Riding in the dark

Riding in the dark

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While the days are shorter, whether you are commuting or trying to fit in some training before or after work, it is likely that you will be riding in low light conditions or the dark. Make sure you stay visible and safe on your bike by following these top 10 tips.

1) The Law

If you are riding on public roads in the hours of darkness, you are legally obliged to have lights and reflectors. You need a white front light that, since 2005, can be flashing and a rear red light that is also allowed to flash. The front light should also have 110 degree visibility.

You are also obliged by the law to have a rear red reflector, in addition to the light, and it is also a requirement to have BS6102/2 or equivalent amber reflectors to the front and rear of each pedal, although many modern clipless pedals are unable to fit reflectors.

2) Lights on your bike

Don’t just comply with the minimum legal requirements. Especially regarding rear red lights, the more you can have the better. Your front light serves two purposes, to get you seen by on-coming traffic and, on unlit roads, to light up the road ahead. It can therefore make sense to opt for two front lights, one flashing to get you seen and another with a more powerful constant beam to see with. Check out this article for more advice on buying lights.

3) Lights on your body

You don’t have to stop with lights on your bike. If you are riding unlit lanes, take a tip from mountain bikers and try a helmet mounted light in addition to one on your bars. Being able to see where you are looking, not just where your bars are pointing is a revelation. Moving lights are especially visible so, with clip-on LED’s, your ankles are a brilliant location. Just make sure that any rear facing lights are red and front facing are white.

Riding in the dark

4) Don't dazzle

With LED technology now allowing the production of affordable bike lights that can easily produce 2000 lumens or more, dazzling oncoming traffic is a genuine concern. If you are using a powerful light, make sure it is angled sufficiently down towards the road and that, if you are able to do so safely, dip it to a lower power if there is oncoming traffic. If you are using a helmet mounted light be especially aware of this and avoid looking directly towards on-coming traffic. Angle your powerful light down at the road and have a less powerful flashing light to be seen by.

5) Clothing

In traffic, hi-viz and reflective clothing can make as much of a difference to rider visibility as lights do. Consider this when buying your winter cycling kit and, with modern reflective materials, don’t think that reflective has to mean gaudy or unstylish. As with lights, reflective material on moving parts of your body is most effective. Look for tights and overshoes with reflective piping, decals or panels. Don’t forget your hands as, unless these are visible, other road users won’t be able to see your signals. Choose reflective gloves or opt for some reflective wrist bands.

6) Side visibility

You need to be visible from the side as well as from the front and back. Many bike lights do not meet the legal requirement of 110 degree visibility so it is important that you address this issue with additional lights if necessary. Again, movement equals visibility, so, spoke lights and reflectors and reflective overshoes are good ideas.

7) Safety in numbers and road positioning

A group of cyclists, especially if they are all following the advice in this article, is far more visible than a single rider. Commute as a group, encourage some friends to join your on training rides or see what rides your local club are offering.

In the dark or low light conditions, correct positioning in the road and not riding in the gutter are even more important than in daylight.

Bike lights

8) Back-ups

It is always worth carrying some spare compact 'get you home' rear and front lights in case your main lights fail, you forgot to charge them fully or you are out for longer than you expected. You will probably end up never having to use them but it is reassuring to know they are in your saddlebag or jersey pocket if needed. If your lights are battery operated, always carry a spare set of batteries with you just in case.

9) Maintenance

Roadside repairs aren’t fun in the daylight but, on a dark winter’s night, they can be extremely difficult and potentially dangerous. Make sure you pull well off the road if you need to make a repair and leave your lights running. However, prevention is always better than cure, especially regarding punctures, so keep on top of servicing and maintaining your bike throughout the winter.

10) It is not just about the dark

Although you are only legally obliged to use lights during the hours of darkness, it is good practice throughout the winter months to always run at least a flashing rear light and to try to always make yourself as visible as possible. Be aware at dusk and dawn that low winter sun can easily dazzle motorists and that heavy rain can also severely reduce visibility.