Night riding

What do you all think of recreational riding at night? Particularly in rural/semi-rural areas? I’ve always been terrified of it, worried about what I might not see on the road, or that drivers won’t see me. Also it’s cold out. But as northern hemisphere winter sets in, I’m thinking it’s something I might want to try.

Any tips? Any specific lighting gear I might need? Any voices saying “Don’t do it!”?

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I did a bit of road and mountain riding in the dark, back when that was the only way to fit it in my schedule. It can be a lot of fun - more wildlife is out, and the streets are calmer.

It is harder to see potholes and other large bumps, so wider tires are nice to have.

I was never really happy with the cheap lights I have, so I don’t have any great recommendations.

I do highly recommend starting with early morning riding instead of night riding. If things aren’t working out, the lighting situation will only get better. I enjoy a good sunrise as well.

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I enjoy it in the warm weather. Its cooler and the critters come out at night. I particularly enjoy seeing the bats swoop through the lights.

Around here temperatures typically drop below freezing at night and I would be concerned about wet patches freezing.

One recommendation I would make is to wear a headlamp in addition to bike lights so you can have illumination in the direction your are looking as well the direction to are moving.

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lights in the night should make you more visible. there is an elevated risk is of hitting hazards you can’t see - potholes, debris. and drunk/drugged drivers, although they are also possible in the day.

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I live in a rural area and actually feel safer riding at night, anytime after 7-8pm when the roads get quieter. With modern bike lights I’m way more visible and find a lot of motorists must be “wtf is that up the road” and slow right down when they see our flashing lights.

Only thing I’d recommend is avoiding areas where you and your lights may get washed out, for me that was a couple of construction zones. All the flashing lights and reflective cones made me feel invisible.

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I ride gravel all the time at night or before dawn. It’s fantastic. Get a serious light and a spare battery. Check out Gloworm or Dinotte.

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I actually love night riding. On each bike, road, gravel, mountain. For a number of reasons. You’ve got to try it out to find out whether you like that special feeling or not.

In general I feel road riding at night safer than during the day provided you make yourself visible. There is so much less traffic, and the attention of motorists is much more focused on what’s going on in front of them than during the day.

Riding your mountain or gravel bike in the woods at night feels much more adventurous than during the day, that’s for sure. Avoid crashing! So descend slower than you would during the day-time. It’ll still feel faster.

On the road you can get away with a good (bright with adjustable brightness) handlebar-mounted head light. It must be very reliable of course or you’ll have to carry a spare one.

For gravel or mountain I’d say you need a helmet-mounted powerful head light for safety and fun reasons. I run both, handlebar- and helmet-mounted, on every type of bike I use for night rides. When climbing long or longish climbs I usually turn off the helmet-mounted light just because I don’t need it at speeds below 20 kph.

For road use the tail light is of course very important. It doesn’t have to be ultra bright for night time use but it has to be ultra reliable even on wet roads. So submerge it into a bucket of water while it’s turned on and let it run there for 30 minutes in order to find out if it dies or not. Return it if it dies.

When temps are so low that there’s a risk of ice on the road I try to avoid riding on the road. Fortunately that’s when riding in the woods on frozen ground is even more enjoyable.

What I use:
handelbar-mounted head lights: Bontrager Ion Pro RT, Giant Recon HL1800 and Garmin Varia UT800. They all have an integrated battery which has enough capacity for most night rides because I always complement those with a helmet-mounted light, so the handlebar-mounted light rarely runs on full brightness. All those can connect to to a Garmin via ANT+. I can control the Ion Pro RT through one of the hidden buttons of my DI2 brifters.
While I really like the Ion Pro RT especially for road use installed beneath the Garmin out front mount, it’s not waterproof. I put a 25 mm long piece of Butyl inner tube over the switch and USB charging port. Then it’s ready for rides through biblical downpours.
You might want to use a StVZO-compatible head light with a cutoff line for the beam if most of your riding happens in a city where there’s a lot of traffic. I carefully adjust the angle of the handlebar-mounted lights, and I never run them on full throttle when someone’s coming up. With the helmet light I can turn my head and avoid blinding them or I can briefly point it directly at them if they “forget” to turn their high beam off :wink:.
If you go only with a handlebar-mounted head light I would choose Lupine’s SL AF and then choose the usually top-tube-mounted external battery in a size that makes sure you can safely complete your longest planned rides before the light dies. Or you buy two batteries.

helmet-mounted head light: Lupine Wilma with a battery attached to the tail end of the helmet. Lupine produce even much stronger ones, but seriously I have no idea why you want even more light. IMHO Even Wilma’s max. 3600 lumens are already too much in some situations. So their smaller helmet lights will probably also work fine.

I don’t know any manufacturer who makes better lights than Lupine. Maybe there’s someone who matches their quality level, but better? I think that’s nearly impossible. An extremely responsible privately owned and run company with a great track record. Every single spare part you might ever need is available.

