Kevin lays his bike down along the dirt single track just before it swings by the main road.

This section of trail is in close proximity to the park police station and Kevin’s worried about getting busted because this park in the suburbs of Washington DC is closed after sunset.

“Cops, turn off your light!” he yells back to me, ducking behind some shrubbery.

I drop my bike and dive onto the ground as an old Crown Victoria passes. No blue and red lights on top.

“Nice cop car, ” I say, brushing off the dirt and leaves as I stand up. We jump back on our bikes and continue the poaching session as night falls.

With the arrival of fall and daylight savings time, the afternoon sun disappears before many mountain bikers get home from work. This means adding another piece of equipment to the gear bucket – bike lights.

Night riding has come a long way in the past 5 years as the technology has steadily improved. Companies like Light & Motion and NiteRider now offer lights that hold a charge much longer and offer brighter beams, making night riding both fun and safe.

If you are looking to purchase a new light system, you need to make a few basic decisions. Do you want an high-intensity discharge light (HID) or a light-emitting diode system (LED)? Will it mount on your handle bar or your helmet?

On the high end of the scale on light output (and unfortunately price), it’s really hard to compete with HID lights. The “hotspot” is tighter and throws further due to the smaller source of the light, which is why it has been prized by bikers. The further you can see generally means safer and for some it means the faster you can ride.

But not only are HID bulbs are much more expensive, you also have to be more careful of how you handle them. The light source is crazy bright but it is generally bluish-white light, which is not the best for eye vision at night. Halogen technology is proven and been the standard since 2004 and with new lithium batteries, the overall weight is much less and is an excellent set up.

On the LED side, the bulbs last forever and can take a hit and keep on ticking which is good news. You also get a white light that is more natural looking and perfect for night riding. The advantages continue with lower energy consumption, translating into longer battery life and overall compact size.

A hand held unit that I purchased, with lithium batteries, provided over 5 hours of light without a recharge. The performance of LED-lights is improving every year and ordering via the Internet, directly from Ebay, is becoming pretty reliable.

Finally, many of the light companies will rate their light using lumens. Check out Wikipedia to understand completely what a lumen is and how it is calibrated, but remember this: don’t buy anything less than 100 lumens and try to get up to 300 lumens if the budget allows.

I typically like to ride with one 250-lumen light attached to my helmet but sometimes add a smaller 100-lumen light on my handle bar. Having two lights during a ride is nice since lights do break and riding home in the dark is no fun.

The last hurdle is finding a location where night riding is legal. Information on night riding spots in sometimes posted on online mountain biking forums, but typically state that night riding is available on a limited, reservation-only basis under a special arrangement.

I would never promote poaching as a good way to build the trust and cooperation with local parks. So my final bit of advice: learn the difference between a cop car and a Crown Vic.

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