I love bicycling at night. There’s something thrilling about riding around through the dark. There was an entire year where I had to commute home at midnight after work every day. While some cyclists might be worried about riding their bike at night I learned what to do to ensure that I was safe doing so.
In this article, I will share everything you need to know about biking at night so you can pedal safely and confidently in the dark. Follow these tips and tricks and you’ll have no problems riding your bike at night.
1. Equip Yourself with the Right Lights
Is it dangerous to ride a bike at night? Yes. It is more dangerous and riskier to go for a bike ride at night compared to the daytime. The darkness makes it hard for you to see what’s ahead while you are riding, and it is also challenging for vehicles, pedestrians, and other cyclists to spot you. The chances of getting into a crash are increased at night, but there are ways to lower the chances of crashing. The first is by investing in a solid front light. I’ve been using the Light and Motion Urban 500 for years without issues. It’s small, but produces 500 lumens. You can recharge it easily and it lasts anywhere from 1.5 to 6 hours depending on the setting you’re using. Check it out on Amazon.
In most of the United States (you’ll need to check your state’s bike laws) and in parts of Europe you are legally required to have a forward facing light and reflectors on the front, back, and side of your bike. When I lived in Amsterdam the police would stop cyclists and ticket them if they didn’t have the proper lighting on their bike. While no one wants to pay for a ticket, good lighting and reflectors dramatically increase the safety of riding a bike at night.
The question you should be asking is “How many lights do I have to be safe?” I would highly recommend putting a light on the front, because it’ll help others see you and give you enough light to see what’s in front of you. In addition, you should put actual lights or red blinking lights on the sides and back of your bike. A good rear light lets everyone behind you know you’re there. As for the red blinking lights you can purchase them for cheap at your local bike shop or online.
2. Choose the Right Route
While riding at night you should be riding routes that you’re familiar with. Night riding is not the safest time to go exploring roads you’ve never ridden on, because you don’t know their condition. It would be a shame to turn onto a path you’ve never been on before only to discover that its riddled with potholes. Obstacles such as potholes are easier to navigate around during the day, but not as easy to spot at night.
If you’re cycling at night you should choose a path that you’re familiar with and one that is well lit. If there’s a bike path with lights across it than that’s a safer choice than the road that has no lights. It would also be wise to pick a path with less vehicle traffic. Even if you’re lit up like a Christmas tree there’s an increased chance that a vehicle hasn’t spotted you. When riding at night I avoid as many roads with cars as possible. If you need tips or help with planning your bike route you can read this article.
3. Make Yourself Visible
Not only do you need to have proper lights on your bicycle, but you should do what you can to make yourself visible. Unless you’re begging for a car accident you shouldn’t wear all black. There are a variety of cycling jackets and gear that you can wear that screams I AM HERE! You can purchase neon yellow jackets or other clothing that has reflective threading woven into it to make yourself more visible.
While at the Sea Otter Classic, a bicycle festival in California, I was introduced to Brilliant Reflective Strips. They’re a company that has reflective black, blue, purple, and red reflective strips that you can stick or iron onto your clothing and gear. I thought this was a creative way of helping cyclists be more visible with the clothing and gear you already own. They can be placed on your shirt, pants, helmet, bike frame, etc.. You can see these reflective strips on Amazon.
Another way to be more visible at night is by place a blinking red light on yourself. While pedaling home from work every night I would get a simple, red blinking light and attach it to the back collar of my shirt or backpack. This helped motorists and other cyclists see me from behind. It’s simple, cheap, and helps others spot you in the dark.
4. Enjoy the Bike Ride
Don’t be so tense! Even if it’s your first time riding at night you’re going to be fine. Whether you’re bike commuting or riding for exercise the good news is that you are on a bicycle! While others are at home sitting on their couch watching Netflix you get to experience the world at night pedaling around. Consider yourself lucky! Enjoy the ride.
5. Ride in Numbers
This isn’t for everyone, because there isn’t always friends to ride with at this time of the day. Riding in a larger group (even with one more cyclist) will help motorists and others notice you. One of the other benefits of riding with a friend is having aid at night if you have a mechanical problem or get a flat tire.
6. Take It Easy
Riding at night can be a lot of fun, but it’s not the time to turn into a speed racer. Even if you follow all of these tips riding at night is more dangerous than the daytime as you can’t see everything. Generally speaking, the less prepared you are for riding at night the slower you should pedal. Make sure you’re riding at a pace you are comfortable with, and don’t get reckless.
7. Keep Alert
Any cyclist knows to be vigilant and alert while riding, but it’s important to be extra alert while bicycling at night. Be extra cautious around motorists, and assume that no one can see you. While your vision may be limited to your bike light you’ll want to keep your eyes peeled for obstacles, bumps, and any other obstructions that can send you over the handlebars. It can help to pedal slower when riding at night.
8. Prepare Yourself for a Flat Tire
I hope you never get a flat tire while riding at night. I hate fixing flats while on a ride, but feel extra frustrated when it happens on a dark, cold night. Cross your fingers that you’ll never need to fix a flat at night, but don’t neglect carrying the right equipment in case it does happen. I would recommend carrying a spare tube so that you can remedy the situation as quickly as possible. It’s faster to put a new tube on than to patch an old tube. Just bring the old tube home and patch it there if you’re trying to save money.
If you do have a mechanical problem or a flat tire remember you’ll need a flashlight to give light so you can work. You’ll want either a headlamp or a bike light that is detachable and can be used as a flashlight. The Light and Motion Urban 500 that I mentioned earlier can be taken off and used as a flashlight.
The Benefits of Cycling at Night
While cycling at night may be more dangerous there are benefits to it too. Bicycling at night can be a great time to reflect. There’s less people, noise, traffic at night which can allow you to pedal through the darkness while contemplating life, love, and whatever else happened in your day. It doesn’t matter what time of day cycling is a great activity to think, but during the night there’s even less distractions to do so.
One of the other benefits of cycling at night is hearing and seeing interesting things you’d never experience in the daylight. Years ago a friend and I rode down Highway 1 in Big Sur in the middle of the night. We were on a bike touring trip to Mexico and were trying to get to a campsite to meet a friend. As we pedaled down the coast we were able to watch Point Sur Lighthouse cut the sky with it’s bright beam. On this same night ride, we heard a dull clamor of noise that got louder and louder as we cycled down the coast. Eventually we got close enough to the noise to realize it was a herd of cows mooing! Night riding can introduce you to sights and sounds you may not get to experience in the daytime.
Do you have to have a light on your bike at night? In most countries and states it is required that you have at least one and usually two lights on your bike. Check your local bicycle laws to make sure you have the right number of lights to avoid being ticketed. As far as safety, the more lights you have the better.
What bike should I use for riding at night? If you’re fortunate enough to have multiple bikes than I would recommend your sturdiest bike. You’ll hear other cyclists tell you not to use your nice carbon racing bike, but rather something with more substance. The best bike for riding at night would have wide tires in case you roll over something, and lots of mounting options for lights and fenders. Another reason people advise not riding your fanciest bike at night is because there’s an increased chance of crashing at night. Would you rather crash a 20 year old steel frame road bike or your brand new carbon racer?
Can I use a headlamp for cycling at night? Absolutely! The more lights the better as it will help you to be more visible. A headlamp should not be a substitute for a helmet or a light that’s attached to your handlebars. If you choose to wear a headlamp make sure that it can be worn while wearing a helmet too.