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R E V O L U T I O N B Y N I G H T : Riding After Dark

Come on! You’ll like it. It’s a totally new experience; not like anything else we’ve done. My buddy, Chris, always tried to get our group to ride at night. I was non-committal. It didn’t seem fun. Why ride in the dark, when we can ride in the sunshine? Chris kept at it & our group finally powered-up some borrowed cycling lights one Fall evening. Immediately, I liked it: “Why haven’t we been doing this all along?” Ahead of me, Chris yelled something back in exasperation.

I found that riding at night creates a wealth of new experiences. I quickly realized that I could climb hills faster at night. Seriously. Our group could never come up with a solid reason why, but I think it has to do with a rider’s mental game. As riders, we see huge hills & brace for the climb. Then we slog up the monster, until we reach the top. But, at night, riding lights “flatten” the look of the hill. I think that since we’re not psyched by the look of the hill our mental game is less threatened . . . letting us ascend faster. This is true, even for hills that we ride all the time during the day.

Crawling rocks on techy trails (like Here’s Johnny) is another fun aspect of night riding. Even if you know a trail well, the shadows & shades produced by your light create a wholly new experience for you. Well-known obstacles look different & produce new challenges. Sometimes, the different lighting conditions reveal new lines on obstacles that you often ride during the day. As such, night riding can actually make you a better rider during the day.

Descending is another story. I'd rip down the hills, at night, just as fast as during the day. You don’t see anything in the periphery. It’s almost like you’re ripping down a long tunnel. Your focus is narrowed solely to what’s ahead of you & nothing else. The only limiting factor to your speed is your light’s “throw.” You see, the further that a beam is “thrown” ahead of you, the longer that you have to prepare for the upcoming trail. If your light produces a weak beam, you can actually outrun your light. This when you go faster than the time you have to prepare what you’re seeing in front of you, as revealed by your light. This is treacherous & can/do result in unintended flight times that produce big yard sales.

Try night riding. If you've not done it before, you’ll find it to be a wholly new cycling experience. All this action, though, is contingent upon one critical piece of gear. Your light. You don’t need to spend the insane amounts that some brands charge to get a good light. That said, you’ll likely not find lights that’ll suit your needs at the local WalMart, either. Good lights should be LED & will be measured in Lumen. Lumens are a measurement of light intensity. (Lumen is a measure of how much light you get from a bulb. More lumens means it's a brighter light; fewer lumens means it's a dimmer light.

As a rule of thumb, you should not venture onto a mountain bike trail with less than a 900 lumen light. Lights that I use measure at least 1200. There are two reasons for this choice. 1) Lights that throw less than 900L cast shadows around & behind rocks & other trail obstacles. These shadows hide important details that may be critical to you. A hidden root can stop you dead & throw you over the bars. A puddle enshrouded by shadow could make your tire slick & cause a slide. 2) Low lumen lights also have a short throw. If you like making the most of the descent that you’ve just earned with your climb, you need a light that gives you enough visible trail distance to shred that descent. Lights come in literally hundreds of configurations & lumen measurements. I’m lucky to currently ride with a 3500 lumen light that I purchased on sale from one of Mojo’s parts reps. It’s like a volcano on top of my head. Any reasons for sub-par night riding lay squarely on me.

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Charles Williams
Charles Williams
Sep 26, 2022

I never hesitate to recommend night riding, but it isn't for everyone. Some people really struggle to see and never get comfortable. For that reason, I think it's perfectly fine for people to initially purchase an inexpensive light, as is suggested here, just to try it. I am a huge proponent of the rechargeable "self contained" lights where the battery is integrated, and you just plug it up to charge it, and off you go. The "external battery" lights are just more hassle IMO. It's also always good to have a helmet, AND a bar light, so you have a back up should one fail...but the helmet light is always the key. If you aren't sure....ask a friend t…

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