Night Rides AndrewM
EDITORIAL

Alone. In The Dark (A Welcome To Night Riding)

Words Andrew Major
Photos Andrew Major
Date Sep 12, 2018

Exit, Pursued By A Bear*

*Shakespeare, The Winter's Tale, Act III, Scene III

I yell, louder than I mean to, into the enveloping darkness, "Come On Foot!" I load my ankle. Ouch. Good stuff. Let's try full pressure. Ouch. Nice. Alright, I'm just banged up a bit. The pain's dying down. Nothing some tequila won't fix. Problem one solved.

Now for problem two. Somewhere in that crash my headlamp unplugged. It's an easy trail so I had my bar light turned off to conserve battery. I'm not sure where my bike is. Having the bar light on would be really helpful. Maybe if I fumble with the cable...

Light Turns On

Sweet! 

Light Turns Off

Shit!

It's a short in the extension cable. "Sigh." I'm up and moving and can now see the lights from houses in the distance. I fumble in my pack, find my Petzl, turn it on, and take stock of the situation. It was a dumb, hard, crash but I'm not really that hurt. My helmet light is fine but for an extension cable. I'm out a few bucks but that's mountain biking.

My bike went over the side of the trail but it's loamy down there so barring a direct blow from a buried rock I can slide down on my ass and continue on my way. The trail straightens around the next bend and my bar light is plenty bright to ride out. 

We're good. And by 'we' I mean me. It's 10 pm and I'm riding solo on Fromme. What could go wrong? Wait, what's that noise?  

Nevermind. Night riding is Totally Awesome. You should try it!


Night Rides AndrewM

I don't believe in ghosts. At least, I don't when I'm standing on a busy street corner in the city in the middle of the day. 

(Maybe) You Should Night Ride

I'm an unabashed night riding evangelist, but I understand those who won't ride solo. For one, misery-loves-company and if you're chasing some winter fitness and amortizing the cost of lights that means getting after it on some less than pleasant evenings. No one will motivate you to get out on a cold and wet November evening like the unforgiving jerks you call friends. They think they're so funny.

Also. It's dark, shit happens, and stories don't live on without a witness or two.

Night Rides AndrewM

Enjoying night riding is nowhere near the investment it was even a couple of years ago. 

Make old trails new again. Maintain some fitness. Drag out your riding friends for a beer on a weeknight. It's awesome. 

And the good news is we're long past days of plodding through the woods packing ten pounds of mood lighting that barely illuminates the knobs on my tire or having to forego a new fork to pay for a light system that is effective. 

Night Rides AndrewM

Yes, it's more weight on my helmet. But these days I prefer an all-in-one battery & light unit on my lid. 

Night Rides AndrewM

My NiteRider Pro series light has proven to be a great investment despite the high cost.

I have the bad luck with extension cables, so, while it saves a lot of weight to ride with a battery in my pack and just a lamp on my head, I now prefer an all-in-one light for the lid. I never go into the woods with just one light, so my top-end-a-few-years-back Niterider does handlebar duty. 

There are some really good all-in-one light systems for very reasonable money currently. NiteRider has the Lumina 1200 Boost, Light & Motion has the Trail 1000, and there is a tonne of other options.  Personally I'm picky about light systems with great support because I crash more at night and it's usually raining. 

Night Rides AndrewM

Rain or shine, night riding is a great excuse to get out. Just check with your local trail association for the best riding options for wet weather. 

Night Rides AndrewM

Single speed or geared; hardtails are a great choice for winter. The Kona Honzo ST is a popular option with the crew I roll with. 

I'm currently a half-dozen rides in on a test of Bontrager's new Ion Pro and compared to single-unit light options in a similar output range, 1300 lumens claimed in this case, the colour of the Ion Pro is much warmer. The warmth works really well, helping my eyes map trail definition on dank evenings. At 140 CAD |  100 USD and compatible with any GoPro helmet mount, it may be the perfect option for trying out night riding for the first time. It runs 1.5hrs on high, which is a solid ride assuming good light management*.

*Turn it down for climbs and off when stopped. 

Night Rides AndrewM

I've never met an unfriendly beastie in the woods but I have been on a couple of rides where dogs were momentarily misplaced. GPS collar FTW if your dog has wanderlust. 

As mentioned earlier, I'd recommend running two trail-worthy lights (bar & helmet) for challenging trails. And while in some ways more light is always better, a 1000+ Lumen light mounted on a helmet, along with some kind of hike-out light source in a pack*, is a totally acceptable starting point, especially on slower trails. 

