From late fall to early spring, it can get dark as early as 4:30pm. Don’t let the darkness stop you from riding! Lebanon Hills is open to riding in the dark as long as you stick to the open hours between 8am and 10pm. Mountain biking with lights has become extremely popular over the past many years, and can make a trail you are familiar with feel like a whole new experience.
In The Dark
There are two kinds of mountain bikers: those who don’t bike at night, and those who do. Those that ride at night tend to get addicted and actually seek out the dark. Sounds crazy right?
We couldn’t ride in the dark without lights. Typical setups include a light on the helmet and one on the bars. (if you only have one, the best option is a helmet light) These days lights are becoming brighter and more affordable every year. There are two schools of thought when it comes to lights: DIY, and Purchased. A few years back when LED lighting was new, DIY was the “in” thing because bike lights were more expensive and there were few to choose from. Then along came the MagicShine 808. As cheap as they were, they still caught the attention of a lot of people. Even seasoned DIYers started to concede that they couldn’t make a light for that kind of money. Now DIY is really more for hobby than to save money. If you are purchasing your lights, there are typically two categories here as well: value “cheap” Chinese, and the more expensive professional quality. One great place to start when looking for a light is mtbr.com’s 2013 Bike Lights Shootout.
Quick Night Light Primer
Most lights now use LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes) because they produce more light for less power than conventional bulbs and are far less fragile than the older HID lamps. Each new season brings significant upgrades to LED technology.
When buying lights, most look to get the best battery life, highest lumens (measure of light), least weight, and the appropriate beam pattern for your style of riding (Flood to Spot, see photo at right), for the lowest cost. This is not an easy task with the many choices of lights that come out each year.
In 2009, MagicShine came on the scene with an $89 bike light (see photo on left) claiming 900 lumens (actual was more like 500). Until this point most lights were 4x this price with half the lumens. Cheap Chinese lights were allowing everyone to get into night riding with enough light to make it safe to go all out. Eventually these lights suffered from a battery re-call and continue to suffer quality issues, though $89 for a light set that lasts a year or so is still a very tempting deal. Today there are dozens of cheap light makers offering similar products. If you are in the market for a decent light at a decent price, this is the way to go. Just remember the saying “I am too poor to afford cheap things” as sometimes you get what you pay for.
Here are some of the top low to medium budget lights as of July 2013:
- The SolarStorm X2 2000LM for just $40 (claimed 2000 lm) We suggest an upgraded battery with this light. This seems to be the most popular light for 2013. There are many variations of this light available and prices vary. Beware that shipping from China can take a while.
- A very bright cheaper alternative UltraFire U-L2 7 x Cree XM-L2 T6 3-Mode 4000lm at $65 (claimed 4000 lm)
- The Magicshine MJ-808-L2 for around $90 (claimed 1200 lm) Updated version of the original.
- Double the power of the above light with the Magicshine MJ-880-L2 for around $200 (claimed 2400 lm)
- The UltraFire 4 x XM-L T6 2600lm for around $52.50 (claimed 2600lm)
- The Xeccon Sogn 900 Twin xM-L2 at around $196 (claimed 2300lm)
- On the higher quality end, the DiNotte XML-3 at $230 (claimed 1500 lm) For those wanting US (not Chinese) built lights.
Leb in the Dark
Lebanon Hills is a great place to night ride. You will find the parking lot just as full after dark as you would any other time, especially between early September to late November. Many start looking forward to this fall riding season by counting down the days starting late June when we hit the longest day of the year. Since the trails and lot close at 10pm (with no exception) you need to be sure you have enough time to complete your lap. Check here for a schedule of sunrise and sunset times for our area. Considering the average one hour ride, you really won’t get in a solid night ride until early August, and by late August when the sun sets before 8pm and evenings start to cool the season really begins.
Night Riding Etiquette
As with every aspect of mountain biking, riding in the dark comes with its own set of tips that will help you get the most out of your experience:
- The trails and lot close at 10pm. This means be completely out of the lot by 10pm, not exiting the trail or putting your gear away.
- If you are on the trail after 10pm, Parks Patrol has to treat it as if someone may have gotten injured and will stay until you exit… at which time you will receive a ticket. (while making bikers look bad)
- Always ride the trail in the correct direction. Those not following this rule are putting others in danger.
