Thursday, January 15, 2009

Cycling Equipment: Visibility

Few people have the luxury of riding a dedicated bicycle path to work. Most of us have to share the road with those big, clunky, dangerous automobiles. I was scared to death of getting out there with the cars. Eventually I got more comfortable in traffic. One thing that helped a lot was to make sure I was seen by the cars.

Bike "ninjas" are people who ride out in traffic after dark without lights, reflectors, or even light colored clothing. Some people think it's cool, but I think it's suicidal. If you've every come up on a bike ninja suddenly when you're in a car, it scares the heck out of you. If you're gonna be riding a bike, don't be a bike ninja!

You can spend a fortune on lights and reflective clothing. Or you can get some basic lights and a cheapo construction worker's vest. Either way, your visibility to drivers will be improved.

First of all, make sure you have a basic set of reflectors on your bike. That means a white reflector on the front, a red one in the back, and reflectors on your wheels. Some people think those wheel reflectors look ugly and remove them, but if you will be riding in other than full daylight, those reflectors are your best chance to be recognized as a bicycle by someone approaching you from the side. Most bikes come equipped with these reflectors.

The next thing you need (by law in some states) if you're riding between dusk and dawn are some lights. The good news is that with the advent of LEDs, bicycle lighting has become compact and light. Note that I am not advertising these lights or the site they're on, but here is an affordable headlight and tail light combination:

A quick note about lights- most bicycle lights have a blink mode. When riding, even during daylight, I use my lights in blink mode, both in front and back. Bikes can be virtually invisible to car drivers, but flashing lights attract attention. Eventually, I got a second pair of lights. I leave one pair on steady and the other pair in blink mode. This seems to be the optimum way to make sure I'm seen.

One other thing that helps other see you is reflective clothing. For starters you can pick up a construction worker's safety vest for about $10 at a home improvement store. I have this one:

That was a great value for the money. This past Christmas I also got one of these:

It's bright yellow for visibility in daylight, and has reflective stripes for visibility after dark.

You'll notice I'm writing a blog about bicycle commuting for beginners but I haven't even mentioned the bicycle yet. That's because I feel so strongly about helmets and visibility that I feel that these topics should be covered first.

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