The Do's and Don'ts of Dusk Riding
Man… has it really been 4 months since our last blog post? Geez… the summer months certainly kept us busy! Thank you to you all for your custom!
The wet weather and shorter days have meant that we’re less manic and now returning to a more manageable pace, which means we can once again start offering additional advice and support in the form of blog posts and, fairly soon, we’ll be holding winter workshops - designed to teach riders how to clean and maintain their bikes as well as how to make emergency roadside repairs. More info on that to follow soon.
Today I wanted to discuss a subject that’s very important - the do’s and don’t of riding at dusk.
Recently Owen and I have moved to Webheath - which means a daily commute which takes us past Bromsgrove Train Station and through Tardebigge. We’ve been impressed at the number of people still riding after work - whether that’s commuters, leisure riders or those getting a few training miles in.
However, we’ve been mortified at the number of riders making potentially fatal errors. This includes choice of clothing and the accessories (or lack thereof) fitted to the bike.
So we thought we’d pen up a blog post on our top tips to stay safe and be seen in dusk or night time conditions.
Your clothing choices can make a big difference to your visibility when darkness draws in. However, all too often we see people wearing the wrong clothing - although they think it’s making a difference. We’re here to help you get your winter wardrobe sorted!
Hi Vis/Day-Glo vs Reflective Detailing
We’ve seen quite a few riders opting for hi-vis fluoro yellow jerseys, making the somewhat incorrect assumption that this will help them to be seen at dusk. However, ‘hi-vis’ clothing is also referred to as ‘day-glo’ - which means it is designed to make you stand out in light conditions.
In the dark however, without decent reflective strips this clothing does not help you to stand out.
In fact I once had a black Endura short sleeve jersey that I would ride in dusky conditions, purely because it was covered in reflective detailing on the rear of the jersey. Whenever car headlights hit my clothing you literally couldn’t miss me, despite the jersey itself being a dark colour.
Proviz were one of the brands to pioneer reflective cycle clothing. Their range includes reflective jerseys, jackets and gilets as well as reflective accessories. (A gilet is without a doubt one of the most underestimated pieces of cycling kit you can own. once you have one you wonder how you ever coped with our changeable weather conditions with it!) However some riders can find clothing that is completely reflective too warm, as reflective and waterproof materials aren’t particularly breathable.
More and more cycle clothing brands are moving towards clothing that looks plain under natural light conditions, but under a flash of light (like car headlights) the garment reveals it’s true reflective nature. Altura are one of the British brands pioneering this design, especially with garments such as their NightVision Thunderstorm Jacket.
Altura trademarked and pioneered Darkproof - which is the technology they use to make cycle kit highly reflective without having a negative impact on the riders experience of the garment. Their belief was that reflective clothing, rather than fluoro clothing, is much more likely to help you be seen by drivers in low light conditions. However, reflective clothing needs to be comfortable and breathable to encourage riders to wear it daily.
As well as a jacket, you may want to look at getting biblongs and gloves with reflective detailing included in their design. Gloves with reflective detailing are especially worthwhile as drivers can see any hand signals you are making to indicate your intent.
Overshoes - Not Just For Keeping Your Feet Warm and Dry
Want to know what’s more eye catching than reflective material? It’s reflective material that’s MOVING!
Reflective overshoes are a great way to help ensure that you are spotted by drivers. Your feet will be almost always pedalling and the movement will certainly catch the eye and therefore attention of any drivers approaching you from behind or to your side.
Again, Altura do some great reflective overshoes, but they aren’t the only brand to offer this design. Scottish brand Endura also offer reflective overshoes as part of their Luminite range.
Always Always ALWAYS Wear a Helmet!
A very worrying trend we’ve seen time and time again is people wearing a hi vis garment, clearly concerned about their safety, but then they aren’t riding with a helmet on!
To us, this is a hugely contradictory and ultimately pointless gesture. It’s no good trying to make sure you’re being seen if you’re not prepared if something happens that means you fall off of your bike.
Having recently spoken to someone who’s life was saved by the fact that he was wearing a helmet we had to include this in this blog post. Irrespective of the journey length, the time of day, whether you’re on your own or riding with friends, whether you’re on familiar roads or uncharted territory… always always ALWAYS wear a helmet.
Wearing a helmet also offers you another potential spot to mount a light to help you be seen in low light conditions.
We can supply reflective clothing and accessories, but we do not keep these items in stock at our workshop. If you need to try garment son for size we are more than happy to point you in the direction of local dealers for the brand and products you are interested in.
Lights On Your Bike
Far too often, we see people riding with no lights, one light only, or poor lights that are only a fraction better than reflectors.
While we acknowledge that some lights may seem expensive, we must point out that when it comes to lights you very much get what you pay for. If a rear light is only £10, for example, then chances are it’s not going to be very bright. With that said, a light that is too bright can be deemed a distraction to drivers, and can be just as dangerous as having no lights or poor quality lights.
The best way to gauge the value of lights is to examine the lumen output. Lumens are the measurement of visible light from a single source. In a nutshell, the higher the lumen output, the brighter the light will be. Typically, the higher the lumen output, the bigger the light will be, as it will need a bigger battery to power it for longer periods.
