5 Tips for Riding at Night

mountain bike rider at night

See and be seen as daylight dwindles

It's that time of year again when diminishing daylight puts the squeeze on post-work rides, making weeknight rides more challenging to pull off. Riders often have to choose between starting at dawn and finishing at dusk— or even in the dark — to get their mid-week bike fix.

Whether you're riding to the trailhead, starting a road or gravel ride before the sun rises, wrapping up a ride after sunset or doing a dedicated night ride, taking steps to make sure you are not only visible to cars but also that you can see well while riding is mandatory this time of year. The good news is bike lights have come a long way over the past few years, and are brighter and smaller in size, making it easy to see and be seen while cycling in the dark.

Here are 5 ways you can stay safe riding in low light conditions:

1) Light up your bike. A taillight and a bar or headtube-mounted headlight are essential for riding on the road at night, and also a good idea for daytime rides. Save your headlight's flash mode for daytime riding, and set it up so that it points at the ground about 20 feet in front of you. There are many light options on the market, with most being USB rechargeable (be mindful of keeping your lights charged, and consider having a back-up set to swap out in case you forget to charge!). In addition to a helmet-mounted light, a bar-mounted, super-bright headlight also makes trail riding in the dark much more enjoyable and safer. The brighter of the two should be your helmet light. (Click here to read more tips for riding singletrack at night). 

2) Wear hi-vis clothing, especially on the road. Avoid dark colors, and opt for kits with reflective hits, or better yet, look for jerseys, jackets, and other cycling apparel made with reflective material woven into key places like arm and waistbands. Some brands also use reflective materials in shoes, socks, and even tire sidewalls. Note that fluorescent colors are great for daytime riding but do not help much in the dark. Also consider wearing glasses with clear lenses to protect your eyes from dust, branches, and other debris on the trail. 

3) Safety in numbers. Ride with a friend or in a small group to be better seen on the road. Having company on nighttime trail rides, particularly in more remote areas is also a good idea. It's also a good idea to tell someone where you're going, and how long you plan to be out. For longer adventures in the dark, consider carrying a space blanket or bivy, and other emergency and cold-weather gear. 

4) Stick to routes you know. Plan to ride familiar trails to avoid getting lost. Knowing the terrain and its features will also make riding in limited light safer and more fun.

5) Make sure it's legal. Not all riding areas allow trail users after dusk, including OC Parks and California State Parks. Stick to National Forest or BLM land for night rides so you don't risk getting a ticket!