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Commute 101: Riding at Night

by Commute by Bike

Ed. – A lot of commuters have to deal with riding when the stars are out instead of the sun.

RL Policar of BikeCommuters.com recently spent several months doing just that and was kind of enough to write up this guest article with his tips on staying safe while riding at night. Leave a comment if you have anymore questions.

One of my favorite things to do is ride my bike during the early morning hours. In recent months I had held a position with a company where I was required to be at my office by 3am. That meant having to get up around 1am hop on my bike, ride 22 miles and make it there safely.

A few things I learned while bike commuting at 1:30am is to make sure I am as visible as I can be. I have a few lights on my fixed gear commuter. I have a special LED, a neon light, reflectors on my helmet and wheels, LED tail light and a big reflective strip on my back pack.

Night Biking Commuting Lights

Another suggestion I have is to wear a bright shirt. I wore this one for the picture, its bright yellow, a perfect addition to my already bright lights.

beer.jpg

What most people don’t realize is just because you’re visible to other motorists at night doesn’t mean you’re safe. Sure you’re telling them that you’re there, but you’re still insignificant in size compared to a car that has two headlights. Motorists are more prone to respond to bigger lights. With that said, I’d recommend getting some sort of green light to accompany your light system. Studies have shown that the color green, especially if used in lights, is the color the human brain responds to quicker. As you may have seen in my photo above, my bike has a Down Low Glow green neon light. When I’m on the road people will slow down, check me out and drive off. I even get comments from people saying how cool it is. The neon light emits so much glow that cars will automatically swerve out of my way.

Night Biking Commuting Lights

One final piece of advice I’d like to offer to all you commuters”just let it go!

There will be many times when a jerk will cut you off, yell at you, threaten you, etc. But it’s a good idea to just let it go. I’ve been in so many confrontations where I was cut off or yelled at in which I later realized that I was asking for a butt whoopin.’

Here’s why you should let it go… you’re going against a guy in a car. On your bike isn’t exactly the best place to be when a car is coming towards you. Also, you don’t know what the driver has in their car. In Los Angeles, quite a bit of people die every year from gun related road rage incidents and a car is a great place to hide weapons.

Oh, one more thing, your life is worth more than trying to prove that you had the right of way to a hysterical driver.

I hope that my suggestion encourages you to get out and ride at night. Just be safe!

Ed. – For more bike commuter articles from RL Policar, check out www.BikeCommuters.com.

For more discussion and tips on dealing with aggressive drivers, check out this article from our Commute 101 section.

 
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26 Responses to “Commute 101: Riding at Night”

  1. Todd Waddell says:

    Interesting bit on the neon light, I’ll have to check that out. Thanks for the link to the company’s site.

    I’m just gearing up for my first season of winter commutes, and have been looking at lights. I think I know what I want to do for the back of the bike, but am wondering about the front. I’ve been thinking a separate LED system that allows me to mount two different lights on different sides of the handlebars will create a separation that will make the lights more noticeable. This is as opposed to having a single unit, even with multiple LEDs housed together.

    Does anyone have any suggestions on front lights? I’ll be doing 22 miles r/t and in Portland, Or, it will be dark and rainy both ways for much of the season.

    Thanks for your help and insights.

    Todd Waddell

  2. Julio says:

    I need that shirt.

  3. Ghost Rider says:

    Todd,

    Minoura sells a bar called the “Swing Grip” that attached to the top or bottom of your stem and allows you to position lights with a good bit of separation. I use one on my bike to hold two or three LED headlights. If you have multiple headlights, set one to blinking mode (if possible). This makes you more visible to oncoming motorists. Look at this page: http://www.minoura.jp/accessory-e.htm (under “headlight holder”). Bike Nashbar and other periodically have these on sale.

    RL, good article…I dig on that DLG, and I like your thoughts about green light. I have a green blinkie on my messenger bag in addition to the traditional rear red lights, and I know it is much more visible from a distance than a red light would be.

  4. Todd Waddell says:

    Ghost Rider,

    Wow, that swing grip’s quite an interesting little thing. I’ll have to keep that in mind!

    Thanks,
    Todd

  5. RL says:

    Ghost,

    The DLG is the way to go when it comes to night riding. That thing is pretty resilient. I use it all the time when I do night rides on my mountain bike. The rocks and pebbles don’t seem to affect the light.

    RL

  6. Mike Myers(formerly Mike in Florida) says:

    I like the looks of the DLG, too. As for lighting—I don’t think you can spend TOO much money or have too much lighting. I currently use a DiNotte Ultralight 5W as my only light, but I think this year I’ll buy the DiNotte 500L and switch my 5W over to helmet light status. That should give me plenty of light.

