Don’t be afraid of the dark. By adopting a few key safety tips, you can ensure that your nighttime bike ride doesn’t turn into a nightmare.
Ideally, when riding trails at night, you’ll want to run two lights: one mounted to your handlebar and another on your helmet. Matt Conte, founder and engineer of Outbound Lighting, recommends a light with a wide-beam pattern on your handlebar and a narrow-beam light on your helmet.
“You want to see far down the trail and around switchbacks,” Conte said. “It’s similar to rally racing; both feature twisty, tight, dirt roads and trails. The handlebar light illuminates the trail, so you can focus on terrain and obstacles, while the helmet light helps you see as you move your head to navigate turns and switchbacks.”
Outbound Lighting is bringing state-of-the-art headlight technology to the cycling industry. Before launching the brand in St. Louis, Conte designed OEM and aftermarket lighting for the automotive industry, was an engineer at Boeing and raced rally cars as a hobby.
Besides lights, Bike Stop Café owner Tony Caruso recommends that riders to know the trail and keep a few extra bike lengths between them and the rider ahead.
“During the day, it’s easy to see in front of you, prepare for obstacles and avoid colliding with riding buddies,” said Caruso, who leads night mountain bike rides at St. Charles County’s Bangert Island in the fall and winter. “The trail comes at you a lot quicker at night. Things can get chaotic when riders get too close and there’s limited visibility.”
Keeping your distance — ideally, four or five bike lengths — is also beneficial to the rider ahead of you. Get too close, Caruso warns, and your light will surround the rider, making it harder for him or her to use their lights and for their eyes to adjust to the changing conditions.
“Try pointing your lights down or to the side rather than at the lead rider’s back or helmet,” he said.
When riding through city streets, it’s important to see and be seen.
“A wide beam pattern with a cutoff line is most important when riding on the road at night,” said Conte. “The cutoff line allows you to aim the light to illuminate the road but not shine it into oncoming traffic.”
Conte also suggests side lights and a tail light when commuting. “Lighting that helps define height and width can help drivers instinctually tell your size,” he said. “Side lights on a bike can work just like side markers on a car.”
Many light manufactures have designed a daylight flash mode into their headlights. This feature helps riders to be easily noticed by drivers and can be especially useful when riding at dusk.
A tail light shouldn’t be blinding. Look for a light with more than 100 lumens with a flash pattern. “You don’t need 1,000 lumens,” Conte said. “A steady burn pattern doesn’t help you stand out from environmental lights.”
St. Louis resident and CyclingSavvy instructor Karen Karabell echoes Conte’s advice.
“You never want a motorist to say, ‘I couldn’t see you,’” she said. “I tell riders in the bike safety classes I teach that you want to look like a motorist from the front and a slow-moving vehicle from the rear.”
Light the Way
The market is flooded with lighting options for commuting, trail riding and urban adventures. Here are a three to consider:
Light & Motion Urban 500
An ideal light for city commuters. The waterproof LED light features amber sidelights, a daylight pulse mode and micro-USB charger. 125-500 Lumens; 1.5-6 hours run time. $50. lightandmotion.com
Outbound Lighting Trail Edition
Illuminate the trail and all of its obstacles with this mountain bike light. The LED light features heat-sink fins to stay cool and a “get home mode,” so you aren’t left stranded in the dark. 1800 Lumens; 2.8-13 hours run time. $225. outboundlighting.com
Topeak Headlux 450 USB
Equally suited on your handlebar or helmet. This USB-rechargeable light has a low profile, two white LEDs and tool-free mounting. 450 Lumens; 1.5-5 hours run time. $50. topeak.com
Author: Nick Brennan is a regular contributor to Terrain Magazine