Rider: Loic Bruni. Photo: Hadrien Picard/Red Bull Content Pool

We’ve written extensively here on Singletracks about night riding, providing reasons why you should night ride, how to start night riding, and more. But this year, I want to examine night riding from a different angle: why don’t some people night ride? What keeps them from night riding?

Photo: maddslacker.

Photo: maddslacker.

According to our survey data, 55% of mountain bikers have tried night riding. That means that 45% of mountain bikers haven’t even tried it, and of that 55%, I’d be willing to bet the number of riders that strap a light to their bike at least once per week is much, much less.

As I thought about it, I realized that lately I haven’t been night riding nearly as much as I have in past years. Here are 5 things, based on my personal experience and my conversations with others, that might keep you from riding at night… and reasons why they shouldn’t hold you back:

1. It’s expensive.

The number one excuse I hear from mountain bikers who don’t even want to dabble in night riding is, “Lights are so expensive! I can’t afford one of those!” Yes, there are expensive lights out there on the market. But nowadays you can get 800-1400 lumen lights, sufficient light for most night riding conditions, under $100. And if you shop eBay, there are even no-name bike lights on sale for much cheaper than that.

My first night ride of the season. Pictured here is the Fenix BT20, which is a good-quality light set that can be purchased for about $150.

My first night ride of the season. Pictured here is the Fenix BT20, which is a good-quality light set that can be purchased for about $150.

In my opinion, buying a light is the #1 thing you can do to extend the amount of time you can ride your mountain bike in the fall and spring. Even if you have a lower-end bike, chances are your bike is worth at least $1,000. What good is a $1,000 (or a $10,000) bike if you can’t ride it during the week? Drop a hundred bucks on a light, and keep on pedaling!

2. It’s dangerous.

There seems to be this pervasive opinion among night riding n00bs that riding at night is dangerous. But the reality is, it’s no more dangerous than riding during the daytime. With even low-priced bike lights pushing 750-1000 lumens, and some lights boasting a whopping 6000 lumens, these lights can illuminate the trail as brilliantly as the sun.

3. It’s cold at night.

This one really depends on the time of year and the location, and in the northern reaches of the continent during the middle of the winter it can get really frigging cold at night! Honestly, sometimes this is a really good reason to stay indoors. However, with the advent of fat bikes, clothing manufacturers have made huge strides in recent years in producing lightweight, low-profile bike clothing that is surprisingly warm. With the right layers and preparation, you can easily mountain bike comfortably in zero degree (F) weather… or colder.

4. There’s no one else to ride with.

While at times it can be daunting to night ride alone, I’ve found that night riding solo is the most peaceful mountain bike experience ever. There’s usually no one else on the trails, and the quiet and solitude can’t be matched! Of course, if that makes you uncomfortable, it’s pretty easy to find people to ride with. Many shops conduct night rides all year long, as do mountain bike clubs and individuals. There are tons of people who night ride, and many of them will be willing to show you the ropes!

Photo: Jeff

Photo: Jeff

5. It’s hard to get motivated when it’s dark outside.

If we’re honest with ourselves, many of us already know the points and counterpoints listed above. But really, most of the time it’s just hard to get motivated to wrangle all of your bike gear, and pedal your bike in the pitch black of night. However, there are some steps you can take to make it easier.

The first step is to find a regular night ride to be a part of. I touched on this above, but there’s nothing more motivating than knowing a group of your friends will be riding at the same time, on the same day, every week.

The second step is almost just as important, and that’s to keep your gear ready to go, all the time:

  • When you get back from a ride, toss your battery on the charger so it’s ready to go at a moment’s notice. (Some higher-end lights feature charging stations that you can leave your battery on, ensuring your battery is always topped off.)
  • Wash your clothes quickly, and keep your warm winter riding clothes in a dedicated pile, ready to be donned in minutes.
  • Keep your hydration pack full of all the gear and layers you might need, so all you have to do is fill your water reservoir.
  • If you run a bike-mounted light, keep it mounted on your bike at all times so you don’t have to take it on and off.
  • And if you’re partial to a helmet-mounted light, dedicate one helmet to night riding alone, and leave your mount attached so you’re not constantly putting it on and taking it off when switching from night to day.

