It’s officially winter. That means that the days are pretty damn short. So by the time most of us get off work, it’s all ready dark outside. That leaves us only a few options: not ride, ride the trainer, or buck up and ride at night.
There’s something eerie about riding at night. I think that’s why most riders shun the trail after dark. For some reason, I revel in the opportunity to ride. It’s more than just the added challenge of railing the trail after dark. Maybe it is about doing something you’re not supposed to do. We’ve all been told stories by our parents or friends of a boogieman that lingers in the shadows at night, waiting to catch us off guard. Now is the perfect time to set our fears aside and enjoy this new riding experience.
I remember the first time I tried riding at night. I was just getting into mountain biking and one of my co-workers at the Highroller Cyclery in Fayetteville, Arkansas invited me on a night ride. I didn’t have a light at the time, but I had access to decent deals since I worked at the bike shop. I picked out a NiteRider Owl halogen light. My 15-watt light had a burn time of around 2 1/2 hours. Perfect for what I had in mind. So after work we hooked up to ride the trails on the backside of Mt. Sequoyah in Fayetteville. For those of you who don’t know this trail, it is probably one of the more technical trails in Fayetteville. Gnarly rock gardens, huge ruts, exposed roots, and off-camber trail conspire to introduce you to the dirt in the most unpleasant ways possible. Most of the trails are poorly marked or not marked at all. Not exactly the best trail to ride at night, but I was young and stupid. I didn’t care how hard it was to ride. I was just jonesin’ to try something new and I was going stir crazy due to the short days of winter. I was willing to try anything to maintain my fitness and my sanity. Now riding in a group is definitely the way to start night riding. You not only get the added light on the trail, but you can learn to follow each other’s line in the dark. We started the ride with a road climb to the top of Mt. Sequoyah, and then the fun began. Our lights created a tunnel of light as we bombed down the singletrack descent. I kept my arms and legs relaxed in order to absorb any unseen obstacles in the trail. It felt like riding a totally new trail at night. There was no longer any distractions of normal riding in the woods.
I could only focus on the short section of trail illuminated by our lights. The only thing that really freaked me out was the occasional bat that cruised through my peripheral vision hunting the insects attracted to our lights. Needless to say, it didn’t take long for me to get hooked on the adrenaline rush I got from riding at night. I began to relish the unexpected. I learned to be more relaxed on the bike, reacting and flowing with the trail as I rode. I was becoming a better rider with every pedal stroke. I definitely made a few mistakes, and I received the bruises and cuts to prove it. On one of the descents down a power line, I was nearly bucked off my bike, when I clipped a pedal on an unseen rock lurking in the dark. I emerged from the trail exhilarated and relieved that I had survived. I knew that this wasn’t the last time I’d ride at night. The rest is history and I’m no longer afraid of the dark. I’ve gone on to compete 12-hour races and 24-hour+ adventure races that have required me to tune my night riding skills to a fine art.
If I’ve sparked any interest for you, here are a few tips for riding after the sun goes down: