By Eric Vohr
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, May 4, 2007
If you happen to be on a country road in Ellicott City in the wee hours of the morning and see a cluster of ultra-bright lights bearing down on you, it's not a UFO, it's just David Tambeaux and friends out for a bike ride.
Tambeaux is one of a large number of cyclists in the Washington area who -- with the help of high-tech headlights -- ride in the early morning and evening hours when roads and personal schedules are clear.
"The main purpose is to get some riding in, otherwise you just can't be consistent with your exercise," Tambeaux says. "For me, it's easier in the morning because the kids are asleep."
Tambeaux's group of about seven to 10 riders gathers Tuesdays and Thursdays, riding about 25 miles in about 1 1/2 hours on mostly country roads. As long as they finish by 7 a.m., he says, they generally avoid heavy traffic.
Groups that ride closer to the District, however, have to get up even earlier if they want to beat traffic, says Donald Rucker, co-owner of Germantown Cycles.
"I've heard of people who ride as early as 5 a.m.," Rucker says.
Riding at night is not a new phenomenon; Rucker says he has been selling lights for night riding for 17 years. But the technology is always improving; lights are becoming lighter, more efficient and more powerful. Of course, not all lights are equal. Cyclists can spend $100 to $450, depending on quality.
Quality is judged by brightness, energy consumption and weight. On one end of the spectrum are relatively inefficient, light-emitting diode (LED) lights paired with heavy, lead-acid batteries. On the top end are super-bright and efficient high-intensity discharge (HID) lights and nickel metal hydride batteries that weigh about half as much as the less expensive ones.
Some riders mount the high-powered lights on their helmets, while others mount them on the front handlebars; some do both.
Rucker says some bicyclists prefer riding when it's dark. Aside from the traffic advantages, temperatures are much lower and air quality is better.
Tambeaux's group is planning a 100-mile night ride the weekend after the summer solstice (June 21). The ride will start June 22 at midnight and end about 6 a.m. June 23. The cyclists aim to ride the regular morning route in Ellicott City four times.
Tambeaux says he loves night riding because it makes a rider hyper-aware of his or her senses.
"It's so quiet you can hear the other riders breathing. It's a semi-altered sense of consciousness; you have to trust your instincts," he says.
For safety while night riding, cyclists should have a flashing red light on the back of the bike and lights on the front, says Tambeaux, who also recommends riding with a partner.
"There's safety in numbers," he says.
Ideally, however, Tambeaux suggests finding people who already ride, and he says anyone is welcome to join his group by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
NIGHT BIKE RIDING To find a group in your area, call your local bike shop or contact Potomac Pedalers Touring Club. 202-363-8687.http://www.bikepptc.org.