Lights for cycling off-road
Light for riding off-road
Whether MTB or gravel, hitting the trails after dark is one of the most fun things you can do on two wheels. Tame and familiar trails take on a whole new dimension but, to get the most out of your nocturnal cycling fun, you do need to have a think about your lighting rig.
To see and not just to be seen
The biggest difference when buying lights for riding off road compared to buying lights for the road – unless you’re riding a lot of unlit country lanes, is that you’re lighting to see the trail ahead and not just to be seen. This means more power and probably a dual light set-up.
Bar and helmet
The best lighting combination is a powerful and wide beam light on your bars and a lower powered but more focused spot on your helmet. The bar light will illuminate the trail ahead whereas the helmet light will improve depth perception and ensure wherever you look is lit up – this is really important off road!
It’s worth tethering lights to your bike or helmet. Helmet-mounted lights are particularly easy to accidentally knock off and a simple tether can prevent you from losing an expensive light in the dark.
Internal vs external batteries
Lights with internal batteries are neat, you don’t have to worry about routing cables and are easy to swap between bikes. However they can be heavy and tend to have lower burn times. Lights with external battery packs are lighter to mount on your helmet, often have longer burn times, you can protect the batteries from the cold but the cables can be annoying.
The power of a light is usually expressed in lumens but don’t always think that more is necessarily better. Beam pattern is equally important as a highly focussed spot can have a very high lumen rating but won’t be much good as a bar-light where a wider flood is needed. Very high powered lights will also tend to have lower burn times and, if riding in a group, can ‘wash out’ the lights of riders with less powerful set-ups.
Boost you burn time
Always take the manufacturer’s claimed burn time with a pinch of salt. Temperature, age and number of charging cycles can all reduce burn time. Increase our burn time by keeping external batteries warm in your pack or using a set of tennis sweat bands to insulate lights with internal batteries. Make sure you keep the actual light body uncovered though as they get very hot. Always toggle to lower power settings when climbing or on less technical sections of trail.
If you have road sections on your ride, make sure you dip your bar light and probably turn off your helmet light to prevent dazzling oncoming motorists.
Also, if you come to a stop and are going to be talking to your ride mates, get into the habit of turning off your helmet light so you don’t blind them!
Don’t forget a red rear light
Again, if you have road sections, you’re legally obliged to have a red rear light so don’t forget it. On the trails though, if you’re riding in a group, turn it off as it can be really distracting for riders behind you.
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