Headlights are Really Important for Long Rando Rides
Over the weekend I rode a 375-mile randonneur event in New England. I used my Cinelli road bike equipped with inexpensive battery-powered Schwinn brand headlights, one on each fork blade. I’ve used them regularly since riding my bikes in the dark both to and from the train station 5 miles from home. They give out a reasonable amount of light by which to see the road, be seen by others, and they don’t drink the three AAA batteries dry quickly that power them. Basically I’ve been very pleased with them over the years.
So far this year I have used them without complaints on the various rando rides that require me to ride through the dark in the morning or through the night. In February I finished a 200k event through the Pennsylvania Dutch Country in PA using the Schwinn headlights to illuminate the roads for the last 10 miles of the ride. In March I completed a 360k team event where I had to ride through the entire night since it was a 24-hour ride. And in early May I participated in a 400k event in Virginia where the first 2 hours of the ride was in darkness, and from 8 PM to 1 AM I was riding alone in darkness. In all of these rides in darkness the event organizers had taken into consideration the roads that would be traversed in darkness. The roads were very clean and relatively flat. Translated: I wasn’t going very fast on these roads, so I didn’t have to see all that well where I was going.
This ride in New England I just finished had me climbing a huge hill (some might say mountain) just before the sun went down. And then I had to go down the other side of that mountain in darkness. My headlights would have worked fine if I wasn’t going to be speeding down the mountain. But I was tired, and I was aggravated that my usually adequate headlights were forcing me to brake and waste easily accessible speed that I believed I had earned dearly by climbing the mountain in the first place. And when slower riders began passing me going down the hill and leaving me in the dust because they could see where they were going at a high rate of speed and I couldn’t. Bummer!
So my weekend ride has enlightened me that I should not count on ride organizers to cherry pick routes for me since I have merely adequate headlights on my bike. I should always be prepared to tackle any course at any time of day, and not feel like my equipment is letting me down. Headlights are not cheap. And getting a dyno hub (and the rest of a front wheel, too) to go with a good headlight can cost a pretty penny. But you will have lighting to see where you are going at high speeds down a big hill if you do. After seeing those guys go flying by me two nights ago I definitely know this to be true.