Riding at night
One of the
greatest problems we face on the road at night is not being
seen by other road users. At night (or in other conditions
of reduced visibility, like fog or rain), your safety and
the safety of other road users depend on meeting two specific
- You have to be able to see, and
- You have
to be seen
states follow the Uniform Vehicle
Code, which requires that a bicycle operated during darkness
have, as a
a white light on the front that is visible 500 feet
to the front, and a rear-mounted red reflector visible from
to 1,000 feet when illuminated by motor vehicle headlamps.
states require a red taillight. Failure to comply is
a moving violation in many jurisdictions and can result
Seeing and being seen
Here’s what the League of American Bicyclists has
to say about illumination for nighttime driving:
" A common crash scenario involves a motorist turning or pulling
out in front of an approaching cyclist. A helmet-mounted
light can dramatically reduce the chances that such an accident will
happen to you. A helmet light allows you to aim the beam
directly at another road user (including pedestrians and other cyclists)
who might not otherwise see you coming. The almost universal
reaction is to stop, which is exactly what you want them
" Bicycle headlights, mounted on the front fender, are usually
rated in watts. A 3-watt headlight can be adequate if you
only travel on well-lighted streets at moderate speeds. If you cycle
through areas without street lights or where surface hazards
are difficult to see or at higher speed, you should have
at least 10 watts. However, if you ride on mixed-use trails be
aware that too-bright lights may blind oncoming cyclists.
Take care to ensure that the beam of the light is not blocked by
other bike accessories (bags, racks, etc.).
" Reflectors can only increase your nighttime conspicuousness
when they are illuminated by the lights of other road users.
They are effective only when that light strikes the reflective
surface at about 90 degrees.
" A good lighting system, however, provides enough light for
you to see the roadway ahead and be able to identify road
hazards in sufficient time to avoid them. Note that the faster you
ride the more light you will need.
two choices here: a generator or batteries. Generators
are a renewable power source and will
usually be cheaper and weigh less than a battery system.
Some disadvantages, however, are that there is no light
are stopped (such as at an intersection); you are limited
to about 3 watts; they can cause additional tire wear;
can be difficult to maintain in wet conditions. In the
case of batteries, it's either dry-cell disposables or rechargeables.
Dry-cells are practical only for low-wattage (fewer than
3 watts) systems and when travel time is short. Rechargeable
batteries (either NiCad or sealed, lead-acid) can deliver
of power with long burn times but carry significant weight
and initial cost penalties.
As you prepare for your nighttime ride, be sure to include
a spare bulb among your riding essentials. If you are a night-rider,
get a friend to ride your bike with your equipment while you
drive a car and carefully observe how easy it is for you to
see ‘yourself’ in various situations. You
may find the results illuminating!”