Portlanders who commute by riding their bikes to work may have encountered the unpleasant — and potentially scary — scenario of having to ride their bike home after dark. Perhaps you had to stay late one night to finalize some changes to a project, or went out for a special happy hour with your coworkers for a birthday or going away celebration. Whatever the case, riding at night is not something you want to (or should) do on a whim.
Not surprisingly, the majority of cycling accidents occur in urban areas, and most casualties are adults (males account for about 80% of all cycling casualties). The most dangerous hours for cycling are between 3 and 6 PM and 8 and 9 AM, likely because there is much more traffic on the roads than later in the evening or early morning. Although 80% of cycling accidents occur in broad daylight, accidents that happen at night are more likely to be deadly. Should you ever find yourself in a situation where you need to ride at night, be prepared with the right cycling gear and follow these tips.
Dress Like a Christmas Tree (or Circuit Board)
You don’t want to distract cyclists and drivers around you at any time when you are cycling in traffic, but the point is to be highly visible at all times. In Oregon, there is a bike light law that requires cyclists to use lights that meet certain specifications in order to maximize visibility and safety. There are different types of lights you can and should use to be visible to those around you. Try to make it clear through your lighting scheme that you are on a bike — in general, blinking lights could be more of a distraction. The time that they are turned off could make it difficult for traffic to keep track of your movements, especially if it is raining. You can also don reflective clothing, or you can even add reflective tape to your bike and any kind of gear you already have.
Stay in Protected Bike Lanes
Downtown Portland has added several protected bike lanes to major streets in order to reduce congestion and provide a safer commute to cyclists. These lanes are closed off to vehicles and are signaled with bright green paint and markings. Some do have physical barriers to prevent cars from creeping into them. These barriers are typically reflective flexposts.
You could just wear a pair of clear glasses, but wearing goggles that are firmly attached can help you see clearly on your ride. Some cyclists reach speeds of 30MPH! This creates a lot of wind getting into your eyes, making it difficult to view your surroundings. The dark of night serves to heighten the risks prevalent in not seeing what lies ahead. Goggles can also protect you from getting hit by debris.
Choose a Night Bike
You may be a huge fan of your road bike, but if you plan on being out after sundown you might be better off with an old bike with fat tires. A race frame provides little room for mounting lights and other gear, and when streets are wet, you’ll want that grip. Tires in the 28-32mm range are apt to absorb more shock and unseen rubble. Unfortunately, nighttime riding also increases your risk for being the victim of criminal activity. In the event that you get mugged, losing an older bike that’s seen better days is easier than losing your high-end race bike.
The average person’s reaction time is half a second. In half a second, at 30 miles per hour, you travel 22 feet. A lot can happen in that distance when you’re riding at night, so slow down to give yourself more time to react to what’s in front of you.
If your lights aren’t cutting it, take a more well-lit path home. Arriving late is better than getting involved in a personal injury case.
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