Riding singletrack and gravel roads after dark is easy with these simple guidelines.
After what feels like endless sunshine during the summer, the super-short winter days in the PNW make it more challenging to squeeze in rides during such limited windows of daylight. Gone are the days when you could clock out at 5 PM and still hop on your bike for a couple of hours of trail riding before dark. It’s the same story for early birds used to 5:30 AM sunrises and pre-work-day rides. Fortunately, OSU Research Forests’ generous hours (5 AM - 9 PM) offer ample riding time if you’re prepared with the right gear to tackle cold-weather rides in dark conditions.
Riding safely after dark in the ample trails and gravel roads around Corvallis is a cinch if you’re prepared with the following: lights, layers, and sound.
Powerful lights are your first and most important pieces of gear to ensure safe trail riding after dark. At the bare minimum, three lights are needed: two headlights and one tail light. While two headlights might seem excessive, this set-up offers a multitude of benefits. One headlight mounted to your handlebars illuminates the trail directly ahead of your bike, making it easy to navigate obstacles like roots, rocks, and uneven terrain. A second headlight, mounted to your helmet, ensures you can illuminate oncoming obstacles around corners and tight switchbacks. While less important on trail, a tail light ensures you stay visible to traffic as you make your way from your doorstep to your favorite trails and gravel roads.
Lights come in dozens of form factors and brightness levels. To avoid having to shell out your hard-earned money on disposable batteries, we recommend rechargeable lights. Modern rechargeable headlights come in surprisingly compact form factors and offer enough juice to light up the trails for rides lasting even multiple hours.
The brightness of a bike headlight is measured in lumens, and when it comes to night riding, brighter is better. At a minimum, we’d suggest at least 500 lumens for each headlight, though options exist that reach into the thousands of lumens. Brighter lights do cost more, but since they’re such an essential piece of safety equipment, we’d encourage you to invest in the brightest lights you can afford. Two headlights at 1,000 lumens each offer a terrific blend of portability, battery life, and cost.
Layers are your next best friend to ensure a successful night ride. Winter weather in the Willamette Valley is cold and wet, so it’s best to be prepared to handle both. There are dozens of combinations of base layers and outerwear to keep you warm and dry, but for simplicity's sake, we’d recommend at least a pair of water-resistant or waterproof pants, a rain jacket, and waterproof gloves.
Fortunately, it’s relatively easy to find options for each that pack down small enough to tuck into a frame back or jersey pocket, making it easy to add layers over your normal riding gear as needed. Trust us, drowning in sweat beneath waterproof layers is nearly as bad as freezing, so it’s best to bring along options you can put on and take off as conditions change. Flexibility is key, since you’ll often find yourself getting warm during challenging ascents and battling frigid wind as you descend down your favorite section of singletrack.
Sweat-wicking base layer
Lastly, it’s important to make noise as you ride trails and gravel roads after dark. Sound functions as an important alert to other trail users and wildlife that may be startled should you come upon them unexpectedly. Fortunately, a simple solution exists in the form of a trail bell. Offered by companies like Incredibell and Timber!, trail bells mount to your handlebars and feature a switch that allows riders to mute the bell when it’s not needed or unleash a steady ringing that alerts hikers, animals, and other bikers well before they see you. Compact and easy to put on and take off, trail bells are an essential piece of gear for riding after sundown.