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night riding tips?(27 posts)

night riding tips?Dog
Dec 18, 2001 11:43 AM
For the first time this year, I'm doing lots of night riding (on the fixed gear). Previously, I was pretty much scared to death to ride at night, particularly along some of the busier roads. But, I could not face another winter of "tour de garage", so I got the right equipment (at least I thought so), and delved into the cold and darkness. While many of you no doubt have vastly more experience at this than I do, I thought I'd share what I've figured out and solicit other tips for night riding.

1. Light redundancy. I bought two Nightrider Digital Pro 12 LCD systems, thinking they were top of the line. They are horrible (see reviews for 2001 and 2002 on the MTBreview site -- no light review section here). After the first time that one of them just quit working on me in the middle of a pitch black dark ride, I know I'd better have a backup. So, now I use a very good but cheap Cygolight dual beam, but I always have a backup 2.5 watt AAA battery light, too. Sure, it adds half a pound, but this is night time winter training, and your life is at stake, right? The backup has saved me several times then the Niteriders failed.

2. Adjust the lights. It's amazing what difference there can be in illumination when the light is adjusted up or down just a tiny bit. I leave the bracket just a tiny bit loose so I can adjust the light on the fly without breaking the bracket (which I have done). I like to get the majority of the light well out in front of the bike, so I can see things in time to react. I also like to have it high enough that the light reflects off signs in the distance, for two reasons. One, I can see where the road goes. 2. If I can see the light reflected off a sign, I figure drivers should see my light. Also, if the light shines in your eyes while riding, it will reduce your vision. I put some black tape over the top of my Zefal light, and it works much better.

3. Use redundant tail lights, too. Nothing worse than fearing the entire ride that your taillight will go out and you'll get run over from behind. So, I use a huge LED light on the seatpost set for constant, and a smaller flasher attached to a seat stay. I've actually had cars slow down and hesitate to pass me, thinking I'm a larger vehicle, I suppose. Having two independent lights is a real load off, too.

4. Get geeky and plaster on the reflective stuff. I have a helmet with tape all over it, and all over the bike as well. I use one of those clear spoke reflectors up front. I wear a bright yellow vest with reflective tape on it. I wear those reflective leg band things on both legs. I think part of the psychology, here, is for drivers not only to see me, but think that I'm doing all I can to be seen, and they'll respect that more.

5. Use a mirror. Yes, I've come to find that the itty bitty Take a Look mirror (I use the smaller one) works great. It allows you to see what's coming up from behind, very reliably, so that you need not ride over in the junk on the shoulder any more than you have to (cuts down on flats, too). It's nice to see those cars obviously react to seeing you, too.

6. Use heavy duty tires. Fixing a flat in the dark and cold is a real pain. I put on Tufo tubular clinchers, for two reasons. One, they thick, hard rubber, and don't pick up junk or penetrate easily. Two, you can repair punctures by removing the valve core and injecting some sealant, and don't have to remove the tire or wheel. A plus for fixed riders with track nuts, too.

7. Use very clean glasses or goggles. I've noticed a big difference in seeing, especially when glare from on coming car lights nearly blinds me. Clean glasses glare a whole lot less.

8. Don't try anything new for the first time at night. It sort of sucks to try to re-adjust something in the dark that you thought you had installed right. Do a daylight ride with it, first.

9. Ride the same routes. Riding the same routes, while sort of boring, allows you to get to know the road surface, where the bumps, glass, potholes, etc., are. Makes it a whole lot more comforting by being able to anticipate that stuff. May want to ride the route in the daytime first, too, and make mental notes of hazards.

10. Wag the bars. When drivers are approaching, especially at side streets or driveways, I wag my bars back and forth a bit. I figure it might do a little better job of getting their attention. A helmet light might do even better.

11. Take a cell phone. I take a tiny one, just in case I lose all lighting or have a breakdown. Never had to use it, but my wife is more comfortable knowing I have it.

I now really enjoy the night riding. I don't have to worry about getting home early to get a ride in, and I don't have to hit the trainer in the garage (not at all this season, yet). I think the key is having the right equipment and trying to be smart about it.

Any more tips? Bring them on. Thanks.

A few more tipsmr_spin
Dec 18, 2001 12:22 PM
As a night rider myself, all your tips are dead-on. The only thing I can add is that if you ride busy roads, which tend to be better lit, drop a few bucks on a bunch of $10 blinky taillights. Put them everywhere, including on the bars and pointing sideways. The more light noise you create, the more you will be seen.

Also, try to ride side roads, not just because there is less traffic, but also because there is less light. Yes, less light is good! If you are suitably equipped with lights and reflective gear, you will stick out more on a dark street than a well-lit one.

