Mountain biking at night can provide a rush you just can’t get during the daytime. For some busy enthusiasts, nighttime may even be the only available time to ride, particularly when daylight hours are in short supply. In either case, nighttime mountain biking requires extra safety precautions and different gear, including LED lights, that you normally don’t need for riding during the day. Following are suggestions for what to bring and how to trick out your mountain bike for night riding.
The Right Lights
Lighting systems for mountain bikes can be rigged together fairly inexpensively, or they can cost hundreds of dollars for a high-end system. While there are many different types of bike lights available, from halogen to HID, LED lights are often recommended as a reliable and cost-effective choice.
LED lights are compact, rugged and highly efficient, resulting in longer-lasting bulbs and an extended battery life. The length of your ride will be limited by the battery duration of your lights, which means LED lights let you ride longer. Always keep in mind the duration of your light system and plan your ride accordingly.
The basic components of your bike light system should include:
LED headlamp. Your primary light when mountain biking at night should be a helmet-mounted light that will always aim in the direction you’re looking. An LED headlamp is ideal for this purpose, as headlamps are typically compact, lightweight and can strap onto a helmet. Choose an LED headlamp with a powerful, focused spotlight and multiple brightness settings. Begin your ride on a medium setting and save the full brightness for when things get dicey; the extra light will boost your confidence.
Handlebar-mounted light. Ideally, you should have a light mounted on your handlebars as well as your helmet to provide extra area lighting. LED lights with broad-coverage beams work well and can act as a backup in case your primary light goes out.
Taillights. Don’t forget to mount a light on the back of your bike to let riders behind you know your position. Blinking rear LED lights are good for this purpose, as the blinking effect helps draw attention to you.
Extra flashlight. If you end up having to stop and fix a tire, using your helmet light will only cut your trip short. To get the most mileage out of the evening, bring along an extra LED flashlight or headlamp for emergencies.
In addition to your lighting system, you should carry with you all of the standard supplies you would bring on a day trip, including:
Repair kit. Bring along the basic essentials to make necessary repairs on the trail. Flat tires are the most common mountain biking repair issues, so bring along the usual tire irons, spare tube, compact pump and patch kit in case you get multiple flats. Also include a basic bicycle toolkit, chain lube and a small rag for making other minor tweaks and repairs. Don’t forget the extra LED flashlight or headlamp to conserve the batteries on your riding lights.
Safety kit. Be prepared to deal with minor injuries by including an iPod-sized pouch with Band-Aids, antiseptic swabs, gauze pads and tape.
Food and warmth. Always pack enough water to last your entire trip. Include food, as well, such as energy bars or trail mix. Pack arm and leg warmers or a lightweight jacket in case you get cold.
Night Biking Tips
Other tips for ensuring a successful night ride include:
- Familiarize yourself with the trail during the day before tackling it in the dark.
- Here’s a rule of thumb to follow in cold weather: If you need lights to ride, you should also wear arm warmers.
- Never ride alone at night.
- Wear goggles or plastic glasses to protect your eyes from low hanging branches and other hard-to-spot hazards.
- Wear bright clothing to make you more visible in the dark.
- Remember that artificial light sources such as LED lights cast strange shadows and skew your perspective.
[ photo by: xJasonRogersx ]