If you work full time but still want to be competitive in the spring races, you either have to ride indoors or you have to do some of your riding outdoors at night. The days are still short right now, so unless you can get off at 4:00, you’re riding in the dark for at least a little bit if you want to get in a good workout. Night riding is fun anyway. With the correct taillight, I feel very visible on city streets. With the right headlight, the river trail or lake hefner make great spots to get in long intervals at night. There’s hardly anyone out there when it’s cold and dark. The river trail is pretty much uninterrupted for 6 or 7 miles. No road crossings. You can get some great FTP intervals in out there.
The other thing I like about riding at night is how peaceful everything seems. Somehow it seems like the darkness enhances your hearing. When you’re out in the country, you can hear all the leaves blowing around and animals moving around in the woods next to you. I don’t notice those sounds as much in the daylight.
The first thing you need for night riding is a good headlight and taillight. For the taillight, I already recommended the Serfas Thunderbolt. For a headlight, there’s no better bang-for-the-buck light than the Bontrager Ion 700. I actually just bought this light this week. It is a 700 lumen light that retails for $99. That’s insane!
Even though I just got this light, I have no problem recommending it; mostly because I researched the heck out of lights before buying it. I couldn’t find any negative reviews. MTBR called it the best light in the 700 lumen category. Bicycle magazine recommended it. Subjectivecyclist.blogspot.com loved it. Countless other reviews had positive feedback on the light. The Light and Motion Urban series lights seemed to be the most direct comparison. Those lights are very good too, but the bontrager is smaller and costs less. Both are bright, both have nice beam patterns. Check out http://reviews.mtbr.com/review-bontrager-ion-700 or http://subjectivecyclist.blogspot.com/2013/11/fall-2013-light-shootout-beam.html for some pics of the beam pattern.
My first night ride was about 4 or 5 years ago on a mountain bike. Before I went to the ride, I asked some other riders about their light setup. Most of the guys that were going to the ride were talking about spending hundreds of dollars on their lights. I laughed to myself, went home and grabbed a $5 LED flashlight from my junk drawer, and taped it to my handlebars. It lit up the whole garage. I patted myself on the back for being a thrifty genius. When I showed up to the ride, it was already pitch black outside. I parked, took my bike out of the car, turned on the flashlight, pointed my bike towards the woods, and realized that whether the light was turned on or off, it didn’t really make a difference. It didn’t even shine far enough to light up the woods 10 feet in front of me. I ended up getting sandwiched between two guys with “real” bike lights and was able to see ok thanks to their investment, but if I got dropped I would have been lost in the woods longer than the blair witch project.
After that, I bought a Serfas True 250. I thin kit was the brightest Serfas light at the time. It was 250 lumens for about $150. Pretty sweet deal. I actually bought two, and still use them both. Compact size, only take a few seconds to swap batteries, and 250 lumens is quite a bit; however, the batteries died pretty quick (about 90 minutes) when running at 250 lumens, or even quicker when it’s cold outside. Since I really only ride in the dark in the winter time, it’s always cold so the battery always died quickly unless I ran it at 180 lumens or less. For commuting around town under the streetlights, that’s fine. Out in the country it’s a little more sketchy. I would often be riding too quickly to really see what I was riding into. The lens on this particular light put off a pretty concentrated beam, so you could see great exactly where the light was pointed, but everything else is black. I thought it was fine, but the truth is that I was pretty ignorant to high much better the newer lights are.
The light industry has pretty much exploded in the past few years. Lights are getting smaller, brighter, cheaper, and longer-lasting. I really can’t think of something in cycling that has made more rapid advancement lately than lights. Maybe electronic shifting, but the price is still really high on that.
Tuesday night I purchased and tried out the Bontrager Ion 700. This thing is bright. Real bright. At 700 lumens, it runs for 1:45. That’s longer than my Serfas lasted at 250. At 450 lumens, it has a 3 hour runtime. I left the light at 450 for most of my ride last night. It was only slightly more dim looking than at 700, but at nearly double the runtime I figured it was worth it. At 250 lumens it lasts over 6 hours!
The mounting bracket is pretty easy. It took 2 seconds to put on my bars, and seemed secure. It just uses silicone straps. You can easily swap it to different bars that are different sizes. It didn’t seem to bounce much at all. The light itself is smaller than I expected. It’s a pretty nice form factor. The button on the top changes color as the light starts to die, just like the Serfas did.
The beam pattern is what I’m most impressed with. On both 700 lumen mode and 450 mode, it wasn’t a really focused beam like the Serfas. The light is more spread out, but still crazy bright. You can see off to the left and right, not just where the light is directly pointed. I was way more comfortable riding the river trail, because I was able to see the critters to my left and right before they ran out onto the trail and were right in front of me. My old light made it difficult to go around some of the corners out there. The focused beam just made it look like the trail disappeared, but with the wider beam you can see the corner coming, and you get a better visual on where the trail goes.