To keep things safe and comfortable while riding at night, follow these simple steps:
1. Pick the right light.
In foggy weather, at night, or in the early morning, a headlight, tail light, and integrated brake light are essentials. This combination not only illuminates your path but also makes your presence known to cars.
You might think that brighter means better when choosing your headlight, but that's not the case.
Some lights on the market provide well over a thousand lumens (the standard measurement for brightness), but they probably won't be useful for your riding style. Some mountain bike headlights provide 4200 lumens, which is six times more than a car's headlight. I think this is great for romping around in the woods at night, but not for riding on the street.
If you go too bright, you run the risk of blinding oncoming traffic, which can be dangerous. Furthermore, too many lumens make it harder to see brake lights and turn signals on nearby cars.
2. Dress yourself (and your bike!) for success.
You're used to people noticing your bike during the day. They may also stop you to ask a bunch of questions, based on our experience. When you're riding at night, you can't just rely on the radness of your bike to get noticed. You have to make an effort to stand out.
Start by wearing reflective clothing to catch drivers' attention. It can be a fluorescent jacket or a bright helmet, but a recent study from the University of Clemson suggested wearing reflective pants or leggings as well.
Drivers are hardwired to notice motion on the road, and when you pedal, your legs are moving. Therefore, if your lower body is covered in reflective material, you have a much better chance of being noticed.
Ensure your bike is also prepared for maximum visibility. Consider a taillight, a headlight, and reflective stickers for the frame and fenders.
3. Ride defensively.
When riding in a city, defensive riding is particularly important. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 75 percent of cycling deaths involving motor vehicles occur in urban areas, and 27 percent occur at intersections.
No matter how big and bright your lights are, or how shiny your new reflective jacket is, you still need to ride as though you are invisible to other road users. (That applies even during the day!)
Use common sense. Look both ways at intersections. Consider pulling over and letting a car pass if you're on a narrow street and see a light behind you. If you listen to music, leave the Bluetooth speaker at home so you can stay focused on the road.
Choosing the right route is also a great defensive measure. If you want to see cars, go where they expect to see you: bike lanes, bike paths, and other frequently cycled areas. A car coming around the corner and being surprised by your presence is the last thing you want to happen.
You can't see as well at night, so slow down, watch for potholes, and keep your guard up.
When you're first starting out, make sure you stick with what you're comfortable with. Being cautious does not mean you're scared of the dark.