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Illuminating night riding

  • By Eszter Horanyi
  • Published May. 8, 2012
  • Updated Oct. 11, 2012 at 4:51 PM EDT

Tips for Night Riding

As with anything in life, there’s no better way to get good at night riding than to practice. By keeping a few key ideas in mind, the learning curve doesn’t need to be excessively steep.

      1. Keep your head as still as possible and keep looking up. There is a strong tendency to look directly at the trail directly in front of the bike in the daylight and this bad habit is aggravated at night. As is the case in the daylight, your body can react to obstacles better when seen in advance, and the farther ahead you are looking, the more easily your brain and body will process the trail.

      2. Keeping the head still is also important, as many are tempted to look off the trail to take in the scenery. While peripheral vision allows riders to do this during the day, even a short section of trail that isn’t fully illuminated can cause havoc in the mental processing of riding the trail.

      3. Know that rocks will look bigger than they are. Because of the way that shadows created by direct lights fall, rocks look bigger and more intimidating than they actually are. Having both a handlebar and helmet light helps the situation, but many riders will hesitate at an obstacle at night that would not concern them during the day.

      4. Don’t ride too close to your riding partner. There is a natural tendency to want to ride closely behind another person at night to be able to use their light beam for extra illumination. Unfortunately, this causes the leader’s shadow to fall in front of them and with the added light in the periphery from the follower creates a dark shadow directly in front of them. While the trail isn’t lit up less by having a follower, the perception of the shadow makes the trail seem darker for the leader.

      5. Know you can’t see as far down the trail as you are accustomed to. Even with the brightest lights, it’s impossible to scan as far down the trail as in the daylight. On many slower or curvy trails that don’t have a long sightline this isn’t a problem but straight and fast trails and fire roads may require riding at a reduced speed when riding by the light of a headlamp.

Riding at night can be an incredibly fun and fulfilling experience. It allows for longer before and after work rides, makes old trails seem new again, allows for riding in the desert in the middle of the summer, and creates an entirely new skill set in bike handling and trail perception.

Plus, it eliminates the dreaded hike home after the flat tire that was followed by a broken chain and then accompanied by a wrong turn that extends the ride that was supposed to be done well before the sun set behind the horizon.


Eszter Horanyi lives and mountain bikes in Crested Butte, CO.  She has dabbled in road racing, cyclocross racing, and cross country mountain bike racing, but has gravitated towards ultra endurance and multi day self supported racing in the more recent past.  She firmly believes that nothing tops a good ride with good friends on good trails, thus she spends her life in search of all of the above. You can follow her adventures on her blog. All articles by Eszter.

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