Cycling at night is a golden opportunity to get in some fantastic exercise and own the road! But to saddle up and take a safe night bicycle ride, one must "get visible." As the sun sets, the waning light decreases from dusk to twilight to darkness within 26-29 minutes. Visibility for drivers between 5:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. starts to dim dramatically, by the minute, and within 70 - 100 minutes it’s nighttime.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), bicyclist accidents and fatalities occur most often between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. regardless of the season. Many drivers fail to turn on the vehicle’s headlights. Cycling at night is more convenient, less stressful and complicated, and the quantity of traffic is low, however, this statistic cannot be ignored when riding a bicycle at night.
Currently, vehicles with a sensor to trigger the headlights at dusk does not exist. According to AutoTrader.com, "it's illegal to sell a new car without a trunk release handle, but it's perfectly legal to sell a new car with the ability to drive around at night with no lights on." One standard safety feature on all new automobiles should be automatic headlights. So, how is a cyclist to be seen and safe at night?
Let's examine the safest practices and proper cycling gear when riding a bicycle at night, to ensure a night ride on a Himiway Fat Tire electric bike is an adventure to remember without incident.
Use Lights Properly
Night bicycle rides require lights on both the front and rear of the bike. For extra protection, wear a clip-on bike helmet light, or purchase a helmet with built-in LED lights. Light vests are easy-to-wear over clothing to allow drivers to see the cyclist from a greater distance and ensure that the vehicle will pass with enough clearance. Turn on any built-in lights setting out to ride.
Be respectful of oncoming traffic. Don’t flood the road with wildly flashing strobe lights and avoid using lights so bright that they temporarily impair an oncoming driver's vision. Whether the bike rider or another vehicle, flashes of bright light and a fraction of a second can cause a distraction worthy of an accident.
Lights and headlamps are essential for a safe and successful ride. Wearing gear with built-in reflective material ensures more areas on the rider's body can be seen in the dark. Circular red and orange reflectors in the spokes of a bike look pretty, but they serve an important purpose. The headlights of approaching cars strike the reflectors, coated with prisms and beads, and in turn, the prism reflections redirect back towards the driver—a small but mighty reminder that people are out and about enjoying a night bicycle ride.
According to the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission, no matter who is riding a bicycle at night, "bicycles must have a colorless front reflector, recessed colorless or amber reflectors on the back and front sides of the pedals, and a red reflector on the rear. The bicycle must also have a reflector mounted on each wheel."
Reflective fluorescent vests, holographic hoodies, and high-visibility neon-colored reflective jackets are a great way to fully illuminate a bicycle rider from the waist up. This type of visibility places the cyclist at the driver’s eye level, ensuring a safe clearance when passing. Whatever combination of reflective gear, deliberately armoring up the body with an extra layer helps to be seen on the road when riding a bicycle at night.
Ride at the Right Place
The obvious choice for a safe bicycle ride at night is on well-lit streets. Seeing the road means being prepared for all road conditions that lay ahead, like sharp turns, vehicles exiting driveways, Stop and Yield signs, and changes in the road's surface. Being seen under streetlights, allows any passing vehicles in either direction to see other vehicles and their distance to the bicycle reducing the possibility of sudden stops or swerving, which can cause injurious collisions. A well-lighted ride allows the bike to have enough distance from the edge of the road. Always allow 70cm-100cm from the side of the road at all times. This gives ample room to ride and still let vehicles pass.
Throughout the entire Tour de France, a combination of up to 8,000 cyclists, teammates, journalists, and spectators move across the landscape from the starting gun to the finish line. None of the breakneck competition, clipping by at 26 mph occurs in the dark, and for good reason. Therefore, cycling at night, alone or in a group, should be enjoyed at a slow pace. It might seem old-fashioned, or even boring, but it's the safest way to ride.
Riding at the right place also includes riding at the right pace. A slow ride avoids a sudden unexpected road obstacle and a flip over the handlebars. It is challenging to pass vehicles which are heavy and faster, and even more so to overtake one just for the sake of getting around it. Always allow enough reaction time to avoid a collision. Getting clipped by the car’s mirror can forcibly throw a rider off the bike. Breaking a car requires a full car's length; breaking a bicycle requires a minimum of three feet in every direction. When riding at night with a group of people, maintain a safe distance to ensure that every rider’s sight is not affected by each other’s lights, blocked by other riders, or forcing others off the road. If an accident seems unavoidable, at least everyone riding has enough time to move safely, clear one another, and avoid a series of collisions.
Prepare the Right Kit
When riding a bicycle at night, be prepared beyond the protective clothing. Check for the possibility of inclement weather; wear a windproof or waterproof jacket, gloves, and thick socks. Wear rubberized footwear that won’t slip off wet pedals. Wear glasses with clear lenses to avoid bugs, spider webs, and the ends of low hung tree branches. Always have enough water for the ride out, and enough to bring home. Carry a small repair kit to fix a flat or tighten a screw. Bandages, antibiotic cream and gauze are helpful in the event of a scrape or gentle tumble. When riding a bicycle at night, take along a friend who enjoys cycling. Wild animals and changes to any trails or roadways are easier to navigate with an extra set of eyes.
Take Care of the Wild Animals
One exhilarating aspect of bicycle riding is the adventurous off-the-grid locations and fringes of the urban areas where the city sidewalks end, and the forest trails begin. There in the thicket, and high in the branches are the peering eyes of wild animals. Rattlesnakes and Mountain Lions are active beginning at dusk. Know when to act bigger and make noise. Never run or take action to get away quickly. The fauna camouflage themselves and see everything. A cyclist only sees the flora and is on full display. Don’t forget to be on alert for the surprise of a startled and snarling dog with enough leash to leave the yard's borders.
Let People Know Where You’re Going
Bicycle riding is about setting realistic expectations at every skill level. Whether it’s the first time on the trail or the fiftieth, before each ride, tell someone your itinerary. When you’re leaving, the exact location you’re riding, any planned stops, and when you expect to be home. It is even more important to tell someone if the ride is outside of cellular phone service. If you’re the regular outdoorsy type, consider a GPS bike tracker, and make sure the cell phone is fully charged. Always do the courtesy of calling or texting the person aware of your ride within half an hour of your return.
Ready for a Night Ride?
Cycling at night requires a little diligent planning. Drivers on the roads, unexpected obstacles, wild animals, and the need for speed are the instigators of danger. 2.5 million vehicles, filled with tired and distracted drivers hit the road at 6:00 p.m. after a long day of work. Tired, impatient and stuck in a snarl of rush hour traffic, these drivers account for up to 40% of all nighttime accidents on the road. In 2020, 700 cyclists were involved in a collision. 45% of those cyclists were riding at night.
Even during COVID-19, with traffic at an all-time low, this number of bicycle-vehicle accidents was astoundingly high. There will be a marked rise in the number of vehicles on the road as society and cities return to normal. Estimates from fleetnews.com.uk indicate that post-COVID, the return of traffic on city highways, and local frontages will increase by 55%.
Cycling at night in the great outdoors offers the rider peace under the heavenly star-lit skies. Starlight, however, isn’t enough light to be seen in the dark. Be vigilant of the surroundings when riding a bicycle at night; have enough light to see the road's conditions, especially the shoulder, and be reflective! Take the ride slowly; consider carrying a small first aid kit and enough hydration in both directions. Invite a riding partner, and most of all, enjoy the ride!