Night riding – the important stuff

Posted: February 17, 2011 in 2011, General
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The latest in my mini series aimed at novice (off road) night riders, I will try to take on the ever more complex area of lights. I will deal with the easiest aspect first and look at what goes on at the back end of your bike.

Rear lights are a legal requirement for riding a bike on a road or highway. It helps to prevent people driving into you and keeps both of you safe (well that’s the idea). A rear light has no place on an off road night ride. If you plan to ride with a rear light turned on, while you are off road, do everyone a favour and bring a long rope along. This will save your riding mates the effort of looking for something to string you up with. I think that just about covers it!

Up front, forget the old fashioned Every Ready bike light some of us used to have as kids, forget commuter lights, if you want to do anything exciting off road, at night, you need some serious firepower. As said in a film I saw recently, “There’s no point taking a knife to a gunfight!”. So, what constitutes serious firepower? Lights like search lights that have tiny batteries which last for hours and hours. In the quest to satisfy the needs of the 24 hour solo racer, light manufacturers are coming up trumps on all fronts with massive output and 10 hour burns from one charge. Awesome lights but way over the top for the novice. What is the point in spending up to £700 or more if you decide you hate the whole experience?

First off, if you have any friends for whom the bug has already bitten, ask if you can borrow their lights or maybe they have some perfectly good lights they have eschewed in favour of the latest one million candlepower offering from searchlights R Us. If not, then scour mountain bike forums for discussions about cheaper lights. I have several friends who have bought fantastic lights online, from China, at a fraction of the cost of the more mainstream offerings. I have lost my notes on decent, cheap, lights but will edit this post as and when they turn up. In the meantime, if anyone out there has any recommendations, how about leaving links in the reply section?

What do you need to look out for? Ideally, the light unit want to be small and as light as possible. My preference is for helmet mounted lights but other people swear by bar mounted. My current configuration is a combination of the two. If you have bar mounted lights it is imperative that the attachment be as secure as possible. Loose or sloppy fittings will give you a strobe effect and believe me, you do not want that. Moving on then, batteries – don’t buy something with a battery the size of a house brick, you’ll have to lug it around and it will be a real drag (pun intended). The picture here is of one of my lights, made in Australia by Ay Up, they are compact, light and do not cost a fortune though, what I think of as reasonable may seem hideously overpriced for a jumped up torch!

To put them into perspective, I have taken a picture with a pen to give you an idea of what I mean by compact . The battery pictured here is the three hour, I have a six hour unit too and it might be nearly twice as big so no big deal really

An alternative, if you don’t want to dive into the world of full on bike lights is one of the new LED torches. Fenix do a series of cracking little torches  for not a lot of money but I would advise spending a little more for the rechargeable battery pack. They do a bar mount but in my experience, it is only worth using on a road bike however, you can bodge them so they convert to a helmet mount.

Second hand lights are another option, once again, look on mountain bike forums and the classified section. Ask friends or club mates if they have old ones to sell. Lights that to many off roaders were awesome beyond belief only three or four year ago have now been eclipsed in the brightness stakes and have probably  been superseded by newer, brighter offerings. “Obsolete” as they are, they can be picked up at a fraction of their original retail price.

A word of caution – if you ask around for advice, always bear in mind that no one will want to admit they have just shelled out £500 or so on lights that aren’t really that good, even less will they want to admit that their mate has just bought something from China costing a fraction of what they have paid, that is just as good. Everyone will have the best light on the planet. Try and be detached, a critical observer and see how they get on during a ride.

You will notice that I have avoided discussion of beam patterns, lumens, customising lights, reflector style etc. I have been riding off road at night for many years now and it is all still a mystery to me. If something works well and I get on with it, that’s enough for me. If you are into geekery (and if you are a novice I doubt you will be – yet) then a quick Google and you can get all the techno blurb you want.

Riding at night is great fun and is made better if you have decent kit, the most important thing is getting your lighting right. Go out, have fun and then join the rest of the mountain bike world in the never ending quest to see how much money we can pay for a torch!

MINI EDIT: Make sure the torch, battery pack and controller (if there is one) are waterproof. Always take a backup light as a “get you home” fallback.


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