Riding at Night
by John Siemiatkoski and John Allen
"But I don’t plan to ride at night. Why would I read this article?” With the sun setting earlier, it’s easy to ride at night by accident. To make sure that doesn’t become with accident, here are some ways to be prepared. (Ed. Note: we prefer to use crash to refer to bike accidents, so please forgive our use here.)
- Light up your life. Lights not only help you see where you are going, but they help you be seen by all road users - motorists, pedestrians, and other bicyclists. Your lights increase your visibility to motorists, since your reflectors only help when headlights are aimed at you. Pedestrians and other bicyclists don’t have the advantage of car headlights, so your lights help avoid accidental meetings. Lights with steady beams are necessary to light your way on a dark road. Motorists can miss a flasher, or think it is a stationary object like a construction barrel. Your motion with a steady beam presents a path that a motorist’s eye can follow.
- Think V-I-S-I-B-I-L-I-T-Y! It’s about what you wear, what’s on your bike (lights and reflectors), and where you are on the road! If you’re on the sidewalk (where permitted), bike path that crosses a road, or along the curb, cars’ headlights may not illuminate you.
- Reflectorize! Reflectors can be very effective especially with a motor vehicle behind you. Consider the reflectors that came with your bike to be just the starting point - add a large, amber rear reflector from an auto-parts store. Add reflective tape to your bike, body, and baggage. Use pedal reflectors and wheel reflectors; reflectorized leg bands can perform both functions and meet the legal requirement. The motion that motorists see calls out, “I’m a person on a bike!” Reflectorized armbands or gloves make your hand signals visible to drivers behind you.
- Hi-viz for low dough. Sure, high-end lights can be expensive, but we’re talking about your life, right? Still, there are many low cost lights available. They get better and less expensive every year with improving technology.
- Ready, aim, illuminate! You can aim your taillight by rolling the back of your bicycle toward and away from a wall. The taillight beam should stay at the same height and be centered behind the bicycle. A small headlight, used for illumination, can be aimed the same way; a bright headlight will throw enough stray light when aimed at the road surface. Aim reflectors level and with the correct edge at the top. A tilted reflector may not work at all.
- Hone your skills. Practice hazard-avoidance skills to be ready for things that can make you go bump in the night. Visit www.bikeleague.org and search for “Rock Dodge.” Better yet, visit www.massbike.org for upcoming bicycling skills classes.
- Know your route - where are the potholes and storm grates? Plan alternative routes that may be longer but have less traffic, better lighting, and smoother pavement.
- Slow down to give yourself more time to react to hazards.
- Charge ahead, of time, that is. Keep a spare charger and extra batteries at work.
- Protect your investment. Lights can be expensive. If you park your bike where you can’t see it, take the extra time to remove your lights and take them without you. Take any accessory that is removable without tools .
- Be bright off the bike, too! When you’re a motorist, give a wide berth to bicyclists. Your good motoring behavior will be modeled by other motorists. And when you’re a pedestrian or runner, lights will help bicyclists see you.
- Share the (spot)light. Bring extra lights to club rides and let other riders borrow them. Go the extra mile - give away a light to a rider of lesser means.
Above all, you must remember that your ability to see at night is going to be diminished, even with a good set of lights. You will have a harder time seeing obstacles in the road, and other road users will also have a harder time seeing you. You need to be prepared for whatever might come your way, and be ever mindful of personal safety.
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