Avoid streets lit by sodium vapor lamps. These are very common, unfortunately. They look orange rather than white. Colors get distorted and objects disappear.
1 tipmorrison
Dec 18, 2001 12:29 PM
If you have skunks in your neck of the woods, avoid them. I've been sprayed twice; once during the day, and once at night. The day-time spray wasn't that bad, b/c I just got a passing blast as I pedaled by. The one at night sucked . . . I was changing a flat, and I got the full treatment, all over my back, my butt, and my legs. There is no way to get rid of that smell. I ended up throwing out everything I was wearing and sleeping on the couch for 2 nights.
Wear a visor. Turn your lights on early.MB1
Dec 18, 2001 12:31 PM
Nothing worse than being blinded by oncoming vehicles (bikes can be just as bad as cars). I always use a visor anyway but they are really good at night.

Don't wait untill it is really dark to turn on your lights. Remember one of their biggest functions is to make you visiable.

Carry a small flashlight. Helps you fix flats, read street signs and are just generally useful.

Ride with your wife. Nothing like having a second set of eyes, ears and lights to make riding at night much safer. And when we ride side by side we really light up the trails (eat your heart out Doug!).

Aim your lights away from other riders.......
re: Aim your lights away from other riders.......gtx
Dec 18, 2001 12:37 PM
Yes! I ride on a bike path a lot, and find myself getting blinded by other people's lights all the time.

Man, I also hate those new bluish lights (forget what they're called) people have on BMWs, etc. Hey, I'm glad they can see well, but they are blinding everyone else. Seems weird that they are legal.
Watch for Animalsgrzy
Dec 18, 2001 12:36 PM
Never under estimate what a deer can or will do. They can be blinded and not move and inch until you're right on them then you don't know which they're going to go - sometimes right into you. Slow down and turn yolur light on and off. Reflective tape on the pedals and wheels can make a big difference in cars being able to see you. Make sure your tail blinker is working at all times.

The new Night Rider lighting system is a total flame thrower. They had problems with last year's - they may give you the bor' discoutn if you call them up. Retail is around $400!!

Riding at night on the trails is way more fun than on the road, but isn't legal in a lot of parks. On the other hand if you're going to poach a trail it's best to do it at night.
Watch for Animalsgtx
Dec 18, 2001 12:40 PM
"On the other hand if you're going to poach a trail it's best to do it at night."

lol--I used to be a big night time trail poacher in Marin. No angry hikers, but yeah--watch out for deer and skunks!
Watch for Animalsmr_spin
Dec 18, 2001 12:57 PM
Oh yeah, definitely. If you are going to ride in a park illegally, you might as well ride the illegal trails, too! Make sure you ride in a place that has a network of trails, not just one. Your chance of getting caught goes way down if you have multiple routes for escape. I'm not kidding, either. If you get caught by the ranger, it is expensive!

It is so cool riding trails at night. I'd recommend it to everyone, but then everyone would be doing it!
speaking of animalsDog
Dec 18, 2001 3:08 PM
Yup, I've seen plenty of deer in the foothills around here; not too many near the city, though.

What's spooky is riding along in the dark and you *think* you hear something coming at you from the side or behind, but you can't see a thing. I'm just waiting for Cujo to take a bite out of my leg and I can't even see him coming. So, I've sort of started doing "paranoia sprints" to avoid the monsters lurking in in the dark. I know, I'll relax, but then that's when they'll get me!

Watch out for the Boogieman too! He comes out at night! nmcioccman
Dec 18, 2001 3:27 PM
I take care of him with a "flick" of my finger. ;-) (nm)grzy
Dec 18, 2001 4:24 PM
Illuminite clothing.Miklos
Dec 18, 2001 12:36 PM
All good tips.

I have worn Illuminite jackets and vests for several years now. I haven't been able to see myself very well at night to tell how illuminated I was. The other day driving to work in the early morning I finally saw someone else wearing Illuminite clothing. Even well off to the side of my low beams, they showed up very well. I was relieved to see I hadn't wasted my money on high visability clothing.

Good summarytarwheel
Dec 18, 2001 12:59 PM
I can only think of a few things to add. First, I would recommend using night rides for recovery rather than speed work. Riding in the dark is not the time to be trying to set speed records. The biggest hazard, in my view, is from hitting objects in the road -- such as gravel, small potholes, sticks -- that you would normally see and easily avoid in daylight. I always wear my yellow jersey/vest/jacket at night so I'll be more visible. Lately, I've been doing my night rides on neighborhood streets through some nearby subdivisions. It's fun seeing all the Christmas lights, and I don't have to worry so much about traffic.

After hearing your experience with the NiteRider, I'm glad I opted for a less expensive CygoLite system. It only cost about $65 on sale at REI and has a 2-4 run time, depending on wattage. I was considering NiteRider but decided against them after reading the review in mtbreview. I also preferred a bottle-mount battery and the NR Evolution models only come with frame mounts. CygoLites, although cheaper and heavier, got perfect ratings.
All very good suggestions and insight DogUncleMoe
Dec 18, 2001 1:13 PM
I just started commuting in the darkness with a little bit of hesitation. I bought lights mainly for MTB riding at night, but figured I'd give a 20 mile road commute a try. I have a Marwi Elite Pro. Dual lights, 15w and 20w combo. I really just use the 15w as it is bright enough.

