Night Biking: Get Set Up to Ride the Night Away

by Sasha A. Rae on 25 May 2011 4 comments
Photo: placid casual

Night biking is such a blast, and with the weather getting better and better every day, it’s so fun to extend your outdoor play into the night. A quiet ride through the city around dusk offers a refreshing change from day riding. A ride through your small town at night can change your whole perspective on where you live. It might even feel like a completely different place. And it’s all good as you stay visible and safe. (See also: A Guide to Becoming a Part-Time Bicycle Commuter)

Light It Up

First, you have to determine what kind of night riding you want to do and pick the light that’s best for you. If you’re an urban rider, you can get around easily with a light that doesn’t project as far ahead. If you’re heading into the woods or darker stretches of country road, you’ll need to pick a light with a strong beam that reaches farther and helps light your way better.

If you’re going to be city-side for your night rides, check out a smaller and cheaper light set like the ones that Bell Bicycles sell. They run between $10 to $20 and can get you started. For the heavy-duty night rider that wants to explore unlit roads or even hit the mountains for a stellar night ride, the MiNewt by NiteRider is the way to go. With three different beam settings and a super long battery life of three-to-six hours, you can’t go wrong. At $200, it hits the high end of the light range, but is worth the cost to keep you from getting stranded at night. Don’t forget to put on a tail light, preferably one that has different settings, so you can be seen from behind.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW

Start Reflecting

The next most important piece of equipment you’ll need is reflective clothing or tape. Not only do you need to see where you’re going at night, but you need to be seen by car drivers. A good pair of bike tights with reflective strips down the sides works well in conjunction with a jersey like the one by AGU. Better yet, get a versatile reflective vest that you can wear year-round over your clothes and add in some reflective cuffs to put over your jacket or pants even in the dead of winter. Adding reflectors to your wheels and the back of your bike will add an element of safety to your ride as well.

Pack Right

Part of staying safe while riding at night is having the right tools with you. Along with a good light set and reflective clothing, you need to keep a good toolkit with the basics: patch kit, pump, allen wrenches, crescent wrenches, and a first aid kit. A handheld flashlight is also a good idea for those times when your bike light goes out or when you need to stop to work on your bike. An extra set of clothing also serves you well for when the temperature drops or inclement weather sets in, and a pair of glasses with clear lenses helps you ride at night while protecting your eyes. Of course, having more water and more food around can’t hurt either!

Practice

Finally, getting on the road at dusk and going for baby rides near your house can help you prepare for your night rides. Your eyes will begin to adjust to the different lighting and the obscurity. You can learn how to feel the road through your tires instead of having to see the whole road ahead of you. And you can learn to anticipate unexpected events, like small animals darting across your path where you can’t see them.

Once you’ve gotten all your gear together and a few practice runs in, it’s time to go, because summer’s almost here, the night is always young, and your bike is ready. So bike on!

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Kate

And whatever you do, don't forget to wear your properly fitted helmet. My dad got hit by a drunk driver in 1980 while commuting to his third shirt job. The only reason he's here today is that he was wearing a helmet, and that was back when helmets weren't cool at all.

Sasha A. Rae's picture

@Kate Thanks for your comment! That is a good point. I guess I was assuming that everyone uses a bike helmet in the U.S. nowadays, although, now that I think about it, I still see riders without helmets sometimes. In other countries, they definitely don't use helmets which, as you say, is very dangerous.

The other benefit of using a helmet while night riding is that you can attach a headlamp for night riding.

Guest's picture
Guest

Take a patch kit, but always carry a spare tube. The tube that fails may be patchable, but it's easier to swap a tube than to patch it in place. That said, I'd recommend the following: change out the tube, then, while you're stopped, patch the failed one and stick it in your bag (in case of a second failure). Not using it immediately gives the patch a little more cure time.

And for light to make bike visible, check out BikeGlow. It's about 10 feet of electro-luminescent cable with a controller that can make it glow steadily or flash in a couple of patterns. You wrap the cable helically around the frame tubes of the bike. Gives good side visibility and some "What's That?!?" factor. Comes in several colors and is about $25.

The newer Li-Ion powered LED lights are lightweight and can be extremely bright. The brighter and longer lasting, the higher the price, but good ones by Cygolite & NiteRider start under $100. At night, I like to have both a bike-mounted and helmet-mounted light. The light on the bike shines where I'm going, but can point the helmet mounted light at cars on side streets to insure that they see me. My one-piece helmet light is bright enough to light up the interior of the car, increasing the chances that the driver will see me.

If you're riding off-road trails, remember that hikers, pedestrians, and animals are unlikely to be wearing lights or bright clothing. Manage your speed to within what you can see.

Guest's picture
Guest

I ride to work in the dark every day. Ankle reflectors will allow vehicles to know from a distance that it is a cyclist they see (ankle rotation rather than just a stationary light):

http://www.amazon.com/Nathan-Tri-Color-Ankle-Single-Yellow/dp/B000ROCF3E...

I also add reflecting tape (removable) to my helmet and bike for additional exposure:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0000V3XHQ

This rear light provides 180 degree visibility:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B002K2OOP8