Most people start biking as fair weather cyclists. And if you stay that way, it’s totally fine. But once many people “catch the bug,” they want to extend their riding: at night, in the rain, and even in wintery conditions. Cycling is absolutely possible in these conditions and the great news is that by taking opportunities to ride in these “adverse” scenarios, cyclists come out with greater awareness, bike handling, and traffic negotiating skills. So taking opportunities to ride in these conditions makes you safer as you develop these skills over time. Let’s start by examining night riding.

Topic6FBimage2Topic6FBimage1 Riding at night is more dangerous than riding during the day. Visibility is obviously decreased and chances are greater that some motorists are tired or even impaired. But there are many things you can do to be safe while riding at night. One of the foundational elements of safe cycling is being conspicuous. This is especially important at night. Never let a motorist say, “Officer, I just didn’t see them!” Lights, reflectors, bright clothing, a bright helmet and riding where you are most visible are all very important.
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New York State law requires a white light in front and a red light in the rear from a half hour past sunset to a half hour before sunrise. As you can see, there’s a half hour grace period but it’s a great idea to have lights during the day too. They keep you more visible in the day, in the rain and when going under bridges. The white front light must be visible from 500 feet and the red rear light must be visible from 300 feet. If riding in a place with inadequate street lighting, it’s advisable to have two front lights: one pointed at the ground in front of you to illuminate your path and the other to make motorists aware of you.

There are so many lighting options out there and cyclists really geek out at the opportunity to show off their lights to one other. There are lights that project a bike symbol on the road in front of you and rear lights that cast a red glow on the ground and even mark a laser bike lane. The more you ride at night, the more advisable it is to invest in good quality lights. Most these days are USB rechargeable so make sure they are charged before you ride.

Topic6FBimage4 There’s a debate among cyclists whether it’s better to have your lights steady or blinking. It’s up to you but there is some evidence that motorists judge distances and movement better when the light is steady. It should go without saying that if your light hurts motorists’ eyes, that doesn’t work in your favor. Our advice: Keep that white front light steady and if you want to blink the rear red light, go ahead.

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Reflectors on the bike and on the wheels are required on all new bikes sold. Perhaps you bought your bike before that law came into effect or your spoke lights have broken off, a common occurrence with enough falls or crowded bike rack situations. Reflectors are great and really make you visible when motorists’ headlights hit them. Reflective material or tape on moving parts (pedals, leg band, spokes, legs, helmet, etc) go a long way to identifying you as a cyclist when visibility is poor. Be aware that reflectors alone don’t satisfy the law. You need battery operated lights too.

Other tips for riding at night: It’s recommended that you ride slower when visibility is decreased. This makes you more visible/predictable and makes it easier to come to a quick stop if necessary. Other advice from John Forester, the author of Effective Cycling: “In daylight, it is poor policy to get stuck halfway across an intersection; at night, it is worse. At night, never enter an intersection unless you can get directly across it to a place of safety. When waiting to make a left turn, wait before you enter the intersection, not in it.”