8 tips for riding home in the dark

Riding in the dark isn’t everyone’s idea of fun. A lamp lit spin around lanes you know, or off-road – known as night riding – can actually be both liberating and very relaxing, but when the ride is simply about getting home, it can sometimes feel like a race for survival.

Here are some tips to keep you safe…

1) Have good lights, that work

A good set of lights is your number one requirement. If your route is unlit, you’ll be looking at an 800 lumen+ front beam that lights up the road and shows you your path.

Very often, those kind of lights will work on full power for an hour or so, and on half power for a few hours, and if you’ve got a flashing mode, much longer.

It’s crucial you know how long your light lasts for, ideally it will have an indication to show you when the battery is half full and a quarter full. Learn the battery life, and make sure you have a charging cable at home, and at work – so you can never forget.

If you use a bright light, do be responsible – direct it away from oncoming traffic if you’re on country lanes and using full power, and only use half power when in lit areas.

If you’re shopping around for bike lights, our best selling bike lights guide will help.

2) Have back up lights

It shouldn’t happen with a good quality light, but it does – so make sure you have a set of back up lights in case your main light dies.

Do check the batteries are still fresh and that the light functions every couple of weeks, if it’s usually buried in the bottom of a backpack for some time.

It is a good idea to have two rear lights on at all times, in case one fails and you don’t realise.

This £2 pair of bike lights will do the trick perfectly to get you home.

The light that comes on when you move

3) The ‘high viz’ question

Other visibility aids are contentious issues for some who claim lights are enough to ensure they are seen

I can vouch for the fact I’ve come across riders, without lights, in pitch black, and picked them out only for the reflector on their pedals. Obviously, start with lights – but if you can wear clothing with high viz elements (silver, yellow is debatable in fading light) and stay away from wearing all black.

The Commuter X4 bike light fits with straps around your shoulders of back pack and provides a light that is visible from more angles

4) Know your route

Proper lights should mean you can see your way, but it’s always reassuring if you know where the next bend is, where that crater of a pot hole is and where the road narrows.

Of course, you still need to be aware that changes may take place, but if you can stick to a route where you know the roads well it is a good idea.

However well you know your route, however, be respectful of the winter darkness – and slow down. It is ‘ok’ to ride slower in the dark, and it is much better to have a slower average speed, and get home safely, than to keep riding at full throttle and find yourself with a bent rim and bruised pride when you meet a pothole.

5) Modify your route if need be

My commute home finishes with a 20% hill, that’s completely unlit and currently covered in wet leaves – and thus I have a ‘summer route’ and a ‘winter route’. Admittedly, the ‘winter route’ is not as pleasant, its more traffic infested – but it’s also better lit, and the roads are smoother.

If your commute uses country lanes, that can become flooded, or strewn with debris, look for more urban routes. Failing that, do make sure you invest in some very reliable and heavy duty tyres (I have considered riding my ‘summer’ route aboard a cyclocross bike recently… then I discovered point 6)

6) Take it off road

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If you’ve got a mountain bike, hybrid or cyclocross bike, it’s not a bad idea to include some off road portions in your route – this takes you away from the cars, and actually it’s a pretty fun way to inject some variety into what can sometimes feel like a hell of a slog.

Of course, riding off road takes away the traffic – but it does introduce you to wet roots, rocks and mud – only opt for this option if you have experience night riding off road (or with a friend you trust, assuming you’re prepared to fall in some mud some time).

7) Take a mate

This isn’t an option available for everyone, but if you work with or near a friend who also happens to live along your way home, arrange to ride together.

There is safety in numbers – two riders are more visible than one, and you’ll always have someone to stand beside the road with you whilst you fix a puncture (handy as an extra set of hands to hold a torch can make a big difference).

8) Stay in touch

iphone-on-table.jpg

If you don’t have the buddy option, try to make sure someone knows where you are, and make sure you’ve got battery on your phone.

Should you find yourself plunged into darkness, or struggling with two punctured tubes and no patches five miles from home, you will thank yourself- a long walk in the light is one thing, in the dark it’s a bit of an ordeal.

