By Molly Hurford
As it gets dark earlier and earlier (yes, even now in September!) it’s important to think about how visible you are to cars when you’re riding around town, on the trails or home from work. Here, we’re looking at a few simple ways that you can stay safe as rides start in the light and end in the dark.
Plan The Safest Route
As you prep for riding in low light situations, plan a few routes. If you’re commuting to and from work, think about roads that have wide shoulders and plenty of room for bikers. Consider potholes that might be harder to spot in low light, or areas that tend to be glass covered. A route that’s an extra kilometer long is worth it if it puts you on smoother, quieter roads. The same is true for nighttime road riding or mountain biking. Think about roads that will be quieter and don’t have many bumps, or trails that are relatively easy to navigate regardless of lighting. Night rides aren’t the time to try that new rock garden section of your favorite singletrack.
Get A Front Light
When it comes to choosing the right front light for you, consider your riding. If you rarely get stuck in the dark, you can opt for a cheaper one, possibly even battery powered versus rechargeable, that will help you out in a pinch, but won’t do a great job of illuminating the road ahead. That’s more for safety than actual usage. But if you’re often out past dusk, consider looking for a front light that’s rechargeable via a USB cable and that outputs 1000 lumens for the road, 2000 lumens if you’re on trails at night. These will be a bit pricier, but will allow you to safely and comfortably navigate your way home in the dark.
And A Rear Light
Rear lights are incredibly inexpensive, but hugely valuable tools. Get one that can clip on to your seatpost or saddlebag. Ideally it should stay attached to your bike most of the time, since it’s also a good idea to run these rear lights in the daytime for maximum visibility. And if it’s permanently attached, that’s one less thing to remember. You can opt for battery powered or rechargeable—they don’t use as much power as front lights, so there’s less battery replacing that needs to happen. Look for one that can put out 50 lumens, though, especially if you’re on busy roads.
Wear Reflective Everything
Especially around dawn or dusk if you don’t have lights, but really, anytime at all, you should be reflective on the road. That said, you don’t need to buy all new high-vis gear. If you’re on a budget, consider getting a pack of reflective tape that can stick to your jacket, shoes, helmet, saddlebag, backpack or vest. Some people just get cheap reflective vests that can also be used for nighttime runs or walks.
Make A Flight Plan
Night rides, especially if you’re new to cycling, are not the times to check out new roads and trails. Stick to areas that you know well, and make sure that someone knows at least roughly where you’re going and how long you expect to be out. Having a few regular routes makes this a lot easier.
Share Your Location Permanently
If you have a partner, parent or even close friend who you feel comfortable sharing your phone’s location permanently with, do that now before you forget. This way, someone is always able to locate you in case of a problem.
Bring The Right Gear
It’s important all the time, but nighttime is definitely not the time to skimp on bike repair supplies. You should always have a spare tube, patch kit, mini pump, multi-tool and small first aid kit on hand, as well as your phone (with enough battery to use the flashlight function if needed). You should also expect temperatures to drop as soon as the sun sets—packing a lightweight jacket (that also has reflective elements) is a smart idea. And of course, always wear a helmet.
Be Aware Of The Road/Trail Ahead
In the dark, it’s harder to spot those bumps, potholes, shards of glass or loose gravel spots on the road, so practice constant vigilance and always be scanning the road ahead. It will take some getting used to: Your pace may be a bit slower as you acclimate to riding at night, but don’t stress. Once you adapt, you’ll gradually pick up more speed—although you likely will never be as fast at night as you are in daylight!
Riding at night can be incredibly fun and adventurous. If you can, enlist a friend or two to join you on your dawn or dusk patrol rides and enjoy those peaceful times!
About the writer:
Molly Hurford is a journalist in love with all things cycling, running, nutrition and movement-related. When not outside, she’s writing about being outside and healthy habits of athletes and interviewing world-class athletes and scientists for The Consummate Athlete podcast and website, and most recently launched the book ‘Becoming A Consummate Athlete.‘ She’s the author of multiple books including the Shred Girls, a young adult fiction series and online community focused on getting girls excited about bikes. Molly is a little obsessed with getting people psyched on adventure and being outside, and she regularly hosts talks and runs clinics for cyclists and teaches yoga online and IRL… And in her spare time, the former Ironman triathlete now spends time tackling long runs and rides on trails or can be found out hiking with her mini-dachshund DW and husband, cycling coach and kinesiologist Peter Glassford.