Commuting 101: Be Seen!

September’s officially here, and many recreational cyclists are hanging their bikes up for the season as the evening daylight gets shorter and shorter.   Those who commute by bike, however, still have quite a bit of good riding weather ahead. You just need to be seen, and be safe.

Year-round, one of the most fatal flaws of a cyclist is to ride in the various “no zones” and blind spots of automobile traffic.   As ours are among the smallest vehicles on the road, it’s easy for a small blind spot to encumber us entirely. These blind spots include the 3-4 feet next to parked cars (the “Door Prize Zone”), next to the rear passenger-side fender, and almost anywhere along the driver’s side of the car unless you’re near the front fender.   Additionally, the A-Pillar (the metal between the front windshield and the side front window) can block you from the view of the driver as well, particularly when you’re approaching cross-traffic.

Reflective material on your bicycle and clothing adds a key visual stimulus in low-light conditions.   The more reflective material that’s facing the motorist, the further away you’ll be when you catch their eye.   This applies mostly to the rear and sides of your bicycle and body, but having plenty of reflective material visible from the front is a great idea as well. You never know when someone will turn across your path. It goes without saying that a full set of DOT-Approved reflectors fore, aft, and on the wheels is highly recommended.

Active lighting is a must when it comes to riding before sunrise or after sundown. Lately, LED technology has gotten relatively inexpensive and the performance is getting to be quite good. While flashing light is an attention-getter, it can also be distracting and make it difficult to judge how far away you are.   By the same token, commodity halogen bicycle headlights are easy for a motorist to glance over. It’s up to each individual cyclist to determine what they need, but in general, you’re either buying a headlight to see with, or buying a headlight to be seen.   LED Vs. HID Vs. Halogen is practically a Holy War among cyclists who ride at night.   All have benefits.   Tail lights most commonly come in one form: The “Blinky“.   This can be an array from one to more than a dozen LEDs with several flashing modes and a steady mode.   They either mount with belt clips or under the seat.   There are only a few exceptions to the rear tail light rule. Again, flashing lights can make it difficult for the motorist to tell how close you really are.

My current setup is a low-power (and long-lasting) halogen flood light, a more focused and bright halogen spot headlight, and two tail lights: one in flashing mode and one in steady mode.   My bicycle has some reflective tape on it and DOT reflectors all around except on the clipless pedals, but many of my accessories also have reflective piping.   I finish it off with an inexpensive construction worker reflective vest.

What are you doing to cope with the lack of sunlight as the days get shorter?

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