This is a lightly-edited version of an email Paul wrote for us before the first Fleche – hence the occasional references to it being a team event, Easter etc.
1. The difference between riding through the night and riding home from work in town is: the lights aren’t so that cars can’t see you, but so you can see the road. It is vitally important to have a decent pair of front lights that you have used before. Don’t try to put them on for the first time on the night of the event as they invariably won’t fit oversize bars, will obscure the computer, GPS etc. If you are using battery lights see if you know anyone with the same system and borrow their brackets in case of a breakage. Always make sure that you are able to adjust the light after you start to need it so that the beam is where you want it, if you need a special tool for this make sure it is at hand.
2. Modern LED rear lighting is great but if you fit new batteries after a while the rider behind will be blinded/mesmerized by your light so this may be the one time you don’t want the maximum in terms of rear lighting. Never use you rear light on flashing mode as it will be very harsh on the rider behind.
3. In terms of spare lighting make sure that your spare front light is of a sufficient standard that it will be as good as or not far off what your primary light is. You should also consider spare rear lights, batteries and brackets. Speaking of spares as this is a team event you should be able to divide up the spares between yourselves to save space and weight. Best you make a list and gather the bits and pieces yourselves but don’t forget a tyre. Also make sure that you have at least one headtorch between you – they’re invaluable for reading the routesheet, checking your computer/GPS, and reading roadsigns.
4. Everyone should be wearing some form of reflective jacket. Vest and ankle bands are always good as they are moving so highly visible for their size.
5. In 20 years of cycling at night I have only not used leg warmers twice and on both occasions it was summer and definitely wasn’t in Ireland. Never underestimate how cold the night can be and prepare accordingly, plenty of layers on top, fleeced leg warmers, good socks, overshoes, winter gloves and hat. Take as many spare clothes in your panniers/saddle bag and keep these in zip lock bags as they will be invaluable against the cold and wet. Make sure food, tools and anything in your bag is divided into plastic bags so you don’t have to empty out everything when you are looking for something, particularly when it is wet. Doesn’t sound like much but after the tenth time the novelty will be fairly wearing off.
6. Pity it is Easter and so early but the fact that it is one of the two days of the year when pubs are closed should be an advantage. Having said this you can never be too sure so the last rider on the road should keep a constant lookout behind for any car coming, if the car is driving erratically or too slow/too fast always expect a drunk and be prepared get out of the way (after warning your colleagues) . There aren’t as many drunks on the road as before but either way you don’t want to meet any. Same goes for discos, kebab shops and chucking out time in Dundalk – you don’t want to encounter a load of drunks when you’re the one in lycra and reflective jacket.
7. The Noddies – what can I say, everyone gets them at some point and it’s the worst sensation that you’ll ever experience on two wheels. Best way to avoid falling asleep is to keep the conversation going, stand out of the saddle every now and again whether you need to or not, lay off the caffeine for the next few days and try some pro plus or those chocolate coffee beans when desperate. If someone is feeling woozy, stop if you can find somewhere suitable for a few minutes for a doze. If it hits you really bad and you can’t stay awake it’s time to take a break.
8. The witching hour is different for everyone but most shift workers agree that it’s not during the night but actually at daybreak when you feel lowest. At this point tell yourself that you will be stopping for breakfast soon and in my experience the best place to stop is a hotel: decent breakfast, good place to wash up, change clothes etc.
9. If it is warm during the afternoon and you are sweating make sure that you clean your brow as any salt getting into your eyes can have the effect of making your eyes want to close. At every opportunity use your finger (a clean one) to take the pus out of the corner of your eye as this has the same effect. Needless to say Wet Ones are an audaxer’s best friend.
10. If it rains during the night the road will be very dark and harder to navigate so extra care may be needed.
11. As there will be little to no traffic (hopefully) always ride in the middle of the road as the surface is better. Be careful obviously but the best formation if space allows would 2/3 at front and rider between others as this will give best spread of light. If descending focus light on white line and follow same. I don’t usually wear glasses at night as they can be quite glary and sometimes the wind can have the effect of actually keeping you awake.