Night Riding

Riding your bicycle after dusk and before dawn doesn't require you to be lit up like a Christmas tree, but close to it. The whole idea is for motorists to be able to see you…from all directions. In addition, when the sun goes down, bicyclists must be able to see the road and all its hazards—potholes, gravel, "lips" and debris.

Start off by obeying the laws in your state regarding lighting equipment. Most states require a front white light and a read rear reflector, at the minimum.

When it comes to lighting, riders equip themselves and their bicycles differently.


1. Battery Lights

  • Consider that a three-watt light is only good for making you visible. Use at least a 10-watt system to light your way. Higher-powered lights provide more illumination, but weigh more.
  • If the light is mounted on the bike, aim it at headlight level so it shines the brightest. Handlebar-mounted lights resemble a car light; helmet-mounted lights do not. Be careful using the latter when you are riding with others; keep in mind that when you face them, so does your light and it could cause momentary blindness. Many riders choose a combination of handlebar and helmet-mounted lights.
  • When it comes to the rear of the bicycle, many riders don't rely solely on a reflector, but go with a red blinking light, which makes the bike more visible. It's important to make sure the light and/or reflector is pointing straight back, and not up or down, so that it is visible by motorists.
  • The best bet is to have a front white light that is visible at least 500 feet to the front and a red light or reflector visible at least 600 feet behind your bike.
  • Most commuters use a combination of a constant beam and a flashing light.
  • It is also advisable to use a headlamp in flashing mode during daylight rides.
  • The California Vehicle Code outlines the lighting regulations for bicycles.

2. Generator Systems

  • Because these lights are only activated by the pedaling motion, they are only effective for long-distance touring. When you stop, for instance at a red light, you lose your illumination. Waiting for a red light in the dark can be very dangerous.

In addition to lights, some riders use reflectors, which come in different variations. Some reflectors are placed on the bike itself (pedals, frames and fenders) others are worn by riders (ankle bands, leg bands, vests). And, keep in mind that brightly colored clothes make you more visible.

Once you and your bicycle are properly lit, consider the following tips before riding in the dark.

  • Test your nighttime equipment before heading out.
  • Because it's dark, you can't make eye contact with drivers pulling out of side streets, driveways, etc. "Flash" your headlight by "twitching" your handlebars a bit (or your head in the case of a head-mounted light) to signify that you're there.
  • Darkness oftentimes increases the chances of physical attack, particularly in industrial areas, parks, etc. Choose your route carefully; don't ride in unfamiliar places. Scout out your route in the daylight first and familiarize yourself with possible "safe spots"—24-hour grocery or convenience stores, hospitals, etc., any place where you can go if you feel you're in danger.
  • Drunk drivers can be on the road at any time, but the chances of sharing the road with tipsy motorists increase the later the night gets. Oftentimes drunk drivers forget to turn on their headlights, so you have to be extra vigilant.

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