The days are getting shorter, but that doesn’t mean your rides need to get shorter! Especially for those in warmer climates, fall can be the best time of year to ride.
Whether you are commuting, making your way home after the local group ride, or shredding some singletrack, here are a few things to consider.
1) Consider Your Priority: To See Or Be Seen?
What kind of night riding are you going to be doing? Mountain bikers and road riders have different needs when it comes to biking at night.
Mountain bikers require brighter headlights to be able to see far enough ahead on the trail.
Road bikers and commuters need to be able to be seen quickly and easily by cars and pedestrians. Lights are not the only factor to consider when riding on the road at night. Clothing and accessories should also be chosen thoughtfully to make sure you are visible.
2) Choose High Visibility Accessories When Riding On The Road (They Don’t Have To Look Dorky)
When commuting in the dark, it is important to be visible to cars at any angle. Front lights and tail lights are a must, but adding a small light to your spokes will help make you more visible to cross-traffic.
Reflective accents on apparel is also a smart option when commuting at night. Many companies are integrating reflective technology in clothing and accessories. Specialized is one company that utilizes reflective elements across its range of products. Specialized uses reflective thread in their socks, reflective pieces added to backpacks, and reflective accents on many bikes.
Hi-viz clothing and accessories have come a long way. What used to feel outdated and “dorky” is now fresh, stylish and functional.
Popular commuter brand, Club Ride*, makes high performance, fashionable cycling clothing. Club Ride adds reflective elements to their garments, even their most fashion-focused pieces. They are a great example of how far the apparel industry has come in regards to safe, yet stylish options.
3) When Riding On the Road, Use Both a Headlight and Taillight
The best set up for lights will somewhat vary depending on the area. If you live in a more rural area, you will need a brighter headlight than someone in a more urban environment. In high population areas, you want to be seen, but not blind drivers. Likely, there will be more street lights in high-traffic areas, so visibility is not too much of a concern.
Bright taillights are important on the road regardless of population density. Choose a taillight with a bright, flashing setting.
Flashing taillights make you visible to drivers quicker than steady lights, but they do make it harder for drivers to judge how far away you are. If you are commuting often at night, it is smart to invest in two taillights – one set to blink, and the other set steady.
You might also consider a “smart” light like the Garmin Varia Radar, which lets you know when a car is coming up behind you. In addition to serving as a tail light, it also that lets you know when cars are coming up behind you.
4) Put Lights on Your Wheels
Have fun with biking at night! Safe doesn’t have to mean boring, and Monkeylectric proves that. Monkeylectric makes some of the most unique wheel lights on the market. They offer many fun designs to make your commute safer and more fun. Certain models can be fully customized as well. These lights are water-proof and dust-proof, which make them a great option for commuters.
My Light Recommendations For Riding On The Road
As a year-long commuter, I had to get my system down for commuting in the dark during the winter months. Half of my commute is well-lit, and half is low-traffic and dark.
I use an older headlight from Serfas, the Serfas USL-505. This 505 lumen light has served me well for the past five years. This light is great for my type of commute. I can run the light at full brightness on the dark stretches of my commute, and bump down to medium or low when I get closer to town. (Since this specific light is no longer made, a newer version to consider would be the Serfas TSL-500R).
I went with a new taillight this year – the Specialized Flashback. This light recently hit the market and is one of the best “bang for your buck” lights out there. The Flashback taillight has up to 20 lumens, depending on the setting, and costs only $20.
This little light is easy to stick in a bag or a purse, and has a clip to attach a belt, pocket, or backpack. The light also comes with a rubber band to easily attach to a seat post. This is one of my favorite taillights I have owned. The Flashback is rechargeable, universal, and affordable.
5) On The Trail, Bring Plenty of Lumens
Mountain bikers in warmer climates are all about the night rides. The only way I could motivate myself to ride in the summers in the south was to wait until it cooled off a bit at night.
Since there are no cars to worry about in the woods (hopefully), taillights and reflective clothing are not as important as they are for commuting. The main concern for trail riding at night is visibility.