While at first blush going out for a night ride can be a daunting task, the right mindset and the proper preparation can make it a true joy and an utterly unique experience!

Your Turn: What are the reasons that you do–or don’t–night ride? Share them with us in the comments section below!

# Comments

  • delphinide

    For me, the biggest deterrent is a mental one: once it’s dark, and a little cold, my brain wants me to stay inside, drink cocoa, snuggle with my blankey, and watch Sesame Street. That being said, I have never regretted a night ride, even ones that involved crashes, getting lost, or having a mechanical. At the very least, it is a learning experience into the vulnerability of humanity and practice for the true zombie apocalypse. Unless you are in northern Canada or Alaska the chances of something gobbling you up are pretty slim (though we plainly saw that even an experienced rider on a familiar trail can succomb to the relatively minor elements in California last year…RIP bro).

    As with all things, ride safe. Listen to your spidey sense. Be prepared, plan ahead, take extra stuff, and tell someone where you are going. Don’t push yourself to go if you really, really don’t want to go, but enjoy it once you are there–relax, everything will be fine (probaly). As our electronic world continues to evolve us away from the great outdoors, it is nice to return to the primal side of firma terra and just be human again. Riding at night heightens your senses even more than when you ride in the daytime, and that alone is a reason to ride sans sol.

    • Greg Heil

      I know that feeling where you don’t want to go out and ride, but you sort of make yourself–and then once you’re out there, all is right with the world, and you wonder, “why did I have so much difficulty getting out the door?” Just getting out the door and on to the bike is usually the most difficult part for me. After that, it’s easy!

  • John Fisch

    1, Easily overcome–just gotta’ prioritize the limited funds.
    2. I’ve found that riding at night actually focuses my intent and I ride more competently. It’s easier to get in the zone without all the peripheral disraction.
    3. I LIKE cold. Cold is better than hot–you can always add another layer to compensate, but with hot, you can only remove so many layers before you chafe and/or get arrested!
    4. “I’ve found that night riding solo is the most peaceful mountain bike experience ever.” Amen to that. If that doesn’t work for you, know that someone else is using the same “no one to ride with” excuse right now. There’s always someone to ride with. Ya’ just gotta’ find ’em.
    5. Like #4, there’s a certain peace that comes with riding in the dark. Like #2, there’s also the focus. In the winter, it’s probably the only time one can ride during the workweek and in many places it the only time of day cool enough in the summer. There are so many additional motivations which, for me, overcome any potential lack of motivation.

    My first night ride was a total revelation. Even the “lame” trails were new and exciting at night. There’s also a lot to be said for keeping in bike shape over the winter.

  • rsb201

    Very well said, it is hard to get motivated when its cold, dark and usually damp this time of year. What helps me is that I have 4 or 5 riding buds that meet up every Wednesday night ( I rode last night). As far as the cost of lights, I purchased two CREE Lights off of Amazon and they were less than $30 each. One is a 900 Lumen that I wear on my helmet and the other is a 2600 flood Lumen for the bars. I am on my third winter with these and they are still going strong. I have no issues seeing the trail, even at high speeds. Get out and enjoy the trails !!!!!!

  • Mitch Eisenstein

    Got hit by a car returning from a night mtn bike ride. Trails at night? Maybe, although depth perception suffers. Take it real slow. Roads at night forget it. You can’t be seen no matter how strobed up you are under dangerous conditions like crossing intersections. I’m spooked. Give me a relaxing ride.

  • Bubblehead10MM

    Ya, I really could night ride more. I typically only do by mistake, that is it started out with plenty of day light. This time of year I could ride more, a lot more if the dark was not allowed to deter me. But Baby it’s cold outside.

  • johngataride

    For me, being ready and able to ride at a moments notice is what enables me to get out as often as I do.
    Like Greg mentioned above, having a helmet, gear etc. dedicated to night riding eases the hassle of getting out the door.
    And remember to plug in your lights as soon as you get back. There’s nothing like having the itch to ride and then realizing your batteries are dead?

