Friday Night Ride to the Coast has been spreading the joy of night riding for almost 15 years.
If you missed this year’s Dunwich Dynamo, or feel that it’s a little too big, chaotic or (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, requiring only third party insurance and an annual membership fee of £2.
Friday Night Ride to the Coast – or 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, Whitstable and other destinations with decent transport links. When he retired he entrusted his legacy to a group of seasoned ride leaders who take turns as mother hen.
The distance ranges from 55 to 75 miles, and popular routes can attract more than 100 participants. 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. 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”.
A ride leader gives the opening instructions
It’s all a far cry from the Dynamo-style experience of hoping the blinking lights ahead of you are going the right way. Let’s just say the £2 is good value.
It’s a great social mixer, but 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. 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.”
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 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 we found on a recent ride to Eastbourne.
Fixing a puncture becomes a communal affair
There are bats and badgers and other nocturnal creatures clocking in, which helps rouse you out of any stupor you may have been falling into. Hills become easier. Shrouded in mystery, their summits mere conjecture, they are far less daunting.
But possibly the biggest draw is the intimacy of cycling with people all on the same mission, getting a buzz off 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 1,200km jolly – to: “My friend talked me into it.” There were plenty of dreamy shrugs: “Why not?” In the FNRttC, a small group of people can find a way of bucking the system, or at least their usual circadian rhythms. For some, it’s an answer to a question they may not even have been aware they’d been asking themselves.
• The next scheduled ride is London to Whitstable, on 9 August. Visit the FNRttC website for more information. Sam Walker’s report of the last ride, to Eastbourne, can be found here.
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