QUESTION: I’m in Louisiana. It’s not cold here. It doesn’t snow. Winter riding should be easy. But the early darkness is killing me. I feel like it’s dangerous to ride when it’s dark. Worse, not riding on weekdays makes me feel sedentary and I can’t get motivated to ride even on weekends. How can I deal with this? — Mike P.
RBR REPLIES: Roadies hate early darkness more than most other active people.
Mountain bikers can ride trails using headlights and not worry about getting driven over. Joggers can run on sidewalks lit by streetlights. Darkness doesn’t matter in the weight room, swimming pool or basketball court. But riding a road bike after sunset is risky.
Solution: Make yourself look like a Christmas tree on wheels.
Invest in a good bike lighting system. A high-quality headlight will let you ride safely as fast as you like, and it will catch the eye of oncoming drivers, too.
Add a bright LED taillight. Good ones can be seen for half a mile. Wear reflective clothing or apparel with reflective material.
If you’ll be riding your beater bike, adorn it with reflective tape and put a piece on top of the rim between each spoke.
When you’re brightly lit and reflectorized, you’re likely to find that drivers slow down and pass with more room to spare than they do in daylight hours.
I ride before dawn twice a week, all year long. I’ve found that cars actually see me better in the darkness than during the day, especially when they are oncoming. My 750 lumen headlight is equal to a car’s headlight. Drivers typically look out for other headlights in the dark and often assume they are motor vehicles.
My Varia rear taillight with radar is easily as bright as a car or motorcycle taillight, and has the added benefit of giving me an advanced warning when vehicles are approaching from behind and also flashing in a different pattern when it detects a car coming up on me. Bright LEDs and reflective materials really work. Even so, I usually stay away from high speed highways in the dark and ride on lower speed limit roads.
There are other training options
If you’re not convinced, you can ride indoors. Sure, it can be boring, but it’s also very effective training if you use an app rather than just sit there and grind away. There have been so many advancements with smart trainers that it’s much more tolerable than with the older, regular trainers. You can even race or do group rides on apps like Zwift.
Or you could take up a cross-training sport that isn’t light-dependent. That’s not a bad idea in winter when a break from cycling will refresh you physically and mentally. You’ll be raring to go on the bike when the sun starts staying up longer.
Agree that the Varia tail light/radar is very useful! As to headlights, for years I had pre-dawn commutes a couple of hours before the crack of dawn on small rural roads. A good headlight is essential for seeing breaks in the pavement or objects (including a very large skunk!) in the road. Oncoming motorists ARE blinded by bicycle headlights if not aimed properly! My light, about 750+ lumens, is one of the nasties! SO, I aim mine so the bright inner beam points at the extreme right edge of the pavement pointing down into the ditch. The beam has an outer “cone” that still lights up the rest of the road. Despite the early hour, I meet a bit of on-coming traffic. None of them has ever flicked their high beams at me or shown any other signs of annoyance.
Dominic Ferro says
A helmet light is quite useful, too. When you are turning, your headlight is pointing at a house on the corner, but your helmet light is pointing where your head is pointing, up the next road. Also, it allows you to make eye contact with drivers on corners, because you can see them (and they can definitely see you!)