To always know your nearest bike shop in London, we recommend the free London Cyclist app which lists all of London’s bike shops. Alternatively, a quick search on Google Maps should do the trick.

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35 Responses to 8 tips for riding home in the dark

  1. Alan Moore 30/10/2014 at 3:35 pm #

    Surprised you mention high viz, as this makes almost no difference in the dark. Of course it’s usually a lighter colour than black, but the ‘high viz’ effect is due to the ultraviolet in sunlight being converted to extra visible light… there’s no ultraviolet from car headlights.

    What makes a difference in the dark is REFLECTIVE material.. reflective strips on your jacket, bike or even spokes can make a massive difference. I’ve just ordered a load of spoke reflectors which I’ll be fitting soon, to supplement my (bright!) dynamo powered lights, especially from the side.

    • Fergus 31/10/2014 at 1:35 pm #

      Yes, but only if a sufficiently bright light is shining directly at the reflective material! (See my comment below for my solution to this.)

    • Denise 07/11/2014 at 10:27 am #

      Alan – spot on. At monkeysee we sell hi-vis and reflective gear and it’s just amazing how many people think that fluro/neon on it’s own works at night, it’s an ongoing education. I like to work with the principle of hi-vis fluro for day & reflective for night – always suggest items that containing both is helpful, but also enough reflective material for low light conditions, some jackets just have the smallest strips of the stuff. Most accidents occur at T intersections so good to ensure it goes right around the body.

  2. Vincent 30/10/2014 at 9:18 pm #

    > but if you can wear clothing with high viz elements (silver, yellow is debatable in fading light) and stay away from wearing all black.

    In addition to blinking lights, always wear a high-viz jacket with reflective strips, even in broad daylight: It costs nothing, requires not batteries, and is very effective to catch drivers’ and pedestrians’ attention. I always wear those now and it makes a hell of a difference.

    http://www.dublincitycycling.ie/blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/Hi-Viz-Vest-269×300.jpg

  3. MJ Ray 30/10/2014 at 10:42 pm #

    “If you use a bright light, do be responsible – direct it away from oncoming traffic” It’d be better to get a legal road light that has a properly shaped beam.

    Also, what’s all this about only having full power for an hour? If you need a reliable light for unlit areas, get dynamo lights. http://mashing53.WordPress.com has a guide

    • eric 31/10/2014 at 2:43 am #

      The RoadID app sends a breadcrumb that your significant other can’t track real time. If you stop for more than 5 minutes, it sends an alert. It’s pretty sweet, try it out.

    • Matt 31/10/2014 at 9:58 am #

      I agree – many a time have I been blinded by oncoming powerful beams.

    • Dave 31/10/2014 at 10:47 am #

      I ride through battersea park every day and the number of migraine inducing strobe lights is unbelievable. A flashing front light might be great for getting noticed in traffic but I wish people would change the mode (or point it down) when off road! I don’t think people appreciate how much it reduces visibility for oncoming cyclists when their flashing light is pointed high.

  4. Stacey 31/10/2014 at 10:44 am #

    I think having a something bright coloured with reflective elements on your body is essential and should actually be compulsory. As a cyclist and a driver I’m more aware of the issues and when I’ve been driving there’ve been quite a few instances when I’ve only just spotted cyclists in dark clothing as they were barely noticeable in a crowded space even when it’s light. I know some cyclists are reluctant and can’t see why they should wear it when drivers need to pay more attention, but to be honest, we know there’re a lot of crap drivers around and I’d rather be alive thanks.

  5. Andrew Smith 31/10/2014 at 11:16 am #

    800 Lumens is way too much for general riding (offroad is different). You will blind everyone from other cyclists to oncoming cars if you aren’t careful. I would say about 200 is all you need for most purposes and even this should be angled appropriately. On two way cycle paths and towpaths in particular 800 would be dangerous for oncoming cyclists.
    This doesn’t mean you can’t use a higher powered light, just be aware of the settings and turn it down.

