Author Topic: Carpe noctem


Carpe noctem
« on: July 28, 2019 »
If you missed this year’s Dunwich Dynamo, or feel that it’s a little too big and chaotic and (whisper it) competitive, you might trying catching the next Friday Night Ride to the Coast.

This is a carefully organised event run by ‘The Fridays’, a club devoted to the singular cause of safely delivering you at a conversational pace from the Smoke to the sea. They do this every month from spring through autumn (with a few off topic rides thrown in), requiring only third party insurance, and an annual membership fee of £2.

The FNRttC, as it’s known to veterans, has been spreading the joy of night riding for almost 15 years, flying quietly under the radar of most cyclists dazzled by mass congregations such as the Dynamo and the Exmouth Exodus.

It was started by Simon Legg, who spent a decade escorting thousands to Brighton and Whitstable and other destinations with decent transport links. When he retired he entrusted what I’m going to hope the subeditor lets me call his leggacy to a group of seasoned ride leaders who take turns as mother hen.

The distance ranges from 55-75 miles. Popular routes can attract over a hundred participants, all of whom weigh the leader down with responsibility. There are Tail End Charlies and human waymarkers, sometimes recruited on the spot, to ensure nobody is lost or left behind.

Rides begin at midnight, with a chat about safety and etiquette; jokes optional.

"Deserters will be shot at dawn."

Mechanical problems along the way are met with expert assistance, though you’re advised to give your bike a thorough checkup beforehand, and particularly implored to “Lose everything that you don’t really, really need.”

It’s all a far cry from the not untypical Dunrunesque experience of hoping the blinking lights ahead of you are going the right way, which I guess outs me as someone who doesn’t use GPS. Let’s just say the £2 is good value.

It’s a great social mixer, cyclists seldom being at a loss for words, often with exclamation points attached when observing particularly fanciful interpretations of The Highway Code. Fortunately there are also opportunities for solitude as you pull each other along on an invisible stretchy rope. Punctures are a communal affair. “Houston, we have a problem,” one of the minders will more or less transmit to the front, and so all will wait, grateful it wasn’t them. This time.

“Why ride at night?” you may be asking, if the idea is now leaving its first impact crater on your brain. It can seem daunting, particularly after a work day, and anyway, what is there to see? I almost imagine Fitzgerald discussing it with Hemingway: “The night is different to the day.” “Yes, it’s darker.”

"I bet I can write standing on my head longer than you can."

We ride at night because it’s there, conveniently out of the way of the usual routine. Less traffic is a bonus, but magic moments are made of more than this.

There’s the moon, for a start: those times when it paints the road silver and the mist, well, mysterious, inviting you to dabble in poetry. When not moonstruck, the darkness itself is the draw, a coverlet silencing the day’s concerns, yet granting permission for thoughts to drift forever out into space – while remembering to yell “Car up!”, the traditional cyclist’s warning of traffic on the lanes. Or “Cow up!”, as the case may be; on a recent ride to Eastbourne, we passed an escapee, unperturbed by our caravan.

There are bats and badgers and other more traditional nocturnal creatures clocking in, which has the benefit of rousing you out of any stupor you may have been considering in the wee small hours.

Hills become easier. Shrouded in mystery, their summits mere conjecture, they lose at least a chevron, in my estimation.

Possibly the biggest draw is the intimacy of cycling with people all on the same mission, getting a buzz off of their energy, their tired happy faces in the morning’s light a mirror of your own. “Why are you doing this?” I’ve asked fellow riders, particularly when the weather gods haven’t been kind and perspiration is more than matched by precipitation.

Answers ranged from “I’m getting miles in to help with Paris-Brest-Paris” (a 1200km jolly), to “my friend talked me into it,” to a chance for a pedal-powered sunrise. There were plenty of dreamy shrugs simply indicating “Why not?” A self-selecting group to be sure, but most don’t see it as an odd way to spend an evening, and seem glad to have found, in the FNRttC, a ready-made answer to a question they may not have even been aware they’d been asking themselves until now.

Ultimately these rides are a way of bucking the system, or at least the usual circadian rhythms: one small step for a freewheeling cog in the machine.

(actually started as this)

Vox populi

A Concerned Reader
Madness! They shall perish from this earth! Darwin!!