We also recommend purchasing lights that are USB rechargeable, and consider having primary lights and back up lights - to cover you in case you primary light unexpectedly stops working. There are some great affordable lights on the market that we highly recommend based on personal experience.
My favourite combination is a Cateye Volt 400 lumen front light, with a Bontrager Flare light for the rear and Cateye Orb Bar end rear lights as a back up.
Front lights are often categorised as either being for ‘seeing’ or ‘being seen’ - i.e. they either light up the road in front of you or they ensure that drivers can see you, usually via a bright flash.
We would recommend a front light with a 200 to 600 lumen output, as you need to bear in mind that your light may be washed out by lights from cars. Usually these lights have multiple flash and constant settings that riders can toggle between depending on the environment they are riding in and the other light sources that are in that area. We usually advise people to buy a light brighter than they think they need, as this will mean that you can run the light at your preferred setting for longer.
For example, if you felt a 200 lumen light would cover your cycling needs, you could buy a 200 lumen light. However, running it at 200 lumens would be running the light to it’s maximum capacity, meaning it would drain the battery quite quickly - which could be 2 hours, or even just an hour. Buying a 400 lumen light, however, you could run that light at it’s mid setting of 200 lumens, and the battery would be better equipped for sustaining that use over a longer period, say 3 or 4 hours as a comparison.
Cateye’s brilliant website allows you to compare the brightness and range of their different front lights and it tells you battery life for the various models and modes, enabling you to make an informed choice from their product range.
As mentioned, my current front light is a Cateye Volt 400. The reason it’s my favourite light is because when we lived ‘up north’ I used to commute on a busy stretch of road that was unlit and in the countryside. It included a mode that enabled me to get the best of both worlds - to see the dark road ahead of me clearly and to ensure that other road users could see me quickly and easily even from a distance.
The Volt 400 had a great light setting which was called Daytime HyperConstant mode. It basically meant that the light produced a constant beam of 400 lumens - but at the same time it would simultaneously flash a 50 lumen light to ensure that the flash caught the eye of any oncoming drivers.
The Cateye Volt 400 is a tough light that coped with all kinds of weather conditions, including the worst storm I have ever ridden in. However, the Volt 400 is now being superseded by the Cateye Ampp400 which retails at just £34.99 - which is great value for money for a USB rechargeable light! The Ampp 400 also includes the very useful Daytime HyperConstant mode which I highly recommend for anyone commuting or riding in the lanes surrounding Bromsgrove. I will be purchasing one this year and I’ll let you know what I think of it!
Another brand that we have tried and tested is Light & Motion. Their Urban 500 light is a robust and reliable light with a nice quick release strap for the handlebars.
A bright rear light is vital for road riding in low light conditions. A rear light has to be robust as it is often subjected to water and debris sprayed up from the rear wheel on wet rides.
We have tested a lot of rear lights and some give up and stop working at the first sign of wet conditions! You need to have confidence that your rear light is working and bright and whenever possible mount at least two rear lights to your seatpost / backpack / helmet to ensure that you are still visible should one rear light fail.
Owen and I both ride with a Bontrager Flare R - however Trek have recently redesigned their range of lights. The version of the Flare R that Owen and I ride with can be found online and offers 65 lumens for £38, which in our experience is plenty of lumens for a rear light. The new version is cheaper, but has less lumen output. The better comparable version from Trek’s new range is the Flare RT which cannot be bought from Trek’s website but can be sourced from local Trek dealers like Cycle Studio in Redditch. The light offers up to 90 lumens for £45.
Again, these are great in wet weather conditions and generally hold up very well.
There’s also the Light & Motion Via 180 Pro - not a cheap light at £89.99 but can be mounted to aero seatposts and racks and offers up to 150 lumens of red and amber light. This is an ideal light for anyone riding on their own in dark and unlit roads, and Cateye offer a range of Rapid rear lights in different lumen outputs.
Another must for road users are the Cateye Orb bar end lights. These affordable lights help drivers to gauge the width of a cyclist and bike. In my experience of riding with them on unlit country lanes I found passing motorists gave me more room more frequently than if I rode without them.
These simple to install bar end lights replace the bar ends in standard drop handlebars. They run off CR2032 batteries and cost just £19.99. They provide just 5 lumens of light so do not rely on these lights alone to help you be seen at night.
You may also want to look at getting a helmet mounted light to help you be seen. These range greatly in price, and include the Cateye Wearable mini rear light CR2032 battery powered at £9.99, the Cateye Duplex Helmet light, which is powered by AA batteries and costs £24.99, and the Cateye Volt 400 Duplex - which is USB rechargeable and costs £69.99.
Lights with Additional Features
With more and more motorists choosing to get dashcams it’s understandable why the trend has also been picked up by cyclists. With that in mind you may want to consider investing in a light with an integrated camera - such as the Cycliq Fly 6 CE. This 100 lumen rear light records up to 60 frames per second in HD - helping you to document and record your rides.
You can also choose lights that sync together, so that by turning on your front light you are also turning on any other Bluetooth connected lights, such as helmet or rear lights. These are more expensive but a great way to ensure that all of your lights are on and working!