*For example a Petzl. In other words, not a cellphone. 

Product Testing

The nature of family, work, and everything else means a lot of my riding happens at night. There hasn't been a month in the last few years - including July and August when the days are longest - that I haven't been on a night ride. That means a lot of my product testing happens after dark, when the only noises I hear are me and my bike. 

Things that are meant click, like loud hubs or shifters, are so loud that trees vibrate. Some tires are incredibly loud while others are surprisingly quiet; sometimes both when the trail surface changes.When parts like bottom brackets or chains start to speak it's impossible to ignore them. 

Night Rides AndrewM

Formula ROR brakes on Christmas Corners. 

Night Rides AndrewM

Twin Sails Con Leche on Severed Dick.

Night Rides AndrewM

Kona Process 134 on 7th Secret. 

Night Rides AndrewM

Rusty nail on Eagle Ridge. 

Solo ride product failures have occasionally made for a long walk out and that's pushed my preference toward reliable and, when possible, field-serviceable gear. I'll happily roll up on a few hundred extra grams of tires and pack plenty of tools, water, and food when the sun goes down. 

I dabbled in the cult of weight-weenie-ism for a couple of years, and hell yes I can still justify titanium hardware, but one too many failures under obscured moonlight and sheets of rain cured me. 

Making Time To Ride

I've been night riding going back to my locally made BLT's with upgraded 'Retina Burner' bulbs. Back then I rode mainly with friends but occasionally I'd bang off a solo lap, but before my 4-year-old daughter was born I could count my yearly night solos on one hand. 

A week after her birth I was dropping into one of my favourite trails at 4:30 in the morning. No surprise I was alone. I just had to ride bikes. I was up anyway and dark is dark whether it's 10pm or 3am. A little bit of me-time, whenever I could get it, kept me sane for those first weeks. Early, early mornings and night rides have kept me, relatively, sane ever since. 

Night Rides AndrewM

A view of Vancouver proper. Middle of the night. Solo. Up Grouse Mountain with nowhere to be. Me-time. 

Everyone seems to get busier year after year and a few friends have quit their years-long passion because they couldn't keep up with  maintenance. Mountain biking is maintenance intensive. There are incidentals like chains and rotors, and brake pads evaporate at a much higher rate in the winter, as do tires. But, in this case, I'm not even talking about the bike. There is a level of fitness and form that's required to enjoy mountain biking on technical trails. It's hard to dig deep for the motivation to ride when the technical skills are rusty and the climbs are stressfully long. Welcome to the feedback loop. 

Night Rides AndrewM

Foreshadowing the morning on Fromme. Headed up for lap two. 

Night Rides AndrewM

Morning or night the need for lights is sometimes like an on/off switch. 

Night Rides AndrewM

Is it still a #dawnpatrol if you're finishing when the light comes up?

Night riding is a perfect opportunity to keep riding year round. It takes some effort, but once it's part of the routine it means a happier me during the week and fitter me when spring hits. 

If you like the sound of that, it's time to start (or re-start) adventuring after dark. As much as I'm used to riding alone I always feel a little lighter when I see another light cutting through the trees. 

Maybe I'll see you out there!

Comments

andy-eunson
+1 Andrew Major
Andy Eunson  - Sept. 11, 2018, 11:01 p.m.

Now that I am retired I just don’t night ride much anymore. The last toonie is often a night ride at Lost Lake and I keep threatening to do that. That would be a good reason the charge the cells and get out. Dougal. He was a good dog, but loud. Kept the mean beasties away.

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AndrewMajor
+1 Andy Eunson
Andrew Major  - Sept. 11, 2018, 11:46 p.m.

From the perspective of anyone but the rider at the back: he was great at keeping a pack moving. I miss his off-key sing-song encouragement.

Reply

GladePlayboy
+4 Paul Lindsay Andrew Major Merwinn Tim Coleman
Rob Gretchen  - Sept. 12, 2018, 6:34 a.m.

Great article Andrew...

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Sept. 12, 2018, 7:47 a.m.

Thanks Rob!

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craw
0
Cr4w  - Sept. 12, 2018, 7:08 a.m.

Solo Grouse in the middle of the night. Nice.

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AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Sept. 12, 2018, 7:47 a.m.

#justdoit

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Brocklanders
+1 Andrew Major
yahs  - Sept. 12, 2018, 7:36 a.m.

Such a great way to get out in Fall/winter after work.

All I can say is buying a good set of lights is key. I have the Niteriders set up and it was worth every penny.