The morning ride is a breeze. I leave home early and see very little morning car traffic. My big concern was the night ride home. Lots of frustrated drivers is what I expected.

However, I've found the night ride home less of a hassle than in the summer. I guess with the lights (I run two sets of Specialized Flamethrowers in the back), cars really make a point to slow down and give you room. In the daylight they seem to have no sympathy.

I hope I continue to have no close calls.

PS - Night Rider seems to suck. Sorry you made the purchase. I almost did the same thing until I read the reviews. Best of luck with them.
Star Gaze before the ride!!!hikerryank
Dec 18, 2001 1:25 PM
This is obvious but worth mentioning. I was out for a recovery ride on a route I was doing about 3 nights a week. A perfectly clear night with almost no moon. Great time to look at the stars, but as I found out, do that from your deck. While I was busy looking at the stars, I ran into a brown retaining wall at about 20 mph. Broke my helmet and perhaps my thumb (darn thing still isn't working right). So my advice is to pay attention to what you are doing if your riding at night. Things will sneak up on you in the dark.
re: night riding tips?STEELYeyed
Dec 18, 2001 1:43 PM
I use all that and TireFlys,small lights that screw onto your valve stems,that light up your rims,I ride my MTB at night because I find that I can get about the same workout in half the miles of the road bike,and riding at half the speed, I don't get as cold.
Where'd you get them?look271
Dec 18, 2001 2:13 PM
Fireflys, that is. Sound like a good idea. Doug is spot on with his observations. There is no such thing as being too visible. I'd second the advice on using a visor plus I have as much reflectors on my bike as I can. I've had fewer close calls at night than during the day. As for watching the skunks; they've never bothered me. Been REAL close to them, too. Cute little buggers. Too bad about the smell!
Dec 18, 2001 2:27 PM
But I got a set on E-bay.
Thanks. (nm)look271
Dec 18, 2001 2:35 PM
do they fit on Presta? nmmr_spin
Dec 18, 2001 2:47 PM
Probably need a presta-schrader adapter.nmSTEELYeyed
Dec 18, 2001 3:21 PM
$10 to ship is obscenebn
Dec 19, 2001 9:56 AM
yeah, those things are great!gtx
Dec 18, 2001 2:48 PM
I think I have an older version or one made by another company, but they are very effective.
Cool, need those for my next midnight fun ride or 24 hours (nm)js5280
Dec 18, 2001 3:45 PM
Good advice ... some reinforcement ...Humma Hah
Dec 18, 2001 7:39 PM
... even my cruiser with thorn-resistant tubes can f*** if I hit the wrong thing, and this summer's royal skewering (a piece of road flare wire that went clean thru tire and tube) happened at dusk with a weak light. I suspect I was distracted for a second, checking my speed (the stretch is very flat, straight, and fast, and I tend to do speed intervals on it). Speed, inattention, and poor visability will cause you to not recognize small but damaging debris.

For riding familiar routes, theres this one little pile of glass right in my way on the way home from work each night. Even in the good headlight, it is not very visible. I know where it is, and swing wide of it.

I also know where the wet leaves are. This time of year, folks rake them into the gutter where they sit for a week or two until the city comes by to suck them up. A slimy residue is left, and you don't want to hit it while turning.

I have a bell (every cruiser should have one). I've found it useful to ding it a couple of times while turning onto dark streets, in case someone in dark clothes is crossing and not in my headlight. I also ding when passing large parked vehicles someone might pop out around.

The one condition I still worry about, not covered by reflectors or my existing lights, is cars waiting to enter or cross the roadway ahead of me. Their lights are not aimed my way, so reflectors don't work. The headlight is bright, but small, moving slowly, and high off the ground, so it might be interpreted as a motorcycle headlight further off. I'd really like a pair of orange flashers pointed off to either side about 20 degrees on the front, so they can't miss me.
re: night riding tips?MJ
Dec 19, 2001 4:32 AM
the thing that you have to remember about riding at night is that (even with all the great suggestions already mentioned) you're more invisible than ever to cars - just pretend you're totally invisible (more than you normally do) - also be wary about 'taking your lane' - had a friend (with lights) who got mowed down by a driver who just didn't see him (blamed on darkness) - luckily he got thrown away from the front fender - his bike took all the damage and was mangled in the car's undercarriage (the mangling actually encouraged the driver to stop...)

your lights should never ever fail - check this guy out for lights
I like trails for night riding, wouldn't do road.AlexR
Dec 19, 2001 7:56 AM
I'm pretty fortunate in the trails department. There is a nice rail-trail (Green-Bay) near my home and a dirt/equestrian trail (Des Plaines River Trail) near the office. Both allow out and backs of 40+ miles.

One lesson I've learned from riding the fixie at night on rail trals - a suspension seatpost will smooth out the inevitable potholes you hit in the dark.