It’s the time of year when the days are short, the nights are chilly, and the trails are still calling. It’s time for night rides.
I was thinking about writing something about night riding and then I remembered that I had done some articles on the subject a few years ago… make that about 17 years ago! I published a couple of articles in 1999 on the subject, in Men’s Health and Fitness and MetroSports Boston.
So, for a blast from the past, here’s the version from MetroSports Boston… My writing really is timeless.
The Freaks Come Out At Night...
On a recent ride in New Hampshire, some friends and I witnessed a beautiful sunset from atop an overlook. But rather than this sunset heralding the end of our ride, it marked the beginning. With our lights strapped on to our handlebars and helmets, we set off for a biking adventure much different than the one that you can get during the day.
What's that? You've never thought of going out for a night ride? Well, while you do need to take a few extra precautions, night riding is easier than you may think. It can be challenging, it can improve your overall riding skills, and as the days are getting shorter, it may be your only option for mid-week rides.
The night puts a whole new perspective on your favorite trails, and can make old boring rides new and exciting. Obviously you may have to tone down your speeds a bit, but these tricks of the night can help sharpen your reactions, and you still get a good workout because even though it’s dark, the hills are still just as steep.
Assuming that you've already got a bike and all that stuff, the most important thing you'll need for successful night riding is a good set of lights. The $15 department store lights that take "C" batteries might be good enough for a paved bike path, or to make you visible to cars at night, but if you are going off road, you'll want a serious set of lights. (Ed: Ha… C batteries!) Plan on spending anywhere from $100 to $500. (Ed: prices have come down...) You can have a light mounted to your handlebar, your helmet, or both. The handlebar mount lights come in single, double, and now triple beam. They are usually stronger than the helmet mounted lights (which are single beam) but only shed light where the handlebars are pointing, where as the helmet lights illuminate where you are looking. Serious riders, like many of the racers who participate in 24 hour mountain bike races, use both set-ups.
You really don't need to worry about a red tail-light unless you are going to ride on the road. If you do decide to do any road riding at night, you definitely need the red tail-light (head and tail-lights are required, by law, on bicycles at night) and you should also look into some reflective clothing. Reflective clothing has come a long way since the bright orange vest. Jackets and pants actually look normal in the daytime and then change at night when light hits them.
When you head down to your local bike shop, you may feel like you need a scientist with you to explain Xenon bulbs, NiCad and NiMH batteries, Ohms, watts, Lumens, Lux and battery memory. It would take quite a while to explain it all right here, but the shop employees should be able to answer any questions you have. (Ed: I love my LBS, but it’s 2016, who isn’t going to Amazon.com?) Pretty much all of the lighting technology is comparable with all of the quality light manufacturers. Your buying choice will probably come down to cost and desired features.
Are you ready to take on the night yet? Here are some tips to help make the nighttime the right time:
· It's a good idea to always ride with a buddy. This way you've got someone to reassure you when you hear strange noises in the bushes, but more importantly you've got someone around in case you get into real trouble. (Ed: I’m pretty sure my buddy and I were stalked by a pack of coyotes last year) Since you can't always find someone to ride when you want to, at least let someone know where you are going and when you expect to be back home. Remember that you'll probably be going a lot slower than you do during the day.
· If none of your friends are willing to brave the night with you, then check with your local bike shops for groups that ride at night. Many shops have group rides that go out, and if none do, then maybe you could post a sign and start your own group.
· When you first begin your nocturnal adventures, stick to trails that you know, and slow down and have fun. No matter how well a lighting system works, a steep drop off or even a cliff can be a nasty surprise. It will take a while to develop lightning fast reactions, so in the meantime, chill and enjoy the night.
· Of course you already carry a spare tube and some tools, but now you might want to think about some other equipment as well. A small flashlight and a roll of electrical tape will do wonders in backcountry emergencies. If you crash and break your light mount, you can tape it in place. If you break your light entirely, or your batteries run out, you can use the flashlight to walk out, or tape it to the bars and ride out.
· Most lights have different power settings, so it is important to try to utilize your battery run time so that you don't get stranded. To conserve battery power, shut your lights off if you stop to talk or rest, and run the lights on low when you are on easy sections of the trail that you are familiar with.
· Without the all powerful sun, the night can get quite chilly, especially as fall and winter descend upon us. So, not to sound like your Mother, be sure to have the right clothing to stay warm and dry.
· Arriving at the trail head without a charged system is as lame as forgetting your shoes or front wheel (I've done both). Get things ready the day or night before so that you are packed, charged, and prepared.
We would have been smart to have followed some of this advice while on our ride in New Hampshire. Chris, one of the guys on our ride, crashed early on and broke his light mount. No problem, I just let him use my helmet light. This worked out for a while, until my helmet light, which was running at its brightest, ran out of juice. So there we were, in the middle of nowhere, trying to rig up a light mount using a Velcro strap, and a bandanna. The "MacGuyver" of our group got it going and we got back to my van without further incident. I guess that's one more thing I forgot to mention, always ride with a "MacGuyver".
Now go out there and ride, Thomas Edison had this in mind all along.