  • Chuck VanLandingham

    Riding in the early, pre-dawn, hours on Purisima Creek up to Skyline Drive is eerily pitch black. You literally can not see your hand before your face. It is so quiet you can hear a drop of water hit the ground as it falls from a fern. Peaceful as others have mentioned. But as you granny up that long climb, headlamp going from left to right, images of Blair Witch Project may creep into your head.
    It gets light just in time for the bomber downhill back to the car. Awesome morning ride!

  • Terrance Roode

    I ride as much as I can, my fat bike my 29er, day or night. No not a super human killer speed demon. The light set up ran 360$ ca. but that is helmet and bar.(highly recommend both) 750 lumens and 1000 lumens. Scary alone yes, but same as day really. Dangerous, the damn sport is dangerous when done right. Expensive, yep, but what it does for me in pay off is huge. Upon questioning to buy the Fat Bike this year we looked at pro’s and cons. The list of pros was long, the cons short. The Cost. My son said to me “there is a bigger cost than just money Dad”. He’s right. Mental health, physical health , happiness. Life is short, if you can do it, do it or don’t , log out and go back to bed.

  • onefastfattie

    Man, I had an excuse all saved up for this comment… but after reading everyone else’s comments (old thread I know) I decided that excuses be damned, I WILL go on a night ride this year.
    My main problem is time. Working 10hr days and commuting a hour each way minimum is enough to put a serious dent in your free time. Additionally I have young kids who need help with homework and what not.
    BUT, this excuse has gone one for too long. I can always try it on a weekend!
    second problem being that there is nothing close by that allows night riding but I could plan it out and make a two hour drive to get to one. ( SF east bay area is so damn ridiculous with the park hours.)

  • YesHaveSome

    A major hurdle for mountain biking at night here in the Chicago suburbs is that all of our trails are located in parks and preserves owned by the city/park district/forest preserve district/etc. All of these locations have hours that are usually dawn to dusk, making night mountain biking not exactly legal.

  • Spikem

    We ride every Friday nite on a nice flowy singletrack. Sandy here in AZ, so we ride our plus bikes. The lites of Phoenix and abject darkness are spectacular. Critters at nite are much more common. Been doing it for over a year and finish it off with a burger and beer.

  • stumpyfsr

    One more reason some folks don’t ride at night – some parks/trails are officially closed after dark or like 10 pm.
    And motivation, of course. When 0F outside it’s hard to push yourself outside. Yet those are usually are most memorable rides.

  • rmap01

    Thanks for reposting Greg’s article. Very timely… and timeless.

    • Lazaro Michael Sosa

      The majority of my rides are alone but mostly during the day. I used to night ride a lot with my buddies in Florida when I was in college so night life wasn’t a problem then but I recently did a really early morning ride 4 am and I heard howls and we have coyotes in the area so I got off the feeder trail I was on and cut back over to the road. I probably need to get some bear spray before I do another night ride.

  • MikeWithBikes

    I love night riding, alone or with others. Very peaceful and great to be in the woods when people usually aren’t. Animals are out, why not be out too! Slows things down a bit, but changes up the whole feel of familiar trails. I agree with those who have bought the $30 cheapo lights. I’ve had my pair for 2 years and they work great. Picked mine up from Gearbest.com. Shipping took a month, but other than that I can’t complain about the lights. Hitting the trails again tomorrow night after work. Don’t let the cold deter you, start at the bottom of a hill, crank to the top…wallah…warm!

  • Ken Harris

    For me, the #1 deterrent is that most of the parks around here are “sunrise to sunset” only – so riding them in the dark is illegal. I know there are some clubs that get special permits, but as a general rule of thumb there’s no trail close enough to my house that allows general night riding. 🙁

  • ride_today

    If your local trails allow it then night riding makes a familiar seem totally new. It’s simply damn fun riding at night. Yes, the speeds are slower but the experience is so worth it. The visual of a few riders cruising at night in a train, lights blazing, is enough alone to get you pumped to be out there. If you are not night riding then you are missing out on a ton of fun.

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