…or, how to survive riding your bicycle in the dark.
As a bicycle commuter, riding in the dark (especially in the morning) is a simple reality. For me, its a choice of making myself visible to a small number of cars in the dark on my commute to work or waiting for daybreak and mixing it up with rush hour traffic.
I chose the former.
As a result, I’ve done some research on how to be as safe as possible while riding during those dark, predawn hours.
Let’s start with an important fact. It is one thing to be seen by drivers. It is a second and equally important thing to be recognized by drivers as cyclists.
A tailight, for example, can assist a driver in spotting you initially. Florescent clothing (especially the bright yellow-green variety or orange), a headlamp mounted on your bicycle helmet and reflective bands on your arms/ankles are all elements that help the driver recognize, as they get closer, that you’re a cyclist. Ankle bands, for example, move with your pedal strokes and communicate a characteristic motion that drivers attribute to a person riding a bike.
Bob Mionske mentions on his excellent site Bicycle Law that wearing reflective material can increase a driver’s recognition from 150 feet to 2200 feet at night. That’s a lot of extra time to allow a driver to move over into another lane or plan their speed so they can enter an oncoming lane safely to pass you.
Make no mistake, riding at night without taking steps to make yourself visible to motorists is a dangerous affair backed by sobering statistics. A majority of fatal bicycle accidents happen at night and if you survive a car-bike collision the lack of lights and reflective materials may be be viewed by courts as negligence.
Here are the steps I’ve taken to make myself more conspicuous:
- The rear of my bicycle usually has two tailights. Usually, two Planet Bike 1/2 Watt Superflashes. One mounted on the bicycle rack and the other on my Topeak bag (attached to the rack).
- I wear a pair of Vedante Super Reflective Pop Bands around my ankles and around my wrists. The ankles provide the pedal motion while the wrist bands help communicate my hand signals when turning.
- A Seca 400 headlamp is attached to the bike providing up to 400 lumens of light. I run the headlamp in steady mode in the dark to help drivers gauge my distance and to ensure I’m not about to nose dive into one of the many potholes that litter my path to work.
- In most circumstances I’ll wear bright-colored clothing like my neon yellow Gore Bike Wear Helium jacket.
What do YOU do to be conspicuous?