By Lukas Brinkerhoff
It's 9 p.m. and the sun has finally set giving us some relief from the heat. Brad Newby's giant truck's headlights are beaming my direction and I can see well enough to fasten my headlights to my bike. Even with the sun behind the mountains, it's still almost 100 degrees. We haven't started riding yet and I'm already sweating. We flick on the torches mounted to our handlebars and head down into the valley for our weekly night ride.
In St. George you have two options for riding in the summer. You either wake up super early or ride when the sun has already set. I'm not much of a morning person so I've come to love riding when it is dark.
I don't mean to go hippy, but there is something important that can be learned when riding dirt at night. Namely, being able to feel the trail. Yeah, I know that's about as cliché as I can be, but it's true. Riding at night has increased my bicycle handling skills. There are two reasons.
First, you really do have to feel the trail, unless you can afford a $750 light set, you have to trust your instincts and learn how the drops and dips feel. There is one thing to see a drop and be able to predict its height and run out, but in the dark depth perception often fails and lights won't illuminate a run out. Unfortunately, they only point forward. So regardless of your ability or how sweet your headlight is there will always be some guess work.
Second, to be able to ride fast you have to be able to predict what is going to be under your tires at any given moment. As your speed increases the distance that you need to see increases. With lights, in the dark, your line of sight is limited to the end of your beam. This will cause you to do two things, either slow down or learn how to deal with whatever is in the trail. If you choose to step up to the plate you will quickly learn that bunny hopping and proper brake work are essential. The more you ride at night the quicker these skills will be honed and improved. You will find yourself bombing trails faster than ever before because you have built the confidence to know that whatever the trail throws at your front wheel you can handle.