How to be seen at night

By | 11 January, 2013

The most important thing about cycling on roads at night is to make sure you can be seen other road users.

Bike Ninja

Bike Ninja

Unfortunately there’s a small minority of cyclists who like to think of themselves as Bike Ninjas. They often wear black clothing, don’t use any lights, sneak up upon motorists, and are only noticed at the very last moment.

If the Bike Ninja escapes going under the wheels of the car, they do often succeed in frightening the life out of the driver, and giving all other cyclists a bad name.

The law in Ireland is very clear on what cyclists must do at night. The Rules of the Road state that at night a cyclist must have lights on their bike – a white or yellow one on the front, and a red one on the back – and also have a reflector on the back of the bike. They also recommend the use of reflective materials on the bike and cyclist’s clothing – although this is not mandatory.

The Rules of the Road don’t really go far enough in promoting best practice when riding at night. You don’t need to dress up like a Christmas tree, but you do want to make sure people can see you on the roads.

Lights

Bike lights

Bike lights

A decent set of battery-powered lights from your local bike shop will normally be sufficient to be seen, but always try to carry a spare set of batteries so that you’re not caught out. Since 2009 the law in Ireland allows you to use either constantly-on or flashing lights, and both have their advantages:

  • With constantly lit lights, it’s easier for a motorist to judge the distance to the cyclist and what direction they’re moving.
  • With flashing lights, they grab the attention of the motorist, and convey the message of “cyclist ahead”.

Some cyclists, including myself, decide to have more than one front and back light, which can be a mixture of constant and flashing, to maximise the chances of being noticed. You may also want to consider placing lights on different parts of your bike and/or body.

If you don’t want to spend a fortune on batteries, then you could look out for rechargeable bike lights, which can plug into the USB port of a computer, and as such can easily be recharged in an office.  Also consider dynamo powered lights, which you can leave on night and day, and never run out of charge. On the back of my bike I have a Reelight that is powered by magnets mounted on the bike wheel.

In the city, bike lights don’t need to be mega-powerful. The aim is to be seen by others; not to illuminate the road – unless, that is, your journey takes you along roads/paths with no street lights.

Reflection

As noted earlier the law requires that all bikes have a rear reflector fitted. You are also encouraged to have reflective strips on your bike and clothing. For clothing, this can range from a reflective armband, to a full high-vis jacket. If you’re going to invest in a jacket, then bear in mind that the colour of the jacket isn’t that important at night – it’s the reflective strips that will help you stand out!

D1 Vest by Georgia in Dublin

D1 Vest by Georgia in Dublin

Of course, not every cyclist wants to dress like a builder, and to suit their sartorial needs, there’s a whole host of new designers adding discrete reflective elements to ‘normal clothes’. I can also recommend the high-vis vest created by the cycling designer Georgia in Dublin as a great alternative to the lurid green ones you often see.

Author: Richard Bloomfield

Richard is the founder of Dublin Bike Blog. He commutes to work every day by bike, come rain or shine, on his Dutch city bike. You can read more from Richard on his blog richardbloomfield.ie.

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