Night riding is the new black. Take that as you like. Point is, more and more South Africans are discovering the added dimension it brings to their riding experience. – By Dino Lloyd and Sean Badenhorst

No, it’s not like riding in the daytime. Well it is in some ways, but so

Tread editorial staffers Sean Badenhorst and Dino Lloyd ready to put some lighting solutions to the test and take on the 2013 Energizer Night Race team relay at Modderfontein’s Central Park trails. Photo: Jacques Marais
Tread editorial staffers Sean Badenhorst and Dino Lloyd ready to put some lighting solutions to the test and take on the 2013 Energizer Night Race team relay at Modderfontein’s Central Park trails.
Photo: Jacques Marais

different in others. Pedalling, shifting, braking – yes, all the same. But all with more heightened senses. What you take for granted in the day you pay acute attention to at night. It’s all about seeing where you are going. Obviously. Ride with no light or a faulty light and you’ll swear at 80 expletives a minute. Ride with a good light and you’ll have to suppress yelps of joy.

It’s seriously that much fun, night riding is. Sight is obviously your most important sense and you really dig deep into this sense, especially when travelling at high speed. Take into account shadows created by your light, limited peripheral vision, limited long-range vision and suddenly you’re so in tune with your ride that it feels like a whole new experience.

Your hearing sense is heightened too. You hear every gearshift, and your breathing seems louder. When you’re climbing, you feel your heart beating and you’re aware of sweat forming on your skin – and then cooling as you ride though dips where the air temperature changes noticeably. You feel the brake pads in action. Your sense of smell is raised too. You’re more aware of smells like pine forest, lavender, cut grass, river smells, your own body odour…

Tread main man, editor Sean Badenhorst takes on the 2013 Energizer Night Race at Modderfontein's Central Park trails.  Photo: Zoon Cronje
Tread main man, editor Sean Badenhorst takes on the 2013 Energizer Night Race at Modderfontein’s Central Park trails.
Photo: Zoon Cronje


You become more aware of your ability to flow through a trail when you’re riding at night. Because your vision is limited by how far your lights are illuminating the trail ahead of and around you, you become more focussed on your bike handling, especially on twisty singletrack.

Speaking of twisty, you can improve your night riding ‘flow’ quite substantially by using a helmet-mounted light in addition to your bike-mounted light. A helmet-mounted light (usually less powerful and lighter in weight than your bike-mounted light) allows you to anticipate better because it lights up where you are looking/facing and not only where you are pointing your bike.

You’d be amazed how little your handlebar points in the direction your head does while riding, especially if you’re an experienced rider that’s always looking ahead to where you want to go (as you should).

Besides being a sensory revival, night riding is a way to extend your riding time. If a daytime weekday ride is out of the question, simply extend your options with a weekly night ride. Make it a regular ride and include your mates. Summer is the best time to start night riding because you don’t have the cold to worry about.

Many bike shops and mountain bike clubs organise regular night rides. Join them at first to avoid any pitfalls. Trail choice is key. Opt for safe, less technical trails for obvious reasons. Keep night rides to two hours maximum to keep them fun. They offer a great way to focus on improving your connection with your bike. Anything longer than two hours should be kept for events that include night and 24hour racing.

Obviously you’ll want to avoid riding in the rain at night. Rain does add to the experience, but really can be challenging if you’re relatively new to mountain biking or stimulating, if you’re and experienced rider.

If you are going to ride at night, be sure to invest in a decent light. Or two. There are more expensive lights (approx. R2000- R6000) for serious night riding, but in recent years there are a number of decent lower-priced lights (Approx R800- R1900) for those that want to give it a bash, but don’t want to bash the bank in the process…

What you need to know about lights

A multitude of lights are becoming available to mountain bikers, be it for serious off-road use, commuting or extended night rides. There’s a wide range of good quality lights at varying levels of strength, build and price. The question is, what are your lighting needs and what’s out there?

Typically, the big deal with bike lights are Cree LEDs, which are super-bright and high-intensity. Although prone to running at high temperatures they’re perfect for cycling due the air-cooling created by our forward motion. To give an idea of brightness, most manufactures claim a number of lumen (lm) this is more of a guideline though and the most accurate method of measurement is determined with an integrating light sphere. This takes into account a light’s uniformed light output, including light-technology terms like spill and diffusion.

An integrating light sphere is not a readily available piece of equipment, however we located one in South Africa and were given the use of an in-light sphere with a metered read of lumen that we called a ‘lumen box’ for lack of a better phrase.

Thanks to Aiden from Lite Optec, the importers of Silva, we were able to use this equipment, which according to them, was brought in at a cost of approximately R80 000.

Importantly, we were able to observe a variety of lights that we were testing being measured on site at their premises. This ensured a balanced and objective outcome.

Additionally, the equipment and measuring are calibrated according to ANSI standards. In short, each light’s consistent lumen reading over 30 seconds was registered as the most accurate. The results gave an interesting overview of what we deal with when buying a light and adds, or minuses some credibility with regard to manufacture’s lumen claims on packaging.

Aiden waxed philosophical about candela and marketing puff like, ‘candle power’. He seems to have an inordinately in-depth knowledge of all things illuminated, and thus enlightened us on a few things about the industry.

Lumen, while it is a bona fide term, it’s often manipulated for the purposes of marketing. More is not always better. There are factors to consider such as light build quality, ease of use and the kind of beam spread and tone.

Additionally, many manufacturers crow about the specced lumen from production and not measured lumen. This is more common on lights that are not completely assembled in-house, relying on more than one assembly facility.

Many of the cheaper lights available are the result of manufacturers in the East, who have specialised in tactical lights for security and law enforcement. Lights that have the beveled alloy rim around the lens are originally designed for tactical torches to knock an assailant in the face or for self-defence.

Of course we’re not advocating you do this, but it does make for interesting background and offers some insight into how bicycle lighting has become more competitive and attractive to quality portable light manufacturers. The lower-priced lights from the East have, pleasingly, helped lower the barrier to entry to night-riding.

When buying a light for night-riding, you need to:

  • Always check what the warranty stipulations are. Any light that doesn’t have some form of IP rating should have at least some form of weather proofing against the elements. Keeping that in mind the obvious thing is to always remove your light before washing the bike.
  • Consider mobility and ease of use, especially depending on how regular your rides may be, so what also comes into consideration is what you will use your light for.
  • Ask yourself if you will you need a helmet light, or will a sufficiently bright handlebar light suffice? Faster riders should definitely consider a helmet light too.


TREAD Magazine is sold throughout South Africa and can be found in: Spar, CNA, Exclusive Books, Discerning bike shops and on Zinio

Originally published in TREAD Issue 21 and Issue 22, 2013 – All rights reserved


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