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AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Sept. 12, 2018, 7:54 a.m.

For everyone who really gets into it - at least on the terrain we ride locally - the end game is generally a big, bright, and boldly trail illuminating system - or two.

NiteRider Pro, L+M Seca, I still see the odd Lupine, etc. 

And there was a time when that kind of investment was pretty essential to enjoying technical trails.

It is nice to be able to get a really good taste for under $200 (say the Ion Pro + GoPro helmet mount). I’ve confidently hit any Blue and the easier Blacks with that light. Although I’m much faster - and able to tackle more terrain - with the Pro turned on too.

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awesterner
+1 Andrew Major
awesterner  - Sept. 12, 2018, 9:29 p.m.

Great article Andrew!  It's good you mentioned the warm light.  I don't ride that often at night but when I do I have the somewhat cheapy Gemini lights which are crazy bright but very white and hard (?) that reflect off the trees almost too much making it hard to get much depth perception.  Nevertheless it's enough light to be safe :-)

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GladePlayboy
+1 Andrew Major
Rob Gretchen  - Sept. 13, 2018, 6:21 a.m.

If you ever get a chance to test Exposure lights I think you will come away impressed... self-contained crown jewels of the light world they are... I have 3 in my arsenal now... pricey and no Canadian distributor at the moment that I am a aware of... but they have been very reliable.

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AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Sept. 13, 2018, 10:33 a.m.

USE has been making interesting products forever. Their ~100-gram DH-length stem both fascinates me and terrifies me, for example.

I’d love to give one of their systems a go. Have you ever had an issue? How was aftersales support?

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GladePlayboy
0
Rob Gretchen  - Sept. 13, 2018, 8:30 p.m.

No issues with any of my current lights...  There is a US distributor but someone's gotta get these into Canada.  Come on Orange are you listening?  😉

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DanL
+2 Todd Hellinga Andrew Major
DanL  - Sept. 12, 2018, 8:32 a.m.

This is great! It really does capture the insanity and greatness of night riding. And as for night riding when it's snowed, that alone has to be tasted like night snowboarding with lights. Plus, beers afterwards are a great inducement and night riding sometimes makes it all a lot easier to organise a group ride with #dadlaps

Gemini have been my go to for cost vs brightness but I started testing out some 'cheaper' lights from a chap (Thomas Nottelman) in Vancouver Island and have been massively impressed : coastal gear bike lights as the cost/brightness ratio is hugely in my wallet's favour. I went for the CG10 as a tester - if it crapped out I wasn't going to be hugely pissed off but it's been solid

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Brocklanders
0
yahs  - Sept. 12, 2018, 9:01 a.m.

I have used those lights in the past. They work Ok but sometimes they just turn off for no reason, they take one good knock and they are toast. After buying a half dozen that seemed to crap out after a while I gave up.

Plus if you buy the magic shines, make sure you never leave them charging when you aren't home. Super sketchy charging set up, I know this from experience.

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DanL
+1 Andrew Major
DanL  - Sept. 12, 2018, 9:51 a.m.

I charge my gear at work where I can always monitor things

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AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Sept. 12, 2018, 10:13 a.m.

I have some pretty good stories about ‘those’ lights just dying in the woods - but I also know some folks who have years on their Magic Shine etc lights without issue. 

I recommend starting with an all-in-one or two and then - if someone really likes night riding - investing in a great system (amortize your life) but it’s certainly not the only option.

Some things to remember: Advertised lumens are pretty meaningless with the exception of a couple brands that go out of their way to really test lights. A lot of companies run really cold LEDs which give the impression of brightness until you’re on the trail. Like rain gear, what works for an individual is going to vary.

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Brocklanders
+1 Andrew Major
yahs  - Sept. 12, 2018, 12:29 p.m.

It's how the light floods the trail is the most important thing IMO.

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AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Sept. 12, 2018, 10:19 a.m.

@DanL,

Kirkford trail last winter, at night, when the snow had frozen solid and it was basically a downhill bobsled track! The experience can’t accurately be explained to someone who hasn’t ridden bikes at night in the snow.

Thanks!

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DanL
0
DanL  - Sept. 12, 2018, 5:02 p.m.

Haha, yes! I remember seeing ski and snowboard tracks through bobsled and kirkford too

I got to choose my own lines through the Griffens as well

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AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Sept. 13, 2018, 10:41 a.m.

I had a couple great rides down Executioner as well now that I think about it. Bit more type-A fun getting up there but in the snow at night it’s a different planet.

