I have spent much of my life living in the Pacific Northwest and riding the backcountry single-track trails that crisscross the Cascade Mountain Range. Many times, I have enjoyed a moonlit mountain bike ride, but it does take a bit of advance preparation and precautions riding at night.
If you are a newbie rider or simply have never ridden under the guise of darkness, then you might feel a bit intimidated and even afraid. However, take a few deep breaths and let me reassure you that mountain bike riding at night is very enjoyable.
It is also a fantastic way to experience the sport of riding year-round because the short days of winter mean limited light, so if you escape the office at six pm, you might feel like riding, but the sun has already set. However, night riding lets you experience the thrill even in darkness.
Tips to Keep You Safe When You Ride Night Trails:
Here are a few safety tips to ensure that you have a great riding at night experience.
When night riding, it’s all about light. I like lights on my bike, a light on my helmet, and I carry a spare mini flashlight and bike light just to be safe. This way, if one light malfunctions, you have a backup. My personal favorite is an 800-lumen light.
Understand Battery Life
Mountain bike lights typically offer three or more brightness settings. This is great because some nights you might be riding by the light of a full moon and not require a great deal of light.
Also, some mountain bike trails, such as those at resorts, are lit but you still must have additional lights to safely traverse the trail ahead. Leaving your bike’s lights on in the brightest setting rapidly depletes the battery.
On full brightness, your batteries might last an hour or less, which is not enough time to complete a ride. However, if you keep the lights set low you can often obtain four hours out of a set of batteries.
A quick tip: I like to carry extra batteries in my pack.
My advice is to never trust the time listed on the light’s manufacturers label because they are usually wrong. Also, some lights are rechargeable which might save you a few bucks on batteries, but I am more old-school and prefer the battery-operated types.
A lot of people do not like a light on their helmet because they feel that the weight causes the gear to shift, but I don’t ever use an overly large lantern. I like to turn my head and have my light follow my eyes.
In addition, a mounting a light on your handlebar offers even more illumination. Just make sure you have a firm mount, so it does not shift when you hit bumps.
Also, aim your handlebar light so it illuminates the area not only in front of your front wheel but also the trail ahead. Many people mess up and have the light pointing too far down so all you see is the trail right in front of the tire and the area in front of you remains hidden and obscured by shadows.
Blinky rear lights are great if you are cycling on roadways and pavement, but you should bypass those lights when riding backcountry. The blinking light is hard on the eyes of other riders, especially if your buddy is bringing up the rear. Yes, a rear light is a great option, but choose one that you can run in full-vise mode and then turn down the brightness, so you are not blinding anyone behind you.
Ride with a Buddy
Okay, I will admit it, I have been spooked on the trail alone at night. Yes, I have ventured out for a much-needed ride in the dead-of-night solo, but in hindsight, it was probably not a clever idea.
A lot can happen to you when you are riding alone during the day or night. You can get hurt on the trail easily no matter what time you ride, so having a riding buddy is a safe practice any time you ride the backcountry.
Also, a lot of animals are nocturnal so you could stand a greater chance of encountering some unfamiliar furry creatures on the dark expanse of the trail, so having a friend with you means that you will be less likely to become afraid of what might be hiding behind every tree.
Let People Know Where You Went
If you decide to take a late-night bike ride then you should always let family and friends know that you have hit the trail and where you will be riding.
This is a good practice even if you ride with a friend. Sometimes, a night ride takes longer than a day rides across the same trail because of a variety of reasons.
You might not want to sail across the trail when you cannot clearly see what is ahead of you, so you decide to take things slow. However, always give your emergency friends a general estimate of when you will return from your ride and what to do if you do not make it back at a set time.
Stick to Trails That Fit Your Skillset
Riding at night is a titillating experience. For a skilled rider, it’s a way to truly test yourself. However, if you are a novice, pick a trail that fits your daytime skill level.
You don’t want to encounter something you cannot conquer even when the riding conditions are ideal, much less in the pitch black.
Personally, I find riding at night to be a mystical experience. Sometimes, I like to just stop on a backcountry trail, switch off my lights, and look up at the stars. If I am deep in a forest, it feels like the trees are my sentinels who are watching as I ride through their kingdom.
The above safety tips when riding at night will help ensure that you stay out of harm’s way and enjoy the experience. Riding at night can be a wonderful adventure for all skill sets.
Just be sure to not take on a trail that you cannot handle. Your initial ride in the darkness should be along an easy familiar path until you have built up your confidence.