Mountain biking at night has become an increasingly popular form of entertainment among mountain bikers who have already gained a bit of experience riding about during the daylight hours. Riding in the dark offers an entirely different appeal from riding in the daytime due to the dramatically reduced visibility one experiences when riding after the sun goes down, as well as the seemingly otherworldly quality the trees and fields seem to take on when you view them through the light of the moon or a handlebar mounted LED light system. As a result, it is no surprise that the sport of night time mountain biking has taken off in recent years, and in larger cities with established mountain biking populations, it has become more common to hear of organized night rides and activities where having a good set of mountain bike lights is a requirement for participation, safety, and enjoyment. This article will discuss some tips for choosing mountain bike lights and determining which lighting systems are best for you.
The two major areas of concern involving mountain bike lights are head lights and tail lights. Of the two, head lights are far more important, as the need to see what is coming up in front of you is almost always going to be far more urgent than the need to see what is behind you or alert people behind you of your presence. If you are a cyclist who rides on roads the majority of the time, then tail lights are very important for riding because you will be sharing the road with cars.
However, if you plan to do either all or at least the majority of your riding on unbeaten trails far from motor vehicles, you don’t really have much to worry about in terms of getting hit from behind; almost any light you need to be visible in such situations will come from your head lights, and someone coming from behind you will be able to put two and two together and recognize that someone on a mountain bike is up ahead.
That said, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t invest in a tail light; at the very least, it can serve as a system of insurance in case you ever find yourself having to ride home on roads where you might have to deal with cars and trucks. Similarly, if you are riding in groups with other cyclists at night, whether you are on the road or not, having a system of both head and tail lights will help identify you and other cyclists and reduce the chance of stray collisions while bombing down hills and around trees in the dark.
Once you decide to buy mountain bike lights, you will probably end up deciding between LED based lights and halogen based lights for serious night time riding. Halogen based light systems were the default option for night riding for many years due to their high luminosity and relatively cheap price to performance ratios, but in recent years LED systems have caught up and you can buy excellent lighting systems for a fraction of the cost you would have dealt with only a little while ago. Whichever system you choose, pay attention to the amount of lumens offered by the system as well as the amount of battery life you can expect to achieve from the system under different power systems.
Generally you will want at least 500 lumens for effective lighting in the front, and depending on the length of your ride, it is a good idea to bring enough batteries to support at least a couple of hours out in the field. High powered flashlights are increasingly being chosen as a lighting option by mountain bikers with a do it yourself ethic due to their dirt cheap pricing and high light output. You can purchase flashlights capable of putting out more than 500 lumens of light for under$40, which pales in comparison to the hundreds of dollars you will be asked to spend with traditional LED lighting systems. Just make sure you buy extra batteries. High powered lighting systems may use a range of batteries, but 18650 cells are common for bright LED flashlights.