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.
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?
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.
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.
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!