Light Up the Singletrack at Night

With the fall and winter off-road season upon us, those who work during the daylight hours will have to turn to riding their local singletrack at night to get in adequate training time.

Here are some lighting tips that will allow you to get the most out of your time spent on the trails at night.

Primary and Backup Lighting on the Trail

Your primary light (usually mounted on the bars) needs to be powerful enough to light up the trail in front of you and give you the ability to ride almost as fast as during daylight.

The most popular backup light seems to be the helmet light. If using both lights together, the terrain in front of the bike should be illuminated properly by the bar lights in order to respond to any obstacles, while the helmet light gives light wherever you're looking.

The two-light system really complements each for varying riding conditions such as a helmet light for tight singletrack and a bar light for fire roads.

Single Beam vs. Dual-Beam Lights

Single-beam systems offer plenty of light. However, a dual-beam system will allow you to switch between spot-beam or flood beam (for fire road, climbing, downhill and technical sections). The ability to switch from one beam to the other lets you adjust the power and burn time.

Don't forget your high beam is on. With a dual-beam headlight, battery life is dramatically shortened when using the high beam. Save it for special occasions, such as descents, when you need more light for safety—and then remember to switch it off as soon as your speed decreases.

If you only have one light, use a dual system. If you have two, the second one should be a single-beam helmet light.

Maximize Ability to See

If you have dual-beam adjustability, you can focus your flood beam in front of the bike and the spot beam ahead of the flood beam. The benefits are a wide beam for tight singletrack and a spot beam for speed descents all in the same light.

By keeping your handlebar-mounted headlight just loose enough, you can rotate it forward or back to concentrate the beam the right distance. The helmet light works well with the handlebar light if the beams are stacked one on top of each other (like two snowballs on a snowman).

Other Accessories That Should Be Carried at Night

Carry spare batteries and bulbs. Depending on the bulb-changing procedure for your system, it may be better to pack a small emergency headlight that fastens quickly to the handlebar.

Pack a flashlight for reading a trail map, looking in bags, or making repairs. If it's small enough, you can hold it between your teeth so you can use both hands.


Dr. Edmund R. Burke was among the pioneers in applying scientific principles to endurance sports training, especially cycling. As an exercise physiologist, he was responsible for several advances in sports drink formulation and almost single-handedly developed the subcategory of performance recovery drinks. A former director of the Center for Science, Medicine and Technology at the U.S. Cycling Federation in Colorado Springs, he worked with the U.S. Olympic cycling team during the 1980 and '84 Games. Dr. Burke is the author of 17 books on fitness, training and physiology, including the best-selling Optimal Muscle Recovery.

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