There is one night a week (every week) that my wife knows not to make any arrangements. No dinners, no events, no movies.
Thursday morning is different. First I check the evening’s weather, not that it matters, but I need to know if I must pack my rain racket, towel and base layer. Then my lights battery goes on charge (you’ll forget once and never again). And finally, my riding bag gets packed.
I have been night riding for well over 10 years, inspired by my dad and his group of crazy original night riders, the Lost Amigos. Joe Keenan came up with the idea; he must be a crazy genius. Early night lights ranged from Petzl Headlamps to home-made lights using plumbing pipes and motorcycle batteries, and it soon became clear that the most critical weapon in your night riding arsenal was your light. But in the early days you either made it yourself or imported it. And that cost bucks! I remember the day my pops upgraded from the already amazing Topeak HID halogen light to an imported R4500 Lupine Tesla5 light and I inherited the Topeak… it blew my mind.
Back then, night riding was an expensive indulgence but thankfully the advancements in Li-Ion battery life and LED bulb technology has made mountain biking at night popular and affordable. The best (brightest and widest) light on the SA market will cost you under R3000 and a great entry level light around R1000. And today’s entry level light is better than anything we had 5 years ago.
Lights come in 2 forms: Smaller and lighter with a self-contained battery for the newbies, weight weenies or ‘snoepgats’ and bigger multi-bulb lights with longer burn times and brighter & wider outputs, for the advanced night rider. The smaller lights are sometimes used as a secondary light on the helmet but headlights are for sissies! They blind your friends, catch on low branches, and add unnecessary weight to your helmet. They should be banned!
Riding at night is better than during the day. When you are on your way up the climbs, the temperature is cooler, the stars and city lights are spectacular, the smells from the forests are magical, and the excitement is unrivalled. But it is the way back down that makes you fall in love. People often ask me “isn’t it more dangerous, isn’t it more scary, do you ride slower?” and the answer is always no. You are far more focused than during the day, your senses heightened to their maximum. The small section of single track illuminated in front of you is all that matters, each root, rock, and obstacle perfectly clear in your vision. When night riding, you leave your normal life behind and enter a world few others will ever experience.
And then, when the 2 hours of bliss are over, there is a welcome beer and a burger waiting (remember to always start and end your ride in the car park of a relaxed pub or restaurant). Now that we are entering winter, we sit around the fire, drinking, eating, and talking about the tough climb, flowing single track, and crazy drop-offs. We talk about our bikes, our saves and our misfortunes. We take the piss out of newbies still in their Lycra about to catch alight as the embers flick out of the fire. The euphoria and vibe after the night ride is tangible, unbeatable, addictive.
Ask anyone who night rides regularly, and they’ll confirm… there is one night a week (EVERY week) that their significant others know not to make any arrangements… not on Night Ride Night!
PS. First-time night riders should ride with someone who knows the trail and be prepared for any eventuality from broken chains to broken bodies – night riding has a new degree of risk.