Riding at night may seem a little scary at first, yet it can be every bit as safe and fun as riding in the day when you follow a few basic guidelines.
The Bicycle Coalition’s Katie Monroe installs lights during a recent light giveaway. © Thom Carroll Photography 2013
1. Use lights. The law requires you to have a front light and a rear reflector or light. You should be lit front and back every time it’s dark (or stormy). Set them for a blinking mode for greater visibility and longer battery life. If you missed the Bicycle Coalition’s light giveaway, you can get a pair of lights from your local bike shop for around $20.
2. Wear reflective clothing. You don’t need to wear a traffic safety vest, though you should make sure that there are reflective hits on as many pieces of your clothing as possible. You can buy jeans that have stripes or pull-out pocket flags that light up from headlights, though something as small as a reflective logo or piping on a jacket will go a long way toward making you visible. Bright clothing helps, too, but not as much as reflectivity.
3. Be extra careful. Take your time at all intersections, brake early, and remember that paint gets especially slippery if it has been raining. Many Philly riders have stories about wrecks on trolley tracks. You don’t want to have one or another one to tell. Always cross trolley tracks at as close to a 90 degree angle as possible. If there’s a part of the road that’s particularly nasty, don’t hesitate to get off your bike. When walking your ride, you are welcome to use the sidewalk.
4. Choose your route. The same roads you take in the daylight might not be as inviting at night in terms of traffic, road hazards, or personal safety. While a basic set of lights will allow motorists to see you from more than a block away, they won’t do much to illuminate that hole in the road 10 feet ahead; you’ll have to rely on streetlights for that. You may want to go a few or more blocks out of your way to find a better-lit road or one with a bike lane.
5. Dress warmly. This seems over-obvious, but take a little extra time to bundle up. Night riding takes extra focus, and if you’re comfortable, you’ll be able to keep your eyes and mind on the road better. You’ll want to keep a firm grip on the bars, too, and cold hands make that very difficult.
I’m looking forward to seeing you, your flashing lights, and your reflective clothing on the streets. Check back soon for cold-weather riding tips.