5 Essentials for Riding Trails at Night


Night Rider Basics

Fancy squeezing a little more fun and ride time out of your weekend? Why not try trail-riding at night?

But first gird up your loins – riding at night is not for the faint-of-heart. Be prepared for a totally out-of-this-world experience, when anything can happen, and where riding can become a soul-transforming trip. Night-riding is one of those things that every mountain-biker needs to have done at least once, because unless you have done so, can you ever say “do you even ride, bro?”

Stoked yet? Alright let’s get on with it. Because night trail-riding comes with a set of risks all of its own, you’ll need the following accessories to ensure you return back safe from your trip, alive and kicking. You might be scared, exhilarated, and possibly not come back alone – but it’ll all be good. Really.

1.  Trail lights

When I say night riding, I don’t mean to ride in total pitch dark. Sure, you can, if you have testicles the size of the moon – which is definitely bigger than mine. I remember looking behind me once 10 minutes into my first night ride. It was a cloudy night, and I had no helmet light, so my rear was pitch black for hundreds of meters all around.

I saw nothing, so my mind populated that black canvas with a wide variety of imaginary demons and hungry predators. It was fun, in a watch-horror-movie-through-your-fingers kinda way. It added, shall I say, a certain urgency to my pace.

Anyway, lights, like trousers, are a necessary evil, especially out in the trails at night. Luckily, thanks to the rise of cheap China cr*p, we are all spoilt for choice when it comes to high-lumen, retina-searing LED lights that run off rechargeable lithium battery packs. I highly recommend these over simple all-in-one AA-battery affairs at typical bike shops.

Trail lights come in several designs, featuring 1, two or possibly multiple LEDs, and come with hardware for mounting on either handlebars or helmets. The trick to buying an effective trail light is not to only consider lumens, which are often grossly exaggerated. Visit bike forums to find out about the spread of light and the quality of the light-thow for the particular model you are considering. For example, it is no good having 2000 lumens if the center of the beam is darkest, where visibility is most important.

My set up of choice is a simple 2-LED Solarstorm X2 for general spread on my bars and a long throw concentrated single LED beam on my helmet that points where I am looking. This set up can be had for about SGD$70 plus shipping from certain reliable overseas e-retailers.

How many lumens should you shop for? Well, how badly do you want to see in the dark? Experts recommend at least 500 lumens, which is roughly equal to 1200 Chinese lumens, because they tend to exaggerate their power output.

Alternatively, if you have the coin, put your bet on quality lights like Hope’s, and more reliable systems. Don’t forget to add a rear light, if you ride to your trail, so you can be seen by drivers.

2. Helmet

Of course, you can’t put a torch on your helmet if you don’t have one. Apart from this remarkably useful function, a helmet is really only necessary to prevent a really bad accident should you go over the bars, as, remember, visibility just isn’t quite as good in the dark even with all the lumens in the world.

That’s because the way LED lights illuminate a trail is different from what you would remember during the day. That’s really half the fun of night riding – making a familiar and boring trail new to you again. But with the pitfalls of riding a new trail comes terrain that can catch you off guard; even if it is an easy trail for you in the day, it’ll get surprisingly technical at night. The angle of the light sources also means you’ll get shadows right where you don’t want them.

Therefore, if you ride in the day with a helmet, you should ride with two at night. And by that I mean, the helmet is doubly necessary in the dark. Plan on riding slowly in your favourite trail to gain confidence first.

3. Anti-bug repellent & tools

Not to put too fine a point on it, but predators like to come out after dark. You will appreciate having anti-mosquito repellent when you have to stop by the trail side to repair a puncture in the dark. You’ll also appreciate having a helmet, with its attached light, so you can see what you are doing. And of course, you’ll also appreciate having the foresight to bring tools along, to do any trail side repairs.

An under-seat saddle bag should contain, at the very least, allen key tools to fit your bike’s bolts, a puncture repair self-adhesive patch kit, and C02 cannisters with adaptor to air up the tyre in double quick time so you can get back to civilization before your batteries run out.

4. Cash & phone

Cash, of course, is a no-brainer. But you’ll find that the modern smartphone, with its built-in GPS, will come in really handy, in case you get lost in the trail. It’s useful for getting to the trail, and getting out of it, and for finding out exactly which trail you’ve blundered onto. You’ll also like being contactable with family members should you run into a mishap on the trail. If by “useful” I mean “absolutely indispensable”.

5. Bike buddy

Perhaps the best accessory I can think of for a night ride is a partner-in-crime. I recommend not riding alone most days, but at night? It’s definitely more than necessary to bring a wingman. Or, even better, a bunch of bike buddies. Group ride, anyone?

At the very least with just one, you’ll have double the number of spares and halve the number of scares. And of course, it’s nice to have a beer buddy later to enjoy supper with when the ride’s done.

And that’s the 5 essentials I would bring. As always, but more than ever, ensure that your bike is in good working condition, that all bolts are secure, tyres aired up, and gear cables not frayed, before you set off.

What else would you bring? Any interesting stories to tell about your night rides? Put it in the comments!