With the nights now drawing in again the time of long evening rides are over and we are into the territory of night rides, if we don't want to restrict our riding to weekends. Wednesday evening rides become night rides from October to March, we don't let this stop us, so a good set of lights are vital.
We all need front lights to be able to see the trail in front, I generally run both a bar light and a helmet mounted light. Having both gives the best results for me, I struggle to see as it starts to get dark, so I tend to light up earlier than others.
Bar-mounted lights provide the majority of the light, flooding a wide beam down the trail. Mounted below your eye line, the light creates shadows helping you to spot rollers, rocks and roots as well as creating some depth perception. Helmet-mounted lights shine where you're looking, helping you see around corners, over rocks and anywhere your bars aren't pointing. Generally a lower power light with a tighter beam than bar lights.
My personal bar light is a Hope R4 a four LED unit with remote battery pack. I like the remote pack as it means that there's less bulk on the bars and the interchangeable batteries as I have a tendency to forget to charge batteries or only use a bit of charge from one so I like to be able to swap when needed. Also there are different size batteries available so if I only need a short amount of light to complete a ride I can use the small 2 cell battery, whereas for a full on night ride I'd go for the 4 cell battery.
My go to helmet mounted light is the Exposure Joystick, it use to be a Hope R2, but I found that it is heavier and taller than my R4. The joystick was on offer so I grabbed one and find it much nicer than the Hope for helmet mounting, even though it's an all in one unit.
Whilst rear lights aren't needed off road, hopefully no cars are going to run you off the trails. They are critical for the road sections that often form part of a ride. I will run a rear light all year round when I'm on the road as every little helps when it comes to being seen by other road users.
My personal bar light, I like the light it gives out, the battery interchangeability. Hope's warranty offers great peace of mind.
A lot of the guys I ride with use Exposure lights, these are at the pricy end of the market but again a really powerfully well made light. Comes with both mains and a USB charger to it can be charged from a USB port handy if you are away from home.
This is my personal helmet light, I like the light it gives for it's size - don't really feel that it is there. I also use it as my commuter light or to carry when i might need a get me home light as it's light and compact. A benefit for commuting is that it has both mains and USB charger so I can keep one at work or charge in the van if I need to.
I initially brought this to helmet mount but I found that it sits quiet high and is quite heavy. So now it's my back up light or spare for when others forget theirs. Also another choice for commuting, on low power it lasts a good long time, whilst still providing more than enough light for road riding.
If you can't stretch to the cost of Hope or Exposure, there are still plenty of options. For a good while I used the cheap lights available from the likes of Amazon or eBay. These lights still give out decent light, although they don't tend to last as long as the branded ones. The batteries tend to start to fail after a while and not hold charge for as long. Mine died after being left for the summer, they are also prone to cable failure. Replacement batteries are available and the cables can be repaired so can be a cheap option if your only doing limited amount of night riding.
I tend to buy the cheap USB rechargeable packs of LED rear light from the likes of Amazon. Mainly as they have a tendency to mysteriously vanish unnoticed mid ride. I haven't found that much difference between the rear lights on offer and given that I do tend to use them all year round they get a lot of use.
Night riding adds a whole new dimension to mountain biking, the trails buy lamplight take on a totally different vibe. Your focus is on only what is revealed by your lights. For me I love riding in the dark as it allows me to focus on what is directly ahead rather than worrying about what is round the next corner. It does help to start of riding familiar trails for your first rides in the dark. With time it really does get quite enjoyable and a great way to unwind after a hard days work.