6 tips for trail night riding

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

Although the days are now getting longer, riding at night still means riding in the dark. So as night ride season continues, 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. So read on to find out how to turn the dreary depths of winter into some of your best months of riding ever.

1. Get lit

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, look for at least an 800-lumen output.

2. 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. 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 head-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.

3. Pick the right route

If you’ve never been for 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.

4. 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.

5. Keep your distance

Don’t ride too close to the person in front because 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!

6. Stay safe

Riding at night can be dangerous. The likelihood of crashing is higher and you’re less visible to other trail (and road) users. Make sure to bring 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. Wrap up warm, too — when it’s dark, the temperature drops.

This article was originally published in Mountain Biking UK magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.

Alex has been riding bikes since he was knee-high to a grasshopper. He first raced back in 2003, winning the Juvenile category on a sketchy hard tail Planet X bike. Alex lived in the Alps for seven years so isn't shy of a climb or two and loves getting out in his bike in all weather. His favorite thing to ride is steep loamy tracks with loads of opportunities to slam the bike into turns and really give it some frame bending welly! He's broken his fair share of frames, so any bike between his knees is going to get a right seeing to.
  • Discipline: DH, Enduro, XC, BMX, Road
  • Preferred Terrain: Epic descents covered in the world's finest loam and hero dirt
  • Current Bikes: Nukeproof Mega 275 / Giant Anthem Advanced 275 1 / LeMond Reno / Deluxe Pro 2 BMX
  • Dream Bike: Giant ATX 1 DH (1999 model)
  • Beer of Choice: Teetotal
  • Location: Bristol, UK

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