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The Beginner’s Guide To Night Mountain Biking


DSCF0595Now pay attention. Wait until after nightfall. Then go get your mountain bike and put it in the back of your (or your friend’s) car. Go over to your helmet with a roll of duck tape and stick the head torch you just bought to the front of it. Dig out a pair of warm leggings from your “never wear” drawer (preferably Ron Hill’s brand – they’re really uncool, but high quality) and put them on over your fetching cycling shorts. Get a long-sleeved top and put that on (and you need to bin that fluorescent yellow t-shirt you were going to wear – it’s horrible and very 1990). Walk over to your favourite waterproof jacket and put it on (it’s Gore-Tex? even better). Grab a beanie hat (I like to call them mugger’s hats, by the way) and put that on. Okay, you’re all set, get into the car. Oh, and on your way out leave your sanity at the door. You won’t be needing it.

Last night I followed the above advice to the letter and went night biking for the first time. And it was a hell of a good laugh. Whereas during daylight hours I can race down a rocky hill and pick a nice line well before I get there (thus avoiding the biggest rocks) you don’t have that luxury at night. You have at most a light patch a few metres wide a few metres ahead of you and with that section of gloomy ground you have to decide how fast you want to go, which way to lean and steer and where you need to break. Of course, I quickly learned that the best policy is to not really bother about that sort of thing and instead just forget about the ground and go for it. In fact I probably went downhill faster than I do during the daytime (less things to worry about you see).

My friend and I decided to do an 8 mile route that wasn’t too remote, just as a way to get into the whole night biking thing and we’ll definitely be doing it again. Once I got used to the fact that I really couldn’t see very much ahead of me I loved the adrenaline-pumping action of not knowing if I was going to be flung over a wall or through a knee deep puddle. As it happens the terrain was pretty straightforward so neither option really materialised, although I did have a couple of “oh dear, I seem to be leaning the wrong way” and “I want to go this way but my bike wants to go that way” moments.

In case you want to try this evening pastime then here are a few things to watch out for:

  1. Gates. They spring out of nowhere and you really don’t want to hit one at 20mph.
  2. Cows. They’re pretty big and for some strange reason they’re quite hard to spot with a torch when you’re moving at high speed.
  3. Flat light. The trouble with lights, even powerful spotlights, is that they produce flat light that makes it quite tricky to spot ruts and determine the shape of the path ahead. Be careful.
  4. Cold nights. If it’s close to winter (like now) then your suspension and running gear might actually freeze so watch out if your brakes stop working, gears stop shifting and bounciness stops bouncing.

But the bottom line is that it’s great fun and well worth a shot. Much better than sitting around watching TV on a dark night thinking about how much fun mountain biking is and how great it’ll be when summer returns. Plus it’s great exercise.

Update: The story continues in Night Biking Extreme!

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Creator of John's Background Switcher. Scotsman, footballer, photographer, dog owner, risk taker, heart breaker, nice guy. Some of those are lies.

7 Comments Join the Conversation

  1. I fully agree with Sam here – I can’t even play video games that are set at night, let alone risk my neck trying to avoid cows (wtf?) and gates and the like.

    If this becomes a habit of yours I’d be willing to bet that sightings of aliens around Yorkshire will increase by an order of magnitude – you two must be quite the sight. “Officer, these two flying aliens came out of nowhere and ran into a cow at top speed, then they cursed and one of them sounded almost Scottish!” “Ah, yes, the Scottish aliens, there have been quite a few sightings around here lately. We don’t know why, but they seem to target cows and gates. Rest assured, Menwith Hills has been informed.”

    So yes, you are officially a nutter. You can pick up your certificate at the main office. Display it with pride, ya weirdo. ;^)


  2. John, Have you thought about applying for that “SAS: Are You Tough Enough?” programme?


  3. Fletch hit a gate in broad daylight, what hope we he have in the dark

    Do you have Cat eye lights apparently they are very bright!


  4. Joel, my brush with the marine officer selection course has shown me that I’m pretty tough, but that there are a lot of people much tougher than I am. I’d be half-tempted to give it a go, but I left that part of my life behind when I settled for civvie street.

    And what’s the deal with painting gates dark green in a forest? Just asking to be crashed into (I’m still amazed he didn’t break his arms). And I just got a regular head-torch and some bright LED front light, does the job without weighing 10KG like some of these high powered spotlights do!


  5. Recently I went out for the first time at night…and it was awesome. In addition to the primal thrill of night riding, I had to keep an eye out for the additional challenges of riding in Israel. Check out my little blog post on that trip.


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