Night Riding - Any Training Advice?

I wonder if anybody here has been able to acquire some sort of night riding skill (MTB) despite having terrible night vision. I generally have good vision (20/20), never needed glasses and have no trouble during the day. However, I have always had bad night vision. This is not just a cycling issue. I also don’t like driving at night or running at night. I can ride anything non-technical (and of course the road) as long as I have decent lights. But single track or other technical terrain is pretty much impossible. (The same goes for trail running.)

Do any of you have good tips how to acquire this skill? Or is this something I just won’t be able to learn since my vision is not good enough?


#1. Get yourself a pair of good clear lenses for your riding glasses

#2. Get your light setup dialed. I prefer to have the light on the bars at a lower intensity than the one one the helmet

#3. Take it slow. You won’t be able to ride the same trails at the same speed at night without some practice

#4. Avoid target fixation even more so than normal.

#5. Ride things one or two notches below what you would usually in both speed and technicality, until you get more used to it.


Sometimes more light is not better. The more light you bring/use, the more your night vision is affected. Think about when you turn out the lights to go to bed. At that point in time, the room seems black. 5-10min later after your eyes have adjusted, you can see rather well. Related to this, whatever lights you or your buddies might have, do your best to avoid looking at them which totally resets your night vision.

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I couldn’t see any study to support the ability to train night vision in the long term. We always used red leds when hiking or trail running for map reading, as it’s a bugger when your temporary night vision gets blown by someone else’s headlamp. It takes about 5 to 45 mins in the dark to get your night vision, so take it easy and warm up slowly so you don’t freak yourself out. That’s a temporary thing however, and the only evidence I can think of is that some top level ultra trail runners are buzzing through mountains in pitch dark with only around 50lumens and they’re perfectly good with that.

If it’s important to you then go back to basics. Gradually reduce the light you use and go slower. Drill this for hours and see if you improve. Maybe you’ll just start to feel more comfortable, maybe night vision will actually improve long term, but again, I’m not sure of the biological mechanism there that can be genuinely trained. Could be some mental thing there that’s improving?

No one going to say it???

Eat carrots - our parents said it would help


This makes a huge difference. It helps with depth perception and identifying hazards on the trail ahead. It’s also good to play around with different beam spreads to see what works best for you.

Night riding trails is loads of fun!

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Riding MTB at night has nothing to do with your night vision, you should be relying on good lights. @stevemz nailed it above and has spot on advice. The slightly lower light on the bars and brighter on the helmet allows for shadows and contrast of obstacles. Look for a minimum of 800+ lumens for your bar and this should be a flood light. The helmet light should be 1000+ lumens and a spot light. I think I ride with 1000 on the bar and 1200 on the helmet. You can get away with much less, but nobody ever complains about it being too bright. These should be rechargeable lights. Lastly, pack yourself a backup hiker’s headlamp with an extra battery in case you’re out much longer than expected (injury, mechanical, lost).


agreed! Altough my setup is the other way around. I have a big flood light (3300 lumens) on the bars and a smaller lamp (1300 lumens) on the head. Imho you absolutely need two lights to cancel out shadows.

When riding during the blue hour I recommend to not switch your lights to full blast as the contrast between bright (light) spots and dark spots (not illuminated) will be greater than if you have set your lights on low or mid setting. This might help your eyes adjust to the darkness better. When riding in pitch black darkness, I turn the lights to full blast as I can’t see anything anyway. When you find it hard to adjust anyway, buy the brightest lights possible and ride after the blue hour. Your eyes will adjust to the bright spots on the trail ahead and you get this tunnel-vision which sharpens your focus. Really cool feeling!

I generally agree with what’s been posted above. 2 lights bar light with wide beam pattern, head lamp with focused spot.

I will say that I generally don’t ride with the same # of lumens that the folks above are talking about.
My head lamp is actually only 700 lumins, but it has really good “throw” because it’s pretty focused.
I also only run I on high for descents. The rest of the time, I run it on med or low.
I find the extra bright light tends to fatigue my eyes after a while.

One of the really cool things about night riding is how the simplest trails that you know like the back of your hand are completely new when riding them at night. So you don’t have to seek out “the gnar” to have a good time.

So true, I’m convinced that trees, rocks and roots must move during the night because I don’t ever remember seeing them there during the day!

