Tuesday, September 18, 2007

We ride by night...

Mary and I were in Claremore, Oklahoma for a junior varsity football game last night. Owasso won the 7 to 6 game. We watched as Claremore's center, who outweighed our linebacker son by 40 pounds or more, repeatedly stuffed him into the ground. Momma's heart was in her throat every time. Jordan finally managed to spin the center around and slam him onto the grass. He was pleased about that.

But CycleDog isn't about football, of course, so there has to be some kind of cycling tie in.

We saw some cyclists as we drove west going home. The first one was along Lynn Riggs Boulevard in Claremore, a four lane arterial with businesses on both sides. An eastbound cyclist was on the sidewalk. It was just after dark and I immediately noticed the white flashing light on the front of his bike. After I passed, I could see his red tail light flashing too. All in all, he was well lit and very conspicuous. But he was on the sidewalk crossing all those curb cuts – a dangerous situation.

The second rider was going east on SH20 approaching a notoriously bad intersection. He was a 'stealth' rider – no lights or reflectors, and he wore dark clothing. I only noticed him due to the lights from a parking lot along the road. The intersection he was approaching has a tight bend where SH20 turns north. Traffic enters from a side street on the bend too. Sight lines aren't very good. The intersection has numerous crashes. For an unlit cyclist in the dark, it would be extremely hazardous.

Finally, as we continued west toward home on a county road, I spotted a pair of pedal reflectors going up and down. This was another stealth cyclist, riding along on a dark rural road with only pedal reflectors for safety. He too was going the other way. Honestly, I didn't see the cyclist until we were almost alongside him, and just like the one on SH20, he wore dark clothing.

Wow!” I said to Mary, “Did you see that guy?”

What guy?” she asked. She really hadn't seen him.

I know more people are turning to bicycles for exercise, recreation, and basic transportation, and quite frankly I was surprised to see three cyclists in one evening. Normally, weeks can go by before I see a cyclist on the road in daylight so encountering one at night is extremely rare. Yet I saw three, and all of them were doing something that just about made my hair stand on end.

If you're going to ride at night, equip your bicycle with lights and reflectors according to the vehicle code in your area. The minimum standard seems to be a white front light and a red rear reflector. Oklahoma requires a red rear light in addition to the reflector. Also, only emergency vehicles can legally use flashing lights here, but I've never heard of anyone being stopped and ticketed for violating that law. I normally use the flashing mode for my tail light, and one flashing and one steady up front. Yes, I'm a belt AND suspenders kinda guy. Also, it's a good idea to equip your bike with a DOT specification amber rear reflector as well as a red one. Amber is much more conspicuous in rain or fog, and the DOT reflectors are much brighter than the CPSC specified ones that came with your bike.

One last word about the humble pedal reflector. The up and down motion instantly identifies a cyclist on the road. But most clipless pedals can't be fitted with pedal reflectors, so use some reflective tape on the crank arms instead. It's not as bright as a reflector, but it helps. Some cycling shoes have reflective panels in the heels and some have a hard plastic heel where you can attach a strip of reflective tape. It doesn't have to be big because our eyes are more sensitive to movement at night. Helmets are good spots for reflective tape too, because as we move our heads from side to side, the movement is very apparent to an overtaking motorist.

Even if you're not planning to ride at night, put some sort of reflector on the rear of your bike and toss a small headlight in your seatbag or wherever you keep a spare tube. You may set out for a ride and have a flat or some other mechanical problem that will delay your return until after sunset. Any light, even a small one, will make you much more conspicuous and less likely to have a crash. A small AAA Maglite and a thick rubber band makes a good improvised headlight and it doesn't weigh much or take up too much space. Remember to do the old backpacker's trick of reversing one of the batteries. Then if the switch is turned on accidentally, the batteries won't discharge.


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2 Comments:

Blogger Fritz said...

There have been times where I discern cyclists only because they eclipse the lights from behind them.

I'm undecided about one thing: Let's say I'm unexpectedly caught out after dark. Do I ride vehicularly without lights? Or do I become the pedestrian on wheels and ride at near walking speed on the sidewalk (assuming pedestrian traffic is light to none)? What's your thinking on this?

2:26 PM  
Blogger Ed W said...

I think a lot would depend on the road and the traffic situation, Fritz. On a lightly traveled rural road, I'd probably ride slowly if I could see well enough to avoid potholes or debris. But I'd get off the road if a car approached, and walk the bike. If I recall right, a disproportionate percentage of cyclist fatalities involve riding at night without lights.

An urban street would be different to some extent. If traffic was light, and the street was well-lit, I'd ride on it but I'd still get off the street if any traffic approached. Sidewalks are a dangerous option since they're about 3 times more likely to involve a collision. Riding at pedestrian speeds would be a possibility.

Since I'm a former boy scout (you guessed, didn't you?) I keep a small flashlight in my seat bag, as well as another micro light on my keychain. They're not really bright enough to be conspicuous to a motorist, but they throw just enough light to see when it's very, very dark. Think of it as roughly equivalent to a full moon.

No, I won't claim that mine is the definitive answer, but I'll toss this question to some other experienced cyclists to see what they'd recommend.

9:19 PM  

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