How to Safely Ride Your Bike at Night
Cycling is a sport that people typically think of as a day time activity. However, a growing population of people would beg to differ. The amount of people going on night time bike rides is growing and with that, the idea of safe night time riding needs to be spread. This article has been written to help inform cyclists how to stay safe when riding at night, in low light conditions.
Stay Visible and See Clearly
Bike Lights (Front)
Whether you are out on a trail in the woods, or on the road commuting back from work, a bike light is one of the most important things you can buy to ensure your safety. A high quality bike light will help to light you path, literally.
When mountain biking, the light should allow the user to see roots, rocks and other details on the trail. This will keep the rider aware of the conditions and safe throughout his or her ride.
An urban rider should have a light to warn other people on the road of their presence, as well as to keep full vision of the road ahead of them.
The strength of a bike light is measured in lumens.
Urban riders do not typically need as powerful of a light as trail riders or mountain bikers because cities and towns are usually quite well lit. So if you plan on only riding at night in an urban area, you can probably get away a cheap low-lumen light. Although, less than 200 Lumens is not recommended.
As a mountain biker, riding trails at night will require a much more powerful light. Bike lights can get quite expensive when you get into the higher lumen output models, however, it is a worthy investment, especially if you intend to use it often. For completely dark trails, it is not unlikely that you will want a light that is capable of producing an excess of 1000 lumens.
Bike Lights (Rear)
Attaching a bike light so that it is visible when looking at you from behind is extremely important as it furthers your safety when cycling. A rear bike light or reflector, is recommended to be worn at all times (day and night) as it will help people see you better in almost any conditions. Rear bike lights are typically red and either flash or maintain a steady glow. Red is chosen for the same reason that red is chosen for car brake lights. It is a high contrast color that stands out from its environment. A rear light is much more important for urban cycling as it allows traffic to see you and safely maneuver around you. On a trail ride, it is unlikely that you will be worried about motorized vehicles. However, it is still good to wear one as it keeps you visible to your riding companions and others who may be on the trail.
Where to Place Bike Lights
Choosing where to place your bike light is almost as important as choosing the light itself. If the light is bouncing up and down, then it can become difficult to see far ahead of you and your vison may blur. Many riders opt to attach the light to their handlebars. This is a good choice, especially for road riders. It will keep the beam aimed directly in front of you and it is easy to adjust the power.
For people who are riding tight trails, it is important to see the trail features ahead of you. Sometimes a light on the bars may not be the best option as you might find that you look past the beam, especially in corners where you should be looking for your exit on entry. For rides such as this, it is a good idea to get a light that will attach to the top of your helmet. This way, when you look around, the beam is aimed right where you are looking. The downside is that powerful lights can get heavy. Heavy lights on your helmet may put strain on your neck. For this reason, you may want to have a powerful light on your handlebars and a smaller lightweight one on your helmet.
Placing a rear bike light (or reflector) is quite simple. If you ride with a backpack, they often have a location to clip a bike light onto the back. Another option is to place it on your frame above the tire, or attach it to your seat post. You could even mount it to your rear carrier if you ride with one. Mounting a rear light will depend on how you ride and what you ride with so get creative. Just be sure that it is highly visible from behind.
Like a rear bike light, reflective details are designed to help other people see you. Reflective details are often built into high quality cycling clothing and gear so pay attention when purchasing your items. These details are often in the form of special stitching or outlines, as well as logos or specific patches. It is also a good idea to buy reflective tape and place it around your bike and gear. Reflective detailing is about making sure that other people see you. You never want to go unnoticed when riding at night.
Night Riding Tips
Plan your route
When riding at night, it is important to already know where you are going and what the route entails. Surprises tend to be even more surprising when riding at night. For example, when riding in the woods during the day, you may see a root section and evaluate how difficult it will be to ride. During the night it is harder to see this section which could cause you to crash if you are not ready for it. Ride the route in the light before you ride it at night. That will assure you know what you are going to encounter on the trail.
When riding at night it is important to ride slower than you normally would. Even if you have the best lights, it will still be darker around you which means your eyes will have a harder time seeing than if it was full daylight. To avoid unexpectedly crashing, it is worth brining your pace down.
Do Not Override Your Lights
This goes hand in hand with slowing down. Lights only reach so far in front of you. If you are riding too quickly, the stopping distance for you will be greater than how far you can see at that moment of time. So if you see something blocking your path, you will not stop in time and will likely crash. This is very similar to overdriving your headlights in a car.
Cyclists often wear glasses for a couple of reasons, the glasses keeps the sun out of their eyes, or they protect the wearer’s eyes from debris such a dirt and bugs. At night, cyclists will still have to face the debris issue. The best solution is to get a clear set of biking glasses. If you would rather save the money, a cheaper option may be clear construction glasses. There are also bike specific glasses available on the market that have auto color changing lenses which are great to use in any condition.
Be Alert (even more than normal)
Night time bike rides often leave the cyclist feeling energized and wide awake. This is good news because when you are riding at night, it is mandatory to pay the upmost attention to your surroundings. If you are on the road, it is harder for drivers to see you at night (even with the appropriate gear on). Make sure you pay very close attention to what the drivers are doing and make sure you are seen. On the trails be sure you ride at a pace that you are comfortable with and keep an eye out for wild animals.
Beginners Should Ride Paths that are well Lit
No matter what, if you are just starting out as a cyclist, it is best to stick to conditions where there is lots of light. This does not mean you should not ride at night, just choose your route carefully. For example, many big city parks work great as they have paths that are well lit 24 hours a day.
Cycling at night can be a very enjoyable and beneficial experience if you follow this articles simple advice. Remember to get good quality lights and make sure you and your bike have lots of reflective bits on. Only ride routes that you have ridden during the day so you are sure of where you are going and what the route entails. Stay alert and ride at a safe pace. Most importantly, stick to your comfort zone. If you are worried about riding at night, slowly work your way into it by riding already lit trails.