Sentiers Madawaska Trails (Vélo Edmundston), New Brunswick. Photo: Daniel Aucoin

As daylight hours grow short in the northern hemisphere, a few hardy mountain bikers are digging their bike lights out of their closet and are preparing to hit the trail after dark. But for many riders, night riding is an intimidating prospect or an option that might not have crossed their minds.

For those unfamiliar with night riding, here are my top 10 reasons to ride mountain bike trails at night:

1. Riding in the dark makes you a better rider. At night your field of vision narrows to the thin strip of dirt just in front of your tire, which allows you to concentrate on reading the trail in new ways. Shadows cover hidden obstacles so you’ll quickly learn to be more alert and to react more quickly to the terrain. As a part of a broader skills training regimen, night riding will hone your abilities on the trail.

2. Old trails become new. If you’re like me, sometimes you get bored of riding the same old trails week after week but night riding changes things completely. Riding through a dark tunnel of trees and blackness will get your adrenaline pumping, while things like trail exposure will fade away, making difficult trails seem easier and vice versa.

3. Dark trails are empty trails. If you’re looking for solitude on the trail but don’t want to drive to the middle of nowhere, night riding can be just the ticket to getting the trails all to yourself. The upshot is you can also ride faster without worrying about running into riders heading the opposite direction. Even if you do encounter other riders you’ll be able to see their lights well before they approach.

Photo: Fatbike1

4. Lower temps in the summer. This one bites both ways, but I love being able to ride at night during the summer when the temperatures are much lower than during the day. Even better: a pre-dawn ride in the summertime.

5. Open up your riding schedule. If you have a family, you know that getting in a little trail time can be a challenge some days. Riding at night is a good compromise since it opens up your schedule to do other things during the day. Who needs sleep anyway?

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6. Good excuse to get new gear. I know, I know, mountain biking isn’t all about the gear but sometimes it’s fun to play with new toys. For night riding, you’ll need at least one high tech light system and warmer clothing if you’re riding during the winter.

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7. Night riding is more social. Riding at night by yourself is even more dangerous than riding solo during the day, though that’s not to say I haven’t done it more than once. Still, thanks to #5 most of your riding buddies won’t have an excuse for skipping a night ride. After our Tuesday night rides we usually go out for pizza and beer, which is almost as fun as riding.

8. Avoid trail user conflicts. I’ve never heard of anyone going “night hiking,” though I suppose some people do it. Still, you typically won’t find hikers or equestrians out on the trails at night, which opens up the riding possibilities.

Photo: Aaron Chamberlain

9. See the light show. Just because it’s nighttime doesn’t mean you won’t be able to see amazing scenery. If you’ve ever seen a stream of a dozen bike lights weaving through the forest at night, you know what I’m talking about — such a cool sight.

10. Extend your season. If you’re used to hitting the trail for a couple hours after work, standard time can put a crimp in your plans — unless of course, you have a light. Don’t be a caveman — get a light and venture out at night!

What do you like (or dislike) about riding at night?

Convinced you’re ready for your first night ride? Read Corey’s Night Riding 101 article to find what you need to get started!

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# Comments

  • dgaddis

    Night riding is fun. I usually just do it during the winter though. I’d have to stay out past my bed time to night ride in the summer lol.

    This time of year tho, it’s the only way to ride after work during the week.

  • mtbgreg1

    I was thinking about #3 and #8 during my last night ride. I was way the heck up in the mountains by myself, in the dark, and just thinking about how there was probably no one for miles around! Definitely frees up the schedule too.

    Good times!

  • RoadWarrior

    A few nights ago I was doing the same thing, trail system still under development. If I needed help there was only one person I knew who could find me, slowed down a little. Around here there is one very good reason to ride at night.
    The deer hunters have gone home, no user conflicts. Someone must have gotten the 6 pointer that almost ran over me the last time.

  • brianW

    Have had my light for almost a year and all solo so far (yes dgaddis, I should ride the canal Wed. nights) but it I feel safe. As for night hiking, love it. Under a full moon and you don’t need a light. throw in ground covered with snow……awesome. shoot wish I could ride under a full moon with snow on the ground. I bet you wouldn’t need a light.

    This time of year I tend to pack my light if I start after 4pm. Better safe just in case. Early am rides are the best!

  • SwissMountainGorilla

    I went of my first night ride last week accidently. After being delayed most of the day for the 42 mile Epic Ride at Santos I still decided to go give it a solo try at 4pm. I’m definitely glad that I remember to throw my light in my pack as I spent close to an hour in complete darkness. Its amazing how fast rabbits and little critters come out onto the trail after lights out. Then I started to consider the bigger critters that might be more bold at night as well… I covered distance pretty quick in the last 1.5 hours, overall I shaved about 54 minutes off my total ride time! Really enjoyed it

  • skibum

    Great article!
    As a corollary to #1, I would add that the field of vision offered by night riding really aids in line selection. The narrowed focus and corresponding lack of outside distractions really help you select the best available line sooner and commit to it with time to execute comfortably. I clean the rock gardens better at night than in the day.

