by Vanessa McCracken
Vanessa is one of the owners of Sunnyside Bicycles in Fresno and Reedley. From time to time she will be doing a column for us with bicycle tips and the latest news from Sunnyside Bicycles. There is also a coupon at the end of this post for Sunnyside Bicycles, exclusive to KRL. You can learn more about Sunnyside Bicycles in an article right here in KRL.
We almost hit a bicyclist last night. As we were driving home, we came up on a guy riding his bike in the dark, wearing all-black clothing, with just one faint flashing red taillight. Carrying a backpack and riding a commuter-style bike, he was clearly on the narrow, unlit country road because he was on his way home from work or school. Luckily, we saw him at the last minute and were able to give him his three feet as we safely passed him.
Sometimes riding in the dark is the only option we have, especially in the short days of fall and winter. Whether you’re riding in the pre-dawn or post-sunset dark because that’s the only time you have to get your exercise in, because you choose to commute by bike, or simply because it’s exhilarating and fun (I personally love riding at night!), taking a few easy precautions before heading out will keep you visible and safe out there.
First, please, please, PLEASE invest in a good quality taillight. I am often surprised by how many people resist spending $15 on a taillight because they don’t see the value in it. I like to remind people that, just because you can see, does not mean others can see you. This is not the time to play it cheap! Skip a few Starbucks lattes this month and invest in a light—and your safety—instead. And, as evidenced by our drive home last night, not all lights are created equal. If you will be riding on unlit roads, please make sure that you have invested in a good, extra-bright taillight. The Bontrager Flare R is the taillight I use, and I’ve had people stop me at intersections to comment on how visible it is. I actually run the Flare R every time I ride, because it has separate settings for day- and night-time riding. Knowing that drivers can see me from over a mile away helps me feel safe and secure on the road.
Of course, you should also ride with a good headlight when there’s a chance you’ll be riding in the dark (or dawn/dusk when the light is low). You need to be able to see a hazard coming up in the road so that you can have enough time to safely react. Also, approaching traffic needs to be able to see you, too. This is another thing not to be stingy about. $25 can get you a good headlight, and $60 can get you an amazing, holy-moly, that’s-as-bright-as-a-car, headlight. If you don’t believe me, stop by our bike shop for a quick demonstration. You’ll be surprised!
Another easy, inexpensive, and incredibly effective way to increase your visibility is reflective tape. A few strips of strategically placed reflective tape will go a long way in making you more visible to cars approaching you from behind. My favorite places to stick a little strip are on your pedals, your seat stays, your rear hub, your seat post, and your helmet. It’s also a great idea to place some on the sides of your bike so that cars approaching you at intersections can see you from the side. If you want help knowing where exactly to put it, come by and we’d be happy to help you!
Of course, a super-simple way to be more visible is to wear bright clothing! The guy we saw last night was wearing black jeans and a black long-sleeved shirt. Just wearing a white shirt would have helped. You could always throw a reflective vest over whatever you’re wearing if you just can’t wear light clothing. You could also wear cycling-specific apparel, which typically have reflective elements built into them. Jerseys, gloves, shoes, jackets, shorts, pants—most cycling apparel is designed to be reflective (and extremely comfortable!) at night.
Shorter days do not mean less time enjoying the freedom and fun that our bikes bring us. Shorter days just mean that we have to plan a little better before heading out the door. Make sure your lights are charged up (or have new batteries), throw a bright shirt on, or pack one to wear on the way home, invest in a good bright jacket with reflective elements. Ride predictably, signal your intentions, be safe and, as always, enjoy the ride!
Mention this article for $10 off a Light and Motion Urban 500 or 800 headlight and/or a Bontrager Flare R taillight. And don’t forget to look for our free helmet coupon here on KingsRiverLife.com!