigh on a third of that. I pressed on, completed my route, and finished with a smile on my face. I had rode my bicycle after all, and in awful conditions…… thats worth hard-man points, and I wasn’t deterred to go out again.
Two days later I rode out again, no rain this time so negated the mudguard, the air was cool and traffic was better behaved. I think this is just a driver thing, as soon as rain comes down some just lose all road sense. Anyway, pressing on into my ride and just before the half way point, just after swerving some cows in the road, both of my headlights on off switches start flashing. Instant panic hit me. HOW LONG HAVE I GOT LEFT???!?!?! I hadn’t read the lights instructions throughly enough to know, I couldn’t remember the run times, and it was dark as fuck without any. I quickly switched one off and turned the other to minimum setting, and started home as quickly as safe. This was difficult, visibility was too bad to carry any pace but my time was fading fast. Or so I thought. I reckon I had twenty minutes to get to streetlights and after ten minutes of struggle the light was still on, I guessed at halfway point I would be safe enough to switch the second back on again. The light was no longer flashing and I could see a lot better. I made it back to the streetlights, panic over.
At this point I thought nothing to lose and turned both lights up to full whack to see if they would run out before I go home. No issues, why the hell did I panic. In the interest of science I left them on and plonked them in the lounge still wound up to the max. 25 minutes passed and they finally went out. Well thats a serves me right for not reading the instructions properly, real man style. Lesson learned, always charge your lights and don’t panic when they are running out. Well at least as long as you are only half hour from home and can run on low visibility!
All in all I could safely say that my night riding awakening had happened. I chucked myself in the deep end, and just about swam! Its definitely harder than riding indoors, more risky, and hones your awareness and bike handling skills. Enjoyed it all! But, and this is quite dependent on where you live in the uk, the huge benefit of the indoor setup is the ability to dial in to workout specifics. You want to train hills, turn up the resistance. You want to do intervals, setup a zwift interval workout,. You want to work sweet spot, just get your head down and pedal for an hour. Its easy, on tap, and fun. Its difficult to have that all in your back yard.
What I have taken from my night rides so far is despite having to constantly have your wits about you, its still fun. And as I have no option I’ll be out doing more! Get off that turbo and get out and ride…… but stay safe!