It is important to choose a light with enough lumens. The higher the lumens the brighter the light. For mountain biking at night, the minimum amount of lumens I would suggest is 500 lumens. This is enough to light up the trails far enough ahead to prepare you for upcoming features.
Trails twist and turn more than roads do, which poses a different challenge when choosing the best lights. Many riders opt for two lights – one attached to the helmet, and the other to the handlebars. If you only have one light to work with, attaching the light to your helmet is the best bet. This way, if you are looking ahead, the light will illuminate where you need to go.
6) Ease Into It
It takes even the most experienced rider some time to adjust to biking at night. The decreased visibility can add a fun challenge to familiar trails, but it can also make tricky features seem even tougher.
Start out on a trail you know pretty well. It helps to know what to expect since you won’t be able to see as far ahead at night as you would during the day. Bring a buddy. It is always smart to ride with another person, especially at night. If nothing else, they can assure you that the ominous dark object in the distance is a large stump and not a bear.
Once you get more comfortable with night riding, check out some local races and events in your area. Evening events are always more casual, and fun-focused than their daytime counterparts.
The Icycle race in Fontana Village, NC has a night downhill race. The night downhill race is the finale to a fun-filled weekend, and finishes in the middle of the village where fellow riders are dancing around bonfires and cheering for friends.
If racing is not your style, there are other events that have an even more relaxed atmosphere. The Silveroxx mountain bike festival at Silver Mountain resort in Kellogg, ID is a 3-day long celebration of bikes. The first night of the festival includes the Coeur d’Alene Bike Co. Moonsnuggle Night Ride. Riders load the gondola around 6:30 PM, wait at the top until the sun sets, and descend top to bottom run in the dark with your friends.
My Light Recommendations For Trail Riding
I use two headlights when mountain biking at night. I use the same Serfas USL-505 that I use for commuting on the handlebars of my mountain bike, and the Specialized Flux 1200 headlight on my helmet.
Both lights are rechargeable, and can confidently get you through a two-hour ride when used in the medium brightness setting, which is plenty for most trail riding. For higher-speed downhill sections, bump the lights up to the high setting. The faster you ride, the faster you will “out-run” the light.
7) For Bikepacking, Use a Portable Charger
Night riding can come up while bikepacking too. Even if you only plan to ride during the day, longer, adventurous routes rarely go as planned.
Multi-day trips pose some interesting challenges. When bikepacking, space and charging opportunities are limited. Bikepacking requires both bright front light and bright taillight. Oftentimes, bikepackers will opt for more remote areas that rarely include street lights. Because of this, it is important to both see, and be seen.
Unless you are staying in a hotel, there likely won’t be anywhere to charge your lights. Portable chargers are a great option for bikepackers. These chargers are compact, so they will not take up much precious space.
For multi-day bikepacking trips, solar chargers are an excellent option. Make sure the charger is fully charged prior to the trip. Many of these solar chargers require 30+ hours of sun exposure to fully charge. Save the solar for a top off in case of an emergency.
My Recommendations For Bikepacking
My Serfas USL-505 headlight is my go-to once again. This light is bright, but not bright enough to quickly drain the battery. If the route includes some singletrack or rough gravel, you might want to bring a helmet-mounted light as well. The Flashback taillight is my rear light of choice when biking at night. This no-frills light has a long-lasting battery, and the ease of use makes the light ideal for bikepacking.
For chargers, I go with the Innoo Tech solar charger. I have the 5000 mAh version, and when fully charged, I can charge my iPhone three times.
The downside with this solar charger is how long it takes to charge via sunlight. For a full charge, this system requires about 40 hours of sun exposure. The huge perk is the durability of this charger. Bikepacking is not always easy on the equipment, and since this charger water-proof, dust-proof and shock-resistant, it can hold up to the toughest conditions.
Kira Maicke has been an avid cyclist since 2010. She started racing road bikes in college for the University of Georgia and switched over to mountain biking after graduating and moving out west. When she’s not on one of her bikes, she’s out playing in the mountains with her husky, Semenuk.