Night Riding For Beginners: Tips for mountain biking in the dark

There are so many things to love about MTB riding, but the fact you can ride year round (well, here in Australia!) is definitely up there. And technically, with a bit of planning, you can pretty much ride any time of the day or night!

Trail rides at night are an awesome way to fit in a ride when your daylight hours are limited or full of other commitments, or when the winter months bring around those shorter days. They can also be a great option during hotter months in warm climates, when a daytime ride promises to be an epic sweat-fest! 

The thought of ripping through single track in the dark might seem daunting, but it's actually incredibly fun and puts a whole different slant on your riding. Here are a few simple tips to help you make the most of your first mountain bike ride at night!

 

LIGHTING

Probably your first thought is - ah, how do I see at night so I don't, you know, wrap myself around tree? Well I'm glad you asked! You'll definitely want to grab yourself a decent light (I'd recommend at least 1000 lumens to be able to see well on the trail), and make sure you put it on charge well in advance of your ride so you don’t get caught out.

If you're a night time commuter, you may be used to mounting your lights on your bars. For off-road riding, this is actually not ideal. Mounting your light on the bars means you can only see where your front wheel is pointing - rather than looking ahead through the turns where you need to see on twisty or undulating singletrack. It also means the light glances across the tracks and can make obstacles, particularly drops, even more shadowy and harder to judge.

A helmet mounted light is the way to go here, so you maintain good form, look ahead and can keep your focus on what's coming up further ahead of you. For a back up, and to increase overall visibility, you can run a light on your bars as well as your helmet. This gives you even more visibility when going fast.

 

WHERE TO RIDE

Pretty much any trail can be ridden at night with decent lights, however, it's probably best to stick to tracks you know reasonably well from riding them during the day. Otherwise, you'll end up the night-riding version of these guys:

 

If you’re really keen, try planning your route so that you’re rewarded with an awesome sunrise or sunset at the summit of a peak!

 

PREPARATION

Getting stuck out in the middle of the forest at night is not an appealing thought - so take a bit of extra care before a night ride making sure you’ve got all your spares, tools, and safety gear with you. Just a few basic tools (e.g. ……), a phone, charged up lights and a jacket (even in warm climates, a few hours stuck trailside in the middle of the night could be pretty brisk!) will keep you sorted.  

Have a plan for the trails you’re going to ride, and resist the temptation to explore some new part of the area you’ve not been before - depending on your area, it’s hard enough to bush-bash your way out of an unfamiliar area in the day, so don’t get too experimental at night! Cold, lost in the bush with batteries expiring and no GPS coverage sounds like a little more adventure than I’m up for.

 

RIDE WITH MATES

Riding is often better with mates, but especially important at night - I’d really not recommend going a night ride alone. Apart from the slightly creepy factor of being out bush, all alone, it’s just not a really sensible idea to be out there on your own if something goes bad (like a light packing it in, a mechanical issue, or injury).

If you do ride with mates, be sure to keep a bit of a distance - if you’re too close and you’ve got a particularly bright light, you might find your light creates a shadow in front of the other rider which is quite irritating and distracting, making it harder for them to see what’s coming. Also, if the conditions are dry, your light will pick up all their dust, drastically reducing visibility. So just back off a little, ok?

 

WHAT TO EXPECT

I find I actually ride better on some more technical trails when I'm riding at night. I'm less distracted by the obstacles or hazards off to the sides of the trail - so spend more time super focused on the trail ahead of me, rather than stressing about the trees I'm trying not to clip, or the way the track drops away down the side of the hill.....

Plus night rides are generally a great time to have some beverages and a hearty meal at the end of it all, so be sure to factor in some time to hit up your local burger joint before heading home!

 

See you on the trails!


Comments (3)

Great article........but gobsmacked

By: on 7 November 2018
Good intro article to night riding, nicely written good advice. But I’m gobsmacked that the leader page has bike lights priced at $600+. Am I loosing touch here or are we getting beyond ridiculous. I checked on line and I can get comparable lights for less than a quarter of the price. As a start out rider the cost of your lights has made me scrap this idea, my wife would think I have totally lost it if I spent even half that amount on a light for my bike. It’s not like you to feature gear as expensive as this when promoting something new/different in your newsletter, you usually show less expensive gear that we can easily afford. I’m still gobsmacked, MBD that you obviously think gear at that price is ok.

Mountain Bikes Direct Response
Hi there, The link in the article takes you to the page where all the lights we sell are located. While there are some very high-quality lights on there that are priced above $600 there are also a whole bunch of excellent, more wallet-friendly options listed if you scroll down the page a bit. The CleanSkin Duo 2200 is an excellent choice as it provides plenty of power in a very affordable package so that may be more what you're looking for. It wasn't so long ago that any bike light with an off-road worthy level of power output was priced around the $600 mark as there simply weren't any more affordable options available. It's only been the last few years that the more affordable options such as the Cleanskins have started to appear. We like to be able to cater to everybody, from those just starting out with night riding that are looking for an affordable option, all the way up to the serious 24hr racers that demand the utmost quality and reliability in their choice of light. We have models available to cater to these differing levels of expectation. You can change the sorting order of the search results to change how the lights are displayed according to price. I hope that clarifies things a bit for you. If you have any more questions feel free to direct them to us at help@mountainbikesdirect.com.au Cheers, Rob - MTBD

Good read!

By: on 11 October 2017
I used to ride at night with just a light on my handlebar. I agree with this post - have a light mounted on both your helmet and handlebar is most recommended! Also never ride at night on a trail you've never been before, unless you're with someone who is familiar with the trail. Indeed, getting lost in the middle of the night is not fun at all

Well done Jen....

By: on 13 July 2017
A great article for anyone starting out night riding....another awesome part of mountain biking. Certainly wish articles like this were around when I first attempted night riding around 20 years ago....the old Dolphin torch strapped to my bars just didn't cut it offroad :)

Mountain Bikes Direct Response
Yep, lights have certainly come a fair way since the good old dolphin torch days!

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