Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Night Biking- Stories and Gear

Biking at night presents a totally new set of challenges. Cyclists need to work extra hard to be seen, and extra precautions need to be taken specifically at intersections but really everywhere. Two of my scariest biking stories have occurred at night:

Whilst on tour, outside of Baltimore on Route 40, the Pulaski Highway, we encountered lots of heavy rain and consequentially 4-5 flat tires between the group (you are much more likely to get flats in the rain, due to small particles being able to stick to the tires and work their way into the tube). We were attempting to make it into the city proper to a house we were Couchsurfing at, but the flats and heavy rain brought us to nightfall about 10 miles out. Route 40 is just a miserable road to bike on for long distances, with tons of entrance and exit ramps from I- 95 and other highways.

After night fell, we decided to make it to the closest hotel. We ran into some incredibly friendly folks under a hotel overpass we were trying to plan our next move, who were familiar with the area. They told us that there are hotels up the road not too far. We made the election to bike and not worry about the added expense. It was still rainy, and just a dark and miserable night. None of us were very well geared up for night riding, with very little reflective gear and no lights. The road was busy, and it was evident that cars were simply having trouble seeing the 4 geared down and scared cyclists. Entrance and exit ramps to and from the highway were the absolute worst part of this, and we had to go through several. We stopped at the first hotel we saw and relaxed for the evening.

My second scary night riding story:

Bunn Hill is a tall hill in the Town of Vestal next to the SUNY Binghamton campus. It is steep to the point where a friend of mine was able to draft a car to reduce wind resistance and hit over 50 miles per hour going down.

I attended a meeting at the very top of Bunn Hill after work one night. The ride up is about 1.5- 2 miles long.

The meeting went later than I expected it to and it was a very dark night. I intelligently did not have a front light at the time.  Riding downhill home was an absolutely terrifying sensation. I could barely see 5 feet in front of where I was traveling. Fortunately the pavement has few potholes or cracks. I rode the brake the entire way downhill and arrived home safe, but shaken up considerably. 

Fortunately I did have my reflective shirt on and rear blinky light, which really did save me from cars zipping down the hill. The reflective shirt is visible from quite far away, especially with little light to compete with. I don't know if the blinky red light or the reflective shirt was more valuable. The combination of both was a good choice.

The scariest part of the ride down was seeing several deer munching along the side of the road as I was nearly on top of them.

Safety Tips:
Be safe, be seen is a slogan for many bike safety campaigns. The nighttime makes being seen much more difficult.

Reflective gear is essential. I wear a shirt (similar to this link) with reflective strips on it for my commute, though I am out mostly during the daylight. The shirt has construction grade reflective properties. Front and back lights are immensely helpful for visibility. A friend of mine did a winter tour and planned on some night time riding. He was well equipped with an excellent front light that actually lit his way.

Update 3/23/12:
This is the most comprehensive list of bike rear lights I've seen reviewed. Check it out, and pick one up!

Does anyone have scary night biking stories to share?

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