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The Fine Art of Night Riding

Do's and Don'ts from Granny's veteran racers

Whether you're a first timer to 24 hour racing or part of an experienced team looking to gain an edge on your competitors, you'll find the following compilation of "words-to-the-wise" most instructive and entertaining. The debate rages on as to whether helmet mounted or handlebar mounted lights are the best choice if you're only going to have one light. However, there's strong consensus that having both helmet and handlebar mounted light is optimal. Granny couldn't agree more.
Night Pic Photo by Patsy J. Salate

Happy Trails,
-- Granny

Night Riding Tips

{Editor's note: The following tips have been submitted by experienced racers as well as persons of questionable repute. Goofy suggestions are not to be taken as serious advice. However, serious advice may be taken as a goofy suggestion. Granny Gear Productions, Inc. makes no warranties as to the validity or interpretations of said comments and cannot be held responsible for any misdeed that may lead to your falling on your tukus (or any other part of your body for that matter).}

Tip(s) #1:
  1. Candles are not a reliable backup system.
  2. Solar panels don't work at night.
  3. It takes 231 sparklers to do a lap.
  4. The Indiglo function on your watch was never intended to be a secondary light source.
  5. All lighting systems are designed to fail ten minutes before you complete your lap. {Editor's note: Except for those of our sponsor, of course. -see above}
  6. In case of emergency, burn your shorts. Especially if you're on Team Hugh Jass. {Editor's note: This is, of course, at your own risk.}
-- Sal Ruibal, Team USA Today
Night Pic Photo by Jim Mitchell
Tip(s) #2:
  1. Buy a good light system, preferably 10 watt minimum, but I like 15 watts personally. Whether you use a handlebar mount or helmet mount is a matter of preference. I have found that riding with both is nice because you can use the helmet light to see where you want to go, not where the bike is pointing. It's also real handy when you flat or break down at night and need to see to work on stuff. Trust me, you will flat or break a chain.
  2. Ride trails you are already familiar with at first. Exploring new terrain at night will either get you hurt, or most often lost. Been there--trust me.
  3. Don't ride beyond the duration of your light battery or you will be in the dark. This is okay if you're out of battery power and coming home on sidewalks, but real stupid if you're riding along with night traffic. If possible, use a rear red flashing light on your way home if you're within auto traffic. Better to be seen than run over every time.
  4. Stay light on your bike and don't panic. I have found that if you trust your instincts, you will get through anything. Most folks do it in the day so what's the difference. Keep in mind that dew is more present on rocks and grass so be prepared. Just don't make sudden turns or braking or you'll wipe out.
  5. Carry an extra shirt or light jacket. It's cooler at night and you will be happy to have some warm dry clothes if needed. This is especially true when climbing at night. You get to the top and you're warm and sweaty. Then you freeze up and really freeze on the downhill. Cold sucks and wet just adds to the misery.
  6. Ride at night as often as you can. It will train your eyes and build your overall riding confidence. There is a certain quiet peace about riding at night.
Somewhere during the night you will hear a voice say, "Why am I doing this? I am never doing this again!" Look forward to this voice. Welcome it. Laugh at it. Embrace it. Look forward to hearing it again next year. Just know that it will come and that you will ride past it and be stronger when it fades into the shadows.

-- Chris Tirpak, 4x Sufferer of Canaan and Moab

Tip(s) #3:

I have been night riding at the introduction of a California buddy a few years ago and loving it. I have turned on some buddies of mine to night riding and they love it. Went to Utah one summer and night rode over a snake. Since many of us are slaves to the man during the day, when else can you get out and ride but nigh?. Hope these tips help someone.

-- Rob Niber, Team Captain, Team Near the End

Night Pic Photo by
Tip(s) #4:

I suppose my biggest piece of advice for riding at night would be to practice a little before you actually go off-road. Put your lights on and ride around the neighborhood, get used to the added weight and feel of the lights. Also, you'll want to play with the positioning a little as well-especially before a race-so that you're not fooling with them at the last minute.

