As it turns out, I’ve been doing it wrong this whole time.
I’ve been mountain biking at night once a week for nearly 10 years now, so I decided to put together a list of the things I’ve learned to help other riders. Almost as an afterthought, I asked the folks at Light & Motion if they had any tips to add.
Much to my surprise, I was the one who ended up getting schooled.
Read on to find out how to get the most out of your lights for mountain biking at night.
Manage your battery life
Most mountain bike lights feature three or more brightness settings, and obviously the brighter settings tend to deplete the battery more quickly. Running the light at full blast the entire time is tempting, but lights aren’t designed with this in mind. That is, unless you only want to ride for an hour or so.
As we found in our brightness vs. speed test, a brighter light generally allows riders to go faster at night. That means it’s best to reserve the brightest light setting for fast descents, and stick to lower levels for slower climbs. In a lot of ways, bike lights work just like suspension and dropper posts. Admittedly it can be a lot to keep track of at the start of a descent (flip the shock, drop the post, turn up the light) but after some practice, it becomes second nature.
Look for a light that offers a large mode button that’s easy to find and press in the dark to make the process quick and easy.
Brightness: Too much of a good thing
You used to get a buzz after drinking a single beer, and now it takes three just to feel anything. Bike light brightness works the same way.
Always start the ride at the lowest brightness setting and let your eyes adjust to the darkness. If after riding for several minutes you feel like you need more light, turn things up a notch and ride some more before increasing brightness again. Avoid starting out on high if you can.
Once you finally do turn a bike light to full brightness, it can be hard to go back down; everything just looks dark. Don’t worry, your eyes will adjust to the low light eventually, just as they do when transitioning from outdoors to indoors on a sunny day.
When I went night riding for the first time, my light was only about 150 lumens. Looking back, I can’t believe that’s all the light I needed. Light inflation, like grade inflation, is real but the good news is as individuals we can avoid it. The even better news is that low-power lights cost less than the ultra-bright ones!