  6. Tony 31/10/2014 at 11:35 am #

    I use a high power front lamp. It is dazzling for on coming drivers so I have a remote dimming button on my right front brake lever.

    The real problem is that I can’t see pot holes unless it is on at decent brightness and I can’t see pot holes when the oncoming car lights are bright. Modern cars, especially 4x4s with the higher mounted lights are a real problem. It’s time cycle lamps were made with better beam profiles so that a sharp top cut off can be generated as cars have. To get a sharp cut off needs a small source size and a large reflector. A large reflector will add considerably to air resistance on the cycle so the source size needs to be much smaller. A fibre optic source would fix this.

    It is a shame that Land’s idea of the 30s was never implemented, i.e. all lights are circularly polarised and all drivers have circularly polarise analysers to view the road. Then you mainly see your own lights and much less of the oncoming lights.

    The other problem I have is that I often cycle on a cycle path on the right hand side of the road, (there is no path on the left). On coming cars can be presented with two sets of oncoming lights, mine on their left and other cars on their right. I have had one car stop because he couldn’t work out where to drive. Cycle paths should be on both sides of the road or on well lit streets.

    200 lumens is not enough to see potholes far enough away at 18 mph. Even with 1000 lumens I have missed the odd one or two. Dipping would be the answer but until then I dim on demand.

  7. Gavin 31/10/2014 at 12:34 pm #

    Last winter I purchased a Philips Safe Ride 80 (http://www.philips.co.uk/c-p/BF48L20BBLX1/led-bike-lights-80-lux-battery-driven-black-aluminium) .
    Great light, has only two settings, high & low.
    The way that the LED’s are fixed in the light means it does not dazzle oncoming traffic, it’s more like a motor bike light!

    Also have recently purchased a new jacket for the winter, the Proviz Reflect360.
    The whole jacket is made from reflective fabric, during the day is a grey colour but at night when the jacket picks up an external light source – vehicle headlights, it give the reflectivity. I’ve been told a few times that I look like a ghost from a distance!

    So hopefully I will be well illuminated this winter!

    • Kim 18/12/2014 at 2:13 pm #

      Hi Gavin, I’m also considering the Proviz Reflect360 this winter and I was wondering if I could get your opinion? I currently use a great waterproof shell made from Gore Tex Active material, but it’s black and I’m concerned about visibility. Since both the Gore Tex and Proviz ranges are quite pricey (Gore Tex rather more so!), I would like to go with just one coat and therefore was thinking about making the change to Proviz. However, reviews have highlighted that the Reflect360 is a bit on the warm side and also obviously isn’t as waterproof as a proper Gore Tex shell.

      My question is, have you found these two issues to be enough of a pain in the UK that I should consider sticking to my waterproof (but much less visible) coat?

      • Gavin 19/12/2014 at 11:10 am #

        Hi Kim,

        I have been using the jacket for my commute for about three months now and it is holding up ok.

        As the other reviews have stated, it can get a bit warm when you’re going full steam! But I’ve had this with most of my previous jackets. So not too much of a problem for me.
        Under the arms are zip vents (approx. 30cm long) which help cooling down too.

        As for the waterproof ability I can’t complain, it’s been fine so far.

        I only have two negatives with the jacket, the first is the sizing. I would say get a size down from what you normally get, even better, I think Halfords now stock the jacket so you could always pop into a store and try one on to be sure.

        The second gripe is what is printed on the jackets wash label:
        (Quote)
        “This garment must be kept clean to be effective.
        Correct care of your jacket is required to maintain its effectiveness over the life expectancy of 25 wash cycles.”

        25 washes doesn’t seem a lot, so when I do wash the jacket (not that often!) I only wash it on a cold quick cycle.

        On my other jackets that I have had in the past, the reflective strips had come off/peeled off after a few washes anyway, so I that’s why I went for a whole reflective jacket so it wouldn’t get that problem!

        I don’t know if there are any cycle jackets out there that have the reflective tape stitched/sewn onto the jacket?
        Maybe a good idea if it hasn’t been done already?
        If anyone has got a cycle jacket with the reflective material sewn on I would be interested to know – for the future!

