Most bikers are already throwing themselves down trails on the edge of control. So, is there really any need to do it in the extra hazard of darkness?
It's going be seen as completely rhetorical asking this to a group of nutty bikers from an equally as nutty biking town. Most will do anything to maximise ride time as daytime becomes a commodity pushing into fall time, and into the winter months.
The answer is an unequivocally "Yes."
While not the most revolutionary development in the biking world, LED bike lights bring new possibilities to get out and ride in a previously unavailable slot in our schedule. They have become more powerful, practical, and perhaps most importantly, more price accessible to the average Joe biker out there.
We asked our local bike experts Jenny Peterson at GearHub Sports, and Rick Weiss of Fernie Trails Alliance for a few pointers to get set up and out riding once the Sun goes down.
What are the essential pieces of kit you’ll need to get out night trail riding?
RW: Lights of a good power (lumens) and quality (charge time) are a 'must'. Typical mountain biking gear, a few more layers is all that is necessary for clothing. Nice to change out of sweaty shirt a top of a climb. Glasses or goggles with 'clear' lens are better than tinted. Gloves and mitts are needed as you can get quite warm on the climbs and it's nice to change into dry gloves for the ride down. Bear spray is not really necessary during the winter but it can be used on other predatory animals (cougars). Keep in mind that it's a good workout climbing in winter and managing the heat and sweat factor is key to a fun ride.
JP: If you can afford two sets of lights, that would be the best, one for your helmet and one for the handlebars. - Bear spray is a must-have. - I always bring an extra layer not so much for the climb, but for the descent. - If you're riding in the winter use a frame bag over a backpack. The backpack will make you sweat a lot more.
What would be the bare minimum when choosing your light setup? Can I get away with a cheapy internet head torch?
RW: Lights are the most important factor for a fun and successful night ride, winter or summer. I would recommend both a handlebar light and a headlamp system. The bar light should be a wide-angle light of about 800 lumens and the headlamp should be of similar power or greater (1400 lumens is a nice power). Lights are not cheap but you need to be able to see where you are going and it increase the fun factor (don't cut pennies on a light system). I also recommend caring a spare light in your backpack in case of an emergency.
JP: I wouldn't buy a light any less than 900 lumens. I have friends that have ordered cheap amazon lights and they have worked for them.
Any recommended trails to start out on?
RW: It would be wise to start out easy for the first couple of rides. Ridgemont and Montane are the best areas to start with. Both areas have beginner to intermediate trails. They also offer some good views of the town and valley at night. The FMBC has a winter trail grooming program in Ridgemont and Montane.
JP: If you are new into riding and night riding I would start off with riding easy trails like Roots, Uproots, Lazy Lizard, Swine Flu, and any of the Ridgemont trails. If you're an experienced rider and want to spice it up, Slunt, Project 9, 48 Hours, Three Kings and Big Money are all super fun in the dark.
How about a trail to get a good night view of town?
RW: For Evyr (Blue Montane) offers some nice views of the town and the valley at night, especially from the Montane Hut location.
JP: Roots, Swine Flu, Hyper Ventilation and Hyper Extension have great views.
Should I be worried about wildlife/What can I do to reduce the chance of an encounter?
RW: Bears have gone into hibernation during the winter but other animals don't. It's always a good idea to ride in groups at night and make noise. Night time is quiet and peaceful but it's nice to ride with friends in case of a mechanical breakdown or injury. The darkness makes any emergency more difficult and winter fat biking is a more social event so go with a group.
JP: I have run into more wildlife riding at night then the day. I would say be aware and make lots of noise to reduce a wildlife encounter.
How about other trail users?
RW: Fernie has a trail running club so you might see them out on the trails but it's rare at night. You will generally have the trail to yourself.
JP: I night ride a lot and I have only seen another rider once and I heard and saw him coming.
Any other pointers you can think of for somebody that’s never done a night ride?
RW: Ride with friends and be prepared with the right gear.
JP: Just take your time and have fun. Bring snacks, whiskey to stay warm and a beer for the viewpoint. Night riding is highly addictive! :)
Finally, give us a reason why you think night riding beats day rides?
RW: 1- You see the trails in a different light! 2- Usually a very quiet and peaceful social ride.
JP: Not as much traffic on the trails, the same trails you ride everyday look totally different in the dark, and fewer details taking your focus off the trail.
The trails are ripe and stil ready to rip through the month of October. No longer should we be resigned to call it a day once the sun sets.