Friday, November 23, 2012

Night riding like a boss

It has never been my intent as an urban cyclist to become a night rider.  Last year I avoided it by shifting my work hours earlier.  This year that's not entirely possible... so I find myself leaving work pretty much in the dark.

On the eve of Thanksgiving, I actually worked from 6-10pm, and since I didn't want to move my car from a coveted street parking spot right out the back door of my apartment building, I decided to brave the night on the bike and ride to and from work.  This decision was greatly bolstered by the timely arrival of my Cree 400 lumen head lamp which came from China for about $13 total (free shipping).  It was time to put it to the test.  It also came with a flashing red light, and one can never have enough of those, even though I already have two Bontrager tail lights mounted onto the pannier rack.,  The new light mounted on to the bike very simply and security and uses 3 AAA batteries, and the tail light uses 2 AAA batteries.

The ride went off without a hitch, but some things I noticed were this:  It doesn't matter how well your bike is lit - headlights of the oncoming cars are blinding.  Also, when riding down the suburban streets where the street lamps created dappled light between the trees, the shadowed areas at night a pitch black, and you can't really see clearly into them, even with a headlight, until you are nearly in them (and it helps if there isn't an oncoming car).  400 lumens is quite powerful, and in the non-flashing mode I kept it angled slightly down so as not to seem like a high beam to oncoming traffic.  If there was a lot of traffic, I turned it into the flashing mode just to make me annoyingly visible, and believe me, the flashing mode is extremely annoying - like a strobe light from hell.  Fortunately, I rode on my well-traveled route, so I knew where all the problem spots were in the road, but coming home at 10:00pm, there was hardly any traffic to speak of anyhow.  I wore my new merino wool arm warmers, and they kept my arms from chilling, but I have to find something for under my helmet to keep my ears warm.  I have a balaclava, but it's overkill for California weather - even at it's coldest.  That thing has been purchased for a cross country trip.  Maybe I can find a light-weight one.

Then, these came in the mail today:  MORE little lights.  The black one is a front light and the read a tail light.  I've put the red one on the back of my helmet.  So now, I'll have 4 red lights in the back, plus the lights on the tires, plus my reflective safety vest, plus the Cree light in front, and now a little extra light in the front.  I got these from somewhere in New Jersey - $3.70 for the pair and free shipping.  Yeah, I got two pairs, and now I'm going to order tons more to give away to friends with bikes.

I guess the bottom line is that I'm not really afraid to ride in the dark anymore.  I'm as visible as I can be.  My bike is as well equipped as it can be.  You can't treat night riding like day riding due to lesser visibility, but properly equipped, I think it can be done in relative safety.

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