As I made the descending switchback turn down the technical Boy Scout trail in Hurricane, Utah the familiar tire on rock sounds were suddenly interrupted by a startling rattle. My primordial instincts put me on high alert as the alarmist sound of a rattlesnake was just off my right. It being well after dark and the trail only lit by my spotlight, there was no chance I’d ever see the snake. The rattle was enough to let me know it was close. Fortunately for me, the snake was satisfied with the warning rattle as I rode off down the switchbacks.

This experience reminded me of why I love riding mountain bikes at night. Not because of rattlesnakes, encounters are more a factor of temperature than daylight, but instead because of the extreme heightened awareness that comes from riding a trail under the glow of a headlight.

Too dark to play bikes? Nope.

It’s that time of year when the days are short and daylight is scarce. But that doesn’t mean it’s time to put the bike into hibernation. Riding at night is a great way to reinvigorate the mountain biking experience. Trails that you’ve ridden hundreds of times feel new, nocturnal wildlife comes out to play, and cooler temperatures make for a nice reprieve from the heat of the day.

Above all, the thing I love most about riding at night is the way the darkness creates a heightened focus on the experience. When you ride at night, the only thing that is visible is exactly where your head or light is pointed. All other peripheral objects are obscured by darkness, allowing the rider to enjoy an exquisite focus on the trail. The experience becomes an exercise in mindful meditation where the only thing that matters is the right now, and the trail right in front of the rider.

So don’t put that bike on the trainer and relegate yourself to boring indoor riding and don’t stop playing in the desert just because it’s already dark when you get off work.

If you’ve never ridden mountain bikes at night here’s a few easy tips to get started.

LightsObviously you’re going to need a light. The preferred method is to run two lights, one on helmet-this will be your primary light, and one on the handlebars. The helmet light provides a high beam spot light for direct focus on where you’re looking. Handlebar lights should be a wider beam lower brightness light to provide a wider field of vision.

1200 lumens is a good starting place for brightness, the higher the lumen the brighter the light, and generally the higher the cost. An entry-level light starts at less than $50, while the top-end brands can be over $300. Having two lights is a must for redundancy to prevent a long dark hike back to the trailhead.

The Trail – Begin your first night ride on a familiar trail. Navigating a new trail at night is more difficult and is only appropriate for experienced night mountain bikers.

Bring a Friend – Riding with a friend is always a good time and a good idea, but it’s especially important for the safety of a night ride. Because there is usually no one else on the trail, it’s good to have a buddy with you just in case something goes wrong.

When to do it – Sunrise and sunset are the absolute best times to ride bikes. There’s nothing quite like the special beauty of watching the sunrise or set out on the trail. Mornings are getting pretty cold these days so layer up.

Good morning!

So if you’re tired of the same old trails, you just can’t find the time to ride while the sun is still shining, or you just want to try something new; get your hands on some lights and go out on a ride under the stars. I’ll watch for your light out on the trail. Hope to see you there.

Words by Logan Phipps. Pictures by David Lisonbee and Logan Phipps.