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bart
+2 Mammal Andrew Major
bart  - Sept. 12, 2018, 9:33 a.m.

Working in a shop with extended summer hours means not all of us have the same schedule and many of us finish work at different times.  September is when we start to close early and we can all go ride together.  Last week was our first night ride - I have been waiting for this all year!  it is some of the best riding, watching a string of lights climb up the switchbacks and well known trails become new again.  Long Live the night ride!

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AndrewMajor
+3 Adrian White yahs bart
Andrew Major  - Sept. 12, 2018, 10:16 a.m.

Watching a string of lights going up or down a switchback climb is one of my favourite scenes in mountain biking!

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phile
0
phile  - Sept. 12, 2018, 10:18 a.m.

Nice article! I really like the Cygolite Metro lights as a budget option; I use an 1100 on the helmet and a 600 on the bars. Not a lot of run time, but I don't do long descents at night, and the climbs on my rides can be done with very little light (though if too little I get a headache).

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AndrewMajor
+1 Adrian White
Andrew Major  - Sept. 12, 2018, 10:22 a.m.

It’s all about light management! 

I’ve ridden up Fromme of the gravel more than once with all my lights off - a clear sky and a bit of moonlight go a long way!

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fartymarty
0
fartymarty  - Sept. 14, 2018, 6 a.m.

These https://www.candb-seen.co.uk/ are ones I have been looking at as a second set of lights.

Not sure if they ship outside UK tho.

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lacykemp
+3 Pete Roggeman Tim Coleman Andrew Major
Lacy Kemp  - Sept. 12, 2018, 10:33 a.m.

Night riding, to me is one of the greatest aspects of mountain biking. I love everything about it: the way it makes an old trail feel new, how everything sounds different at night, the solitude, the occasional eyes peering back out at you from the woods, the way the snow sparkles in the lights, the way my breath curls up on a cold, cold night, the colors of the sky in the dark and the gentle illumination the city gives to the bottom of the clouds. It's just totally magical. I don't night ride in the summer due to the long days, but I had my first night ride of the season last night. It was pouring rain to the point where the descent had sticks and leaves floating down the trail. My lights made the rain and accompanying visor splatter feel like hyperspace. My fingers were frozen. My feet felt like they were in icy swimming pools (5.10s don't drain well). 

I laughed maniacally the entire time and got home to find my mud-splattered rosy cheeks in a permagrin. It is just most fun you can have on a bike. I'm right there with you.

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AndrewMajor
+1 Lacy Kemp
Andrew Major  - Sept. 12, 2018, 10:39 a.m.

Cheers Lacy! I was up on Fromme last night and was very thankful to have my emergency shell in my pack when the taps opened up.

No one can hear me because no one is there. It’s just me and the black tunnel at the end of my beam of light. And that’s exactly how I want it to be.”

If anyone needs some night riding stoke this is an excellent read from Jan 2017.

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Timmigrant
+1 Lacy Kemp
Tim Coleman  - Sept. 12, 2018, 11:31 a.m.

I also love the solitude, and there is no hard time to finish the ride due to sunset. Lights off at the top, enjoying the sounds of rain falling on the forest, having a sip of whiskey ... bliss.

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AndrewMajor
+3 Mammal Cam McRae Lacy Kemp
Andrew Major  - Sept. 12, 2018, 12:25 p.m.

Heyzeus Tim, watch someone steal that bit of man-poetry for their Tinder / Grinder profile.

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DanL
+1 Andrew Major
DanL  - Sept. 12, 2018, 5:03 p.m.

when it gets colder, I like to 70/30 mix bourbon and maple syrup

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AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Sept. 13, 2018, 10:46 a.m.

Tell me more! Do you heat them up to mix them?

Cheap bourbon and good maple syrup? The opposite? (I’m just assuming it’s real maple syrup).

Is it hard to clean out of your flask after?

This sounds like exactly what’s missing from my winter pack.

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andy-eunson
0
Andy Eunson  - Sept. 12, 2018, 6:23 p.m.

The last night ride I remember was up the Microwave climb at Whistler and down Tunnel Vision when they were completing the fire smart thinning. Trees were cut out and burned in numerous piles. It was surreal to ride in light sporadic smoke and glowing heaps of bonfires all around. Solo. I don’t even think I had the dogs with me. Getting antsy to night ride again.

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grcgrc
+1 Andrew Major
grcgrc  - Sept. 12, 2018, 8:31 p.m.