        • Mark 19/12/2014 at 12:10 pm #

          in all fairness i doubt you even wash a coat/jacket once a year. so it should last 25 years 🙂

        • Kim 23/12/2014 at 11:27 am #

          Hi Gavin,

          Thanks so much for your thoughts – very useful! I did go for the Reflect360 jacket in the end and was immediately impressed with how robust it seems. Also, the visibility is incredible – even more impressive in real life! Can’t wait to try it out!

          Secondly I just wanted to add a note to your thoughts on sizing. The women’s cut seems to be sold by normal clothes size – 10, 12, 14, etc (on amazon anyway). I went with my usual size and it’s perfect, so ladies don’t seem to have the same issue.

          Thanks again Gavin!
          Kim

  8. Tony 31/10/2014 at 12:44 pm #

    The philips safe ride 80 is 80 LUX. A LUX is a lumen per square metre. How far away is the metre? How many square metres are there? Normally one wants to know how many lumens and what the beam angle is.

    • MJ Ray 14/11/2014 at 12:19 pm #

      In German standard lights, lux is measured 10m in front. No-one should want to know the lumens measurement. Lumens are bunk: it doesn’t matter how many there are, if they’re going into the sky or the lamp housing instead of onto the road. Beam angle can be useful, though, as can “to see” and “be seen” distances, but they’re more possible to exaggeration by marketing.

      • Tony 18/12/2014 at 4:56 pm #

        Lux = 1 lumens per square metre. Maybe some German standard does specify 10 metres in front but this is just the same as specifying the lumens and the beam angle.

        What lumens does give you is an indication of the power requirements from the lamp. So a 1000 lumen from light is going to be around 10 watts with an LED/phosphor source.

        The problem of cyclist riding in front of cars with even brighter lights is a real issue and can definitely make the cyclist almost invisible. A combination of flashing and non flashing lights helps significantly. Flashing only lights are a disaster, so easy to miss.

  9. Fergus 31/10/2014 at 1:32 pm #

    What I’ve noticed is that the front light (assuming it is not blinding) can be overpowered by other lights coming from behind the cyclist. This leaves the cyclist as a black, not very visible outline. Reflective jackets don’t address this unless a light is being shone directly at them and this is not the case with cars (and bikes) pulling out in front of the cyclist, nor with pedestrians. I deal with this by having two front lights. One shines forward, as normal; I shine the other light back at myself: a light shining directly onto my torso and reflective bib is lighting up an object (me) with an area of about six square feet, which is very, very visible (gives a sort of very bright car-dashboard effect) and shows that I’m a person not just a moving light.
    Now I need to find a way of customising the reflective strips on a bib.

    Agree with the comments about blinding lights – also applies to rear lights.

  10. Mark 31/10/2014 at 2:09 pm #

    i wear all white, on an all white bike.
    i think this helps at night

    on a clouded day i could “merge” in with the grey/white sky. so the black parts of my bike, and blue rucksack help me be seen then

    i agree with others – whats important is the reflective strips.
    i have got an old high vis jacket that i took all the material reflective strips off of. then glued it along the back mudguard, its very bright!
    im also thinking of wrapping some of it around the frame to make it silver reflective too

    Also, got reflective sleeves that clip on the spokes

    + 4 back lights and 3 front lights!
    mainly the cheap “frog” style ones that i leave on th bike and dont bother removing. if they get stolen they are only £1 so no big deal

  11. Nyge 31/10/2014 at 2:39 pm #

    Hi Viz or 800 Lumens – it’s got to be better than riding a black bike wearing a black hoodie and no lights at all!

    It still amazes me to see how many night riders place their lives in others hands by taking absolutely no precautions and making it even harder to see them by wearing dark clothing. Why are these cyclists so unconcerned with road safety? There is no excuse when you can light up your bike from a visit to Poundland, let alone buying expensive hi-end kit.

  12. Richard 31/10/2014 at 3:39 pm #

    Ninja Cyclist – rides at night in black clothing with no lights – appears as if from nowhere, and can be very dangerous to encounter.

