Mountain biking at night is a fun way to add some spice to your usual bike ride, as it allows you to see familiar trails with a new, exciting perspective. It is also a great way to improve your form, because it encourages you to pay attention to details that are often overlooked in the daytime. For example, when you are riding with a light attached to your helmet, it is much easier to notice where you aim your gaze, which helps in developing the skill of looking ahead on the trail.
When you are riding a regular bike in the city, a single light on your handlebar often suffices to see where you are going and to avoid hazards (potholes, obstacles, racoons, etc.). In mountain biking, however, it is much more difficult to react to rapid changes in direction if you can only see straight ahead. Having a two-light setup by adding one to your helmet is therefore not just about the looks, or about being afraid of the dark. In fact, it allows you to have a safer and more enjoyable ride.
For my first night ride, I was testing a combination of two products by a local company called Gemini Lights, which has been producing mountain bike lights for over a decade and have a reputation for producing top quality products that pump out a lot of light. Gemini sent me their Titan 4000 Lumens for my handlebars and their Duo 1500 Lumens for my helmet.
The numbers given to each model refer to how many lumens are produced by the light at its maximum setting. What is a lumen anyway, you might ask? Well, you can think of it as how bright a 1-square-foot area would be if it was illuminated by a single candle, one foot away.
Confused? Then skip the physics lesson and think that your average camping headlamp is about 100 lumen, and a standard car headlight is about 1200 lumen… so the Gemini Lights at 4000 lumens are really, really bright!
A standard car headlight
is about 1200 lumen…
the Gemini Titan lights
are 4000 lumens!
Upon receiving the Gemini Lights, I immediately liked the compact, flat design and the overall quality of both products. The installation of the Titan 4000 on my handlebar was very simple, and I was able to secure the light to my bicycle very quickly. The angle was also easy to adjust if necessary.
The Duo 1500, however, was slightly trickier to install. Depending on the type of helmet you wear and on the placement of its air vents, the best spot to secure the light may take a while to find. This problem was brought to the attention of Gemini, and they are currently developing a mount similar to those used with GoPro cameras for the upcoming models to address this issue.
Thanks to a wireless remote that you can attach directly on your handlebars, turning the lights on and off and adjusting the brightness is very simple, even while riding your bike. The LED batteries that feed the lights weigh 350g to 400g (depending on how many cells they contain) and they attach directly to the top tube of your frame. They come with a sturdy fabric case to protect them from bad weather and shocks.
The brightness settings must be chosen wisely, as they have a major impact on battery life. On the medium setting, the lights can last approximately 4 hours with one battery, but that time is cut by half if you choose the brightest setting. In my case, the medium setting sufficed to see ahead and ride safely. Even if 4 hours is usually enough for an average evening ride, it’s smart to err on the side of caution and bring a spare battery just in case. The last thing you’d want is to be stuck in the middle of nowhere in the dark!
If you are new to night riding, another aspect to keep in mind is that the brightness of the lights can have an effect on your perception of your surroundings and, as a result, on your speed. For flowy downhill trails, this was a minor issue and I could ride almost as fast as in the daytime. However, when riding cross-country trails, very bright lights tend to exaggerate the shadows of roots and rocks. As obstacles seem more imposing than usual, this phenomenon can make you more hesitant and impair your speed quite significantly. Turning down the handlebar light to a lower setting helped a lot to reduce this problem, although I still had to be more careful than on a regular daytime ride.
One last safety tip: at the end of your ride, be cautious when manipulating your lights, as they tend to get very hot. Make sure you give them ample time to cool down before you take them off your helmet and handlebars to avoid burns.
This first night riding experience was thrilling and I look forward to going again soon. If you have yet to try biking in the dark, I strongly recommend it, both for fun and for skill development. I was very happy with the Gemini products, and I recommend that you check them out if you are shopping for extra-bright, quality lights!
Photos by Jarrett Lindal Media