As I roll down the driveway, a calm sets in. The streetlights flicker on and the last glow of the day shines through torn clouds. On both sides of me, golden light flows from living rooms and kitchen windows. Cars lie dormant in driveways, and the streets are empty. As darkness descends, my favourite part of the day begins.
I discovered the joys of night riding during the pandemic, although it didn’t always feel like joy then: more a ragged gasp in the last hour pre-curfew, before sinking back into murky, listless waters for another day. Then, it felt like a necessity. Still does, sometimes, but not as often. I’m riding less but feeling better, most of the time. A little white pill in the morning. A yellow one in the evening. A more even keel in less choppy seas.
Still, there was something about the night ride that stuck with me. Perhaps it was the fact that it felt like my own little secret, shared with nobody, guarded jealously. A ride in cool evening air along familiar routes made mysterious by darkness. On the bike at night, the world shrinks to a bubble of isolation through which I drift, pushing light a little further down the street, one revolution at a time.
Over the years, I’ve honed a rough route that’s a mix of council-designated ‘bike-friendly’ suburban streets, bike paths, gravelly strips of bushland, and brick and cobble laneways between mansions. It’s about 25 km, give or take, with a lot of cornering practice when the council bike arrows suddenly direct you down tiny suburban roads, and even though I’ve ridden it a lot, it feels different most times I ride it.
Sometimes the traffic hums a little louder; sometimes it’s completely silent. Sometimes a new album in my ears makes the mundane profound; sometimes music intersects with the day’s stress, forcing a frayed urgency to my pedalling. I’ve seen tawny frogmouths swoop on prey, watched ringtail possums scurry along powerlines, pursued a fox down an overgrown back-alley.
This ride has always been mine, but last week I decided to share it with a group of bike dads from my daughter’s school. There are four or five of us that are pretty evenly matched on the bike and with a similar ethos to our riding – a bit of exploration, a bit of gravel, a parent’s caution about playing in traffic. It’s maybe not as durable a connection as the long-established old school and uni friends that normally prop up a social circle, but it’s been a welcome surprise in those delicate first years of navigating new social horizons of school drop-offs and pick-ups.
Across our wildly diverse work and family lives, there’s common ground: houses, kids, the eternal battle to balance the scales of self-care and selflessness. I don’t know if they’d articulate it as earnestly, but I think we’re all trying to fend off the declining social connections that seem to befall men, especially, as they age. I’ve felt it myself. Weekly nights out turn to monthly nights out turn to seeing friends once a year. Maybe a night ride would do them good too.
A few WhatsApp messages, and we set off: following the council’s arrows, tracing a meandering path through the suburbs. Hopping curbs, racing each other downhill, pausing to catch breath and reconvene at traffic lights. We rattled up cobbles and down brick, dove down the narrow dirt path next to the trainline, under the bridge. Out of the darkness, into the bright lights of Box Hill. Jumping potholes next to the cemetery; rolling through childhood stomping grounds. Together, in that moment, finding that childhood maybe isn’t as distant as it sometimes feels, because for a moment we were kids on bikes again.
As the sky faded from pink to purple to black, we rode together. Our rolling bubbles of isolation expanded, brightened, and for a while everything felt a little less lonely.
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