The lowdown on biking after dark.
“But you merely adopted the dark; I was born in it, molded by it.” —Bane, DC Comics villain
As daylight wanes and the sun sets earlier every night, it’s increasingly difficult to squeeze in everything we were doing a season before. Of particular challenge is getting in that evening ride before nightfall. Unless, that is, you consider the darkness as an opportunity rather than a hindrance.
Think of all the reasons that mountain biking is so exciting. You’re aggressively thrown into the present moment; your whole world shrinks down to your connection to the bike, and your bike’s connection to the ground. Your window of perception is limited to only what’s immediately ahead, as you navigate any obstacles appearing in your way. Now, imagine if all that could be multiplied tenfold. Your perception isn’t just limited; it’s entirely constrained within a narrow beam of light, streaming out in front of you. Your senses are heightened. Instincts kick in as you react to every bump, twist, and turn, dancing in sync with the mountain and flow of gravity. It all makes for a wild ride.
With the change in perception, so too must your biking kit change to accommodate night riding. There are a few major considerations to make the whole endeavor possible, and a few minor additions to make it more enjoyable. Keep the following in mind before heading out into the night.
This is the most important addition to your night-riding setup. The amount of lighting you choose to bring is up to you, and will shape the kind of riding that you’re capable of. Bring more lights to illuminate the trail as much as possible, allowing for faster and more confident riding. Less illumination will make for a conservative, reactionary experience. Both have their place and can be equally exhilarating, so the amount of challenge is up to you. To start, consider having at least one light mounted on your handlebars to beam on the trail—at least 500 lumens. I recommend finding one that has a sturdy attachment, so it doesn’t sag at all while you ride. Then wear a headlamp or helmet mount (300-500 lumens) to spotlight where you’re looking. I always like to bring a backup in case any lights go out—or if I come across some folks that happened to get caught out in the darkness and need one to borrow.
With shorter days come colder nights. A brisk, cold evening is a mark of the changing seasons, which can be a refreshing relief from the dog days of summer. Being prepared for the chilly temperatures is not only a matter of comfort, but also of safety. At the very least, bring an extra jacket to put on for the ride down. Once you stop sweating from the climb and start ripping the descent, you’ll be happy to have it.
Glasses are an oft-overlooked piece of equipment, though most bikers will always ride with some kind during the day for sun and dirt protection. Obviously the sun isn’t an issue at night, but wind and debris can still be a burden. Consider finding some clear specs to keep your eyes covered—even a cheap pair of safety glasses will do the trick.
Putting everything together will take some trial & error. Make sure your helmet, headlight, and glasses fit well. You may need to make some adjustments or modifications to get it right, but it’s best to have your kit figured out before you’re at the top of a technical descent with the sun already down.
Biking at night is inherently more dangerous, so consider riding with a buddy. If you do go alone, let someone know where you’re going and when you’ll be back. Otherwise, it might not be until the next morning that someone stumbles across you, cold and miserable, still on the trail.
On the flip side, however, less people on the trails means fewer interruptions on your ride, so soak it in. Plus, other hikers or bikers will also probably be wearing lights, so you’ll see them coming from farther away. But as always, you should ride under control.
With these tips in mind, go out there and get after it, night rider.