Night riding: 6 tips for mountain biking at night

Conquer the dark abyss of winter with style, confidence and a big front light

Mountain biking at night, night riding – Bikepark Wales after hours. PIC © Andy Lloyd www.andylloyd.photography

The dry, dusty days of summer may be over but the change of season needn’t put a stop to your riding.

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With daylight hours dwindling in the Northern Hemisphere, night riding can throw a whole new light on your local trails. Routes you know like the back of your hand in the day take on a whole new lease of life when night falls.

As night ride season takes off – often in conditions that may be cold, dark and frequently wetter than an otter’s pocket – there are plenty of ways to ensure the fun doesn’t have to stop. Read on to find out how to turn the dreary depths of winter into some of your best riding months of the year.

Get lit

Mountain biking at night, night riding – Bikepark Wales after hours. PIC © Andy Lloyd www.andylloyd.photography
A powerful front light is a night riding essential.
Andy Lloyd

A decent front light is essential if you want to enjoy nicely illuminated trails, rather than spending the whole time scrabbling around in the dark.

You may be able to get away with a 400-lumen light if you know the way, aren’t looking to ride like Danny Hart and don’t have a mate with a 5,000-lumen monster on his bar that leaves you in perpetual shadow.

But if you’re wanting to go faster and harder, you’ll need more illumination. We’d recommend 1,500 lumens at a starting point for serious night riding.

Take a look at our guide to the best mountain bike lights, for our favourite tried-and-tested options at a range of budgets. You’ll need a good rear light, too.

Mount up

There are a couple of options when it comes to mounting your light. The obvious choice is the handlebar, especially if it’s an all-in-one-unit with the battery and lamp combined.

Alternatively, you can fix it to your helmet, but avoid this with a heavy light because it’ll cause the lid to shift around when you ride over bumps.

The other consideration is the type of trail you’re riding. If there are lots of tight turns, a bar-mounted light won’t shine around the corners, which is where you need to be looking.

A helmet-mounted light solves this issue because it shines where you look, but if there isn’t enough light to also flood the trail directly in front of you, you may struggle.

The best option is to have both head and bar-mounted lights.

Pick the right route

Mountain biking at night, night riding – Bikepark Wales after hours. PIC © Andy Lloyd www.andylloyd.photography
Trail centres are ideal for honing your night riding skills.
Andy Lloyd

If you’ve never been on a night ride before, try it out on a route you know well before adventuring into the wilds.

You’ll be surprised by how alien the trails look and feel. Cues that you use to initiate turns and features you’re familiar with will be cast into shadow and won’t appear when you expect.

Take it easy — you won’t be ‘winning’ Strava on your first outing.

Trail centres are ideal places to hone your night riding skills. The tracks are less likely to have hidden surprises such as stumps or rocks that could cause you to crash. You can always challenge yourself with more technical trails once you’ve built up your confidence.

Make friends

After-work rides with mates are a great way to keep the winter blues away.

Shops and cycling clubs around the country organise evening rides too, and they’re a great way to meet new and like-minded people.

With daylight hours limited in winter, if you want to ride regularly then you’ll need to get out after dark. Having riding buddies to team up with can help you get out of the door when it’s otherwise tempting to stay at home.

Keep your distance

Mountain biking at night, night riding – Bikepark Wales after hours. PIC © Andy Lloyd www.andylloyd.photography
Keep your distance from the rider in front.
Andy Lloyd

Don’t ride too close to the person in front. If your light is brighter than theirs it’ll cast a giant shadow ahead of them, making it harder for them to see the trail.

If you stop for a chinwag, don’t shine your light directly into your mates’ eyes because it’ll temporarily blind them.

Instead of keeping your light on full power for the whole ride, reduce the output on flat sections and climbs to save battery life.

Don’t run it so dim that you can’t see though!

Stay safe

Riding at night can be dangerous. The likelihood of crashing is higher, you’re less visible to other trail (and road) users and you’re less likely to encounter others riders in the event of an accident.

Take a working rear light even if you’re planning on staying off-road — you never know what might happen.

A back-up front light is a good idea too and pay close attention to your main light’s battery life — you don’t want to get caught out in the middle of nowhere, unable to see or be seen.

Wait for friends if you get separated and always let someone know where you’re planning to go and how long you’re going to be out for.

Make sure your bike is ready for the mud if you live in a wet climate and take everything you need for trailside repairs.

Wrap up warm, too — when it’s dark, the temperature drops.  A spare layer in your riding pack could make all the difference if the weather changes or you need to make an unscheduled stop.

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You can read our guide to the best waterproof mountain biking jackets for starters.