Introduction to Night Mountain Biking sessions

Ever since I first tried MTB riding, I’ve been addicted to it. Not even after the first fall, which happened after not more than ten minutes of riding, did I feel this wasn’t the right activity for me. As I was gaining more experience with every new ride, my confidence grew and the distances covered got longer. I particularly enjoy the fact bike rides are possible the whole year round, though there are different challenges involved.

However, there was still one challenge that I was slightly apprehensive about: a night ride. I was at the same time excited by the prospect of riding in the dark and nervous about possible accidents and injuries. Still, I plucked up the courage and joined a local group of cyclists from Adelaide one evening in May and went for my first night mountain bike ride. How was it? Well, I guess the fact that I now have dozen of night rides behind me speaks for itself.

So, if there’s anyone out there who feels like I did before the first night ride, I’d like to share some of the tips I got and some of my experience to help you overcome the fear and make the most of this wonderful opportunity.

Lights

You definitely need some high-quality lights, at least 1,000 lumens, so that you can see well on the trail. Needless to say, you need to fully charge the lights and bring some batteries in case you get lost and your lights start fading. There’s one thing I learnt from a fellow-cyclists about positioning the lights. Before I started going on night riding sessions, I used to ride my bike around the city in the evening and my lights were mounted on the bars. Now, this is not the best idea for off-road riding, since you can only see where your front wheel is pointing. Instead, you should mount the lights on your helmet, so that you choose which part of the trail you want to see. Of course, you can keep the lights on the bars for extra visibility, but don’t rely solely on them.

Don’t go solo

You may prefer cycling alone, but I urge you not to do that at night. First of all, you'd feel better and safer and in case anything goes wrong, you'll have a helping hand by your side. Just make sure you keep a distance so that you don't collide.

Another reason why you shouldn’t ride close to each other is that a strong light can create a shadow in front of the other rider, which significantly decreases visibility. Finally, if you’re riding behind your friend and the trail is dry and dusty, your light won't be able to illuminate the trail well since all the dirt and dust would get in the way.

Equipment

Don’t even think about a night ride unless you have all the right gear. In my case, that means a reliable mountain bike, helmets and gloves, comfortable mountain bike shoes and a backpack with enough water, spare batteries, a small head torch and a repair kit. I have never opted for cheaper gear if the quality was not satisfactory. The difference in price should never justify risking your life, at least in my opinion.

Choose the trail

There are many trails around Adelaide I’ve explored and some of them are just perfect for night riding. For example, Shepherds Hill Recreation Park and the Eagle Mountain Bike Park are just two of my favourite places for cycling, but you can find many others closer to your home. Just do a bit of research or contact a local cycling group for recommendations and encouragement.

Conclusion

I can completely understand that night rides are not for everyone and they are definitely not the best way to get introduced to the world of cycling. However, if you’re already a cyclist and love the freedom provided by cycling, you can most certainly increase your love for this activity and discover a whole new world if you decide to give it a go.

 

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Comment by rossmg on October 9, 2017 at 20:43

Nice write up Olivia!

I have always considered a night ride but have yet to bite the bullet!

I've got a 300 lumens handle bar light and a 967 lumens torch that should attach to my helmet.

What lights are you running?

Comment by Wayne B on October 13, 2017 at 18:33

I've given some thought to buying either a new road bike or mountain bike and this has certainly swayed me towards mountain. A while back I was in a bike store on Rundle street and the person in there said full suspension wasn't really needed unless you wanted to spend big, another city store said definitely get full suspension (presumably hoping to cash in on that big spend).

What are everyone's thoughts on no/front/full suspension? Why / Why not / benefits / disadvantages / gear - brand recommendations? (currently swaying towards Giant 'cause that's what I'm on now, or Ridley 'cause it's Belgian).

Comment by Olivia Williams Jones on October 13, 2017 at 19:08

Hey Ross, Thank you, I am glad you find it useful! 

My current LED headlamp for night riding is super-bright at 700 lumens, which at times can seem like having a smallish car headlight. Run time is around four hours, and charge time about three hours.

The thing is, I really recommend two lights for single-track riding. A bright helmet-mount light throws out enough light. But it can be the wrong kind of light. Because the light hits objects with the exact same angle as your eyes, it tends to knock out shadows behind roots and rocks. So depth perception becomes tricky, and an obstacle may look flat when it's actually pretty big. So an ideal setup is another light on the handlebar, to create some shadows out in front of you. I am getting by with a lower-power light which delivers 300 lumens and up to five hours of light on the high setting.

Comment by Olivia Williams Jones on October 13, 2017 at 19:36

@WayneB

The choices you’ll face when choosing a bike are overwhelming. Cross country or trail bike? 27.5- or 29-inch wheels? Standard or plus-size tires? And many of these options come down to preferred terrain and riding style.
For starting out, though, I think most people in most places will be best served by a simple, high-quality, alloy bike which has a mid-length 120mm suspension fork to take the edge off the rough terrain and 2.8-inch tires (a.k.a plus-size) that increase stability, traction, and compliance by virtue of their girth and the lower pressures that allows.

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