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Do Bike Lanterns or Lights Really Make it Possible to Ride Trails at Night in the Dark?

As a cyclist, having to ride at night can be a whole new experience. This article discusses bike lights to ride trails at night and the safety it brings.

A person on a bicycle riding at night.

I’ve had times in my life when I considered myself an avid bicyclist. I didn’t take 100-mile trips or try to ride on a mountain, but I made it a point to go out riding often. I know the struggle of when you work all day and by the time you get home, it’s nearly dark and you want to get ready for taking your bike out.

There aren’t always street or trail rides in the areas where I want to ride. For this reason, I decided to try out a few different options for lanterns and lights over the years. I have to tell you, some were better than others, but I really love the difference with this illumination and how it makes it possible to extend my time limits for riding on those busy days.

Can You Ride on Trails at Night with Bicycle Lights/Lanterns?

A person biking on a snow at night.

Yes, it’s entirely possible to take to the trails in the dark when you’re equipped with bike lights or lanterns. 

Even if you don’t have a local law that requires you to equip your bike with lights, you may wonder if it’s a good idea to have them in your situation. There’s no simple one-size-fits-all answer here, but you can get ideal lights for your needs with a bit of understanding and assistance at the store or with your online purchase. 

Think about the places where you plan to do most of your bike riding. According to Matt Woodcock, who is a training manager at Cycling UK, “If you’re riding along unlit country lanes, you’ll need a different lighting setup to riding in an urban setting – or you may need to have a mix of lights if you’re riding through both environments”. 

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Woodcock also states that “you may need to have a mix of lights if you’re riding through both environments”. The bottom line is that when you plan to ride in both the city and along country lanes, it’s in your best interest to be prepared with all the right accessories and additions to your bicycle to keep you safe. 

What Kind of Lights Are Best for Riding at Night on Trails? 

A person riding on a river trail at night.

A high output LED allows you to cast a focused beam right in front of your bike. This begins at 600 lumens and it increases in its output, though 800 lumens is ideal for use on dark trails. Lumens are the most popular description of brightness that is based off how much they produce instead of consume, like you would if you measure by watts.

The more lumens a light has, the brighter the light will be. One of the best types of lights for mountain bikes has three settings, so you can adjust it depending on what you need at that particular moment. 

When deciding which of these to get for your biking, consider how often you plan to use it. Battery-operated LEDs are ideal when you want to use it as a backup for the rare chance that you’ll be caught in the dark. Rechargeable LEDs are great if you’ll use them regularly and you want to be able to save instead of buying new batteries.

If you’re someone who rides for a longer period of time in the dark, you can’t beat using a light that you power by a generator. 

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How to Make it Safer to Ride Using Bicycle Lights

Avoid Rear Lights 

A person looking on the map while riding a bike.

It’s not in your best interest to have blinking lights on the back of your bike if you’re riding in the backcountry. If you do decide to use one, it should be something with settings you can turn down or that is lower in lumens. 

Mounting of Lights

Mount your light so that it illuminates right ahead of your front wheel as well as the trail in front of you. Sometimes, I like to use a light that’s mounted onto my helmet so that it shines wherever I’m looking. 

Take a Friend With You

A couple looking at the stars, night biking.

The buddy system is so important when you’re riding on trails, especially at night. You never know what will happen and if you’ll have cell phone service. You can look out for one another and stay as safe as possible when you’re out on trails together. 

Make Your Plans Known 

If no one’s available to go with you on your ride, make sure that you tell family and/or friends where you’ll be on your ride. If you’ll be out on your own, it’s an especially good idea to have a specifically planned course for where you’ll take your bicycle. This way, if you have an accident or run into any trouble, they’ll be able to locate you without problems. 

A Final Note on Bike Lights

A cyclist on a trail in the sunset.

I don’t know what I’d do without the few bicycle lights I own. I can ride at all hours and with greater freedom and safety. I still try to avoid taking my bike out by myself or staying out for long when it’s dark, but this way I know I’ll be safer than if I were riding without any lights or reflectors.

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I’m especially glad that I can switch the lights easily depending on my environment and needs at the time. Trail riding has never been more safe and enjoyable!