Riding around at night: how I stay visible

The tragedy earlier this year has given me a lot to think about with respect to cycling around Durham (especially at night (especially on unfriendly roads)).

The reality of riding is basically this: you’re at the mercy of motorists. You’re counting on them not screwing up and hitting you. This is obviously true when you’re driving a vehicle as well, but if you’re strapped into a big steel cage you’re less likely to suffer injury when things go wrong.

Along those lines, I pondered: how can I mitigate the risk? There are some obvious “free” answers, mainly to stick to side roads as much as possible and to avoid cycling at night as much as possible. But there are a lot of places in Durham that can only be reached via dangerous roads, and as fall approaches with its shorter days it will become even more impractical to be home before sunset every night.

Well, I figured I could work on visibility, which would at least mitigate the situation where a motorist hits a cyclist simply because he went unseen.

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I’m rather proud of the solution I have now; indeed, I even got a catcall on the way home the other night from a young woman who was stopped in her car, waiting at a stoplight as I passed:

We love your lights!

You know safety and practicality are always hits with the ladies. Stay practical, people!

What I use

How it’s set up

I think the most effective bit is the helmet (sorry for lame cell phone pic):

I have the generic cree torch and the PDW Danger Zone secured to my my helmet using the bar mount velcro things from dealextreme. The torch is set to flashing mode and is pointed forward, angled slightly downward towards the road so as not to hit drivers during normal use. If I incline my head back a bit I can aim it directly at drivers I think may not see me (e.g. turning out of driveways etc) to catch their attention. I have the Danger Zone taillight facing backward and I use it in “blink” mode; it provides exceptional visibility directly behind me and decent visibility on the sides. I have reflective tape applied to various locations on the helmet.

On the bike itself, the Cygolite is set to steady mode and is used primarily to light the road in front of me. The generic taillight is mounted on the back of my rack and also runs in steady mode. The Spokelits are set up two per wheel and I use steady mode for them as well; if you haven’t seen this kind of light before it sits between the spokes and spins with the wheels to enhance side visibility (a typical weakness).

The mix of solid and blinky is specifically because drivers notice blinking lights more readily, but find it easier to gauge distance to non-blinking lights.

I have the reflective tape applied liberally to my bike rack and my helmet. I use a “silver” color rather than lime, mainly because I think it looks cooler, although lime would probably be better for daytime visibility purposes.

What next?

Over the past few months I have frequently pondered how I can improve safety while cycling. I’ve tried a safety vest (hot, looks lame). I do have a flag on the kid’s trailer, but that doesn’t seem required for the bike itself.

One thing I do have my eye on is replacing the generic taillight with the newly released PDW Aether Demon.

I’m not under any illusions here; visibility only goes so far. A motorist can certainly hit me despite seeing me perfectly well. But if I can remove even one variable from the equation, I’m going to do it.

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