Night Biking Tips (and asking for advice!)

>> Thursday, November 01, 2012

So about 10 days ago, I went for a nice 18 mile ride at 5 am. I had a tweet after the ride about the best way to ride in the dark. Check out our twitter conversation:

That sums up a lot of what I'm about to say in a few "140 characters or less" tweets.

So my big points are:

1. GET A HEADLIGHT. All I used was a "camping" headlight from REI. You can get lights like that from Target or Wal-Mart or wherever. Mine takes 3 AAA batteries and has 3 LED lights (and is pretty bright when the batteries are fresh). I don't have a "bike light." I just strap the the headlight to my aero bars.

2. GET A BLINKING BACK LIGHT. We have 2 (one that came with some bright gloves, and one that we got free in a race packet), but both were dead when I went to ride last week. Dang. If one had been working, I would have just clipped it to my back of my jersey.

3. WEAR A REFLECTIVE VEST. We have a running vest that is pretty much only made of reflective material. It's super light-weight, so it can be worn over anything. I nearly ran into an older (70ish year old) women on her cruiser who wasn't wearing any lights or reflective material. We were going the same direction, but I didn't see her until I was practically up her butt.

4. STAY OFF THE ROADS (whenever possible). Find a bike trail if possible. I was on side-streets for 2 blocks, a road with a dedicated bike lane for about a half mile, and then I was on off-street bike paths.

UPDATE: My good friend Jamey left a good comment with lots of tips about a long as this post. He reminded people to NOT ride on the sidewalks, which is very dangerous at intersections. That wasn't my meaning about "stay off the road" - I meant to find a bike trail if possible. But check out all of Jamey's comments on this post because he's got some good stuff in there!

5. CHOOSE WELL-LIT TRAILS. I found that unless you have a REALLY bright light, you should stick to well-lit trails. I headed along the River Road Trail (NOT well-lit) to the start of the Greenway Trail in Minneapolis. The Greenway is pretty straight, open, and was REALLY well lit until just after the lakes. I had to turn around shortly after the lakes (around the little "swerve" in the trail when you go over RR tracks) because it got too dark and I couldn't see as much as I would have liked.

6. CARRY A PHONE / ID. You may need to call someone if something happens. And if something should happen to you, you want to make sure people know who you are and how to contact your family. Have your license, a RoadID, or a 1BandID on you in an obvious place.

Here's what the start of the Greenway looks like just after Hiawatha:

Pretty well lit for 5 am in late Oct in MN.

A few blocks farther down the trail, looking through the long, straight section.

My view for most of the ride. That's my headlight strapped between my aero bars shining
on my front tyre. You can see the aero bar shadow on the ground to the left.

And here are 2 photos from previous posts that show the reflective running vest:

Pharmie working her way down a hill 2 years ago just after we found out she was pregnant!

From a post last year as we were out on an evening run with Henry.

So, I don't ride at night much, but these are the things I've learned. What am I missing? What are some other good tips? Please share your advice! Thanks!


Ironman By Thirty 7:17 AM, November 01, 2012  

I've gotten into doing some night riding with a group in Michigan called the Crazy Bastards. They ride twice a week at night on dirt/gravel roads. We hardly see any cars but are very well lit up just in case. It is a total blast!

I have a 350 lumen light for my helmet (that way I can light up whatever I look at) and a bright blinking light for the rear.

I also have one of these that I use mainly for running, but have biked with too. A local guy makes them and I reviewed one here: We even bought the dog version to use with him when we run in the winter time.

Light up and be safe!

Wendy 7:25 AM, November 01, 2012  

In addition to the reflective vest, wear an article of clothing that is lighter in color... a la Pharmie's pink shirt.

(We have a ton of people out here on bikes in all black. Lights only do so much to help safety all around.)

Jamey Erickson 8:13 AM, November 01, 2012  

I ride bike full time these days, and being self employed often times means working late. I ride home in the dark quite often and I'll honestly say I've only once ever been in a near "accident" situation and it was because some guy thought he needed to show me, with his car, that he didn't feel i should be on the road. He also shouted something, but the joke's on him because it was windy and I couldn't hear it.

Things I've been doing for the past 7 months, consistently, while riding at night (or just riding in general). I also recognize I'm going to contradict some things dear Stevie has said.

1. Stick to the streets. Riding on sidewalks only makes it more confusing for vehicles. If you're popping on and off the sidewalks and through crosswalks, its hard for them to know what your intentions are. Pretty easy to get swiped by a car making a right when we're headed straight on a sidewalk... also because they don't really think to look for you over there. Be assertive and ride just far enough to the left side of the shoulder area that they can see you, especially at night. The big exception to all of this is bike trails. There are lots of them out there, so if they're there, ride on 'em, because its more fun to ride on a roadway designed for bicycles anyway... less hills :)

2. Wear lights & a helmet. Its already been said, but have those things. Reflective gear is fine, too, but lights are way more important. Hell, get some Revolights and be super obnoxious about it -

3. Be super alert and pro-active. So many people are buried face down in their phones (even a police officer I passed two weeks ago), they not only don't see you, they don't see anything other than that super important text they just got. Even people walking on the sidewalks aren't paying attention. Its a zombie apocalypse out there. So don't expect anyone to see/hear you coming. Be prepared to stop, swerve, make a move, etc. You'll clearly be the only one who knows what's going on. This is also another reason to stay off the sidewalks.. they will NOT see you over there because its outside the peripheral vision of their 4" screen.

