Shedding the Light on MTB Night Riding

Llandegla Night Racing

Now that the clocks have rolled back and the days are getting ever shorter, it becomes increasingly difficult to dash home from work in time for a mid-week ride before the sun goes down. Sure, we could turn to turbo trainers or even the sofa…, but is that really as fun as tearing down the trails? Not in my book… 

Night riding can suddenly give you back all those lost hours of riding you were used to over the summer. It can also make the local routes you’ve ridden a thousand times, feel weirdly new and interesting…and it doesn’t have to cost a small fortune either.

Nowadays, many lights perform better and cost much less than they used to, with useable lights starting from as little as £30 to get you started. This article is intended for riders who are new to after-dark shredding but, even if you’re a thoroughly seasoned night rider, some of the information below may be useful.

So, what kind of lights do I need?  

Whilst some riders do get away with using just a single light on their helmet or bars, I would recommend a dual light set-up. One for your lid, another on the bars. Not only does this reduce shadows on the trail by providing two separate sources of light, it also helps you to look around corners to spot lines and obstacles ahead of time. Having two lights also provides you with more ‘lumens’ overall and a spare light, should one of them suddenly run out of juice or become damaged mid-ride. (Being stranded in the dark woods, is not recommended.) 

A good handlebar light should do most of the heavy lifting (or lighting, rather) to illuminate the whole area in front of you with a wide-beam of nice, even light. Anything with 1000 lumens and up will do the job however, it’s worth buying the best light you can sensibly afford. A great budget option here would be the Lezyne XXL 1600 offering a great mix of value and performance. Cheaper units such as the Halfords Advanced 1600 can also be viable budget options. There are also many off-brand bike lights on eBay & Amazon claiming thousand lumens output. Careful here though, as the actual output, can often fall far short of the number stated. 

The helmet light should act more as a spot light, helping you to see around corners as you turn your head and filling in gaps that lower mounted bar lights can’t reach. This one doesn’t need quite as many lumens, anything from 500 to 1500 lumens is plenty. It pays to keep the weight low here (under 150g) to prevent the bobble-head feeling on top of your lid. Great options for helmet lights include the Niterider Lumina Micro 850, if on a budget, with more extravagant options from Magicshine and Exposure if you want to splash out. The options above are more than adequate to get started though. Many lights will come with different mounting brackets. However, for ease of use I find it worthwhile to buy an additional go-pro type adapter for maximum flexibility between helmet lights, cameras and other accessories.

To finish, here are some useful do’s and don’ts to ensure anyone new to riding after dark, has the best time possible… 

Do’s 

  • Tell someone where you’re going – Chances are, you’ll have a great time, but should something go wrong, it helps for someone to know which area you’re riding. On the same topic… 
  • Take your Phone – This should be a no brainer, even during the day!! 
  • Take tools & spare tubes – That 30-minute ride from your door can easily become a 90-minute hike back to where you started from, should you suffer a puncture or mechanical which can’t be fixed.   
  • Check your bike over – Been riding around with a thorn in your tyre? Noticed a new rattle on the last ride? Give it a look before you head out in the dark. 
  • Distance – Keep your rides to a sensible distance that the run-time of your lights can comfortably allow. 
  • Charge up – charge your lights up after use. Don’t wait for a friend to invite you on the evening ride, before realising you won’t be able to charge them in time. It doesn’t hurt to top them up before you head out either. 
  • Take a rear light – If you’re likely to be riding any sections of road, make sure you can be seen by other road users. Rear lights can be inexpensive and turned off once you hit the trails. 
  • Enjoy it!! – Night riding can be freaky at first but it’s Hella FUN! and you’re more likely to encounter wildlife such as deer or owls once there are less people are around. 

Don’ts

  • Avoid Riding alone – riding at night can be slightly more dangerous, and you’re much less likely to encounter other trail users who can raise the alarm in an accident.  
  • Don’t Waste battery – Got a puncture? Stopping for a drink? Drops those beams nice and low. In fact, turn your helmet light off altogether, so you and your mates don’t blind each other whilst chatting away. 
  • Don’t expect a PB every ride – you might feel like you’re moving at light speed in the dark, but don’t be too disheartened if your Strava times don’t reflect this.  
  • Don’t get rid of old lights – treated yourself to a new light? Keep the old one as a spare. You never know when you or a friend might run out of power or forget to charge up properly. You can even keep one in your riding pack during the day, just in case you’re caught short. 

And that’s it! 

Get out there and explore a whole new world of riding!!

Author: Ste Hill – @steontoast

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