I have a friend that brings in all these cheap and stupidly bright lights off of ebay & we do late night rides when we get together. Squamish at night is so much fun. In the summer when the heat is off and no one sweats so bad they look like they just showered. Nothing comes close.

And I do have to start carrying some sort of a shell. Sunday was getting cold with just a fleece in the highlands.

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AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Sept. 12, 2018, 9:20 p.m.

I love super early summer rides - I don't love the heat so I'll take the coolest part of the day!

I have a super thin Dakine shell. Doesn't breathe for sh*t and barely qualifies as water resistant but it folks up to the size a large granola bar, weights nothing, and when the unexpected happens it's an amazing piece to have.

Most the time I used it for the roll down the hill to my house (which really sucks when I'm soaked) or for sitting at the coffee shop after a ride - where I appreciate it - but last night it was the difference between a crappy experience in the woods and a great ride. 

I have a few friends with the Race Face Nano that are really happy with their purchases. That jacket is available ~ everywhere.

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Brigham_Rupp
+1 Andrew Major
Brigham_Rupp  - Sept. 12, 2018, 10:03 p.m.

Nice article! I do a lot of night riding here in the Phoenix area, in the summer to escape the heat and in the winter to enjoy the cool temps after work. Usually solo. It is crazy how creepy it gets after dark, but I like how it can spice up a trail that might otherwise feel a little tame or mundane. I’ve had good luck with Fenix all-in-one lights.

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AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Sept. 13, 2018, 10:53 a.m.

I had a pretty good crash on the most  innocuous piece of gravel-bike-friendly single track in Moab one year - the sky is just SO BIG even at night it’s distracting. Nice how fast it cools down at night actually.

Haven’t ridden around Phoenix but I can think of a few bits of Sedona that would be SPICY on a night ride.

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rideitall
+1 Andrew Major
rideitall  - Sept. 13, 2018, 6:57 a.m.

Great article and comments.  Got back into riding to work again and testing my lights.  I have a couple of older Dinotte light sets a triple headlead and a double quad for the bars (huuuugeee spread on the double quad but not much throw).  Fantastic lighs.  The batteries have seen too many years and charges so they need to be replaced.  I have a couple 4x18650 packs but the batteries were left in a poor state so need to replace the 18650s, but it's now pretty hard to get batteries shipped (I guess they are worried about them starting on fire or exloding).

From a riding point of view it's great; old trails become new again.  I can remember, when night shuttling CBC / Neds was a go to and having some of the best and smoothest rides in the rain and fog.   

Got a scare a couple of years ago doing a lap through Sticks and Stones.  Having a great ride, tunes on, when I got up near the top before going around the big rock and saw to green glowing eyes.  Headphones off and on high alert listening for further noise.  Luckily saw nothing further but definitely freaked me out.

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AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Sept. 13, 2018, 10:55 a.m.

I can’t imagine riding with tunes in at night - although I prefer to go au naturel for my daytime soundtrack too.

I know there are a few battery places in Vancouver as I have a few friends with DIY systems.

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MTmtnBiker
0
MTmtnBiker  - Sept. 13, 2018, 3:32 p.m.

On the cheap light front - I have had good luck with the Bright Eyes light found on Amazon, I use two of them for the headlamp/handlebar combo (diffuser on the handlebar).  It is solidly built, a bit heavy and the handlebar mounting system could be better (I wrap electrical tape sticky side up around the bars where I mount it to keep it from moving around on the descents), but for $50/light it is pretty tough to beat and it is in an entirely different league than the other cheap lights I have seen.  

I can't speak to the longevity of the battery yet, but between the price point and the customer service (read some reviews) I have zero regrets. I do put the battery in a metal container while charging to be safe.

Slipped out on some ice last fall and my headlamp light took a direct hit to a rock - didn't even phase the light and no visible damage.

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phile
0
phile  - Sept. 15, 2018, 8:23 a.m.

I started out with Bright Eyes and other Amazon lights, and moved to Cygolite Metro lights--they are $35-$60 depending on lumens. The 500-lumen model is $35 and is brighter than my Bright Eyes. The run time may be much shorter--haven't tested it because I don't need the extra run time--but the total weight is also much lower. And I really appreciate not having a cord coming off my helmet to my pack.

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fartymarty
0
fartymarty  - Sept. 14, 2018, 12:06 a.m.

For any solo nightriders out there - does anyone use Googlemaps tracking, or the Strava equivalent so those at home know where they are incase of an off or concussion?

I do tend to "turn it down a bit" when riding on my own at night but that isn't a guarantee that something wont happen.

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