Early Bird v. Night Owl: Which is Better for a Bicyclist?

There’s a poem I can’t find with a line I like that goes something like this: “The day makes promises but the night keeps secrets.” Hell, maybe I wrote that. For the last almost three years since I was liberated from a job through no fault of my own — “restructuring,” they called it — my open secret is that I’ve gravitated towards staying up late. Truth is, I’ve always been drawn toward the still, small hours. Ever since I was made to go to bed at 8 or 9 as a kid whilst the adults stayed up to play music or cards or just talk, I’ve felt like most of the cool shit in life happens after dark. Movies and television support this notion. And I’ve become something of a regular rider of bicycles at night to avoid the heat in Texas. So here are some of my thoughts on this subject.

free image courtesy of Pixabay

The pros of awaking and exercising early are probably well known to most. Standard health advice is to exercise early when you’re rested and have more energy, before it gets too hot. Doing so later in the day and certainly at night is “bad for you” because it’ll keep you up late. That’s great guidance if you’re a morning person, someone who jumps out of bed at the ass crack of dawn or even earlier to go for a jog or ride or swim in the dark or at the gym. If you are such a person, good for you. I am not, and I’m ok with that.

Now, I do enjoy BEING up early, if I’ve had enough sleep. It’s the GETTING up early that’s a problem. Because usually I haven’t slept enough due to staying up late the night before. It’s a vicious (bi)cycle, pardon the pun. Not sorry. And of course the pandemic is creating an epidemic of insomnia on top of an already extant lack of sleep among many Americans and people world wide. For the most part, society expects most of us to adhere to the 8-5 schedule. Sure, there are shift workers and if you live near the poles you get plenty of light or dark, but most of the US business world shuts down at night. They even have their own time: business hours. (There are also business socks. If you haven’t heard Flight of the Conchords song and seen their video for “Business Time”, stop reading this immediately and go watch it, then come back.)

But what if you have an early job, a partner who’s a morning person, or kids to get ready for school, but are really a night person? Well, when it comes to exercise you’re screwed, the conventional wisdom goes. But what about the pros of evening exercise? For one, you’re avoiding the harmful Ultra Violet rays that damage your skin. Another advantage is there’s less traffic, so it’s safer and quieter and in many ways more pleasurable. If you work out before your job, your sleep could still suffer, and may be too tired to do it well and safely. And morning is a time when heart attacks can happen. Unless you commute, in which case you’re killing two birds (the early and the owl?) with one bicycle. Sorry, birds, I mean metaphorically. Interestingly, Round Rock, Texas, the town up the road from here in Austin, just had their annual family night bike ride.

There’s no easy answer to this. Sure, the science probably does support earlier exercise. But surely (who is Shirley?) science would also say exercising at night is better than not at all. And while the scientists may be right, many people work different hours than the standard 8-5. What of the Swedes and Siberians? Do they not get to exercise because of their jobs? No, of course not, don’t be silly. And remember that A Dude Abikes is not a scientist, mad or otherwise, and I didn’t play one on TV either. (Thomas Dolby’s seminal hit “She Blinded Me With Science” comes to mind.)

The real issue here is rest and recovery, aka, what happens to our bodies after a long bike ride or other exercise in relation to our sleep. Are we getting enough to be able to repair and rebuild muscle? Is the sleep sufficient quantity and of good quality so that we can ride again without undue fatigue or stress? Does late-night riding disrupt our schedule or work well with it? All are important considerations we each must work out for ourselves, along with the matter of personal choice. If you feel like a midnight bike ride, and can do so safely, go for it!

Another benefit to riding at night is that, during a global pandemic, stop signs appeared to be optional when there’s no traffic around. It’s completely legal in Arkansas and Idaho, actually, for bicyclists to not have to come to a complete stop at stop signs. And with the cooler temperatures, nice breezes, few cars and almost nobody around, it’s quiet. One can pedal with little interruption, going for long stretches without stopping, thinking your deep thoughts. Looking up at the stars and the moon when it’s out, listening to nature. Sometimes you can hear an owl, and they say, “Give a hoot. Don’t Pollute.” Which is a big benefit of bicycling.

Sometimes I have to ride in the morning. But for the most part you early birds can have the worms. Like the hit from George Benson, “Gimme the Night” (with one tiny edit)

So come on out tonight and we’ll lead the others
On a ride through paradise
And if you feel all right
Then we can be BIKERS cause I see that starlight look in your eyes
Don’t you know we can fly

Source: Kaire Law

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7 thoughts on “Early Bird v. Night Owl: Which is Better for a Bicyclist?

  1. I didn’t used to be a fan of morning exercise until lockdown. I got into a habit of staying up late and rising late but going for a walk or run before breakfasting. When I went back to work I switched back to rising early again but exercising before work. I found I was fresher then, that waiting until after work was counter productive as I was too tired from being on my feet all day and concentrating at work. Perversely though I tend not to go out until late morning/early afternoon on my days off!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My pigment impairment “forces” me to cycle in the night. It’s also when I feel the strongest and the air is better. I also think it’s safer since I can see the car headlights from miles away. The biggest danger is pedestrians (or critters) with no lights, no reflective gear wearing dark clothing and walking down the middle of the paths or streets… A couple of beers or a glass or wine solves the “no sleep” issue.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, well you do live in amy even hotter place. Good lights and a safe speed are key to night riding.

      Booze also creates wakefulness after the initial lull, plus weight gain and many other things. Maybe I should get recordings of the Golf Channel… (Sorry, Dad!)

      Liked by 1 person

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