How to Double Your Available Riding Hours
YOU ARE NOT A COMMUTER
Lights fall into two categories: lights designed to help you see and lights designed to help you be seen. A to-be-seen light is what you use for commuting on lighted bike paths or roads. The only goal of these lights is making you visible to other riders and motorists. They are not bright enough or rugged enough for off-road nighttime trail riding.
The to-see lights are more expensive and blast a beam that would blind motorists if you used them on the street. They are designed to be tough, and they are not cheap. A good to-see system will run in the $350 neighborhood and may cost $500 or more if you plan to match your daytime speed.
LED VS. HALOGEN
Entry-level lighting packages are split between halogen incandescent lamps and multiple-LED (Light Emitting Diode) systems. The bottom line is that, given the same battery, halogen lamps put out much more usable light than LED clusters, but halogen lamps drain batteries much faster. Burn times for halogen systems are around two hours, while LED systems can burn most of the evening on the same juice.
Sorry, but a light’s claimed lumens, a measure of the total “amount” of visible light emitted by a source, is about as good a reason for buying lights as claimed gas mileage is for buying a car or claimed megapixels are for buying a camera. We won’t say that light companies lie about their lumens, but they sure get creative about the way they measure them. Don’t buy a light based solely on its claimed lumens.
TWO HEADLIGHTS ARE BETTER THAN ONE
It used to be that you had to have two lights (one on the handlebar and one on your helmet), but the new lights illuminate so well and are sometimes so easy to detach from the handlebar that the two-light setup is now optional, not mandatory. Still, a helmet spotlight and handlebar floodlight give you the best of both worlds.
ONE IF BY LAND
If you have one light, mount it to your handlebar rather than to your helmet. Using a helmet-only light creates weird shadows that make the trail surface hard to read. If your handlebar light mount is not an easy-on/easy-off design, carry another light in your hydration pack in case you have a mechanical failure and need to see the problem.
Many powerful lights now house their batteries in one unit. The cons are that they are more expensive and their weight is positioned higher. The pro is that you don’t have to mount a separate battery and run wires to the light. If you can afford it and the brightness is what you want, go for an all-in-one.
If your lighting system uses a remote battery, you need to take every precaution to make sure it never comes loose. We always use a few toe straps in addition to the mounting system that came with the light. If the fit between the battery and the frame isn’t solid, fold an old inner tube and position it between the battery and frame. Then, cinch it down tightly. If the battery slips into the water-bottle cage, make sure the cage hardware is tight and the cage is strong enough to hold a battery (about twice the weight of a water bottle).
HIGH SECURITY II
You never want your light to come loose. Losing a light while riding is…you don’t even want to know. If using a new light, mount it and go for a daylight ride. Check its position afterwards. If it has moved, do not ride at night until you remedy the situation.
CLEAR THE CLUTTER
Your handlebar is already cluttered with shifters, brake levers, dropper seatpost remotes and even remote suspension controls. In front of all that mess is a freeway interchange of hoses, cables and wires.
Clamping your light in the middle of all that can be tough. That’s why Paul Component Engineering offers the $36 stem-cap light mount. Pull off your stem cap, replace it with the PCE aluminum light mount, and your headlight beam gets to shine unobstructed. Neat.
When you get hooked on night riding and want to expand to a helmet-mounted light, choose a spotlight rather than a defused beam. The bar-mounted light will illuminate the trail close to you while you see up the trail with the helmet light.
REFRESH YOUR HELMET PADS
If you are using a helmet-mounted light, slap in a set of fresh sizing pads. The added weight of the light will cause the helmet to shift if the sizing pads don’t fit snugly. Better yet, wear a helmet that has some type of fitting band around the back of your head, like Kali’s Dual Closure system, Bell Helmet’s Twin Axis gear, Giro’s Acu Dial 2, Lazer’s Rollsys or Specialized’s Headset.
EYE PROTECTION REQUIRED
Please, don’t be tempted to ride at night without glasses just because sunlight is not an issue. Branches, bats and gnats come out of nowhere during night rides. Wear glasses with clear, scratch-free lenses. The scratches you hardly notice in daylight will cause the light to play tricks on your eyes and cloud your vision at night. Really, don’t ride at night without eye protection.
Always ride in pairs for safety and because two or more riders traveling together can triple the burn time of their lights by alternating. When the trail is mellow or while climbing, the back rider’s light will provide enough illumination for one or two riders ahead. Light “drafting” can lengthen a ride or get a buddy back home who has suffered a failure.
Lots of bike shops have group night rides. Company is helpful should you have a mechanical and need another hand to direct light in the right spot. Should you suffer a lighting failure (or crash), walking out alone is going to be tough. Also, if you get hurt, unlike in the daytime when someone is likely to come along, it would be a miracle to be found by another trail user at night.
BE AWARE OF THE SUN
Wear sunglasses and a hat with a big visor during the day. Exposure to sunlight is like bleaching the photoreceptors in your eyes, which will increase the time it takes for your eyes to adjust to the dark. Avert your eyes from the computer screen or bright lights for a few hours before your ride.
If another rider approaches you (from the front, not behind), look away from the rider. If you catch a glimpse of the other rider’s helmet light or headlight, you may suffer night blindness.
When your buddies regroup during the ride, keep your eyes on your shoes. Nothing is worse for destroying night vision than a buddy looking into your eyes with his helmet light blasting away. Better yet, turn off the lights when hanging out.
YOU WILL BE LESS AWARE
Vision is severely altered at night. Depth perception, color recognition and peripheral vision, all necessary for competent riding, are compromised after sundown. Older riders have even greater difficulties seeing at night. A 50-year-old rider may need twice as much light to see as well as a 30-year-old. That means slowing down the pace considerably will still feel fast under the stars.
Your battery will never be as powerful as the first time you charged it. It loses power every time you charge it after that. Sorry.
INCREASE THAT BATTERY LIFE
You spent the bucks for a good light; now, invest the time to read the system’s charging and battery-storage instructions. The lamp gets the glory, but it’s the battery pack that does the hard work. Store it near the charger in a place where you will look at it regularly. This will remind you to service the battery when needed during the off-season.
STRETCH YOUR BATTERY’S BURN TIME
Most lights offer beam options. Unless you are descending or riding technical terrain, you don’t need full power, so turn it down. We sometimes turn our lights off on climbs if there is enough moonlight.
While we can get away with using moonlight on our desert trails that have an unobstructed view of the sky, if your trails go in and out of tree cover, leave your lights on. The blackest black you’ll ever see is under tree cover at night. Goodbye, handlebars.
A night ride is going to get your adrenaline pumping and your pulse racing. Don’t expect to fall asleep easily after a night ride. Plan your night rides for when you don’t have early obligations the next morning.
LIKE YOU NEED AN EXCUSE
It is a little surprising how many riders have never tried a night ride. Here are 10 great reasons to try a night ride, as if you need an excuse:
- Doubles the available hours you have to ride
- It is the best way to beat the summer heat
- The trails are less busy than usual and often deserted
- Makes the most familiar trail feel new
- You will see a lot more animals than on your typical day rides
- It forces you to look ahead and focus more than during day rides
- Makes climbs feel less steep and shorter than what they are
- Makes you feel faster than normal
- It is more intense than daytime riding
- It is a little scary
THERE ARE SO MANY WAYS TO GET MOUNTAIN BIKE ACTION
Mountain Bike Action is a monthly magazine devoted to all things mountain biking (yes, that’s 12 times a year because we never take a month off of mountain biking). It has been around since 1986 and we’re still having fun. Start a subscription by clicking here or calling (800) 767-0345.