Whether you enjoy it or have to do it due to circumstances, riding a bike at night will never be as safe as riding in the daytime. Therefore, it is important to take necessary precautions before and during a nighttime ride. You might be thinking – wouldn’t it be enough to just have a light on my bike helmet or any place on my bike? Well, that is a good first step. However, there is actually a lot more you can do to cycle safely in the dark. In this article, we will guide you through all of them in detail.
➥ To know more, when it comes to the laws for cycling at night, we suggest you have a look at bike riding laws for night time.
How to safely ride a bike at night
1. Use the right lights
Making use of bike lights is the most obvious and effective way to stay safe at night. There are primarily two types of lights that you can buy for a bike – headlights, and taillights. You should have one of each. The function of a headlight is to illuminate your path. The most convenient place to mount a headlight is the handlebars, and most lights have a clamp just for that. Generally, you would want a light that has a brightness of at least 400 lumens. Adjust the angle of the light so that it lights up the ground around 20 feet away.
A taillight or rear light is used to make you visible to others. Many of these lights are blinkers. Rear lights are relatively cheap and they are something you should always have on the bike, even during the day. These lights are usually attached to the seat post under the saddle, and sometimes to a rear rack if available.
Additionally, you could get a helmet-mounted light. These lights are quite useful as they allow you to see in the direction you look. You might not need one while cycling on a well-lit road in the city. However, you should consider getting one for darker paths and off-road use.
Regardless of what light you use, make sure that it is charged before you set out. Also, the battery life should be significantly longer than your intended riding time. Most bike lights today are USB-rechargeable and even the cheapest one should last for a minimum of 2-3 hours. Set a reminder for yourself to recharge the lights whenever it is convenient.
➥ When it comes to the question of safety standards for bike helmets, if you aren’t fully aware of it, we suggest you have a look at safety standards equipped with bike helmets.
2. Add reflective gear
You should also equip yourself with some reflective clothing or use reflective tape. Your bike lights make you visible only from the front and back. Having reflective will make you visible to others from all sides. When it comes to reflective clothing, your options are jackets, vests, gloves, overshoes, and trousers with reflective areas. You can also buy reflective backpacks or panniers if you carry anything with you on your bike.
If you don’t want to buy too many extra items, you could simply get some reflective tape. They are a cost-effective way to add reflectivity. The best places to add reflective tape are the moving parts such as the pedals or pedal cranks. This is much more effective in capturing the attention of drivers.
3. Choose the safest route
The best roads are ones that have a dedicated bike lane. Whenever possible, stick to roads that have a lot of lighting and ones that you are familiar with. There’s no need to be too adventurous in the dark. The occasional pothole can surprise you, even with bike lights mounted. A good tip is to familiarize yourself with the route beforehand during the day. If you have no choice but to take a road that’s very dark, or unknown, or in poor condition, then you need to exercise caution. Ride slowly or get off the bike and walk. It might be time-consuming but it’s better than having a crash.
Additional safety advice
1. Carry backup lights
Even if your lights are fully charged, it’s a good idea to carry a smaller spare light with you. You never know what could go wrong. Besides, the battery life claimed by manufacturers is not always accurate. You can save some battery by running your main headlight on a low power setting on roads with ample lighting.
2. Check for bike issues
Having a breakdown in the middle of the road at night can be a real pain. Therefore, it is important to carry out a pre-ride check to see if all the bike components are fine, especially the brakes, tires, and chain. Prevention is better than the cure, and the best way to prevent any failure is to maintain your bike regularly. Even so, you could get unlucky. This is why you should also carry all the tools you will need in case of a mechanical failure. These include spare tire tubes, a pump, a multi-tool, etc.
3. Ride alongside others
The saying that there is strength in numbers applies quite aptly to riding after sunset. Either has a cycling partner or ride with a group if possible. This lets you have a helping hand in case an accident occurs or when something needs to be repaired. If you are going alone, let someone know where you are going just in case.
4. Don’t hug the edge of the road
It might seem counterintuitive but riding nearer to the middle of a lane is safer than staying close to the curb. When you ride too much to the side, a driver usually won’t slow down before overtaking you. In doing so, the side of the car could clip you. By staying in the middle, drivers will spot you more easily and stay more cautious.
5. Ride at a reasonable speed
This goes without saying. In low light conditions, you should never be pedaling at high speeds, no matter how much lighting you have. Better to stay safe than sorry.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1. How bright should my bike lights be?
Ans.: Anywhere from 400 to 800 lumens of lighting is sufficient for most places. In off-road trails, you might need more. However, be careful not to dazzle any oncoming traffic with your lights. You don’t need extra bright lights when cycling on city roads. Using an overly bright bike light or running one on flash mode hampers the vision of other drivers, which can be dangerous for both of you.
Q2. Can I go mountain biking at night?
Ans.: Yes, it is possible. In fact, many avid mountain bikers regularly go trail riding at night. It can be a bit risky but the following tips can help you out:-
- Wear a lot of protective gear such as a helmet and pads.
- Equip your bike and helmet with bright lights.
- Pick a familiar route that’s also not too technical.
- Never go alone.
- Keep your distance from fellow riders.
- Don’t go unless you are experienced and highly skilled.
Q3. Can I only use rear lights?
Ans.: Using only rear lights is okay if you are riding during the day and if you are on a budget. Without a front light, it is just too risky in the dark. Keep in mind that it is usually cheaper to buy a front and rear light set than to buy them individually. So, you will be better off by saving up to buy both together.
Q4. Are bike lights legally required?
Ans.: The laws regarding bike lights vary from country to country and even within a country. However, in most cases including the US and UK, it is required by law for bikes to have at least one light when riding between sunset and sunrise. Additionally, in the US, you must have reflectors on your bike at all times, even during the day. Check with your local authority to see if there are any specific laws. Nevertheless, illegal or not, you should never go out riding at night without enough lights and reflective.
Riding your bike at night is a unique and exciting experience. There is no reason why you should have to forego it. Nevertheless, you should take the proper precautions and equip yourself with the right gear. Follow the advice provided in this article and you shouldn’t have much to worry about. Cycle responsibly but remember to enjoy the ride!