By Tommy Noyes
It’s winter, the days are shorter, and you want to ride your bicycle at night or before daybreak. The basic concepts of safe cycling are even more important when riding at night. Be alert, visible, predictable and assertive. Let’s look at each of these concepts in terms of night riding.
Be alert when cycling to avoid hazards like potholes, uneven pavement and debris. When riding in the dark, remaining alert is even more important because your field of vision is diminished. You’ll clearly see only the features that your headlight illuminates, so you’ll have less time to maneuver than you would during the day. You use rear-view mirrors when driving your car, so use a bicyclist’s rear-view mirror. Never use headphones when cycling — night or day — because you need to hear approaching traffic.
Being visible to others is critical at night. Hawai‘i state law requires lights on bicycles:
- Any bicycle used from 30 minutes after sunset until 30 minutes before sunrise must have a head light, facing forward, which emits a white light that is visible at least 500 feet from the front.
- Every bicycle must have a red reflector at least four-inches square, mounted in the rear, which can be seen at least 600 feet from the front of a vehicle with low beam lights on.
- Every bicycle in use during the time described above must have a four-inch square reflective material or lighted lamps on each side which can be seen at least 600 feet from the front of the vehicle with low beam lights on, or a lighted lamp visible on both sides from a distance of at least 500 feet.
- Bicycles and/or riders may have additional lights or reflectors.
While not required by law, it’s smart to wear light-colored clothes that will show up in motorists’ headlights. Reflective wristbands will make your hand signals more visible. Clip a battery-powered blinking red taillight to your shorts, and a big hi-visibility yellow triangle attached to the back of your bike brightly indicates “slow moving vehicle” from a distance.
Motorists know what to expect from predictable bicyclists, and can react appropriately. Traffic studies confirm that slower moving vehicles (bicyclists) traveling in the same direction as motorists are much safer. It is extremely dangerous, and illegal, to ride your bicycle against the flow of traffic, which makes you much less predictable. Cyclists appearing suddenly out of nowhere startle motorists, and all too often result in conflicts with law-abiding cyclists or crashes.
Lastly, being assertive means having the confidence to ride in the road far enough away from the curb or edge of the pavement so that you are on smooth pavement, have room to maneuver, and won’t run off the edge of the road. So long you are being alert, visible, and predictable, being assertive in this manner will increase your safety and ability to avoid hazards.
- Tommy Noyes works for the Hawai‘i State Department of Health’s Public Health Preparedness branch, serves on Kaua‘i Path’s board of directors, and is a League of American Bicyclists certified instructor.