  13. Roger 31/10/2014 at 11:08 pm #

    Hi viz and good lights are essential but they eliminate the dopey-driver factor. However, it does help with the ‘how could you not have seen me? I’m dressed like a f___ing lemon!’

  14. Roger 31/10/2014 at 11:08 pm #

    *i mean ‘DON’T ELIMINATE THE DOPEY DRIVER FACTOR 🙂

    • Matt 01/11/2014 at 2:19 pm #

      Roger, Are you sure that’s not a freudian slip? Let’s face it if we could eliminate the dopey drivers we’d all be safer ;P

  15. Neeta 11/11/2014 at 3:55 am #

    Michelle,

    Thanks for these tips. While light was a no brainer, it’s the ‘understanding of routes’ that can make a lot of difference. It happens quite often to get lost in the dark and the more knowledge about alternate routes and the connectivity surely helps to get back home comfortably without having to press the danger button.

  16. Arthur Ascii 14/11/2014 at 2:10 am #

    The lights you link to are, without doubt, not marked for BS6102 or equivalent, and therefore are illegal to ride with. You should be careful making such recommendations to people.

  17. Mark 14/11/2014 at 9:19 am #

    i dont think anyone cares about BS6102
    just get lit up, thats all that matters

    • MJ Ray 14/11/2014 at 12:22 pm #

      It seems few UK riders care about standards (more likely German K markings than BS) which is why there are so many mad/bad/anti-social lighting combos used. Any lights are better than no lights, but standard lights are better than non-standard if all else is equal.

  18. John Bonner 17/11/2014 at 12:06 pm #

    Bike LED lights and BS numbers.
    We’re all breaking the law, I exaggerate a few of us are riding legally.
    At night to ride legally you must have pedal reflectors, a rear reflector marked BS6102/2 or ECE 1or 1A,plus front and rear lights marked BS 6102/3 in this country. Other EC countrys vary, German traffic laws uses StVZO approval.
    Now you go out and try to buy any LED lights in this country that carry these numbers and conform ,impossible.
    At the recent NEC bike show I bought a high end Lezyne super drive front LED light, this is not marked BS 610/3 so illegal to use on it’s own in this country.
    Will every one please read the article by Chris Juden,a guide to lighting and the law published in October /November issue of Cycle, the magazine of the ctc.
    In the event of an accident however the unobservant driver’s insurer will look for any excuse not to pay out.( contributory negligence )

    • MJ Ray 17/11/2014 at 2:01 pm #

      “Now you go out and try to buy any LED lights in this country that carry these numbers and conform ,impossible” – a few local bike shops like Really Useful Bikes and Practical Cycles carry various lights that are marked with K numbers indicating approval to German standards, plus some appear in occasional special offers in the German-owned supermarkets, but I know what you mean. They are very much in the minority.

      Everyone can’t read the article by Chris Juden in CTC’s paper magazine because it’s not available for sale, but there an article by him at http://www.ctc.org.uk/cyclists-library/regulations/lighting-regulations and some recent comments about a brightness test at http://forum.ctc.org.uk/viewtopic.php?f=6&t=74339&start=15#p649320

      • Alan Moore 19/11/2014 at 2:31 pm #

        I guess it’s the ‘OR EQUIVALENT’ which makes the difference.. many will have the German marks rather than British Standards.

        • MJ Ray 19/11/2014 at 2:36 pm #

          Please, try it and ask your local bike shops about it. The state of bike light sales is really pretty awful – never mind the quality, feel the lumens?

  19. Patrick 23/11/2014 at 7:51 pm #

    I would recommend shelling out for a set of USB rechargable lights. The amount of times i see riders with lights so dim because the batteries are almost dead has led me to mention this to said riders on my commute. The intentions are there for them to have the lights in the 1st place but they then neglect to maintain them and check their effectiveness. Worst still are the riders who mount their lights on their person/bag without understanding if the light can be seen when they are riding. Placing them on the back of your helmet when wearing a big rucksack or on the left hand side of your rucksack is just asking for trouble.

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