    #2 is the most true of all. I remeber my first night ride–not wanting to venture too far from home, I hit the open space park a block from the house–the relatively easy trails with uninteresting scenery suddenly became interesting and even exotic. The leafless scrub oak, which really isnt that attractive in the day, gave the trail an otherworldy feel, as did the few fairly small rock obstacles that aren’t particularly interesting in the daylight. Night riding has made all my old standards fresh again!

    #10 is the best. I hated sitting on a stationary bike in the gym in winter–now, I’m not limited to that except when weather prohibits outdoor riding. Being able to ride a real bike year round rocks!

  • CFM

    I never had any intention to ride at night until I signed up with a team for a 12-hour event years ago. I found out I loved it! And it wasn’t nearly as difficult as I thought it would be. Now I’m like dgaddis, I do most of my nightriding in the winter months. I haven’t been out at night nearly enough lately and this article has prompted me to get out again soon.

  • millerm77

    I am looking for a good durable and strong night riding light that won’t break the bank. I have been looking at the MagicShine which is a reasonably priced light made in China. I’ve heard that the light has experienced some quality issues with both the battery and the light itself. However, I have also heard many of these issues have been resolved by the manufacturer. GeoMan Gear is the distributor for MagicShine lights and they have been working with the distributor to iron out the problems. Can the experienced night riders offer some advise on the purchase of a good light?

  • dubinjs

    My buddies and I do at least one night ride a week and more as the sun disappears faster in the fall and winter. I love it!
    We are heading.g out tonight actually. 8 pm wheels down in Montgomery County Md. (Wont say where in fear the trail authorities catch on)
    I ride with about 4-6the guys and we all use the Magic Shines. There ate zero issues with the light itself, but the old batteries. They have since issued new ones. I personally have not had any issues with old or new. Great light and can’t be mat hex for the money!
    I use that on my helmet and a smaller Cygolte on the bars. Works great for me!

  • CrispyMTB

    So in Southeast PA we only have 2 parks that permit night riding. Penny Pack and Wisahickon, both in the Fairmount Park network of Philadelphia. They are great parks and are fun to ride during the day as well. Most of our trails in the area are on park land and close at dusk.
    Do other parts of the country have more lax rules for parks or are more trails on private land?

  • mtbgreg1

    @CrispyMTB, National forest land is open 24 hours a day… no restrictions on night riding… that’s what we have around here, and I’m sure that applies all across the nation. Seems like the only places that ever have restrictions are trails in parks in urban areas, at least, that’s my experience…

  • rmoon

    Having lights allows me to see some beautiful sun sets from the top of the mountain and then ride back with the lights on. The lights from the city below and the stars above make for a great end of the day ride.

  • SB66er

    Reason #1 misses the boat significantly. Narrowing one’s field of vision and tensing muscles and perspective to make last second adjustments on the trail is why 99.9% of all racers in XC and MTBers in general can’t corner or go nearly as fast as they should be able to do. Although night riding might help enhance some senses, training your eyes and nervous system to rely upon microvision vs macrovision is a good way to keep MTBers skills at a low level.

  • Michael Beck

    Or here are 10 other reasons…1. You took an Ambien and need a place to mindlessly wander, 2. the joy of a broken neck while hitting unseen objects in the dark is thrilling to you. 3 Taking a header off a cliff is very exhilarating in the dark. 4. Always wanted to surprise a hunting mountain lion, 5. Broken limbs are so much more enjoyable when you have to wait till morning to be discovered. 6. Bought those night vision goggles years ago after watching Step Brothers and really need to justify the expense. 7. You tied a set white canes to your handle bars and wanted to experience cycling from the perspective of the blind. 8. Took overly copious notes while watching Breaking Bad and simply needed to work off that home brewed meth. 9. Never been gang raped by a pack of coyotes. 10. Your Marijuana Crops in the local national forest need tending and it’s something you just don’t do in the day time.

  • RobertD

    Just finished a night ride. Little slick out there tonight but still fun and I got to ride a trail in reverse due to no night traffic. 🙂

  • dpb1997

    Great article.

    Riding at night off road is fun. In England in the summer I’d set off at 11-pm for around two hours or as long as the battery lasted. We would ride all year round and night rides definitely improved one’s skills.

    Riding alone at night in K-country is worrying due to bears and cougars. That’s not to say I haven’t done it….

  • PQBiker

    I was amazed when I went mountain biking after dark. I had a good light, and I rode trails I had ridden many times during the day. But I found the scary, downhill part of the ride less scary after dark. Maybe because I was feeling them more than seeing them. I just had faith and went downhill. I was riding with a group, and it was fun. Sometimes we would come across (and surprise) small groups of deer, which we would only see occasionally during the day, and at distance. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would.

  • jmv

    Trust me dark trails are not empty trails. You just cant see what is hiding behind the bush.
    Oh, and I do have a night light that can start a forest fire. I have a kerosene lantern duct taped to my handle bars. I use it just in case a lion attacks. I can throw it at him.

  • dpb1997

    Thanks… I am just leaving to go to K-country. It will dark when I get back to my car…!

  • Rwlilguy

    So want to do this. Don’t know of any night ride trails in the Cleveland area.

  • Scott Cotter

    Thanks for this article, Jeff. More people should try night riding. The woods are so freaking cool at night and I love the feeling of being wrapped in my own little bubble as I bump through the dark.

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