The magic of night riding

By Matthew De Young

A rider rests under a blanket of stars (David Clock Photography).

A rider rests under a blanket of stars (David Clock Photography).

With the recent time change, mountain bikers are lamenting the lack of daylight. Shorter days and cooler temperatures keep many riders off the trails. Many of us who are burdened with a 9 to 5 job will eschew our usual after work rides and only get out on our bikes on the weekends. The irony of all this is that this time of year is the best time of year to ride.

We are in the grace period when there has been enough rain to tamp the dust of summer down and firm up the trails, but not enough to turn them into a muddy no-ride zone. Enthusiasts will be heard extolling the “hero dirt.” This is dirt so tacky that it gives riders the sensation of having superhuman powers, allowing them to rip turns faster and harder than if the trail were dusty or muddy. These few months are the best time to be a mountain biker.

So how can mountain bikers take full advantage of this wonderful time of year? Unless your boss is a supremely understanding character and willing to sign off on a sabbatical to allow you to fulfill your life’s purpose – to achieve maximum radness on your bicycle – there aren’t too many options. But, there is indeed a way to scratch your riding itch during these dark times. Night riding. Mountain bikers are increasingly hitting the trails after the sun goes down. With the popularity of 24 hour races and recreational night riding, there has been a surge in the number of companies producing lights bright enough to allow bikers to safely ride at night.

Pedaling out on a ride after dark leaves one feeling as if getting away with some supreme mischief; like you’re fifteen again, sneaking out of your parents’ house in the wee hours, when you felt untouchable. After dark most folks stick to the confines of their well-lit domiciles, while you are heading out to get wild in the woods. Keep in mind, night riding may or may not be legal at your local riding spot, best check before heading out into the darkness.

Riding at night is like a distilled version of your usual mountain bike ride. It is just you, your bike, and a beam of light. There isn’t much scenery to distract you, which is good because full concentration is required. Trails that seem easy during the daytime suddenly require your full attention. Every root and rut takes on a whole new challenge as your perception as a rider is totally altered. Sloppy technique is quickly punished. As your peripheral vision is limited to the scope that is illuminated by your light, you will find yourself with your head on a swivel, looking through your turns and looking out ahead, good techniques for cornering and dealing with trail obstacles. As there is reduced visual input, you are driven to ride by feel, using muscle memory to corner properly and hop over roots and logs. Second guessing yourself will get you hung up and thus following through and committing to moves will keep you rolling.

If you need a break from the non-stop intensity of your night ride, pull off the trail, turn your light off and enjoy the tranquility of being outside at night. Listen to the wind blow, check out the stars, breathe in the cool crispness of the night air. When you are sufficiently zen’d out, fire your light back up and drop the hammer all the way home.