The clocks have rolled back now and it's dark by 4pm. All of a sudden the number of riders on the road, commuting or otherwise, have dwindled and those that are riding start to take the more direct route to avoid the darkness and the cold. I, on the other hand, am one of those minority riders that loves riding in the dark. There is something quite nice about riding out of the city and into the never ending darkness of the countryside. Obviously I have the lights I need to find my way around the twisting country lanes but you can never quite see much more than 50 metres ahead if you stick the light on full power. It's this lack of knowing whats ahead that makes the riding good fun.
When you ride during the day you can see the upcoming climb and begin to panic about whether or not you'll make it to the top in one piece. Whereas in the dark you know there might be a climb coming but you probably aren't quite as such where it starts and given the limited light you can't see the gradient either. I tend to find this means I keep a more consistent pace and actually climb a little bit quicker because I'm mentally blind to whats ahead of me on the road.
At the same time the darkness gives you a refreshing sense of peace and quiet. You're surrounded by darkness intersected by the occasional car or bike light that flashes past and disappears. Pick the right road and you might ride in blissful silence, cutting through the darkness with your solitary line of light.
If you're lucky with the weather and everything is timed right then moonlit rides can be awesome. The light distorts the different objects around you and lights a faint silvery trail ahead that you can follow before stopping to try and catch a glimpse of the Milky Way. I admit, you might struggle to do that in London but up here in the cold, dark north it's more than possible just 10 miles out of Leeds.
Riding in the dark is quite fun but I admit not without its inherent dangers. It's all too easy to get caught out when your bike light dies in the middle of nowhere and you feel like the monsters are coming to get you (and they probably are...). Equally, it gets a bit colder on an evening so forgetting a jacket means you end up freezing in a lay-by calling your dearest other half to rescue you. It's always better to play it cautious in the dark and pack that extra layer or light.
The other thing people forget is that once the lights go out, and with it the heating, the minor roads can quickly become icy and the stretch of road from just ten minutes before is like an ice rink. I once rode down a stretch of road twice in ten minutes on a moonlit evening. The first time went fine but the second time I decked it on a corner and before I could save myself I was on the floor. That resulted in a trip to A&E strapped to a spinal board with a reasonable amount of memory loss and concussion.
So all things considered I find riding in the darkness of winter a wonderful experience but with a little more required caution. Taking everything a mile an hour slower, braking for corners earlier and not leaning in quite so much to a corner you can't see all make things just that little bit safer and even give you some time to spot the shadows in the darkness.