I find that using both a handlebar mounted light and a helmet mounted light works best. However, if you're poor and can only use one or the other, I would go with the helmet mounted light. I usually have my lights set up so that the beam from my bar light is pointed out farther ahead of my helmet light, and my helmet light beam is pointed out just a few feet in front of me. Having them set up this way allows you to see what's coming up ahead with your bar light, and allows you to see what you'll be riding over in a second with your helmet light.

-- Mike Pauli, Captain and Road Trip Coordinator, Team Los Bike I

Tip(s) #5:
  1. Even if you use a helmet light, carry a small flashlight. It's aggravating to have to take your handlebar light off to change a flat. Others aren't near as willing to stop and let you use their light in a race (Ha Ha).
  2. Conserve, Conserve, Conserve!!! Only use the high beams on the downhill or where you are really going fast.
  3. Some kind of remote switch is almost a necessity so you can keep your hands on the handlebars. You can fabricate a simple switch for the Vista Light and other systems from Radio Shack parts, or bribe your electronically inclined buddy with a six pack. Or you can bribe me with money.
  4. After your afternoon lap, go ahead and prepare your bike for the night lap by installing your lights, etc. It's much easier in the daylight.
-- David L. Lee, 5 Person Open, Carolina Sweet Peas

Tip(s) #6:

Avoid the trees. {Editor's note: Well said, Chris.}

-- Chris Sigmund

Tip(s) #7:

Here's a great tip for all the newbies that are just getting acquainted with night riding. When riding with your pals at night , I always try to look well ahead of the guy in front of me, so that I avoid making his mistakes. This also gives you a chance to pick a better line and make the pass.

-- Neil Richardson

Tip(s) #8:
Night Pic Photo by
  1. Make sure the switch for your light isn't in a place that you can accidentally hit and turn off the light while you're riding.
  2. Your second light should be a helmet light, so when you have a flat in the dark of night you can see what you're doing. The light on your handlebars won't help you see your back tire. And if your second light is handheld you will only have one hand free to change the tire.
  3. Check that your light and battery are secure before you go. If it's not secure, then your lights are going to go out for sure, or you'll lose your battery and not be able to find it.
-- Yale Iverson, Team Brown Dog Bikes

Tip(s) #9:

One of the most important-but often forgotten (until it's too late)-tips that I have is to always wear some sort of clear glasses at night. Those little branches hit you before you ever have a chance and then it's over! I just snap a pair of clear lenses into my regular riding sunglasses.

-- David, Nicole and Andrew Warhoftig

Tip(s) #10:

Preriding is more important for the dark than for light. A 4-inch log may appear to be a 4-foot drop because of the shadow your light casts. Get to know how to read the shadows and you'll keep from employing a technique that may do more harm than good.

Get a light for your helmet. As you ride into a drop, your light will only be casting a spot on the distant trees and shadows-but not where you are going to land. It's a lot like a free fall with your eyes closed-but it can be more confusing.

Night Pic Photo by Michael Gottino
When following someone, be careful. Imagine driving a car at night and concentrating solely on the tail lights in front of you. If your "lead car" drives off the road into a ditch, you probably will too. On the bike, follow close if you like, but look past the biker and his beam-and stay out of those ditches.

-- Charlie & Jennifer Turner

Tip(s) #11:

Do realize that while steam rises from your body on a cool evening as you overlook your favorite postcard spot, the rest of the world is watching Simpson reruns. Don't freak out when you finally notice all the tiny green eyes looking back at you...they are only spiders!

-- Steve Brown, Team "Gram Conscious" Clydesdales (pun intended!)

