What? You haven’t been on a night ride yet? Judging by our light sales, you must be one of the only mountain bikers to miss out on this special time to ride. Pedaling after day’s end feels different than riding under the all-illuminating sun. Tucking yourself into the refreshing solitude of darkness enhances your focus, and boosts the solidarity felt among riding companions. If you are completely inexperienced regarding the Knobby Kingdom of the Night, or just haven’t ventured out under the Starry Cloak since the time of water bottle-shaped batteries, this guide is for you.
Besides the novelty, riding at night fires up the fun factor in several ways. First, you’ll generally only have to share the trails with fellow cyclists and other nocturnal wildlife. Thankfully, equestrians, hikers, and off-road Roller Bladers tend to shun the trails at night. Also, many desert dwellers only ride at night during the estival months, when daytime temps stay above triple digits from sun up to sun down. Finally, many of us are forced into night riding once the tyranny of Standard Time puts the sun beneath the horizon at Five PM.
Like a child afraid to try pasta with pesto for the first time because it’s green, once you swallow that first ride under the stars you’ll understand why so many mountain bikers have invested substantial amounts of their hard-earned money and precious time into riding at night. Here are some lessons we’ve learned over the years which will help you jump right into this magical journey.
- Get some lights, because otherwise you won’t be able to see anything. Most avid night riders use two lights; a more powerful flood on the handlebar, and a lighter, smaller, spot on the helmet. For recreational use, we prefer integrated lights with the charger, battery, and light head in the same unit. However, for racing, having multiple external batteries charged and ready can be beneficial. See this article for more advice on selecting a light set-up that works for you.
- Before you even charge your battery, make sure where you are riding is legal. Many state parks and recreational areas do not allow trail use at night. Often, a hefty fine is levied against offenders.
- Charge up! If using a USB cable and your computer, plug your lights in as soon as you get to work. Better yet, plug them in when you get home from your ride.
- Be aware of the negative characteristics of helmet-mounted lights. In dusty conditions, their light will reflect off the dust in front of your eyes and blind you, similar to driving in thick fog. Also, the high mount location will let the light “see over” rocks and fill in depressions, which flattens out the trail, resulting in surprise rock strikes and falling into holes. That said, you need a helmet-mounted light, since they illuminate where you look; around turns and the landings of jumps. Aiming the helmet light farther down the trail while pointing the bar mounted light in a steeper angle will help alleviate the wash-out effect somewhat.
- Only use your helmet light, set on low, when climbing.
- Don’t ride alone, and keep the group together. Don’t leave anyone out there to fend for themselves.
- Bring a back up light. This can be just a cheap, small commuter light for walking out or very slow riding.
- If you ride on paved roads to get to the trailhead, use a red taillight.
- Bring extra gear, including duct tape and zip ties to fix a broken mount. When something goes wrong at night, the stakes are higher and it feels like more of a pain to fix. Pack an extra clothing layer and dress appropriately.
- If you use a light head with an external battery on your helmet, route the cable through your helmet vents and keep the battery in your jersey pocket or hydration pack.
- Use homemade Velcro straps to keep excess cable tidy.
- Keep track of your light’s run times and plan accordingly. Since high power is usually only used on descents, with a two-light set up you can safely figure on rides 1.5X longer than max run time on high output. Of course, if you are lucky enough to live where all the descents are thirty minutes or more then you might need to recalibrate!
- Get clear lenses for your sunnies or goggles.
- If you can only use one light, a helmet light will let you land jumps, otherwise your landing goes black.
- Take your phone.
- Turn off your helmet light when taking breaks or avoid looking your riding buddies straight in the face if you don’t.