There are so many things to love about MTB riding, but the fact you can ride year round (well, here in Australia!) is definitely up there. And technically, with a bit of planning, you can pretty much ride any time of the day or night!
Trail rides at night are an awesome way to fit in a ride when your daylight hours are limited or full of other commitments, or when the winter months bring around those shorter days. They can also be a great option during hotter months in warm climates, when a daytime ride promises to be an epic sweat-fest!
The thought of ripping through single track in the dark might seem daunting, but it's actually incredibly fun and puts a whole different slant on your riding. Here are a few simple tips to help you make the most of your first mountain bike ride at night!
Probably your first thought is - ah, how do I see at night so I don't, you know, wrap myself around tree? Well I'm glad you asked! You'll definitely want to grab yourself a decent light (I'd recommend at least 1000 lumens to be able to see well on the trail), and make sure you put it on charge well in advance of your ride so you don't get caught out.
If you're a night time commuter, you may be used to mounting your lights on your bars. For off-road riding, this is actually not ideal. Mounting your light on the bars means you can only see where your front wheel is pointing - rather than looking ahead through the turns where you need to see on twisty or undulating singletrack. It also means the light glances across the tracks and can make obstacles, particularly drops, even more shadowy and harder to judge.
A helmet mounted light is the way to go here, so you maintain good form, look ahead and can keep your focus on what's coming up further ahead of you. For a back up, and to increase overall visibility, you can run a light on your bars as well as your helmet. This gives you even more visibility when going fast.
Where To Ride
Pretty much any trail can be ridden at night with decent lights, however, it's probably best to stick to tracks you know reasonably well from riding them during the day. Otherwise, you'll end up the night-riding version of these guys:
If you're really keen, try planning your route so that you're rewarded with an awesome sunrise or sunset at the summit of a peak!
Getting stuck out in the middle of the forest at night is not an appealing thought - so take a bit of extra care before a night ride making sure you've got all your spares, tools, and safety gear with you. Just a few basic tools (multi-tool, spare tube, tyre levers & Co2), a phone, charged up lights and a jacket (even in warm climates, a few hours stuck trailside in the middle of the night could be pretty brisk!) will keep you sorted.
Have a plan for the trails you're going to ride, and resist the temptation to explore some new part of the area you've not been before - depending on your area, it's hard enough to bush-bash your way out of an unfamiliar area in the day, so don't get too experimental at night! Cold, lost in the bush with batteries expiring and no GPS coverage sounds like a little more adventure than I'm up for.
Ride With Mates
Riding is often better with mates, but especially important at night - I'd really not recommend going a night ride alone. Apart from the slightly creepy factor of being out bush, all alone, it's just not a really sensible idea to be out there on your own if something goes bad (like a light packing it in, a mechanical issue, or injury).
If you do ride with mates, be sure to keep a bit of a distance - if you're too close and you've got a particularly bright light, you might find your light creates a shadow in front of the other rider which is quite irritating and distracting, making it harder for them to see what's coming. Also, if the conditions are dry, your light will pick up all their dust, drastically reducing visibility. So just back off a little, ok?
What To Expect
I find I actually ride better on some more technical trails when I'm riding at night. I'm less distracted by the obstacles or hazards off to the sides of the trail - so spend more time super focused on the trail ahead of me, rather than stressing about the trees I'm trying not to clip, or the way the track drops away down the side of the hill.....
Plus night rides are generally a great time to have some beverages and a hearty meal at the end of it all, so be sure to factor in some time to hit up your local burger joint before heading home!
See you on the trails!