Hate to say it but we had diabolical weather for a week or so before the night ride, and My Pilot had enough sense to realise that it was lunacy to do it on the Tandem. The South downs way is on chalk, and wet chalk is prone to being like Ice. On top of that, the chalk has been washed away on some of the hills, leaving ruts in the trail, the loose debris from the ruts was a mixture of clay, flints and chalk and was very dodgy to get grip on, and then in places the chalk was covered in a thin film of clay washed down from the banks. It was very awkward to keep upright, so it was decided the Tandem was not going to do it.
I did however do the shorter ride on my solo, and Found it not easy. Tyre selection was probably my downfall for the first part of the ride as I had Full Mud Tyres on. 1.8's with widely spaced spikes of rubber. On the Chalk I had problems getting grip, and that was uphill and downhill, so the big advantage we have on the Tandem of downhill speed could not have been used. It was a peculiar sort of aspect of riding, and if you lost grip uphill, you were walking. One point I found was that In the lights- If the chalk was White- I could get grip, but when the chalk turned Grey- It was impossible to get grip, and I was Off. Luckily with no damage from the fall. The grey was in fact Moss growing on the Chalk, what we call Green Chalk over here. The second half of the ride, the tyres worked on the loose scree and lots of mud, but there was a lot of water in the hollows- even though the Downs are about 200 metres up from the numerous valleys that you have to descend and climb from. So much water that the front mech was under water on many occasions, and I was lucky in that I did not find any Holes or Obstructions in the deep water. Others on the ride were not so lucky. The Downhills were still dangerous though but the worst bit was on the flat. Tyre ruts from tractors were deeper than I thought and I had several offs at 15-20mph where The pedals hit the sides of the ruts. No chance of riding between the ruts as any camber on the chalk and you lost the front wheel as it followed the camber into the ruts.
On the lights front-- 2 powerful LED,s Cateye EL300 and EL500, and these were used as riding lights. Then I had a 10watt spot lamp, that unfortunately did not have enough battery life for the whole ride, so was used on the technical parts, and the Godsend, A helmet light. A 1 watt spot light. This is marvellous, and was as good as the 10 watt spot, even though it did not have the distance, but at the slow speed was ideal. To any one contemplating the LEDs for off road- Dont bother- just get a powerful Helmet lamp and a good supply of batteries.
Couple of encounters with Wildlife on the ride- there were plenty of foxes- not too many rabbits, quite a few owls and a few Stoats. The two Bad encounters were a Pheasant that flew up from under my front wheel on one of the few fast downhills. This was accompanied by a flurry of Feathers so it did scare the S%"t out of me , and the other was on a section of track and was probably the only section of track that was fenced by a 3 ft tall wire fence on either side giving the trail about 20ft width. In the headlight I caught sight of a couple of fluorescant stripes. Seemed wierd that someone in a jacket was walking the trail at this time of night, but then it turned and was a deer stag, with Antlers that made it look enormous. The Stag then turned towards me and charged from about 100 yards away. When it was 50 yards away, I got off the bike and got ready to decide where to go. At 30yards I got the bike ready to throw at it before I jumped the fence, and the stag turned left and jumped the fence. From then On I carries a good sized pebble in my pocket, but no more encounters except for a few Fallow deer that got out of my way very quickly. The stripes by the way are apparantly painted on the deer so that they can be seen on the roads.
It was a wise decision not to ride that Tandem on this night ,but we are still out Night riding on the Downs on Wednesday nights. The trails are still slippery, and the Fault with the LEDS has shown itself completely. They do put out a good light, but it is a blueish light and does not show enough shadows of the trail. You cannot tell if the rut is deep, has a camber on it, or if the Chalk is Green or just dirty. The white light from the 10 watt and the Helmet Lights (Yes we both have them now) does give a bit more perspective into the terrain.
Offroad night riding is good fun, but Does take some getting used to. Good powerful lights are necessary, and a Helmet lamp is a must. You have to take it slower, but that is down to not being able to see the trail shadows so no idea of the trail condition is possible until you are on the slippery bits, and then it is too late.Then on top of that- Trying to do it on an Ice Rink is not a good idea. We will keep riding over the winter, to build up our skills, but the 80 mile ride is out until the trail dries out.