Hemingway was right – it’s simply too dark. Man was not meant to go out after the sun went down.

The writer makes the common mistake that we actually landed on the moon. Look at the shadows, you’ll see the truth.

NACF pick
I fell into a pothole about 5 years ago, and still have not made it out. Fortunately there’s wifi. But that’s not why I’m writing.

Night rides are a beautiful idea, provided you are prepared for the worst. Crampons, at the very least, and provisions to last. Also, drink before you’re thirsty. I wish I’d remembered to do that all those years ago; I am forced to survive on rainwater captured in my musette (my bidon fell into a different pothole), utilising my casquette for functions I'd rather not mention.

Don’t cry for me, I have made a life.

What is it with The Guardian and Latin? Elitist scum!
This comment somehow escaped moderation. The Guardian apologises unreservedly.

A.A. Milne
Always wear a helmet, even if your head is shaped peculiarly, as is mine. It’s more common than you think.

Having grown up in NL where a bicycle is a bicycle and a man is a man until he’s a woman, which is wonderful don’t get me wrong, I can say this: people are different creatures than I am.

Won’t somebody think of the cow? Imagine it minding its own business, to then be confronted with lycra-clad humans, who can be frightening at the best of times.

Disagree about the hills. In the dark they loom as high as Everest. You simply don’t know where they’ll end. It is not for the faint-hearted. In fact I’m surprised the entire enterprise has passed health & safety protocols. Cyclists belong in cycle lanes, during normal hours, and should be carefully monitored and inspected at regular intervals.

Diamond Geezer
This comment was too brilliant for words.

Legs & Co.
I’m surprised nobody has followed up on the badger menace. According to Wikipedia, “They are not a natural taxonomic grouping, but are united by possession of a squat body adapted for fossorial activity.” But that’s not important. What is, is that they are omnivores. Do you understand what I’m getting at? It means they eat meat, too. Just be careful out there.

Cyclists have been put here to sorely vex the rest of us. I'd like to know what they think they're playing at. Nobody sensible rides a bike. I did when I was a child, of course, but then I grew up and discovered responsibility, and insurance, and other adult themes. Speaking of which, who will pay when something goes wrong? Not I!

Alain de Botton
I think it was Hypocampus who said, an epicurean will always be misunderstood until he is eaten.

I am an organ harvester, with much empathy for widows and children of victims of road accidents. However I am also a cyclist, so may surprise you all. What I have to say is this: do not listen to the naysayers saying nay, listen to your heart, while it is still yours. Ride at night! Joie de vivre! But be polite and sign your donor card, as I have done for my successor.

NACF pick
I wore a cycle helmet once, back in 1945 before they were invented, but I’d made my own because I realised even then that the head is important.

One day when I was out delivering the post on my bike, Jerry dropped a propaganda bomb on me – talk about precision bombing! Thanks to my helmet I survived. The leaflet contained instructions on how to surrender, with a recipe for a delicious strudel on the back. I had my wife make it for me when I got home, to celebrate.

Since there were shortages, she had to compromise on ingredients. It turns out she used rat poison instead of sugar, since we had plenty of that and it was reasonably sweet, but it made me awful sick and I ended up in hospital anyway.

To cut a long story short, while I was in recovery ward I was laid up next to Alec Guinness, still delirous after a laughing gas attack by a nurse who was actually a German spy. At one point he told her “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine,” which I scribbled on a bandage and saved for posterity, selling it on eBay after Star Wars.

I used the proceeds from that sale to buy a Premium Bond, which hit the jackpot, allowing me to retire happily ever after. All thanks to that helmet.

This comment didn't abide by our community standards

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This comment was not for the faint-hearted

This comment will be sealed for 20 years

That was me. I forgot to moderate myself.

Kind of a shame; I was hoping for lots of nice stories. But it's always silly season in the comments section of anything to do with cycling.

Ah, thanks. And this too. Fingers crossed for more of same.

. . .

media studies


« Reply #1 on: August 07, 2019 »
The back of a Tail End Charlie's jersey:

If you see this, they have failed and are expected to commit harakiri at the end of the ride.

Clava Scriba

  • .
  • Club Secretary
Carpe picturae
« Reply #2 on: December 04, 2019 »
The Steering Committee caught in the act of "Planning next year's adventures..."

Here's one from way back.