We are just about to Christmas and winter is under way. If you’re like me you’ve probably had enough of the short days and no chance to ride during the week after work. During the summer you had 4 more hours of daylight to soak up some single-track and get dirty. Now, you just feel fortunate to get a ride in during the weekend.
Well, luckily there is another option. For anyone with a heart of iron and more balls than brains there is always night riding.
I’m going to show you everything that you need to know to mountain bike at night and conquer the trail.
Biking at night is exciting, different and occasionally frightening. Using artificial lighting to pick your way through a tight and winding trail can get pretty hairy. Logs and trees that you may have seen 30 times before while riding during the day now have giant menacing shadows and small 3 inch drops look like a bottomless pit.
The most important rules to follow when mountain biking at night are as follows.
1) Know the Trail
Following this rule will keep you from getting lost on a foreign trail in the dead of night and prevent you from getting hurt and left as squirrel chow. Be sure that you are comfortable on your bike and with the obstacles that the trail presents before trying to tackle it at night. For instance, while I love NorthShore I wouldn’t ride it at night yet because I just don’t feel comfortable with it yet. While River Legacy I have ridden with no problem. Like I said before, riding at night is drastically different. Forks in a trail are sometimes hidden by shadows and knowing the trail is crucial.
2) Never Ride Alone
There is a certain amount of danger inherent to mountain biking at night and you should always bike with a partner. There is no greater safety precaution to take. Call up some friends and have a go at it. Post ride beverages at Starbucks? If you are riding second or further behind you can use your leaders light as an early warning system.
3) Use the Right Lights
Lighting is a necessity for mountain biking at night. You are going to need two separate lights at that. First you will need a light mounted to your handlebars that casts a very wide range of light. This is known as a floodlight, this is going to illuminate the trail in front of you and give you peripheral vision to each side of the trail. Next you will need a light mounted to the top of your helmet, the beam on this light should be much more focused, otherwise known as a spotlight. When you mount this light, the higher and more toward the middle of the helmet the better. This will keep it balanced and prevent the neck fatigue.
Just as important as having the lights is knowing how long the batteries in the lights will last. You will definitely want to use a good rechargeable battery and not a light that uses common D,E,AA or any other battery you pick up at 7-11. These just don’t put out the power needed. Look for a light that has an absolute minimum of 15 watts. LED lights are generally smaller, cheaper, lighter and longer lasting than other lights. My recommendation is to use an LED rechargeable light with at least 600 lumen. Check out the MagicShine MJ-816E 1800 lumen LED Bike Light as a good light to use.
If you can only get 1 light, go with the head mounted spotlight. Your bike goes where you look and so will the helmet mounted light. Looking at the trail while you ride will point the light toward the trail and keep the bike out of the trees. When you are riding always look 8-12 feet in front of you, especially at night.
4) I Wear My Sunglasses at Night
Ok, so not sunglasses, but good eye protection is a must. Get a pair of clear welders glasses from Wal-Mart for $5 or pick up a pair of the fancy ones from Amazon.com. Either way, wearing a good pair of glasses or goggles when riding at night is a must. Small branches are probably going to brush across your face and a good pair of clear eyewear will keep you from taking a bad injury to the eye.
5) Long Sleeves are a must.
It’s safe to assume that if you need lights to bike, then you will also need a good pair of arm warmers and possibly leg warmers. While it may not feel that cold when you start the temperature does drop dramatically after dark. Shivering or just being cold is going to burn extra calories that could leave you feeling bonked (out of energy) before your ride is over. Play it safe and at the very minimum carry these items with you in your hydration pack or back pocket.
6) Bring Along a First Aid Kit
You never know what will happen when riding, be safe and be prepared. Bring a first aid kit
with you just to be safe. You can get a small kit that will easily fit in your hydration pack or under your seat. A good kit will include gauze, adhesive bandages, antibacterial wipes, triple antibiotic ointment, tweezers, plus a few acetaminophen and ibuprofen.
Following these tips will get you prepared for a night ride, but you should definitely take it slow and steady until you feel more comfortable with the trail in the dark. Leave a comment below and let me know what your experience is with mountain biking at night. Be sure to sign up for our email newsletter to stay up to date with our frequent updates and to receive additional tips and guides on mountain biking in Texas.