- Always wear protective gear, especially. Helmets are required!
- Its best to have two lights in case one fails or you run out of battery. Getting caught out in the middle of a dark trail is no fun!
- If you have to chose between a bar and a helmet light, go with the helmet light. Helmet lights follow where you are looking vs. where your bike is pointing.
- Riding in a group can make riding in the dark much safer, and is a lot of fun!
- Once the fire pit is installed please be ready to share with other riders. Make sure the fire is completely out well before 10pm.
- Did we mention the trails and lot close at 10pm? We can’t stress this enough as night riding is a privilege we can lose if abused.
Be a good representative of our sport and follow the rules. Night riding, like winter riding, is a privilege that Dakota County agreed to allow due to the relationship with MORC. Let’s all work together so that we safeguard what has arguably become one of the most fun aspects of mountain biking.
This video was shot a few years back at Lebanon Hills. Its a bit jerky but shows you some of what its like to ride at night.
AMP Hour – A measurement of battery capacity. The bigger the capacity, the longer your lights will run. You need to divide this value by the amperage the light operates at in order to get the theoretical run time.
Bag – A cloth pack that holds the battery onto the bike’s frame.
Bar mount – Light bracket that fits around oversize (31.8mm) and/or older 1in (25.4mm) diameter handlebars.
Battery cell – The single units that wire together to create a battery pack.
Bottle – Plastic water bottle converted to hold a large capacity battery.
Candlepower – Unit of light measurement.
Cell – Individual unit within a larger battery block. Most mountain bike light batteries are twin or quad cell units.
Chinese Lumen – With cheaper lights coming out of China, its common to see them quote a much higher lumen than is realistic for their lights. Its often save to divide a Chinese Lumen in half to get closer to reality.
Color temperature – Colour of the light. The more blue-white, the ‘colder’ the colour, the more yellow, the ‘warmer’
Cree – Leading LED manufacturer.
DIY – Do It Yourself. Building your own lights and batteries has become quite popular over the last 5 or so years.
Flood – Head unit designed specifically tospread light over a wide area.
Halo – A distinctive ring in the pattern ofthe beam.
Halogen – Best of the conventional bulb types. Cheap and easy to replace, but power-hungry so needs big, heavy batteries. Most manufacturers now use LEDs instead.
Helmet mount – Bracket that lets you fit the light on your lid.
HID – High Intensity Discharge. A metal halide lamp that uses a tiny but extremely bright striplight bulb that only draws 10W but produces more light than a 40W halogen bulb. Gives that distinctive blue/white alien light of BMW headlamps. Most manufacturers now use LEDs instead.
Jack – Connector plug on the lead.
LED – Light Emitting Diode. A solid state semi-conductor that glows brightly when a current is passed through it. The ‘bulb’ choice of most manufacturers.
Lead – Cable that connects the head unit and battery. Extra long extension units are available for use with helmet mounts.
Lens – The screen over the LED and reflector that protects them and can also be used to modify the beam.
Life indicator – Traffic light style colour change display that indicates the remaining charge in a battery.
Li-ion – Lithium Ion. The most expensive but lightest, most efficient battery available. Also the easiest to look after in terms of charging/ recharging and therefore a very good thing.
Lumen – Often quoted measure of the theoretical power of a light. Thermal issues and management circuitry normally make it an optimistic guide at best, though. With no standard way to measure it for bike lights, most figures can’t be usefully compared.
Lux – Lumens per square metre. The real light output figure that we generally use in our comparative lab tests.
NIMH – Nickel metal hydride. Cheaper battery type that’s reasonably robust in a charge/recharge sense but heavier and bulkier than a Li-Ion for the same capacity.
O-ring – Thick rubber band used in some handlebar mounts.
QR – Quick release mechanism.
Reach – The distance down the trail that the light illuminates.
Reflector – The shaped reflective surface behind the LED that concentrates and reflects the beam of light.
Smart charger – Charger that senses how full/ empty the battery is and adjusts its efforts accordingly rather than burning down your house.
Spot – Head unit designed to focus light in a narrow, long reaching beam.
Throw – How far a light’s beam can reach in front of it.
Voltage – The power level the battery releases its energy at.
Watt – A measurement of power. You’ll often see bike light outputs quoted as ‘equivalent to a 20W halogen bulb’ for example.