Eight Tips for Riding at Night

8 Tips for Riding at Night

There are some major advantages to night riding. It can make you a better rider, keep you cool in the summer, teach you to take new lines on a well-known trail and can extend your riding schedule when there is a time change. But, for many riders, approaching a night ride can be intimidating, especially if they are new to the sport of mountain biking altogether. With the bike boom last year and a host of new riders joining our sport, we decided to revisit some of the top night-riding tips we’ve gathered over the years. Let’s kick it off with a basic light buyer’s guide.

1. LIGHT IT UP

We recommend using two high-powered lights that are designed for off-road use. While taillights are a must when popping onto the road, we rarely use them on our mountain bikes at night so we can avoid blinding a following rider. We typically mount the highest power on the handlebar and another powerful but lighter-weight option on the helmet. The handlebar light is best for illuminating the trail in front of you, and the lower-profile helmet light will allow you to point your head to see over obstacles and around corners and to fill in the shadows caused by the bar light. Here are a few lights on the market that we have used and recommend checking out.

NITERIDER LUMINA MICRO 900

LUMEN OUTPUT: 30, 200, 450, 900

MODES: 5—Low, Mid, High, Flash, Walk

BATTERY: Internal Li-ion

RUNTIME: 2–60 hours

WEIGHT: 130g

USAGE: Bright enough for your bars and lightweight enough to be mounted on a helmet.

PRICE: $74.99

LIGHT AND MOTION SECA RACE

LUMEN OUTPUT: 500, 1000, 2000

MODES: 4—Safe Pulse, Low, Medium, High

BATTERY: 3-cell Li-ion pack

RUNTIME: 90–720 minutes

WEIGHT: 355g

USAGE: Optimized beam pattern with a high output to turn night into day.

PRICE: $324.99

SPECIALIZED FLUX 850 HEADLIGHT

LUMEN OUTPUT: 50, 100, 250, 400, 450, 850

MODES: 8—Super Low, Very Low, Daytime Flash, Steady Flash, Low, Medium, High

BATTERY: Internal Li-ion

RUNTIME: 1.5–20 hours

WEIGHT: 142g

USAGE: Ideal for handlebars with the widespread optic design, but it can also be mounted on a helmet. Worth noting is that they have yet to make a 35mm clamp design.

PRICE: $80

2. SET UP THE BIKE DURING THE DAY

Now that you’ve got some proper lights, take the time to learn how they function and how they mount to your bike/gear during the daytime. Having a plan is key, so you are not fumbling around in the dark to go out for a ride. This is a great time to make sure your light mounting brackets are not out of place or becoming loose. It is never fun to hit that first bumpy trail section and have your light fall off. It is also important to make sure that the light mounted to your helmet is under the padding or not restricting a protection liner like MIPS.

EXPOSURE LIGHTS JOYSTICK MK15

LUMEN OUTPUT:  Adjustable up to 1100

MODES: 10 different programs in High, Medium or Low

BATTERY: Internal Li-ion

RUNTIME: 1.5–36 hours

WEIGHT: 93g

USAGE: Expensive but ideal for using on the helmet given its light weight and multiple output settings.

PRICE: $324.99

3. WEARING THE RIGHT GEAR

It is colder at night, so it is important to plan accordingly and be up to date on the weather conditions you may encounter. A packable jacket, head sock, thicker gloves, cozy socks and even an emergency blanket are all practical gear choices that could come in handy when in the dark mountains. While wearing shades helps protect against the sun, it is worth having a pair of glasses with a clear lens to keep your eyes out of danger from any unwanted debris.

SERFAS TRUE SERIES 1100C/350 COMBO

LUMEN OUTPUT: 150, 250, 500, 1100

MODES: 5—Walk, Daytime, Low, Medium, High

BATTERY: Internal Li-Ion

RUNTIME: 1.75–40 hours

WEIGHT: 124g

USAGE: A well-priced combo light option with standard functions and beam pattern.

PRICE: $150

4. RIDE FAMILIAR TRAILS

While we encourage having a mapped plan to explore new trails, it’s best to stick with routes and areas that you are familiar with for night riding. Twilight can make things look unfamiliar, so having prior knowledge is fundamental so you don’t take a wrong turn and get lost in the woods. A phone can be handy to look up maps, but if service is unavailable, a dedicated cycling GPS will help get you back on the right track.

RHODIUM DRIVE 900 LUMEN

LUMEN OUTPUT: 250, 450, 750, 900

MODES: 8—Day Flash, Night Flash, Med w/ Flash, Low, Med, High

BATTERY: Internal Li-ion

RUNTIME: 1.5-12 hours

WEIGHT: 84g

USAGE: An affordable, ultra-lightweight option for the helmet or handlebars that is made in the USA.

PRICE: $84.99

5. THE BUDDY SYSTEM

While riding alone can be tranquil, getting some buddies to ride with you is not only more fun but also safer in case someone takes a tumble. If no one is ready to ride and you must get out, at the very least, tell someone where you are going and give them an idea when you should be back safely. If adventuring alone is something you do regularly, then it’s worth taking the time to set up an app that’ll ping your location, such as Strava’s Beacon or a Global Hotspot from Somewear Labs. We’ve been using these apps just in case of an SOS situation.

6. DON’T “SEND IT” OFF JUMPS

Unless you know the trail and the feature like the back of your hand, it’s best to save the booters for when they can be examined in the daytime. If you do try some new jumps, keep in mind that spotting a landing can be nearly impossible when your lights get pointed up and away from the trail. Low light can also skew a rider’s judgment of speed, gaps, gradients and the distances needed to travel.

7. BE AWARE OF YOUR BEAM

These high-output lights are no joke at the full-power output. Shining your lights into other riders’ faces could blind them. Try to avoid this by looking at your riding companion’s feet or altering the beam’s direction with your hand. There are also situations where you might need to dial the power down because the high-lumen lights can bounce back off the path’s foliage, causing a glare. And last, we all love trailing behind a riding partner during the day, but at night, intense light from behind will form a shadow or dark patch for the rider out front. Backing off and giving the rider ahead of you space is a must to avoid unwanted accidents in the dark.

8. GETTING SMART

Beyond remembering to charge your lights, it is also important to learn to manage the battery life during the ride. We tend to use both the helmet and handlebar lights on full power for fast or technical trails, but that can eat into the battery life, so it is best to drop your main light to a low power setting when riding easier sections of the trail.

We even turn off the helmet light completely when climbing and just use the bar light at the lowest output. If you think your ride may run longer than your two lights can last at the highest output setting, bring a third backup light. If you are taking a break, shut off your lights. Most cycling lights, especially the higher-lumen options, are designed to keep cool via airflow to avoid overheating.

There is no doubt that trails can be a blast at night. To keep the stoke alive, we hope these easy-to-follow tips become part of your night-riding routine.


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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.

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