Going long on the shortest night – an epic, all-night, solstice MTB ride

Rider at dawn
Greeting the dawn on the trails (Image credit: GuyKesTV)

I can’t remember how it started, but I do know it’s now probably our favorite ride of the year. An adventure that seems to take us into another world. A properly privileged place where you interact with nature, time and your own mind and body in a completely different way to normal. Where wild animals that normally run before you even see them, stop and stare as you go past metres away. Where roads and trails are almost uniquely yours as you glide through the night in stealth mode. Creeping past closed curtains of remote farmhouses, crossing main roads that are deserted in either direction and sneaking ‘cheeky’ trail options you’d never get away with except in the darkest hours.

Riders resting in moonlight

Pick a crew you can rely on, and a ride that you know you can do. You can always add more at the end if you want (Image credit: GuyKesTV)

Leaving lights off for as long as you dare as distant embers of the day dip into the orange horizon. Immersing yourself into the blackness for hours on end so that your eyes can suck in all the singletrack information they need from the lowest power settings. Letting the light from the moon throw its eerie blue light into the lumen count. Or if you're really lucky, hunting over the moorland totally lights off under a full moon like a wheeled werewolf. 

Bridging the surprisingly short gap from the previous day dying until a glow begins to creep across the upper edge of the inky landscape. Then gradually grow until the first brilliant blast of vivid sunlight strobes through trees or shimmers on misty water. Finally bringing the hope of warmth to bodies starved of cosy comfort by the utterly daft decision to swap a duvet for an overnight dirt mission.

Bikes against wall at sunrise

Extra points if you can plan to be somewhere spectacular as dawn breaks (Image credit: GuyKesTV)

Overnighting amps up the adventure stakes dramatically too. If shops won’t open for five hours, you’re relying totally on what you can carry – or what you've cunningly stashed en route beforehand. Rationing bars, sandwiches and bottles in the same way you have to start rationing your energy once the giddy ‘seven-year-olds on a sleepover’ energy runs out. Generally, it's the same moment you realize you’re a very tiny, vulnerable speck in a very big and very dark world and mum isn't going to make you all hot chocolate. Nursing aching knees, empty legs, numb feet and hands and burning shoulders that feed off your fatigue. All the while trying not to think that all the murderers and monsters from every horror film you’ve seen, might be waiting in the blackness your lights can't reach.

Riders with lights at dawn

We got lucky with the weather this year, but we've still enjoyed the properly minging missions (Image credit: GuyKesTV)

Marvelling how emotions multiply when everything else is stripped away but the occasional haunting call of a bird or animal. An alien, thrillingly threatening world where the group bond is forged like no other. Where a shared snack, an encouraging check-in on a climb, or a drop back to give a flagging rider the morale-boosting lead on the singletrack, rather than letting them fumble around increasingly far behind. Where rich conversations and quietly fought competitions can be communicated compellingly and completely without a word, just a quick sideways smile between you in the moonlight. 

Rider on singletrack at dawn

You'll have the trails all to yourself at 4am (Image credit: GuyKesTV)

And then the ultimate reward. Rolling back into the ‘real world’ as it gradually reawakens from another average night for most of it’s inhabitants but one that's been something truly special for you and your mates. Memories of incredible sunsets and lying on the ground watching stars and satellites in a cloudless sky. Or of dogged determination in the face of fog, rain, or mechanical nightmares where you’ve shivered and suffered but still pushed on. Powered only by the encouragement of others and the thought of how good that breakfast is going to taste.

Sunrise over a reservoir

Being on your bike as the sun rises after a whole night riding is an incredible feeling (Image credit: GuyKesTV)

Then there's the comedy comradeship of the day after. Sharing pictures and stories, comparing aches and finding out who's painfully taking stairs one at a time. Proving that a ride that really doesn’t seem real now definitely happened with every fiery muscle fiber when you finally get to the top. And even when your legs are still cramping, your stomach is still hollow and raw eyes are fighting to stay open, you’re already thinking of next year's stupid solstice adventure. 

Guy Kesteven

Guy Kesteven has been working on Bike Perfect since its launch in 2019. He started writing and testing for bike mags in 1996. Since then he’s written several million words about several thousand test bikes and a ridiculous amount of riding gear. He’s also penned a handful of bike-related books and he reviews MTBs over on YouTube.

Current rides: Cervelo ZFS-5, Specialized Chisel, custom Nicolai enduro tandem, Landescape/Swallow custom gravel tandem

Height: 180cm

Weight: 69kg