Any helmet-mounted head light sucks of course when it really rains, snows or in the fog. In those conditions you want to have your eyes above the source of light. I’d avoid gravel or mountain bike rides at night when it rains and choose a rather flat road route where you don’t reach high speeds requiring a far reaching beam. Or probably even better opt for an indoor training session.

tail light: Lupine Rotlicht Max international version and Bontrager Flare RT. The Lupine Rotlicht can not be controlled by the Garmin. That’s its only disadvantage compared to the Flare RT.

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All of my summer riding is mostly in the dark since I live in Scottsdale, AZ and in July/August it’s like 100° by 8am. I use a light and motion urban 1000, or 700 and a Light and Motion Viz 180 on the rear. Non-issue. You stand out more in the dark anyways. Never really have any issues as long as it’s not a super busy road and I find training in the dark quite cathartic. As always. Cycling is a dangerous activity could die in broad daylight or darkness if a driver is peckering on their cellphone it really doesn’t matter much what time of day it is. Whatever you do make sure your light batteries are charged before you leave. Having a tailight run out of juice in pitch black is a great way to take an Audi up the ass and dying because you didn’t charge a battery is going to make you look like a jackass.

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Is this your original phrase? It’s excellent.

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  1. I agree with the above: I’ve done a lot of riding during the day and during the night, and I DEFINITELY feel safer vis-a-vis traffic riding at night. Less traffic on the roads and with my lights, drivers can see me coming from miles away. No comparison to day riding where drivers sometimes don’t see you until they are on top of you.

  2. Get good lights. Keep them charged. Bring a spare. Seriously. If you forget to charge a light, it breaks, or falls off during a ride, you’re going to want a backup.

  3. I don’t have any issues with riding at night below freezing. At least where I live, they salt the roads so heavily that they are bone dry except when it is actually snowing. I rode at night in below freezing temps for a long time. No special tires needed.

BUT — AND THIS IS A MAJOR “BUT” —

Be careful. I eventually stopped riding at night in winter after a couple of scares. I had two cases where I had issues with my bike GPS and got lost. I had to stop and pull out my phone to try and figure out where I was and how to get home.

Riding in the cold at night is fine — when you’re moving. But if you have to stop, take off your gloves, and mess around with your phone? My body temperature dropped like a rock. I was shivering so badly I could barely use my phone, pull my gloves back on, and get on the bike. Even on the bike I was barely able to keep it together. It really freaked me out. So after the second time it happened, I stopped.

If I were doing it now, I’m think it would be OK, but I would do a couple of things differently:

  1. I would use bar mitts / pogies. They will keep your hands totally dry and warm, even without gloves, in the coldest temperatures. Gloves were always the weak point for me with winter night cycling.

  2. I would pack a down puffy jacket in either a frame pack or a large seat bag, to have “just in case”.

  3. I would probably pack a small battery pack as well, just in case my phone died (yes, that also happened to me — battery life is much shorter in the cold).

Best,
Adam

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This is the bread and butter of my cycling training outside of summer months maybe. I generally just can’t ride during daytime during weekdays so in winter my only daytime ride is the Saturday or Sunday long ride, whichever day I can get, and that’s it.

Light in front, Varia in rear (was fine with a normal light, too, but I grew to like the Varia) and a cycling jacket with a few reflective bits. I honestly feel safer than during the day because I see reflection of lights on the floor from cars and they see me better than during the day.

It’s fine. Don’t sweat it.

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Oh, and I also vote for getting a helmet-mounted light in addition to a handlebar mounted headlight. Riding a road bike at night can give you a really peculiar sense of tunnel vision if you aren’t riding in an illuminated area. You can’t see anything left or right or even more than a few degrees outside your headlight beam pattern. A helmet-mounted light lets you look around a little and actually see something. Otherwise it can get oddly claustrophobic…

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Helmet lights are also good for extra visibility, mounted higher up to shine over cars. You can also direct them at drivers waiting to turn to make sure they have seen you approaching.

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I have been riding at night for years - best time to ride. I live in an urban area outside of a major city. I commute into the city in the dark during the week and I ride in suburban/rural area in the dark on weekends all year round. I typically leave the house at 3 or 3:30am and I get back shortly after sunrise on my weekend rides. Mostly alone but occasionally with others. Mostly road, but some gravel too. The battery-powered lights I use are Lupine and Exposure - get the brightest and most reliable light you can afford. My brightest light is a Lupine Alpha at 7500 actual lumens - it is insanely bright. Usually a bright handlebar mounted light is enough, but pairing it with a helmet light sure is useful for roadside repairs and flat tires if it’s pitch black out. But also things to consider is the distribution of the light - the brightest of these lights can dazzle oncoming traffic, so I run the lights on lower power settings with car traffic around. High speed descents and technical off road terrain I turn them up. A 5000+ lumen Lupine light will show you every crack and pothole in the road a half mile away…. In the winter I ride studs (usually 30mm 45nrth Xerxes) and full fenders on the road. When it is 15 degrees I am always alone anyways and so the slow-riding studded tires don’t matter much. The major issue where I live is black ice and patches of unsalted roads. We do not have much super-deep snow. The other issue in winter (and also really long rides in warmer weather) is headlight battery life. Even the best batteries do not last as long in winter as they do in warmer weather. So on those long, cold rides I use a front hub dynamo.

