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Routes

I prefer roads which are open. While in the day, tree-lined roads offer shelter from the wind, there is seldom more than a gentle breeze on summer nights. The unobstructed view of the sky and moon-bathed countryside makes the ride nice and scenic, especially compared to the dark shadows which shroud the road and roadside when riding near trees, obstructing the moonlight. Of course, when riding in the day, or with a headlight on a moonless night, a tree-lined road becomes as good as any.

Taking a break from writing this article at about 2 am, I rode for over an hour and encountered only a few cars on two major roads. Encountering high-speed traffic on a narrow two-lane road, when you don't know if they can see you to change lanes, is a real pain once you get into the groove of riding alone and undisturbed. Thus, I'd suggest sticking to secondary roads (on which speeds are lower, and people drive in the middle of the road rather than right behind you), which are just as well paved, have better hills, and nice moonlit fields.

Car Headlights

I detach my helmet's visor for riding on roads, because I find it blocks my vision when I tuck my head down to keep out of the wind. However, car headlights are really blinding, especially the redneck jerks in puppy-crushers who use high beams, unless you can block them out -- and your hands just don't cut it for blocking out headlights. The good news is that, if you angle it right, you can block the headlights out with the little lip on the front on the helmet. You may have to adjust the straps, but it should be down covering your forehead to begin with. Simply tilt your head down, while looking up, until the light is slightly out of your field of view.

Early Warning System

The great thing about riding at night is that you never have to worry about whats behind you. Not only because there nearly never is, but rather because you can determine the car's approach rate, distance, and if it's passing with enough room -- all by looking ahead.

The first clue comes from you handlebars. Spots and lines of white light will appear on the tubing, signalling that a car is behind you. Be aware of the position of the Moon, but you'll mostly be looking for lights on your handlebars that are very noticably brighter, even when the car is a hundred meters away.

Watch the road for any tall, moving shadows. On tar macadam roads, there are sometimes darker strips running along the road, especially when there's as seam in the middle of the road, so you'll have to note the location of these, and watch for movement. If you're not sure if the "shadow" is actually a dark strip, try drifting to the left or right and see if the darkness moves.

As the car gets closer, "puddles" of darkness appear in depressions on the road, as do bands running across the road. These dark spots and lines are very subjective to hills, however. Start paying a lot of attention to the movement of your shadow about now, as the car is getting close. After watching a few cars pass, the size and rate that the shadow shortens will tell you precisely where and how fast the car is moving. More importantly, watch the rate that the shadow glides to the right. If the car is getting close, and the shadow is still nearly in front of you, move from the middle to the side of the road, or point at the other lane with your hand.

Illumination

Don't tell anyone, but I don't use a headlight. I like my night vision the way it is, thank you very much, without oncoming headlights or a big bright patch in front of my bike to mess it up. But then, I only ride when there's bright moonlight.

If there isn't good moonlight, you must use a headlight. (If you're wondering if the illumination is good, check out the current Moon phase to the right.) Otherwise, you just cannot see well enough it ride quickly, safely, or comfortably. You'll always be second-guessing the edge of the road, thinking that the road turns when it doesn't and vice versa, and occasionally having to ride without any useful visual stimuli at all, when there are trees on both sides of the road, or when car headlights are in sight. Having moonlight, or in its absence, a headlight of your own, solves these irritations.

Note that Canadian law requires the use of a white headlight and red rear reflector for riding after dusk. But then, it also requires that I have reflective tape of specific dimensions on the fork and chain stays, and a handlebar bell (so I can ring it at any cars trying to run me down, I suppose). You can probably guess if I actually do.

Rear Blinker

Although rear collisions make up less than 5% of all collisions between bikes and motorised vehicles, it doesn't stop you from being paranoid about it when, after half an hour without seeing a car, a transport truck comes barreling up behind your on some two-lane primary road. Since no real rider uses reflectors, I installed instead a rear-facing LED blinker, available for under $15, that mounts on the seat post.

The effect is mostly psychological in two ways. First it puts my mind at ease, which tends to worry about putting my life in the hands of the mouth-breather driving up behind me, despite the fact that rear collisions are really uncommon, much like airline accidents are. The second effect is on the driver of the car behind me. Aside from being less likely to drive through me, cars seem to give me more leeway when passing when I have the blinker on. Go figure.

The final effect, of course, is that it adds back the same weight and air drag that I had eliminated by getting a racing bike without little plastic reflectors everywhere. Oh well.

Terrain

Empty roads offer the substantial freedom of being able to ride on any part of them that you please. Pick the darkest regions that run along a worn-in road, which is typically the result of smoother tarmac or oil, both offering much reduced rolling resistance. On the other hand, avoid dark patches, which are usually potholes, dead animals, and the like.

Also, moonlight, street lamps, and approaching headlights will make some parts of the road shiny. These strips will be the smoothest and have the least resistance.
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