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Winter Riding: Don’t Hibernate, Illuminate!

15:11 13th November 2013 by James McKnight @JamesMcKnighty
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Words: Paul Trimble

Sorry people, it’s that time of year again. Yep, winter is just around the corner, and for some the changing of the clocks and the nights drawing in signals the time to wrap the bike up somewhere dry and cosy, just like a Blue Peter tortoise, and leave it there until the sun comes back. For others they will grab the best of days at weekends or maybe even the odd day off work to make the most of the winter daylight. But there is another way: ride at night!

Blur

I have been riding at night pretty much since I started riding, and it’s great. Be it solo or in a group (if you have the time flexibility and the social inclination), you will be rewarded in so many ways from getting out on the bike in the darker months. The trails don’t even need to be dark anymore as lights have come on amazingly, from my first set of twin Vista lights, of which the battery short-circuited and caught fire on a solo ride back in 1998 (glad they were not helmet mounted!) and resulted in me stamping on it until it went out, to my Lumicycle halogen units, my home made LED set (design copied from USE) to Magic Shines and Ebay’s finest, modern LED lights are truly great. From £35 to £400 you can get lights that will defiantly do the job; quality, cost, batteries and burn times will have to be weighed against each other, but really anything over 1200 lumens is, well, really bright to most people and certainly suitable.

Night riding will also help your riding in general, from keeping up the level of fitness you have worked so hard for during summer to just keeping the dread of turbo trainers and rollers away! The secret training season on deserted trails allows you to unleash hill-climbing whoop-ass on your mates; dry and fast or sticky and slippy dark trails will sharpen bike-handling skills.

Woods

Then there’s the wildlife: Deer caught by surprise on twisting singletrack, following a trotting badger with its rather pungent musk down a track, barn owls swooping over hedges and roads, bats snatching moths from the glare of your lights, foxes seen strolling up pavements in villages and towns and Cougars wobbling around town and city centres looking for prey…! It’s all out there.

Plus night riding seems to often produce amazing and amusing occurrences, from watching mist roll down from wooded valley sides to settle at the bottom of the valley you are about to ride into, to coming out onto the tops of hills on crystal clear still nights surrounded by nothing but the lights from homes miles away and the glow of far away towns and cities. It’s something magical. Riding at night in the snow you may not get far or be fast, but it’s such an experience. There’s the amusing moments, like when steamed up cars are spotted, more amusing when 20 plus riders with enough light power to light a football match ride past, to the bizarre one on my last ride, luckily witnessed by a couple of mates from my local club (Witney Mountain Bikers) who just happened to be out and came across me taking photos for this article and just in time to see me having to deal with a huge great hornet; it must have come out from under some piece of wood and I don’t know if it wanted to hibernate in my light or just really did not like it all, but was all over me and the front of my bike. Resulting in me running off down a track with my light and putting it on the ground so I could “DEAL” with the thing.

Bomb flash

So if it’s just popping out for an hour’s solo ride, a group mountain epic or a local club amble, night riding can give you and your bike months more of riding. All clubs I know do at least one ride out a week and in the typical fashion of mountain bikers they often start and finish at the pub. How many more reasons do you need?

Read Paul’s Exposure lights review here.

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