Tip(s) #12:
  1. Trees, stumps, and rocks just to name a few are just as hard at night as they are in the day.
  2. They tend to bite harder at night when you can't see them (mostly because they mistake you for their natural prey).
  3. Christmas lights are stylish but consume battery power. Strike a happy medium between holiday cheer and survival.
  4. It's always nice to ride in groups and bum some beams from fellow racers. {Editor's note: Not while you're racing though.}
  5. Be sure to leave your parking lights on when you make that ever so necessary trip to visit the clear and copious tree.
  6. Be part of the American blood donor program: stop for regular intervals with your lights shining bright to attract mosquitoes. (Be sure to drink plenty of fluids.)
  7. Murphy's law is multiplied by every stroke of your pedal.
  8. Cows can't see worth a SH*& in the dark.
  9. Don't fall asleep at the wheel.
-- Jeremy Chandler, Team Conglomo

Night Pic Photo by J.T. Santelli
Tip(s) #13:

Remember when you are riding at night to point your light a good ways in front of you so that you will not out run your light.

-- Team Peach Fuzz

Tip(s) #14:
  1. Wear glasses so you don't poke your eye out when a tree comes out and grabs you.
  2. Carry a small maglight with you for trailside repairs.
  3. Spit forward so you don't lose sight of the trail when you turn your head.
  4. Practice!!!
-- Rob Fry, Team Chuddle Camm

Tip(s) #15:

Here's one tip that proved particularly important for our team: Don't let your scaredy-cat male teammates ride near spooky train tracks at night; makes 'em think about wetting their lycra. Also, phrase for the ride: "It's just a deer!" Sheesh, these boys are mighty delicate.

-- Shannon (1 of 2 women from "Whose Idea Was This?")

Tip(s) #16:

Team Backwoods says, DUCT TAPE IT!! If it wiggles, tape it down, or it might just up and fall off!

-- Ronald Johnson, Backwoods

Tip(s) #17:

Try to remain with several riders if you are an inexperience night rider. The more riders, the better light condition, but don't lead. If you lead then you would have to be the headlight which means less light for you.

-- Noel Vargas, A&E Team Member

Night Pic Photo by
Tip(s) #18:

Now I'm no pro, but that just means I can relate to a novice. I have found that handlebar mounted lamps and helmet mounted lamps are more different than one might think. In my experience, handlebar lamps cast shadows that provide a great 3D view of the terrain. In contrast, headlamps, because the light is so close to your eyes, eliminate the shadows and make reading the terrain much more difficult. Headlamps are excellent for seeing around sharp corners and down drops, etc.

But if I had to choose one or the other, I would ride a handlebar mount every time. I commuted every day on trails this winter, and I got to where I hated using the headlamp alone. Again, this is just opinion, but my ideal setup is a strong handlebar lamp (at least 10 watts, hopefully with a high beam that runs 15 or more) with a low watt head lamp (6 watts is ideal, no more than 10) so that the head lamp doesn't overpower the shadows from the bar lamp. This gives you great straight-on terrain reading and just enough mobile light to see the tricky stuff. Of course, the best teacher is experience, so TRY IT BEFORE YOU SHOW UP AT THE RACE!!!

-- John Salmon

Tip(s) #19:

If you can't see the bottom, better hit the brakes.

-- Blake Robertson

Tip(s) #20:
  1. If you are going to crap in the woods at night, be sure to get far enough away from the trail that I cannot see your bright ass shining like the moon!
  2. Lights are on your bike for a reason. Therefore one should use them and not sneak up behind other riders and scare the hell out of them.
-- Kris Kirk, Team CMI

Tip(s) #21:

Two lights are better than one. One on the helmet (for viewing where you want to go) and the other on the handlebar (for viewing where you're going).

When dew settles, around 10 p.m. to midnight, roots are slippery. Ride the roots carefully during that time.

At the bottom of the mountain, look up at all the riders. It's a phenomenal site, seeing them wind down the mountain. Disco balls rule!

-- Henry Staples

Night Pic Photo by
Tip(s) #22:

Don't just take rides at night, train at pace at night. Don't go to the race without cycling your battery and light mucho times. Don't snooze at the wheel.

-- Cannon Wadsworth

Tip(s) #23:

Day or night, keep the rubber side down.

-- Granny

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