shorter days and early nightfall

Sigh.  It’s Fall. No longer can we ride late into the evenings with daylight that seems to last forever.  Now that the days are getting shorter it’s time to dust your lights off and take stock to see if you need to add to your collection.  Most states require the use of a headlight and a taillight when cycling after dark.

Here are some considerations to keep in mind:

  • You need to be seen as much as you need to see.  Use your lights as soon as the shadows start to get long.  It can be difficult to see you if you’re riding in the shadows and you’re riding in and out of waning sunlight.
  • Cloudy days seem darker when the sun isn’t as high this time of year.  Use your lights even on cloudy days.  When it’s daylight but not bright I set my headlight on blinking.
  • You need both a headlight and a taillight.  Additionally, a light somewhere on your person can help you be seen from the side as well.

Lights don’t have to blow your budget. For headlights, you may want a light that runs on alkaline batteries or you may invest in a rechargeable light.  One big benefit of a rechargeable light is the ability to plug it into your computer at work via USB and charge it up before you leave for the day. REI has a good guide on how to choose lights and what to look for.

Keep in mind where you’ll be riding. If you’re riding on well-lit streets your headlight probably doesn’t need to throw a lot of light on the street but you do want to be seen.  If you’re riding on dark streets or unlit trails you will need to light up the night.  Lights usually are anywhere from 40 to 500 lumens.  In addition, some beams are narrow and focused and light up a path far in front of you (good for city streets) while others offer more peripheral lighting (good for unlighted streets and trails).  Again, where you usually ride should be considered.

You may prefer a helmet-mounted headlight or one attached to your handlebars.  Maybe both!  Keep in mind that with a helmet mounted light, the beam is focused where you’re looking.  With a handlebar mounted light the beam is only focused where your handlebars are facing.  This can get tricky when you’re making turns in unlighted areas – I almost hit a jogger on an unlighted path one morning because I didn’t see him until my handlebars started making the turn and my headlight lit him up.   To be honest it would have been great if he had a light or even reflective clothing (he was in all black) but my headlight did light him up at the last minute and I was able to avoid him.  He yelled at me anyway.  Sigh.

Taillights are so others can see you and they are getting brighter all the time. Keep your taillight on its blinking setting – it catches motorists’ eyes better than a steady beam.  Again, there is a plethora of taillight designs available and include lights that run on alkaline batteries and rechargeable taillights.  Most have a steady setting and a blinking setting.  Some have various blinking patterns.  A friend gifted me with a taillight that also projects an LED bike lane onto the pavement behind me!  Pretty cool.

There are clip-on lights you can attach to your jacket or backpack, dangly lights you can hook onto the back of your helmet, lighted bracelets, lighted pants cuff clips, lighted zipper pulls, clip-on lights you can attach to just about any part of your bike.  You can get lighted valve caps for your wheels, lights to attach to your spokes, and wrap-around flexible light strips you can attach to your bike frame.  All of these help you be seen from the side; for instance, when you’re crossing an intersection.  The more you can be seen the safer you will be.

I usually ride with a taillight attached to my rear rack, a blinky light attached to the back of my helmet, and sometimes even a blinky light attached to the rear pocket of my cycling jacket.  For a headlight, I have both a handlebar mounted light and a light I can attach to my helmet but since I ride in well-lit areas these days I just use my handlebar-mounted headlight.  One of the best compliments I received was when I was told I could be seen from way down the street.  That’s the goal: to be seen.  But it’s a good precaution to assume that others can’t see you and to ride defensively.  How many times was I positive someone in a car could see me yet they turned in front of me anyway?

Don’t let shorter days keep you inside.  Gliding silently through the dark can be glorious.  Light yourself up like a Christmas tree and keep riding!


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