Avoid going bump in the night
Don’t fear the dark side of mountain biking: tap into the thrill of night riding. Follow these seven handy tips to learn how best to night ride.
1. Get the best lights you can afford
NB: that you can afford NOT the most expensive in the shop. Thankfully, these days capable off-road lights are much cheaper than they used to be.
You need two high-powered lights, designed for off-road use and not your old Maglite, zip-tied to the bars. Good lights allow you to ride for as long as you do during the day, and almost as fast.
Mount one on your handlebar, and the other on your helmet — try to balance the output and run time so they both use up their juice at the same rate. The handlebar light should have the most power, for illuminating the trail in front of you, and the weaker helmet light will allow you to see over obstacles, round corners and fill in the shadows.
2. Don’t ride jumps
Not unless you know the jump in question like the back of your hand. Spotting the landing is impossible with your lights pointing up, meaning the potential for crashing is much higher. Judging speeds, gaps, gradients and distances is far harder too. Maybe stick to more flowing trails and save the big booters for Sunday.
Trails are much more interesting at night, anyway, and the sensation is that you’re riding faster, even though you’re not, so you don’t need to ride the most technical tracks.
3. Set your bike up in the daytime
It’s never really dark in town, but deep in the woods and under tree cover it’s really inky black. That’s not the time to be strapping lights to your bike and faffing around figuring out the settings. Do this at home in the light, or, failing that, try and get to the trails in plenty of time, before sunset. And failing that, buy one of those lights that runs off the car battery.
Set your suspension up softer too — you want more grip at night, and you tend to not anticipate things as quickly, so you end up riding seated more often.
Remember to charge your lights and familiarise yourself with the settings — plenty of lights are programmable these days, meaning you can get them to come on in the perfect mode for your ride. The trick is, figuring out how to do it… again, that’s a job best done at home, unless of course you have a light with a clever app, in which case it’s a doddle, because you can set it all up on your phone.
4. Dress right
It’s colder at night, so you may need to add a layer — windproof gilets work well. It’s also wetter at night, even in dry conditions, because dew forms and soaks your legs and feet. Waterproof socks, trail trousers or tights are really useful. You can’t see how muddy you’re getting either. Wear knee pads, too, because you’re more likely to take a tumble.
5. Get lights smart
This sounds like it’s going to be patronising, but it really isn’t! It’s just what we’ve learnt from years riding at night. Use both your lights on full power for fast or technical trails — that’s pretty obvious. But you can drop your main light to a low power setting for easier trails and climbing, to save battery life.
And you can also turn off the helmet light completely when you’re climbing — it’ll save power and the bar light will produce shadows on the trail, adding definition and texture. Being able to avoid all the roots and loose rocks when climbing means you won’t lose traction or provoke wheel spin.
6. Don’t ride on your own
It’s nowhere near as fun out in the dark on your own, but get a big group of mates involved and you’ll enjoy a real sense of camaraderie. It’s also safer to go out with someone else, so if you take a tumble there’s someone to help you up again.
At a bare minimum, tell someone where you are and when you’ll be back. There are some snazzy new apps that’ll look after you too, like Strava’s Beacon.
7. Beware of your beam
Don’t shine your lights in your mate’s face, it’ll blind them. Also, you might need to turn the power down if you’re riding in trees, because the beam can bounce back off the trunks and foliage, creating glare. And, just like in a car, when it’s foggy you’ll want a lower power.
Finally, if you’ve got a really bright light, turn it down when you’re following someone, otherwise it’ll form a silhouette or dark patch in front of them.