The dynamo lights do not have the same power output as the brightest battery powered lights but the dynamo lights really concentrate the light where you need it on the road, so you can actually see very well - and it never runs out of juice. And the good ones only cost you 5-6 watts of your power output. Again, when I’m riding alone this just doesn’t matter. I’d rather go a little slower in exchange for staying safe.

For rear lights I use Dinnotte, Lupine, or a Garmin Varia radar/rear light. The radar is really great.

At night, especially in winter/bad weather, stick to your regular routes. You know the way if your phone battery freezes and also probably have some idea of where the big potholes are, where the terrain is sketchy, traffic patterns, etc….

In winter I wear layers that I can remove and also extra layers in case something happens and I have to stand around and wait for an Uber or train to get home. I might bring a small collapsible rucksack to carry removed layers on the way home. Other options are a large handlebar bag or a “beaver tail” large seat pack for storage.

Pogies are excellent if you don’t mind restricting your hand positions.

For me, cold feet in winter has always been a problem. What works for me is to buy shoes two or three sizes too big. I wear two pairs of wool socks, and two pairs of shoe covers. I find this combo to be a little lighter and a little warmer than a big heavy pair of winter boots.

The most unpleasant riding conditions are like 36 deg F and raining…cold and wet is miserable. Way worse than 10deg and snowing. For cold and wet I again use full-fenders. Also full waterproof rain gear, waterproof gloves, waterproof GoreTex shoes. Make sure to overlap jacket and pants cuffs with gloves and shoes so water doesn’t get it. Waterproof shoe covers not enough - needs to be fully-seam-sealed truly waterproof boots with waterproof neoprene ankle cuffs attached to the shoe. I can actually stay pretty warm and reasonably comfortable like this. And it’s cool enough so your rain gear does not get wet inside out from sweat.

Also in winter/rain I ride Ti or stainless steel bikes - I figure all that gristle and salt on the roads is bad for painted steel and carbon fiber bikes. And salt can corrode aluminum as well - there is huge amount of salt on the roads around here…

Riding at night is fantastic 9 months out of the year. During the coldest parts of the winter it can be desolate, and a bit of a project, but once I’m out there and properly-equipped it’s tons of fun.

One more thing…if riding winter on ice with studded tires be careful when dismounting. Your shoes likely do not have studs for ice!

SB

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Some great advice here. I stopped riding at night in winter when I hit a patch of ice and almost ended up in a canal. If you do go, take all the safety precautions, I’d recommend a 10l bag containing spare light, puffy jacket, extra food (thermos of tea is a great option), charged phone, tools, tube, cash. ideally let someone know the route you are riding. And test your setup on a fairly short local ride before going off on an adventure. Know how long your lights last and be conservative - a charging bank thingy is a great backup to have.

And have fun! I find that much easier with company.

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These responses are all great, and make me want to try this so much more. The only thing is, it seems like the upfront cost is pretty daunting… for some reason I was anticipating like a $40 LED for the handlebars. But $500 for lights plus probably $400 for colder weather clothes (my gear will get me down to around 40 degrees) is a lot for something I’ll probably do occasionally at most.

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Light and Motion is having a Black Friday sale Vis 1000 up front is $80 and Vis 180 for the rear is $50. 1000 lumens up front for the road is overkill. No need to buy the cycling audiophile stuff. L&M is a leader in photography and Dive lights, phenomenal customer service and very well made products.

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I run a NiteRider Micro 900 on my bars and one on my helmet. Think they’re about $85 USD each and find that’s more than enough.

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My deepest winter riding kit is basically Decathlon head to toe - their performance brand, Van Rysel, is really good stuff at reasonable prices. The thermal tights, warmest jacket, thermal base layer, thermal cap, neck warmer and Merino socks all cost about 300 Eur put together iirc. Their higher end lights are great and it’s about 100 Eur on top at most, front and back. If you already have reasonable cycling clothes, just layer up more and you are fine with what you have.

I like my Garmin Varia lights but they’re not necessary - just a nice to have. If you’re not going to do it every night no reason to drop a lot of cash for the kit.

Worth looking at pro owned cycling websites for discounted clothing - may be branded but it doesn’t really matter. Picked up an aero helmet at a bit under half price of a new one a couple of days ago.

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If you have not yet tried I’d suggest trying heated socks. I use Lenz 4.0 (Heat sock 4.1 toe cap – Lenz Products) with their biggest batteries, and they’ve been a game changer for my real winter riding ever since I started using them some 5 years ago.
They are not a massive heat source, and it’s therefore important to not turn them on only when you start noticing the cold. Instead it’s all about keeping the heat sensors in your toes thinking that everything is fine so that the blood stream to your toes doesn’t get restricted. Because that’s what gets you cold feet despite all the protective measures you take.