When summer winds down and autumn creeps in, the leaves change, the air gets crisp, and the daylight dwindles. We find ourselves riding in twilight and low light more often this time of year and put together a list of safety tips to help.
Routes & Infrastructure
Where you bike has a big impact on your safety, especially at night. Even if you are fortunate enough to live in a place with excellent infrastructure for cycling, that doesn't mean all routes are equally great for night time riding. We recommend picking a route that meets as much of the following criteria as possible:
- You're already familiar with the route.
- There are clearly marked bike lanes and other human-scale accommodations.
- There is low auto traffic, or it is typically frequented by cyclists
- The route is mostly well-lit by street lights or ambient lighting.
Increase Your Visibility
There are many ways you can increase your visibility: reflective apparel, reflective decals, reflective attachments, lights, and wearing light/bright colors. These are some of the more obvious solutions that most riders implement.
One key thing to remember when choosing how to make yourself more visible: human brains more quickly recognize people-shaped things. This means that the most effective way for a driver to spot a human on the shared roadway is for them to see the body of the human. Studies have shown that reflective materials at the knee and ankle, which help show human motion, make cyclists more visible at night.
Drivers may ignore another moving light or object, or interpret as background noise and not as a cyclist; relying on a single light or reflector increases the possibility of that scenario.
Additional hazards can obscure you even more in low light: riding in rain, fog, or during a time of solar glare can be especially dangerous. Outfitting yourself with visible, reflective gear helps, you can't rely on that alone to keep you safe.
Don't be Distracted
Awareness is incredibly important at any time of day, but especially important at night. Yes, always look all around you: double check, don't assume. But also: keep yourself free from distractions and use all your senses. Don't ride in low light or hazardous conditions listening to your favorite podcast or playlist. If you need to check your device for directions, pull over at a safe spot.
Adopt the mindset that nobody can see you, and act accordingly. By assuming you're invisible, you won't rest your safety on an assumption that others are going to behave the way you expect. They probably won't.
Do your best to make eye contact with drivers and others on the road to ensure they do see you, and give them the best chance to interpret your intent. That being said, don't assume they know where you are going, don't assume they can see you coming, and be sure to follow all traffic laws.
Charge up your lights before you ride, don't forget to bring your reflective jacket for a return trip, and plan your route ahead of time. The old adage about measuring a bunch before cutting is applicable here, at least metaphorically: the more you plan, the more likely you'll be prepared.
We can't control everything on the road, but actively focusing on things that are in our control can help you ride confidently into the darker days the season brings Just remember "RIDIN" (Routes & infrastructure, Increase your visibility, Don't be distracted, Invisibility assumed, and No Surprises) for night time ridin'.