    Rear lighting? I’d love to buy the DiNotte taillight but the mounting is problematic when using a seatbag and/or rack trunk and panniers. I like the Planet Bike Superflash. I have one on my seatbag and one on my helmet. On my Surly Pacer, I use a BLT Super Doppler DX taillight mounted to the right seatstay, a Flash Flag on the left seatstay, and a Cateye LD1000 on the Carradice. I don’t like the Cateye light. It’s too big and heavy for the light it emits. The Superflash is superior.

    Reflective tape is your friend. I have a piece which is 6″ X 3″ mounted to a piece of plastic and ziptied to my Carradice Bagman. It’s much better than any standard reflector. Rear fender has an 8 inch strip of reflective tape, and there’s reflective tape on the crankarms. The Surly has 105 brifters, so I tried bar end lights. I don’t like them, as they don’t hold as tightly as plugs.

  7. Priscilla says:

    Julio,

    You can get that shirt from VeloTees.com

  8. Moe says:

    I personally like the NiteRider Dual MiNewts. Very small, very powerful and very light!

  9. Miss Moppet says:

    I often work second shift and ride home around 11 p.m….One suggestion I would make is to be familiar with nearby “safe places”…The 24-hour diner, the YMCA where the janitor is always there at a certain time, etc. etc. I realize this is not always possible for folks with a more rural route, but it has been invaluable to me…One of the hazards of riding while female is that you receive a lot of unsolicited commentary, which is really scary if delivered from a truck full of guys a foot from your left elbow. Also, I’ve been blatantly followed a couple of times, which is actually way more frightening. Has anyone else– male or female– had to deal with sexual harassment while riding? It seems the the cover of darkness emboldens the creeps of the world…People will do and say things if they get you alone on a dark street that they wouldn’t do or say in the middle of the day.

  10. Mike Myers says:

    Miss Moppet—does “Nice shorts, faggot”(imagine with a thick redneck accent) count as sexual harrassment? I’ve been heckled, wistled at, had stuff thrown at me. I was chased down and cornered by a guy who wanted to fight. I suggest you carry pepper spray and a cell phone.

  11. Ghost Rider says:

    Miss Moppet — that is some EXCELLENT advice about being familiar with ‘safe places’.

    I’ve been wolfwhistled and catcalled a couple times by passing women, but I haven’t experienced outright sexual harrassment (after all, I am an unspectacular, average man). That would SUCK — no one should have to put up with that.

    I vote for a concealed carry permit and something in the .40 caliber range!!

  12. Dan says:

    I commute in the dark often, and the best thing I have for improving my noticeability is reflective bands around my ankles.

    They have a number of advantages:
    – because they go 360 degrees around your legs, they catch the light from any angle – front, behind and from the side

    – the up and down movement of your feet makes them move in a very distinctive way that immediately marks you out as a cyclist in a way that an LED light or a reflector on your back does not.

    I’ve had a number of people spontaneusly comment on how good they are – including one car driver that followed me for a while (I thought he was some kind of psycho!) just so when I stopped he could ask me where I got them from, as they were so effective.

    I’d also recommend at least one steady (ie not flashing) light front and rear, as it is very hard for drivers to judge their distance from you just based on a flashing light. I have steady lights attached to the bike, and smaller flashing ones attached to me.

  13. groundshero says:

    I’m into my 2nd year (5000+miles) of commuting in Portland OR, 2/3 of that in the dark. When I was finally able to get a bike made up the way I wanted, I got a Shimano dynamo front hub powering an LED headlight. Not only can I be seen, but I can see! I can seeee!

  14. Mark says:

    I for one, love riding at night. I find that cars tend to give me more room at night. I’m not sure if it’s because they aren’t as comfortable with their surroundings or because I light myself up like a Christmas tree: handlebar mounted light, head mounted light, three rear lights, spoke lights, etc. I’ve been drooling over the DiNotte Ultra Tail light for just over a year now, but haven’t convinced myself to spend the money yet.

    Miss Moppet, I have to be honest, I can’t imagine being in your situation; bravo for sticking with it and not letting those shallow minded people get the better of you. I suppose I have it lucky, I’m a 6′+ male with a large build and must look like a freak show on wheels at night. Knowing the “safe places” is an excellent idea.

  15. Joe says:

    I find myself riding in the dark a lot, whether because I’m leaving work late, riding in early, or just running around at night, and I use two lights up front, both mounted on the Minoura SwingArm.

    My main light is the Light & Motion ARC Li-Ion Light, which is the brightest light I’ve found. On the road, cars see it, and get out of my way. On the path, people in front of me will often stop and turn to see what’s coming and then get out of my way. It puts out a nice beam, and I can see everything for a good distance. It is pricey.

