Night Rider, Take 2
Darkness is cheap, and Scrooge liked it. - Charles Dickens
I’m struggling through 2 weeks of 12 hour night shifts right now. By nature I am a morning person – my preference is to be up just before sunrise, and watch the light spread across the sky in shades of grey and pink and blazing orange as I sip a hot cup of tea. I love to be up before the world gets crowded and busy, see the crepuscular critters late risers miss – hare busy in the fields, herds of deer moving in the mist, pheasants eating my tomatoes. Wait – no, I don’t like the pheasants! I like to go to bed early and rise early despite the fact this habit has not made me wise, I’m only marginally healthy, and as for wealthy – I think the texting term is “bahahahahahahaha”.
Anyway. I’ve been riding my bicycle to work, and even though it’s light out both ways, it has me thinking about riding after dark.
If you’re going to be riding in darkness in Nova Scotia, you should be aware that the law requires you have reflectors/lights fore and aft on your bicycle. Reflectors often come already installed on bicycles, but I’ve noticed this is not always the case, particularly on higher-end and specialized models. You want white on the front, and red in the back, the same as car lights.
To say I highly recommend you have reflectors at the very least is an understatement. As a motorist as well as a cyclist, I can tell you it’s very difficult to see a bicycle, even one with reflectors, on the roadside after dark. If it’s raining and there’s a lot of glare, it’s even harder. One of the basic CAN-BIKE tenets is BE SEEN. You’re a small, narrow object on the roadside competing for drivers’ attention with many larger objects, stationary and moving – maximize your chances of winning the focus lottery!
One of the ways to maximize your visibility is “high-viz” clothing. This can be as simple as a light coloured shirt or as fancy as one of those jackets with reflective weave that shines up like the full moon in car headlights. Another way is bike lights. Lights for bicycles come in infinite styles and levels of brightness. Bike shops, hardware stores, and even some auto parts suppliers have a selection of lights you can install on your bike or your body. They also come in a range of prices, and you absolutely get what you pay for. Here’s my take after 35 years of cycling after dark:
Get the brightest goddamn lights you can afford. I’ve had just about everything, from the old clunky headlights powered by a tire-eating dynamo to rechargeable LEDs. I definitely recommend rechargeable, as batteries can quickly run down and be a constant out-of-pocket cost since they discharge even in storage. They’re also an environmental and social liability, since they need to be manufactured (from mined elements) and then recycled, sometimes in hazardous circumstances by very poor people who have no choice about risking their health and safety.
That brightness equals recognition on the road is something I discovered by accident. I’ve had some fairly bright headlights over the years, but never got the respect from drivers that I get with my new “Lezyne hecto-drive 500XL” headlight. It’s almost as if they think if your lights are as bright as theirs, you deserve the same consideration. Who knew?? I bought the Lezyne because it has a setting for lighting up the road in front of you - most lights are designed to make you seen, not help you see – when I was expecting to have to ride my bike to work on a trail in the dark. The fact that is really seems to get drivers’ attention was a pleasant side effect. I have a similarly bright rear light – the manufacturer claims it can be seen 3 kilometres away. I haven’t tested this, but I can attest that it is very bright.
I’ve heard lots of excuses from cyclists about why they won’t invest in lights, or even install reflectors. “I never ride after dark”. Never? Never got caught in a rainstorm, never stayed out longer than you expected, never had to use your bike when you hadn’t planned on it? “They’re so expensive!” Yeah, so’s a funeral, and don’t let’s talk about rehab or long-term disability. “It will make my bike heavier and less aerodynamic” (this usually from racing cyclists or triathletes, and often really they mean they don’t look cool). What?? If a 20 g light is going to make your bike too heavy, you need to train harder!
Another interesting note about lights: a lot of people think it’s better to have flashing lights, as they get people’s attention. That’s certainly true, but studies have shown that a flashing light makes motorists subconsciously drive toward the light. This is not what we want. I’ll put a flasher on during the day, but my lights are always on steady at night or in low light, like in rain or snow.
Back in the 80s and 90s, I had a motorcycle. In order to get a good deal on insurance, I had to take a motorcycle safety course. One of the most enduring lessons I learned in this course was the importance of being seen by other drivers. The most common statement taken from motorists who hit motorcycles, or pull out in front of motorcycles and cause a collision, is “I didn’t see them” Same is very often true for collisions with cyclists.
What did our instructor tell us, for avoiding collisions? Aside from just being alert to what’s going on in the traffic around you, the advice was “Wear bright clothing. And put your lights on”. See, Be Seen, Be Predictable. We keep repeating it, because it works. Darkness might be cheap, but it’s not worth the risk.
Flashing light drawbacks https://cyclingmagazine.ca/sections/news/retina-shocking-flashing-bike-lights-cause-more-problems-than-they-prevent-article-argues/#:~:text=Typically%20attached%20to%20handlebars%20and,into%20the%20eyes%20of%20passersby.&text=%E2%80%9CUsing%20flashing%20bike%20lights%20at,definitely%20obnoxious%20to%20be%20around.
A few bike light options https://www.mec.ca/en/products/cycling/bike-accessories-and-add-ons/bike-lights/c/1298
See bullet item 3 https://bicycle.ns.ca/rules-of-the-road/