4. Bring ID/Phone. As stated above, and its pretty obvious why you'd want these things. If you DO get yourself into trouble, it's nice to have things that can be used to identify yourself outside of your dental records. Your phone's Flashlight App also makes a good shine tool for shining out people not paying attention. Blast that super bright LED right through their passenger window and suddenly they're all "Oh hey, yeah, i was paying attention the whole time." At least they'll be aware of you for the next 100 yards before they're gone.

5. Signal all your intentions. Again, this is more geared to city riding with other cars/people around. But signal your turns, stops, etc. You should have learned all the hand signals when you were 8 or 9, but if you haven't, look them up. I often have people wave at me when I'm attempting to make a right hand turn... which kinda scares me, because its clearly a right hand turn signal and not a "Hey buddy, how are you" sorta thing. But learn this signals for both yourself and in case you cross paths with someone using them. You'll know what's up. Left, Right, Stop. Pretty easy.

I'm sure there's more. But those are some of my tips. At the end of the day, its all about being visible, proactive and not an idiot. You'll be fine out there. Its really not scary if you're being smart about it and people can see you and clearly know your intentions.

Steve Stenzel 8:21 AM, November 01, 2012  

Good tips guys!

IronmanBy30, 350 lumens is AWESOME!

Wendy, good point about the light colored shirts. That helps too!

And Jamey, thanks for chiming in! #3 is a big one! And I didn't mean to make it sound like you should ride on the sidewalk - I don't think that's good for the same reasons you mentioned. I just meant to get to "trails" whenever possible to avoid traffic. Along those lines, I've heard that if you're riding in traffic when it's dark, it's safer to ride FARTHER OUT in traffic so drivers actually see you when they get close and they don't accidentally clip you from the side.

And I LOVE the last part of #4! Ha!

Like Jamey said "Don't be an idiot," and "Its a zombie apocalypse out there." BE SAFE ALL!

Robyn 8:57 AM, November 01, 2012  

I bike commute, so lots of riding in the dark this time of year.

Lights >> reflective gear. I am in love with my small, lightweight, very bright Serfas LED light with a USB recharger (= no batteries!). When it's DARK, I have it on high so I can see. When it's twilight, I have it on flash to make me more visible to others. I use it when running before dawn too. Bright blinky red light on the back to cars/bikes/people behind me can see me.

Yes, lights cost some money. But you know what? It's only like $20-33 for a decent set. You'll use them EVERY TIME you ride at twilight or night. They can save your life. And it's WAY cheaper (and more fun) than driving!

Agree with the excellent comments about being super-alert and communicating what you're doing. On a bike, you move QUICKLY (compared to pedestrians and slow bikers) and SILENTLY. You can startle people you're coming up behind (and even those in front of you, if they're not paying attention!). When passing, I always announce "On the left!" or just "LEFT SIDE!". When turning, I always hand signal. (Sometimes I even signal "going straight ahead" at a stop sign.)

A comment about bike hand signals. When I'm turning right, I just point with my right hand. Easy to remember, no ambiguity, nobody thinks I'm waving. The "left hand at a right angle signals right turn" is a holdover from using hand signals in a CAR. Just point the way you're turning! Easier for everyone.

That's all I can think of for now. Do a post on riding in the winter and I'll tell you about my winter riding secret weapons. (I'm no expert, but I've been bike commuting long enough to have a few tricks).

Carrie 4:47 PM, November 01, 2012  

I just saw this on Kickstarter last week. Very cool, and some of the best visibility I have seen. Maybe they would give you a demo set :)

Bikerpete 4:40 AM, November 02, 2012  

Light, light and more light!
You are the weakest on the road - so let them see you.
When you ride or run in the dark, let the light be with you.

Reflective vests, arm strap and headlight/backlight are mandatory.

When you want to buy a light for biking and running, you should not use a Walmart china crap :-)
It is your life-insurance. So spend some bucks for it.
Buy something like that:
Primus PrimeLite Race (140 Lumen and kind of waterproof IPX7 <-- hey - it rains in fall!)
Others are made my Mammut, Petzl, ZweiBr├╝der
I bought myself a Karma light and I am happy with it.
Esp. the extra battery pack is a great thing, because when its mounted on your bike-helmet, you dont have to dismount everything, just to get the batteries loaded. And in winter, you can keep the battery-pack in a warm place.
And yes ... I am bone-lazy :-)

Take a look here:
Found it today and it looks great for fall/winter sports.
No extra stuff to carry around and you are seen, when you give the turn signal with streched arm.

And by the way: I always carry my ID-strap with me, because I am a trail-runner spending most times solo in the woods. So it gives me a better feeling to be not handled like John Doe in case of emegency. :-)

pls excuse my english ... not my best language :-)

Time 4 coffee ...

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