    The second light is just a Viewpoint Flare 5 LED Headlight that I put in flash mode (it is not good for a regular headlight).

    In the rear, I use a Cateye TL-LD600 Tail Light — five flashing LEDs that seem to let people know I’m there.

    Love the nighttime riding.

  16. Franky says:

    Here’s a cool LED light for the wheel. If that doesn’t make drivers aware of your presense then nothing helps:

    http://www.ladyada.net/make/spokepov/index.html

  17. Mark says:

    I received a set of HokeySpokes as a gift last year. They are essentially the commercial version of SpokePov, for those that don’t have the time to spend with a soldering iron. They make you very visible and I’ve actually had a number of drivers comment on how cool they are, people actually slow down to take a look. They aren’t for the weight conscience rider though and are nasty to spokes, so make sure you only use them on tough wheels.

  18. Sue says:

    I have hokeyspokes too but I lost half the thingies that attach them to the spokes and I don’t know how to get them. I also have gotten lots of comments and applause (it helps they’re in the local college color).
    Last winter I got lots of room when I was lit up with a Christmas tree and a few other strings of lights (and the hokey-spokes). I got near-reverence at times :) WHen I took the stuff down and went back to just a few lights and blinkies… wow, how had I ever tolerated being so invisible? (One of my favorite comments was a fellow who called out in sing-song ‘this-is-how-you-know-I’m-a-daddy” voice: “I can’t SEEEEEE you!” ) I decided not to wait ’til December this year.
    I”ve ordered a couple of strings of Christmas tree lights from a craft site and I’m going to play around with mesh as a media (the folks at bikejournal tossed soem creative ideas out). The down-low-glo is not only pricey but, I believe, not weatherproof. Not an option here ;)

  19. burnsey says:

    I ride home at night, and three miles of my ride home are on non street lighted roads. I use a Cygolite Nite-Rover which allows me to ride at my normal pace, and I compliment that with a helmet mounted light. The helmet light gets used mainly to announce my presence to traffic entering intersections, cars planning on turning left in front of my, etc,,. Just hit em with that beam, and it gets their attention.
    These also allow me to get on the local mtn. bike trails at night as well.
    Reflector tape is great. Make sure you purchase the good stuff that 3M makes. I have it everywhere, including my crank arms.
    Rear blinkie.
    Also, Performance bike has these small single led lights that attach with a stretchy cord, and cost 12 bucks for a white and red pair. I mount these on my forks. They are great, and easy to carry as back up lights for a day trip that may extend a little longer than expected.
    http://www.performancebike.com/shop/profile.cfm?SKU=18826&subcategory_ID=4320
    I feel as if we are more visible at night because of lights, but still ride as if I am invisible.

  20. wannaCmore says:

    All- This is great stuff. VERY useful for me. I will soon be setting up a Kona Smoke 2-9 as my ride. My LBS suggested that I get a helmet mounted light, but reading all of these replies, I am going more than just that. Too bad I can’t use the lights from a train…

  21. clunkerider says:

    I use a high-vislibility orange safety vest (like road construction workers wear) with reflective material all over it. It is made of mesh so cool in warm weather. You can wear it over anything, a jacket or shirt it doesn’t matter. I have had comments from co-workers driving into work how highly visible it makes me when I ride. I love my vest, even if it looks dorky, it could save my life. You can get a high visibility vest at any store that sells work clothes.

  22. Barbara says:

    Thank you so much for this article/post!! I get off work at night and worried what to do to stay safe. I’m so encouraged by your article. Best wishes and happy cycling!

  23. John says:

    You mentions drivers might have a gun, well a car is just as dangerous as a loaded gun. I for one, would like to carry a gun while riding for an extra degree of safety.

  24. Rodney says:

    I have been commuting to/from work since October 2007. This year alone, I have pedaled over 1000 miles to date commuting.

    For my lighting I use an white strobe and red strobe attached to my helmet. My handlebar light is an 8 LED Serfas.

    I recently added two sets of Planet Bike’s “Blinky lights”. I put the two white lights on my front forks and the two red lights on my seat stays. A Planet Bike “Super Blinky” was added to my seat post/bike rack.

    A lime green safety vest w/ reflective striping has alway been part of my rides/commutes. For trail/Multi use paths, I forgo the vest.

  25. I just heard on the Adam Carolla show about an LED attachment you can put on your wheel to put in phrases and even pictures. Perfect for night riding or showing off during the day :)

  26. Mazda says:

    Rear lighting? I’d love to buy the DiNotte taillight but the mounting is problematic when using a seatbag and/or rack trunk and panniers. I like the Planet Bike Superflash.

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