The idea of mountain biking in the dark might be new to some of you. Maybe you have never had the chance to try, or you simply have no time during the day and night is the only free time you got. But maybe you have a very normal concern about how best to mountain bike safely at night.
I will tell you right now, it’s super fun. Especially so, if you have a group of friends that are willing to night ride with you.
There are some things you need to understand before you decide to give it a go. Most of them are simple tips to increase the fun of it, but some of them are important tips for your safety.
Top 10 Tips for Riding Your Mountain Bike Safely at Night
1. Helmet vs. Handlebar Light
Ideally, you want to have a light on both, your handlebar and your helmet. The reason being the ability to check for a path a bit more in the distance with your helmet light while keeping the handlebar light pointed at the ground in close range. Like this, you can choose your lines better while still keeping attention to turns and objects in front of you.
As a safety tip, I would imply that you get yourself both lights before you start riding.
However, if you don’t have both at the moment, it’s much better to choose a helmet light. Gives you more flexibility because unlike a handlebar light, you can point it in a different direction at any time.
Choosing a handlebar light over a helmet one will result in you not seeing a turn or a tree in the distance and crashing hard. Sooner or later you will be riding so fast that a single handlebar light won’t be enough for a proper reaction.
2. Point Your Helmet Light in the Distance More Often Than Not
I’ve already mentioned sudden turns and trees appearing out of nowhere if you are not watching for them. But not only can you endanger yourself, but you can also do harm to others on the trail as well.
It’s important that you are aware of the speed you are going at and look for anything that might appear in front of you. Especially when riding with a group of people.
3. Invest in a Better Light
Might sound like a waste of money but believe me it is a complete game-changer.
Cheap lightsÂ are a good first option, especially if you’ve never ridden during the dark before. You might want to try it with a cheap light to see if you even like riding at night. And if the only thing that’s stopping you is not having enough light, the solution is easy.
Cheap lights barely reach 50-100 lumen while claiming to shine with much more. On the other hand, a proper bicycle light will go from 500 to several thousand lumens and cover a wider area with brightness.
There are other things to consider as well. Batteries on cheap light won’t last even close to the usually advertised times. Not something to rely on when you find yourself in the middle of nowhere, and it’s dark.
Proper bicycle lights are completely water and rustproof as well. Something that can’t be guaranteed for any cheap variant.
I certainly feel like investing in better lights was an amazing thing for me. My current lights are lasting for years now and I’m actually spending less money than I used to by changing cheap lights that break all the time. Usually, it’s the rust that eats up the battery or electrical contact points.
I’ve been using the NiteRider Pro 1800 Race for two years now and it never failed me.
4. Key to Mountain Bike Safely at Night: Never Ride Alone
Riding trails during the night is not something you want to be doing alone. There is a greater chance of falling, crashing and even injuring yourself. You have to have at least someone to assist you in case something like that happens.
From a social perspective, as well. Riding at night with a group of friends is more fun than during daylight because it will most likely be a new experience for everyone involved.
5. It’s Important to Keep Distance From Others
The reaction time is an obvious reason for keeping the distance, however, there is more to this than you might think at first.
The lights you are using can actually become counterproductive, in terms of seeing things better, if you ride too close to each other.
If the rider behind you is too close, his bright light can increase the light sensitivity of your eyes, making your surroundings appear darker than they are.
What happens further is your eyes actually seeing less brightness produced by your own lights. It’s like suddenly your lights become worse than they are.
6. Keep a Spare Light on You
There is a possibility of breaking or losing lights on the trail.
How would you lose a light that’s still switched on during the night?
Believe me, it’s not as difficult as it might seem. Tall grass or holes in between rocks can hide the light really well. Most of the time I’ve lost mine I didn’t even notice because I kept several lights on. Luckily, I was always able to stop the whole group to help me find it. I owe thanks to my friends, I guess.
It’s usually better to have a cheap light as a spare one. Simply because you won’t lose or break an expensive one most likely in years, and you will need a spare one just for a moment to help you find the one you lost.
7. Avoid New Trails at Night
In conclusion to keeping enoughÂ distance from others, we come to the necessity of knowing your trail very well. You obviously aren’t able to follow someone else’s lines and keep the distance at the same time. Everyone involved needs to be comfortable with the trail you are riding and know their own lines around it.
