Embrace the Darkness — Being Seen on Dark Winter Commutes

There’s no getting away from it, winter is on the way and unless you work particularly short days your morning and evening commutes are likely to be dark. You are going to NEED lights.

We’re not joking about that “need” part either. Rule 60 of the Highway Code states:

At night your cycle MUST have white front and red rear lights lit. It MUST also be fitted with a red rear reflector (and amber pedal reflectors, if manufactured after 1/10/85). White front reflectors and spoke reflectors will also help you to be seen. Flashing lights are permitted but it is recommended that cyclists who are riding in areas without street lighting use a steady front lamp.
Law RVLR regs 13, 18 & 24 –via gov.uk

Despite this, it is surprising how many people you see riding at night with no lights at all. Sadly, not only does this increase the risk of a serious accident, we’re still small enough in number (at least in Cardiff) to be lumped together into one large group, so, one or two cyclists are seen riding around without lights and we are all tarred with the same broad brush. Aside from going through red lights, apparently none of us ride with lights at night. Who knew…

The really frustrating part is, bike lights can be bought very cheaply. You can pick up a cheap set in the local supermarket that will help you be seen. They won’t really stand up to a ride through an unlit section of the Taff Trail (which is most of it…), but it’ll make you visible around the streets of Cardiff. Whilst we cannot vouch for these Tesco-branded LED lights ourselves, they’re £3.50 and are arguably better than no lights at all.

A bit about lights

Whilst you can get a set of lights for £3.50, if you are planning to ride the Taff Trail home on a dark winter evening, you’re going to need something a little more sophisticated.

You can spend as much or as little as you want on lights. At the lower end you’ll find lights that run on AA or AAA batteries, but spend £30 or more and chances are it’ll have a rechargeable battery and come with a USB cable. It’s at this level you start seeing lights sold according to their Lumen rating, such as this Cateye set. The front lamp is 300 Lumens –the measure of how much visible light is emitted.

Whether you go with USB rechargeable lights or standard batteries is up to you. There are benefits to both. You can buy batteries anywhere and keep a set of spares on you, but USB ones tend to be more powerful and last longer, but if you run out of juice while out and about you can’t just pop a few more in and carry on. If you wanted to be covered on a long ride, a set of both would be a good idea.

To flash, or not to flash

In 2005 it became legal to ride with flashing bike lights. You could argue that flashing lights are more likely to attract the attention of an approaching driver, but they are also more distracting and still illegal in some countries. A constant light will eat through your battery more quickly, but you avoid those other issues.

Whether you choose to flash or not, please, please, please point your front light down towards the road so that it lights the tarmac, rather than the retinas of the people coming towards you!

Gavin

Bike commuter, randonneur and cat wrangler

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