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Interesting - I will try to swap this around (helmet vs bars). I know that night riding can/should be fun. Thank you all for your feedback!

Gents, need to resurrect this one.
Any recommendations on headlamps? My previous one was from Black Diamond and rather unfortunately it was lost/stolen some time ago and I totally forgot about this. Looking for a replacement now.
MI-XC mentioned hiker’s headlamps, is there any difference between those and which are you using while riding?

For security of the light, especially over rough ground, I prefer a light mounted properly to my helmet rather than a “headamp”. I use an exposure joystick, fantastic light

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On lights, concur that a proper helmet mounted light is better than a headlamp for running or hiking. I experimented with my running headlamp while I was looking for a mounted light. While in my case, my Petzls (first my 6yo Reactik then its replacement Swift RL) worked ok fitting fairly neatly under the brim of the helmet and above my clear lenses, long term stability was a concern, as was control of the light.

I needed a light that could handle cold weather (down to -10 C), rain, and snow as most of my dark rides are before dawn, sometimes occurring entirely before dawn and ranging from 60-90min of complete darkness. I also didn’t want a light that required a permanent mount on the helmet nor require a battery in the jersey. For me, that meant the Lupine Piko R. It has a remote, is configurable, and is attached to my Kask Protune with a velcro strap without issue, jostling, or problems despite terrain.

BTW - the handlebar light was a Light & Motion Trail light, which was great in not-cold weather but proved unable to take the cold. Below around 5 C, its life was around 30min. I replaced it with a Bontrager Ion Pro, which besides being linked to my Garmin through the light network feature (so it turns on automatically at dusk, in tunnels, or off automatically at dawn), lasts nearly an 90min in sub-zero.

There are a lot of good options out there, just make sure the conditions you’ll be riding won’t kill the light. One of the helmet options I liked had virtually no water proofing and another showed no indication of handling cold weather.


Ive got a couple, going on 5 yrs old, dinged up, dropped, still work like new. Battery life hasnt even taken a dive yet. I use the 4-5 times a week for 3 seasons of the year

Ive had other stuff but nothing has lasted like these. Will definitely replace with more of the same when they do eventually die

@ontheroad, the difference between a hiker’s head light and a bike riding headlight is very significant… like like 500-1200 lumens different. Light and Motion and Exposure (USE) are my preferred brands for great lights, but even serfas has some really quality lights for road riding… in the 900-1200 lumen range. I can’t vouch for their 1600 lumen stuff, but that is really overkill for the roads and speeds I ride now.

@jezza323, gen 1/2? joystick is like 10 years old and hasn’t been ridden as consistently, but it has more than earned its keep in that period of time. My Diablo is about 5 years old and also has earned its keep. I can’t promise to buy more exposure stuff, but I’ll definitely look for them first when the time comes.

@mountainrunner, my first Light and Motion had similar issues related to low temps, but we’re talking rechargeable battery packs (nicad?) rather than lithium and non-LED bulbs. Even my Serfas True 950 doesn’t suffer from cold related issues. They do all suffer from “I forgot to plug them in” issues form time to time, so I follow the “two is one” rule for my commutes, and I keep a charger at the office.

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I have a Joystick mk9 and an Equinox mk2, the Equinox they canned after a couple of versions. Its too powerful for its packaging, but really good if you dont run it hard (which I dont)

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The L&M Trail 1000 is LED with Lithium Ion, as far as I could confirm. L&M support was helpful and I commend them, but turning on the light before a ride to warm it up, a suggestion, just burned the battery and didn’t extend the life in the cold. Insulating the light didn’t work, or perhaps I was unable to adequately insulate it using gauze, cloth, and tape (which is a troubling and annoying ordeal itself). Like I said, in not cold weather, above 10 C, the light worked great. Confirm capability matches expected use.

Bit of a different take on the thread but can just a helmet light work for road riding early in the morning? I am running the Aerofly bar and tough to find a light that will easily mount on there.

I also have the Specialized Evade helmet… any issues getting a light mount for that?

My Exposure Joystick finally died, 1 of the previous drops caused the back to come out of it, i put it back together and it lasted a good 2 yrs after that, even in the wet, but eventually water got in and killed the on/off button. Charges fine just cant turn it on :frowning:

Replaced with a new Exposure Axis which is a bit narrower beam so probably more suited to road riding, a happy repeat Exposure customer