If Tom and Veronica Carroll hadn't invented their NiteRider bike lights, my life would have been very, very different.
I started riding mountain bikes after the fat-tire fad migrated from Northern California to the East Coast in the mid-90s. We had seen the Marin guys and girls on bootlegged VHS videos and wanted to 'Be Like Ned.'
When West Virginian Laird Knight created 24-hour mountain bike racing in our neck of the Appalachians, however, we saw a genre that fit into our culture. But we were working class and could train only at night. Duct-taped flashlights didn't work and miner's lamps were heavy and dangerous.
Then we heard about surfer Tom Carroll and these very cool lamp-and–battery setups he devised for night surfing in Southern California. We didn't have waves but we had lots of nasty, rocky and rooty trails that would trap your front wheel like alligator jaws.
The NiteRider light sets made it possible for us to race around the clock, and the 24-hour mountain race was our stage.
Those old lights weren't perfect. They were grey and black and heavy–at least 4 pounds for the batteries. NiteRider designed them to mimic water bottles so they could be fitted into downtube cages and secured with Velcro straps. The handlebar lights were connected to the cage bottles. A second battery in your CamelBak was for your helmet light.
Run time was hard to predict, so light management was important. Smart riders knew which sections could be done without lights, saving power for the truly evil places.
The 24 Hours of Canaan course was wet and nasty, with hub-deep mud, babyhead gardens, slippery logs and a burly descent from the highest point of the ski area. At night, you could hear the grunts and cries of riders who crashed, the beams of their NiteRiders flashing wildly in the pitch darkness.
There was a name for that madness: yard sale. All of a crashed rider's tools and batteries would scatter on the dark trail, the rider on hands and knees searching for a multi-tool, a spare tube, a joint or a hand-up beer.
In 1996, NiteRider became the first light company to provide on-site battery recharging when they built a no-cost charging station at the 24 Hours of Canaan. At that time, it was a big deal because it allowed more riders to participate in around-the-clock racing without having to invest in a large number of batteries. Previously, riders were anchored to a campsite that had a generator or rented an expensive condo with electricity for the duration.
Unleashed, so to speak, teams of riders could get more laps out of a recharge and use a more brilliant beam for faster riding. Strategies changed and more laps were possible. NiteRider could have sold more batteries, but by lowering the cost of racing, the result was an increase in participation. The Canaan night laps were a mountain-bike rite of passage, but without NiteRider lights none of that fun would have been possible.
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