If you are commuting to and from work, it is likely you will be riding in low light conditions and even the dark for some of the year. Making sure other road users can see you is essential for a safe and smart commute. If you’re into mountain biking and still want to be active in winter and get out after work, embrace the dark and open up a whole new nocturnal world of trails this winter.
Commuting in winter
One of the first things you need to do before heading out on a dark morning is CHECK YOUR BIKE! If you don’t have time in the morning, give it a once over the night before. It’s bad enough in summer ‘breaking down’ on a busy road, but in mid winter when its cold and dark it can be utterly depressing. Check your tyres for pressure and wear, are your brakes ok, give you bike a shake and look for any loose connections or bolts. There’s loads of resources on Youtube to help you if you find something wrong, or if you aren’t sure take it to a local bike shop, there’s a section on the site <here> to find a local bike shop or service centre.
Be warm and dry
Whether you fancy head to toe lycra, or prefer to just slip some waterproofs over your normal clothes, its important that youre prepared for whatever the weather might throw at you. There might be the temptation to throw on a heavy thick fleece to combat the cold, but remember cycling will warm you up and sweating under heavy layers can make you feel wet and cold. Thats where cycle-specific clothing and layering can help to keep you dry and comfortable. Plus dont forget your extremities, gloves and waterproof shoes or overshoes are simple things that can help to make a more enjoyable commute.
Winter doesn’tt just bring wind and rain, it also brings darker days. So the brighter you can make yourself and your bike, hopefully the safer youll be. That means ditch the black and bring out the high-vis, fluro and reflective clothing to make yourself as visible as possible for your commute. Dont forget to also make your bike visible, lights are a legal requirement, so make sure you have these fitted to the front and back of your bike, as well as making sure they are fully charged or carry a backup set or spare batteries with you, just in case.
Here’s some links to help you choose the best lights and clothing:
Road conditions are notoriously more treacherous in the winter as wet or icy roads mean less grip. So riding with slightly softer and wider tyres can help give more traction. Also remember itll take you longer to stop when braking in the wet and road markings and manhole covers tend to be quite slippery, so take extra care when riding across them.
Mountain Biking at night
Hitting the trails at night can give you a whole new perspective on your local trails. Woods and paths seem different, obstacles which you float over usually during the day become questionable, mountain biking at night can be a thrill but its essential you are prepared.
Unlike road users the only possible light you may have is from the moon. Because of this you’ll need lights that fill your path ahead, and maybe more than one!
Bar and helmet
The best lighting combination is a powerful and wide beam light on your bars and a lower powered but more focused spot on your helmet. The bar light will illuminate the trail ahead whereas the helmet light will improve depth perception and ensure wherever you look is lit up. Its worth tethering lights to your bike or helmet. Helmet-mounted lights are particularly easy to accidentally knock off and a simple tether can prevent you from losing an expensive light.
Internal vs external batteries
Lights with internal batteries are neat, you dont have to worry about routing cables and are easy to swap between bikes. However they can be heavy and tend to have lower burn times. Lights with external battery packs are lighter to mount on your helmet, often have longer burn times, you can protect the batteries from the cold but the cables can be annoying.
The power of a light is usually expressed in lumens but dont always think that more is necessarily better. Beam pattern is equally important as a highly focussed spot can have a very high lumen rating but wont be much good as a bar-light where a wider flood is needed. Very high powered lights will also tend to have lower burn times and, if riding in a group, can wash out the lights of riders with less powerful set-ups.
Plan and packing
Dont forget to charge your lights and, as many can take a couple of hours or more to charge, do it the day before your plan to ride. If youre carrying a spare battery pack, make sure its somewhere accessible in your pack and you know where all your spares and tools are located. Carrying a spare get you home set of lower power lights can be a good idea. If there are road sections on your route you may need to tweak or add to your set-up to comply with Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations. You will definitely need a rear facing red light and be able to dip your main light to avoid dazzling on-coming traffic.
Ride solo or with a friend?
Riding solo can be a bit daunting at night, sounds in the wood behind you may get your heart rate going but more than likely you are the only crazy one out there!
If you’re not out with a group or friends, let someone know where youre riding and the time you should be back by.
Information was taking from various sources for this article, with thanks and credit: