Riding in the dark is an almost essential skill at this time of year. Here are a few tips to help you ride safely and feel more confident.
If you’ve never ridden in the dark before, it can feel a bit nerve-wracking. Will cars see you? Will you see potholes? You never know quite what’s out there on a dark, dark country lane. But put your fears aside and embrace the dark, night riding – if you have the right kit and attitude, it can be a great experience!
A front light is an essential piece of kit; it helps you to be seen as well as see where you are going. Our tip is to buy the best light you can afford, and the very best don’t come cheaply. Look for a light that offers breadth and depth of beam; a long beam for picking out the road ahead and for being seen and a wider beam that fills the road in front of your wheel for picking out pot holes. Top end bike lights are now as bright as car headlights, which means you often get given more space as drivers expect a car to be approaching, it does also mean you need to dip or shield your lights on occasion to stop dazzling oncoming traffic.
The light on your handlebars only shines in the direction your bike moves, but a helmet light allows you to see around corners, too. They aren’t essential in the city, but out on unlit roads and country lanes, they can really help you to feel safe as you’re able to look around you and direct the beam without changing the direction of your bike. The higher beam from your helmet combined with your handlebar light will really make you stand out in the dark to any traffic coming towards you.
Reflective cycling kit can help you to stand out in darker, rural areas better than wearing just bright colours or high-vis. Look for garments with reflective detailing and try to ensure that you are covered from every angle, whether approached from behind, in front or to the side. You can add reflective paint or stick on strips to your frame as well.
Movement catches the eye and helps you to stand out in the ambient light of an urban environment. With this in mind, try to wear reflective material on your overshoes and legs to help draw attention as you pedal. Reflectors on your wheels can also help, particularly from a side-on view.
Ride with caution
City streets can feel completely different in the dark, particularly late at night when there is less traffic. Only ride as fast as you can see. If it’s dark up ahead and you can’t clearly see the road markings or signs, slow down. Don’t ever look directly into the lights of another vehicle as this can dazzle you, and if you’re riding with a helmet light, looking directly at a driver can dazzle them too. Remember that it’s harder to yield eye contact with a driver in the dark, so be extra cautious around junctions and be very sure a car has stopped or slowed before making a maneuver.
Pedestrians, particularly around areas with pubs at a certain time of night, seem to be less cautious about stepping out in front of you, so always expect the unexpected and be ready with your brakes. Out in the countryside, wildlife can often dash out in front of you: foxes, badgers and rabbits are all nocturnal and are often hard to see in the dark without a high-power light.
Choose your routes wisely
Riding routes that are familiar to you can help you feel more confident as you should instinctively remember where the junctions, twists and turns coming up ahead are. Of course, still expect surprises with new pot holes and debris always cropping up, and remember the useful advice: never ride faster than your lights.Always make sure your beam is picking out the hazards ahead with enough notice to allow you to slow, stop or avoid them.
This coffee brake was provided by Cycle-SOS, The Cyclists' National Helpline.