Want to be Seen on the Road? – It’s YOUR Responsibility

With shortening days and the end of Daylight Savings Time, your chances of being seen on your bicycle are diminished.

What can you do?

For starters, you need lighting – both in the early morning and at night. You can pick up a usable light for anywhere from $15-30 at the Downtube (Downtube Cycle Shop, (518) 434-1711, 466 Madison Ave.) or at any other local cycle shop. It’s a good idea to select lights that take AA or AAA batteries rather than wafer style batteries. (You can pick up replacement AA or AAAs at drug, convenience, or grocery stores while wafer style batteries might take a bit of searching and some more cash.) Preferably, get both front and read lights that use the same battery so that you will automatically have a spare battery for the critical rear light). By the way, New York State Law requires a front light for night riding.

Is one light enough? Many riders sport two or three rear “blinky” lights as well as a front light – ranging from a white blinker to a high-powered spotlight with a battery pack. One way to test for yourself is to observe other cyclists’ lighting choices under similar conditions of darkness to your own riding.

Next comes clothing – remember the adage “wear white at night”? Well, it’s still good advice. An alternative is a garish green or yellow “day-glo” vest or jacket ($60-70) – but shop around. Most “official” cycling clothes (including helmets) have embedded reflective material. According to a recent Bicycling article (pg. 34, 12/10 issue), a driver’s nighttime recognition distance is 75 feet for a cyclist in dark clothes versus up to 560 feet for one wearing “florescent” clothes.

What else can you do? Obeying traffic laws (traffic control devices, one-way streets, signaling) will give drives a better chance to see you. You want to be extra cautious when weather conditions (rain, wind, snow) compound the adverse affects of darkness.

One more thing – don’t be caught out with your lighting back home. Try to carry at least a rear “blinky” whenever there’s a chance you’ll be returning late!

Edit (by Ken): For anyone looking for some quality winter lights, Amazon has the amazing Planet Bike Superflash tail light on sale for $18.

Written by Lorenz Worden


Filed under Article

5 responses to “Want to be Seen on the Road? – It’s YOUR Responsibility

  1. I don’t think obeying traffic laws should be a dogma when maximizing visibility to drivers. Granted, I live in Long Island now, a place with drivers much…dumber than those in Albany, but I find it imperative to break certain traffic laws to increase my visibility. Note that I do this infrequently and only when necessary; in fact the drivers that I’m trying to get the attention of are usually breaking traffic regulations themselves.

  2. Ken


    I think he was more specifically referring to: traffic control devices, one-way streets, signaling, etc., which are pretty reasonable things to do.

    Although, out of curiosity, what laws do you feel you need to disobey for safety reasons?

  3. Signaling, for one. Sometimes it’s just not safe to signal and make a turn. Blame it on rough roads. Also, I take the lane frequently to prevent cars from passing me and turning right, among other reasons. I’m sure plenty of officers would love to ticket me for that, although the actual law is up for interpretation. Also, I rarely come to a complete stop at stop signs. As they say, a moving bicycle is safer than a stopped bicycle. Stopped, you’re a sitting duck. Moving, you can at least move out of the way if necessary. Also, being in motion makes you more visible to drivers.

    • Ken

      Fair enough. Signaling at night always seems less useful, if cars are unlikely to see your arm anyway. I’d actually love some LEDs on a bracelet with a gyro that turns on said LEDs only when my arm is up and in the left or right turn position.

      Also, generally, taking the lane is acceptable if it’s ‘unsafe’ to do otherwise, so you’re probably being lawful in that situation.

      And yes, I tend to agree with regard to stop signs. Many cyclists tend to practice the so-called ‘Idaho stop’, particularly in poor weather. I didn’t think of this when I initially responded. :)

      Anyway, moral of the story: be seen and be safe.

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