Top tips for mountain bike night riding

The British Winter isn’t exactly inviting for mountain biking…

Short days and long nights can mean that riding time is limited to that Quick Spin on a Sunday morning squashed between DIY and ferrying the kids around.

Trust us though, it doesn’t have to be that way. The woods can definitely be ridden after dark and there’s a whole world of mid-week, after-dark trails if you’re willing. The really good news is that Swinley Forest is absolutely perfect for night riding. We have three all-weather, surfaced trails that are great to ride all winter. The woods are a breeze to navigate and we run a regular Swinley Bike Hub Thursday night group ride (1900 at The Hub) so you’re never short of excuses to get stuck in.

Looking to give mountain biking at night a go? Here’s the Swinley Bike Hub top tips!

Get some decent lights.

Exposure EquinoxA good set of mountain bike lights is your passport to riding through the winter. Get the best you can and you’ll be flying through the forest in no time.

Our advice is to get something that’s light-weight enough to mount on your helmet and doesn’t have an external battery. If you can afford it, get a brighter second light for your handlebar. Aim for something 1800 lumen or above. USB charge is also useful if you work at a computer all day and may need to power-up at the office. We love Exposure lights which are on sale at Swinley Bike Hub with the excellent Joystick starting at just £150. We also offer Exposure light rental so you can try before you buy.

Give us a call for advice on rental or on what lights to buy on 01344 360229.

You don’t need loads of fancy kit.

Aside from lights you don’t need loads of expensive, specialist kit to go night riding.

Make sure you’ve got an inner tube, warm clothing, a charged up phone and anything you’d usually take for a ride in the day light. Some back-up lights for riding home on the road are a good idea. It’s colder at night and even colder if you have to stop and fix a puncture – so whatever you do, wrap up warm and take an extra layer for back up.

Most of all – don’t let worrying about needing kit put you off night riding, if you’ve got decent lights and warm clothes you’re good to go!

First light on the helmet, second light on the handlebars.

night riding at Swinley Forest

Modern bike lights are amazing. Get one on your hat and one on your handlebar and you’ll be flying! Photo credit to Tris

If you only have one light, mount it on your helmet. If you have two, mount the second on your handlebar. Use the more powerful light for your bars to light up the trail and a less powerful one on your helmet to light up the details.

Your handlebar light will point off the side of the trail as you ride around corners, whilst the helmet light will stay shining where you’re looking. Having a light on your helmet means you can always see where you’re going – making riding safer and more fun.

Don’t get locked out!

Swinley Forest is perfect for night riding and parking inside the forest’s car park means you don’t need to ride on any roads or worry about riding in traffic after dark.

Just don’t forget that you can’t enter the car park later than 6:00PM.  You can exit the car park at Swinley, 24 hours a day via the automatic barrier. So once you’re in, there’s no pressure to rush back.

Get a regular group ride going.

Swinley Forest night time club ride

Our Thursday night rides are a great way to night-ride at Swinley Forest. We haven’t missed one in over 18 months! Consistency is key to honing those night skills!

Riding in the dark can be a bit daunting, not least when the weather is wet and cold, you’re late for work and the sofa is calling. A regular, planned ride with a group of enthusiastic, reliable mates makes for a really good motivator to turn up, get out and have a good time. The weekly “are you coming riding tonight?” text message is always a good shove to make it happen. A weekly, apres-ride pint doesn’t hurt either!

Swinley Bike Hub host a regular Thursday night ride via Facebook, starting at 7PM at the Hub. Just turn up, say hi and we’ll welcome you on our regular night ride. The Blue and Red trails are great for night riding all year round and we run a ‘fast’ and ‘less fast’ group to cater for everyone (and a separate all new comers and Beginners ride out led by Tristan). We regularly get newbies joining us so don’t be shy!

Know your route and stick to the singletrack.

freeride area swinley bike hub

Probably best to leave the jumps for the day time – night rides are for singletrack!

Knowing your route is a big help. The woods can be a bit harder to navigate at night and familiar trails can be a different experience in dark – having a set route that you know and ride regularly makes things a bit safer and a bit more fun. It also makes it a lot easier to catch up with the group if you’re running late!

Our advice is to stick to the surfaced trails and avoid the jumps and steep, technical sections. Trails can look a lot different in the dark and that easy jump you nailed by day is a lot trickier in the gloom!

A typical Thursday night club ride will start at Swinley Bike Hub, head out on the Blue trail and then lap the Red trail with a few stops to sessions fun sections. We usually ride for about two hours, starting at 7PM at the Hub.

A bit of organisation goes a long way

The potential for faff on a night ride is way higher than a normal ride. You need a bit of extra kit and you need it all to be ready when you get home from work in time to meet your impatient riding buddies.

We find that a having a little routine helps with battling that faff:

  • Always plug your lights in to charge as soon as you get home from a ride. Keep your chargers close to your bike so there’s no fumbling around at night when you get home.
  • Label your charger with a big “BIKE LIGHTS!” sticker so they don’t get ‘tidied’ away by accident. That amazing light is useless without a charger!
  • Plan your bike maintenance around your night rides – a mid-week ride always comes round quicker than you expect and a knackered chain or flat tyre is going to mean you’re missing out on the fun. Our workshop can help with that!
  • Consider a bag of riding kit that’s just for your night rides – it can have all those special bits of kit you only need for your after-work rides. Keep it stocked up so you can easily grab it on riding day.
  • Get your kit set up at home in the day light before you go night-riding. It’s way darker in the woods than you think and an impatient group of riders won’t want to wait whilst you fiddle with your lights!

Practice makes perfect

When you start night riding you’ll find that the trails might feel a little trickier. Roots and rocks may catch you by surprise and sections that are easy in the day light might be a bit more of a challenge. Don’t get discouraged, try to relax and understand that it’s all part of learning to ride in a new way. It happens to everyone!

You might find that running your tyres and suspension a bit softer helps to soak up unexpected bumps whilst you’re still learning. Once you get used to riding at night you’ll be flying along exactly the same as you do during the day time and it will help you stay nice and relaxed come those day time rides – its a great way to increase your riding experience!

Just ask the team at the Hub who ride 3  – 4 times a week in the dark for 6 months of the year any questions and we will be happy to help you get the night time riding bug!


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