6 Essentials for Riding in the Dark

Winter brings on a whole new set of riding conditions, one of which is the extreme darkness of riding, even during your morning commute. Oh the short days of winter!

Riding in extreme darkness requires a few additional tips and some gear, but it should by no means stop you from riding. It’s very easy to be safe out there with just a few adjustments to your daylight ride.

1. Make Bright Lights Easy

A front light and rear reflector are the law, but forget about that – think like a driver at night. It’s hard to see what’s on the road, and it’s hard to see bikers unless they’re well lit. Use an ultra bright front light and bold blinking rear light (we like the Streak (front) and Hot Shot (rear) USB rechargeable lights from Cygo, available at shops like North Portland Bike Works on Mississippi).

If you’re a device-laden person like so many of us are these days, USB rechargeables make it easy to charge your light while you’re on the go and the lights will never dim down – they’ll simply indicate when they’re low and then you know it’s time to recharge. No more messing with batteries and hunting down obscure battery sizes, no more being caught off guard.

Invest in good lights and don’t forget to bring your lights inside with you – always – so they don’t get stolen.

2. Add High Viz

You don’t want to have to think about putting on high visibility items every time you go out, and you may not want to wear an ultra-techy jacket with reflective stripes. You can increase the visibility of your bike by adding spoke reflectors. The stick kind are relatively unobtrusive most of the time, but light up brightly – especially for traffic approaching from the side, where your lights alone may not provide illumination.

You can also purchase additional stick-on reflective material to add to your helmet or other areas on your bike.

If you are into tech gear, spend the extra money on options that include reflective features.

Additional lighted features can be added to your helmet, bike or you. Consider special additions for winter such as light-up arm bands, valve stem lights, and a secondary rear and front light.

Turn your lights on early – even pre-dusk.

3. Ride Predictably

Riding predictably is always important, but even more so when you’re riding at night. What does this mean? Stick to a straight path in the road – don’t dodge in and out of the parked car zone. Even though it may feel safer to tuck in near the curb when you have the chance, coming and going like that can confuse cars. Hold the line and they’ll know where you’re headed.

No sudden moves. Plan ahead. If you need to turn suddenly, stop cautiously on the side of the road, assess the traffic situation, then safely make your turn. Boldly signal your turns by very clearly pointing in the direction you want to go (left hand = left turn, right hand – right turn).

As best you can, know your route in advance and know where you’re headed.

4. Take a Smart Route

Are dark sides streets safer than illuminated main streets with bike lanes? That’s a whole other article. Riding somewhere you feel safe is important, but ensure you’ve got a smart route. Avoid busy roads that don’t have a bike lane. When riding dark side streets be extra cautious for cars that may not be expecting to see you there in the dark. Even if you’re well lit, blearly-eyed drivers, and those with poor eye site, just may not register your presence.

5. Ride Defensively

Be alert. Watch for traffic. Pay attention to wheels – that’s where you’ll first notice if a parked car is inching out or a car at a stop sign is going to turn in front of you. If you’re not sure what a car is about to do, wait and see before risking an accident.

Taking the lane, especially to make a left turn, can be just fine during the day but has additional risks in the dark. You should adjust your riding habits to take visibility into consideration. It may mean giving up some of the conveniences and “right to the road” riding habits that come with being more confident on the road, but it’s worth it for the extra sense of safety.

6. Drive a Car at Night

We don’t mean you should hang up your bike for the winter – not at all. On a particularly dark night, hop in a car and drive around side streets, busy streets and everywhere in between. Look for bikers and think about visibility. It will greatly help you understand how difficult it can be to see bikers on the road.

7. How do You Light Up the Night?

What do you do to stay safe in extreme darkness? Share your ideas below.

Be safe out there! Keep Riding!

How do you stay warm and dry on your bike all winter long? We’re running an extensive series of articles with everyday cycling tips to help you #KeepRiding no matter what the elements throw our way. You can read the entire series here and follow us on Twitter and Instagram for even more cool ideas. Hash tag your posts #KeepRiding and inspire more people to ride their bikes this winter.

7 thoughts on “6 Essentials for Riding in the Dark”

  1. Very informative tips. Accessorizing bikes with bright lights like the latest LED lights can highly improve its visibility and lessen the chances of accidents. Reflective strips are also a good way to improve visibility and these strips are easily available online on stores.

  2. Would people please stop using the strobe lights. They can send epileptics into seizures.
    As an epileptic who can’t get a license I have no choice but to ride a bike. Currently I am preparing to ride my kids to school via bike and trailer.
    I would very much appreciate it if my fellow bikers would think of me and others like me and not use strobe effects.
    I understand that you think it makes you easier to see. But honestly, it just blinds people. There are many other options, strobe lights aren’t your only choice.

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