Riding at Night

Now that Summer is here, the weather in the Rocky Mountains is spectacular, and the long days provide plenty of opportunities for great riding. The warmer weather and dry roads also provide a great opportunity for cyclists to experience the world of riding at night. Those of you who already enjoy safe and responsible nighttime cycling know exactly what I am talking about. For the rest of you, I am challenging you to go “out on the town” with friends, and do it all by bike. Whether you choose to go to a festival, a concert, a movie, dinner, or simply a beer at the local watering hole, I encourage you to do it by bike. Once you experience the fun of a night out on bikes, you will likely need no further encouragement to do it again. There simply is no comparison between an evening out on bikes versus the same activities but with traveling by car.

In the last 10 years, the bicycle light industry has been completely transformed by LED technology. This technology allows for brighter lights, in smaller packages, that are extremely lightweight. As an added bonus, modern bicycle lights are relatively inexpensive accessories that can add hours of cycling enjoyment. Take a trip to your local bike shop, and for less than the cost of a tank of gas, your bike can be transformed into a fun and safe nighttime transportation vehicle.

In Colorado, state statutes provide guidance as to the usage of lights and reflectors. At all times between the official sunset and sunrise, lights and reflectors are required (C.R.S. § 42-4-204).

As to the minimum necessary equipment in order to legally ride at night, C.R.S. § 42-4-221 requires the following:

  1. A white headlight on the front of your bike that is visible for at least 500 feet;
  2. A red reflector on the back of your bike that is visible to low-beam car headlights from at least 600 feet away; and
  3. Either reflectors on both sides of your bike that are visible to low-beam car headlights from a distance of 600 feet, or a lighted lamp visible from both sides from a distance of 500 feet.

These types of “safety lights” and reflectors are designed primarily to allow you to be seen by others, rather than for the purpose of providing lighting for you to ride. There are a number of factors that help determine whether you will need additional and/or more powerful lighting than what is minimally required. If you are riding in urban settings, or within a small town, there very well may be adequate ambient lighting from streetlights, homes and businesses that would allow you to safely travel at casual speeds to and from your destination with nothing more than what is minimally required.

On the other hand, if you will be traveling in dark, rural or remote areas, you should consider purchasing a brighter headlight that will illuminate the roadway or a path ahead of you. Remember that the faster you will be traveling on your bike, the greater distance you must illuminate in order to safely warn yourself of road hazards and/or debris.

There are other things you can do to make yourself more visible, and provide further protection. Use inexpensive reflective tape on various parts of your bike. Look through your cycling gear, and you very well may find that a vest, jacket or jersey you already own has reflective piping already on it. Helmet-mounted lights “look where you look”, and are not limited to the direction of your handlebars. As we interact with other road users, particularly at night, it is important to be conspicuous and highly visible. The last thing you want to do is startle a motorist and cause them to drive unpredictably. Since you’re reading this paper, you are probably already a cyclist. As a cyclist, imagine how you would react to a well-illuminated nighttime rider, versus a completely unlit rider with no bicycle reflectors or reflective clothing. Even as a cyclist, you would likely bristle at the latter. Now, imagine how a non-cyclist driving a car would react to the same two cyclists. Make life safer and happier for all of us by being the courteous and responsible cyclist. The vast majority of motorists will greatly appreciate the effort you take to be visible, and will reciprocate with courtesy.

Most of all, I’m simply urging you to take the challenge. On whatever bike you would ride for a two- or three-mile trip, outfit it with an inexpensive setup of lights and reflectors. Get some friends together, and take a casual bike ride for your next night out. Who knows, you may even find yourself wanting to keep doing it through the winter.