Unknown trails can be tricky at night. If you really want to ride something new, try giving it a go a bit slower the first time. Learn the trail so your reduced reaction time at night doesn’t let you down.
8. Avoid Jumps in The Dark
I’ve learned this the hard way. Several times actually because I am a stubborn person.
The thing is, once you jump you are unable to point your handlebar light at the ground until you land. By then, it’s usually too late because you would’ve already crashed not knowing where and how to land in the darkness.
Even pointing your helmet light is difficult during the jump because you might instinctively go forward and land on your front wheel.
It’s best to avoid jumps completely. Everyone regrets not doing so eventually.
9. Set Your Bike Up During The Day
Before riding at night, it’s wise to do some maintenance on your bike. Check that everything is properly working and adjust it all during the day. That way you will avoid ruining the fun for yourself and your mates on the trail.
If you go on the trail and then realize something is not working properly, you won’t have a fun time fixing it in the dark.
10. Dress Appropriately For Night Riding
Most of the time people decide to ride at night in the winter months. Usually, because daylight doesn’t last long and they don’t want to wait for the weekend to be free from work and go mountain biking.
Nights at winter tend to be much colder and humid than daytime is. You need proper winter clothes for riding. Not necessarily specific mountain biking winter clothes, but gloves are really important. You need proper mountain biking gloves for cold weather to ride during winter nights. They will provide the best protection from freezing your hands and a good handlebar grip in humid weather conditions.
It’s a good idea to have some reflecting bands or tapes on you as well. Seeing you riding won’t be an issue as long as your lights are working, but if you crash and break the lights, you want everyone to see you so they don’t crash into you as well.
We know you have people out there who love you, so make sure you do everything you can to mountain bike safely at night.
Lack of Motivation to Start Riding at Night?
Some of you might think it’s too dangerous to be worth your time, or simply the benefits of it aren’t that apparent.
There are lots of reason why it’s way worth going for it, and I will give you six of my favorite ones.
1. Old Trails Feel Like Something New Again
I recommend that for night riding you choose trails which are well known to you. And while that may seem like taking all the fun out of it, it’s really quite the opposite.
You will start to realize just that during your first night ride. At first, you will go at it easy and it will seem like it’s no big deal. However, a bit into the trail you will find yourself remembering a trail much better. It will feel completely new because now you won’t rely that much on seeing what’s a bit further down the path but remembering how you controlled the bike at each section. It gets you a bit more involved with control over your bike, and it’s so different in a good way.
2. Skill Improvement
Seeing less and feeling more is a great way to connect with your bike and improve your skills. You will start to understand every movement with more detail and precision. It’s a bit cliche like in the movies. Your bike becomes a part of you and all that cheesy stuff, but it’s true.
This is a great way to improve on all those small mistakes you make. Some of them you won’t even know you are making until you start riding at night.
3. Riding Trails Feel Faster at Night
Most of the time you will go slower than you used to, but somehow it will feel like you are going as fast or even faster. It happens because your perception of movement is reduced in the dark.
Do you know how all excitement is lost when you get used to something? The same thing happens with speed as well. Darkness on a trail will bring out the fun in riding the same trail once again!
4. Popular Trails Become Empty
I used to wish that everyone would stop mountain biking for a day because I wanted to ride some trails without worrying if I will crash into someone who appeared in front of me. Some of my favorite trails were just full of riders all the time. That’s what happens with trails that are really close to big cities.
I never thought about riding at night back then, and when my friend suggested we should try it, I suddenly realized this is what I needed all along. We don’t do it very often, but sometimes it’s just great to have a popular trail all to yourself.
5. Easier to Organize Your Riding Schedule
I used to work a 9-5 job so weekends were the only time I had for riding my bike. We, as a group of friends, really wanted to improve our skills and explore new stuff but riding during weekends only, simply wasn’t enough for us. During the winter months at least.
Took us some time to get used to riding each evening but I can tell you, that was the best decision we ever made back then.
6. Great Scenery
For the last one, my favorite. When the night is clear, riding at night is so amazingly beautiful. The night sky is amazing when you are out there, far away from city lights. On a full moon, you can even turn off your lights and let your eyes adjust to that small amount of light coming from the sky. We tried riding like that few times. Not the safest idea, but it was amazingly fun nonetheless.