One of the great joys of summer is biking at night. Even when the weather is smotheringly hot and humid during the day, nighttime is cool and breezy. Dusk is drawn out, revealing the stars that shine without the sun’s heat. Personally, I bike at night on my way home from community meetings or yoga classes. Occasionally, I also participate in group rides like the Firefly Ride or the Bike Snob NYC Ride. At those times, there’s a sense of childlike mystery that’s missing during the day. However, biking at night definitely comes with a set of unique challenges that cyclists should address to maximize safety.
1) Light up like a Christmas tree.
Having a good set of front and rear lights is the most important aspect of riding at night. To replace my broken front light, I just picked up the Planet Bike Blaze, which is much brighter than my old one and not very expensive. (Planet Bike also donates some of their profits to bike advocacy, which is cool.) If you buy lights that detach, be sure to take them with you when you lock up your bike. They’re some of the most commonly stolen items and I can tell you from personal experience that it’s no fun riding home in the dusk without one. If you already have a light, be sure that it’s bright enough. A survey in Oregon showed that of riders with headlights, 1 in 9 of them were inadequate.
In addition to traditional front and rear lights, you can also purchase lights designed for drivers to see you from the side. Although I had some serious issues with putting in the batteries, a lot of people at the Firefly Ride had Bike Glow lights, which have a battery pack that lights up a cord that you wrap around your frame. Other options include the Cat Eye loop lights, one which I won at this year’s Ride and Stride.
2) Embrace neon.
Wearing outlandishly bright clothes probably won’t win you any fashion awards – although it depends on the trend – but it will allow drivers to see you better. Any color neon, preferably with reflectors, is good. I personally have this this bright yellow windbreaker, which is particularly nice because the sleeves zip off into a vest for those warm nights. Attaching reflectors wherever possible can help as well. I have one that once blinked (the battery ran out) looped through the back of my helmet and another from the Rockville Reflects safety campaign wrapped around the seatstay of my bicycle.
3) Ride with a group, when possible.
Obviously, riding with a group isn’t always possible if you’re biking for transportation. But if you want to ride recreationally at night, try to organize a community ride or event with friends. Riding in a group makes you much more likely to be seen by cars than one individual rider can be and it’s a lot of fun.
4) Choose well-lit streets.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to ride safely at night if the street is pitch black. Even if you’re brighter than the stars in the sky, a driver will be startled to see you coming out of nowhere. This does restrict riding at night to urban and suburban areas that have some decent street lighting. Non-coincidently, they’re also safer because drivers are more likely to expect cyclists there.
5) Be confident of your route.
Streets and landmarks look very different in the dark, so it’s much easier to get lost if it’s not a route you’re used to. In addition, riding in the dark can be less safe from a crime standpoint, especially in certain neighborhoods. (Not always the ones you’d expect!) So knowing exactly where you’re going helps.
6) Be alert.
While drivers aren’t always great at noticing cyclists during the day, they’re even worse at noticing them at night. Plus, obstacles like potholes and branches are much harder to see in the dark. Staying keenly aware of what is going on and the traffic around you is key to being safe.