Darkness... My Old Friend

Night Rides Are Still A Thing...For Now

So, up until just a few days ago I had not ridden for months. (5 to be exact.)  Things happened during that time.  I’ll start with the obvious ones. My fitness dwindled and I gained weight...and my mood took a hit as well but, let’s just put all that to bed because last week the weather finally cleared and I got to get on some dirt! My fitness is still crap, and I’m still carrying the winter weight on my midsection, BUT my mood is notably improved. 

Living in Spokane WA comes with some perks but I’m specifically referring to the super long days of summer...that sadly aren’t back upon us yet. (I don’t get off work until 6pm and by the time I clock out and make my way to the hill for a ride, it’s 6:30 at the earliest.)  Currently, in the month of March and on into April, sunset is before 7:30 and nightfall is prior to 8pm.  For those of us who don’t climb at the blistering pace of a fit cross country racer, that means that by the time the summit is reached it’s either dark or about to be very soon.  At that point, the only option available is to bring out the lights and embrace the night ride
That being said…

Night rides are fun in general but I’ve figured out a few things that make it a little more enjoyable and I thought I’d share.  I’m going to address lights and lenses and the proper setup and choice of each. 

  1. We’ll start with lights.  Jeeesh...where to begin though.  There are sooooooo many choices in terms of lights and I’m not going to try to steer you towards one particular brand or model of light. (That is a separate blog entry all it’s own.) But here are the questions I’ll attempt to answer... 

     How many lights should you use and why?
     How should they be set up? 

    The short answer is two.  One for your handlebar and one for your helmet. If you mount only one light and you mount it on your handlebar, that’s fine for street commuting but you’ll discover quite quickly that on trail it pretty much sucks.  As soon as you start a series of switchbacks or sweeping turns you’ll notice that your previously precise cornering skills quickly start to resemble those of a 1976 Buick LeSabre. 

    Why?...because if you remember from a previous blog I mentioned that one of the keys to cornering is to look far into your turn.  Well, your handlebar mounted light doesn’t allow you to do that because it only points where the bike is aimed as opposed to where you want the bike to go.  If you’re making a hard right turn you should be looking to your right, but the angle of the handlebar mounted light is WAAAAAAY behind your field of view.  So, the answer is to mount a light to your handlebar AND your helmet. 

    The light on your helmet illuminates where you look.  The light on your handlebar only illuminates where the bike is pointed.   By using them both, you have a very large area of usable light.  This is the preferred setup for lighting but if you only have the option of getting one light, make sure it’s mounted on your helmet because it will allow you to see into your corners; the handlebar mounted light will not.  The other benefit of having two lights is that it provides better depth perception on the trail.

    Final note on the handlebar light...it needs to be aimed high enough that it allows you to see a good distance ahead of you...not just a few feet in front of you.  As your speed increases the reasoning for this will quickly become apparent.  It will allow you to see the trail approaching you and in conjunction with the helmet light it allows you to get a more complete picture of the trail.
  2. My next tip is one that is rarely addressed but I stumbled upon on my own.  Lens color.  It may seem intuitive and obvious that a clear lens is the best tint for night riding, but my opinion is a little different. 

    I typically use a yellow lens when I night ride.  It DOES make things slightly darker but once your lights are on at full intensity the benefit becomes apparent.  The reason for this is because the human eye sees best in the yellow spectrum of light with the exception of pure white. 

    Here’s the thing though, the LED lights that most of us use are white light.  It’s been my experience that white light does not provide a lot of contrast on the trail at night.  Everything seems to get a “washed out” appearance to it.  Shadows and detail are not as well defined...but once you ride with a yellow lens, the contrast comes back and you gain a little trail definition.   

Give it a shot on your next night ride.  I can’t guarantee that you’ll share my opinion, but what have you got to lose?  You might like it and it may change how you see your next night ride.