The night may be dark and full of terrors, but strap a set of lights to your bike and the trails are transformed, offering a brand new experience. Jasper Da Seymour takes his camera into the night and explores this world through some truly amazing photography.
As humans, we generally rely on our sense of sight more heavily than any other sense. We are extremely visual creatures that function predominately during the day then shut off as the light begins to diminish into the night. This presents the perfect opportunity to snap out of this pattern that has been imposed upon us and grab our bikes a torch and our other neglected senses and hit the trails!
As daylight starts to dwindle across Van Dieman’s Land and the looming darkness draws closer. The trails begin to reset and gift us with a unique chance to push and challenge our perception, awareness, reaction time, skill set and fun factor to new heights.
Personally, I have only been on a handful of night rides; each one presented itself with new ways to approach familiar trails with fresh eyes. The first one got me hooked, so it’s as good a place as any to start this story. I struggle to stay on the bike during full light let alone with limited light sources to guide me down the trail, so the lack of light coupled with that of the unknown with my poor eyesight at dusk, I was a little apprehensive at the prospect of even attempting a ride like this. A bar mounted light, one on the helmet and all of a sudden the ground and my peripheral surrounds mutated as I blew up the trail with my 6000+ lumens.
Within seconds of dropping into one of my favourite trails it was as if the trail took on a completely new vibe and before I could process my subconscious and cautious thoughts I began sinking into corners. I was being consumed by this addictive and exhilarating adrenalin shot that proceeded to rush through my body right into my comfort braking fingertips.
The trail began to transform meter by meter continually building the anticipation of what was waiting for me around the next corner or what was sitting at the bottom of the next sparsely lit drop, a wallaby? Perhaps a wombat or a tiger snake just waiting to say g’day. This anticipation was what kept me not only guessing for the conditions ahead, but it began to push my senses to work overtime and kept me firmly cemented to the bike.
We are spoilt with the information our eyes are given, especially in the daytime. It is so easy to take for granted something as simple as light, but without which we wouldn’t even exist, so it’s nice sometimes to just sit back and realise just how good we have it.
Night riding and photography go hand in hand to blur the lines of light frozen in time, deconstructing motion and enabling us to see just a tiny glimpse of what can be found in those milliseconds, seconds or even minutes that are generally gone and forgotten without a trace or record.
We are not known to be nocturnal, but our eyes can adjust to see better in the dark. It can take around 20 minutes for our eyes to transform to be low light ready. Restricting the amount of light or colour of the lights used can aid in our eyes adjusting efficiently to the darkness. Red lights are perfect for dealing with darkness and keeping those eyes fine-tuned and adjusted to movement in the dark although can make things difficult to decipher if you're hauling down a trail at full pace.
As the ride progressed, all of my senses began to heighten as I continued to become more comfortable with my surroundings. I settled into a type of flow state within the darkness, which felt quite foreign given the lack of information that was available to my eyeballs, but then I think that in itself was the key. The small tunnel of light that sat in front of my eyes, I found my vision being uncluttered or even filtered, from the overloaded sensory wash that presents itself in standard daylight conditions.
The human brain absorbs 11 million bits of information every second, by restricting and limiting how much information is visible to absorb we are able to process and respond more efficiently and effectively, thus getting more bang for your buck from the information that is available as you continue to descend further into the darkness. It was as though I only had to deal with 3 million bits of information every second, which made navigating the trail a truly unexpected enlightening experience and pleasure to ride.
This particular trail I have ridden over 20 times before which I would say is a trail you know fairly well. It's incredible just how much the trails transition without the added effect of daylight. It's like you're riding a brand new trail, it’s that addictive buzz that keeps us riding our bikes and hunting more pockets of adrenalin. I never expected to get so much from a trail I had already ridden so heavily and found myself pushing my riding abilities harder as the night progressed.
All of a sudden one of our light setups lost all power; we were forced to divide up our remaining light sources, dodging wallabies and pademelons darting through clouds of roost left behind from my mate in front of me. We managed to miraculously not hit one of them, that in itself was an achievement as I don’t know how well a possum in the spokes would have gone down.
As I approached what I thought was the final straight of this trail I am very familiar with I knew there was a small lip about 80 meters down on the left-hand side. Sporting a single bar mounted light I decided it was time I put some trust in my now extremely heightened senses and my trail memory and do something that scares me.
I started to sprint and saw that my mate in front of me had kindly lit up enough of the trail for me to see the launch point, so I gave it one last solid crank and hit the lip. I have never felt my heart beat faster, or my gut drop quicker as I left that lip which ended up being three times the size ( at least to my night perception ) as I remembered it.
With the now single light source which seemed to become looser upon landing, I landed with a death grip on my rear brake and a mouthful of exhilaration. This ride had far surpassed my expectations of not only the sheer flat-out fun factor but how It enabled me to push my abilities and sync with the flow state that I was somehow able to find at points in the trail; it was those moments, it was those 1% moments that got me hooked.
Darkness enables us to transcend ourselves and the limits we set upon our own abilities and ourselves in the normality of daylight, it brings about a meditative state further enabling us to connect with our surroundings on a conscious and subconscious level. This could lead to new neurological pathways in the brain that you potentially may never use, activating and strengthening those pathways will make you’re a more competent and confident rider and heighten your senses and abilities. All you have to do is grab some lights and get on your bike and watch your perspective change right before your eyes. The darkness challenged me in ways I didn’t foresee, and because of it, I will always go back for more!
Top tips for night riding
1. Get a proper set of bike lights (helmet mount and bar mount), no knock offs! When you get stuck in total darkness because you wouldn’t pay over $100 for lights it's not a fun place to be, don’t skimp when it comes to lights just like you would skimp on any other bike related accessories! If you can only afford one that’s fine as long as you can rely on it in a pinch.
2. Charge your gear! I know it sounds simple but its super easy to leave it until last minute and it doesn’t get a full charge, The last thing you need is dwindling light at the furthest point on your ride. So just make sure you plan ahead and that you're charged and tested at least the day before!
3. Know the trail! I wouldn’t recommend doing a night ride on a trail you haven’t ridden before, so try your first night ride on a trail your really familiar with, as it was I knew that trail like the back of my hand, but when the lights were out, it felt like a completely different trail. So knowledge of the trail definitely helps!
By Jasper da Seymour