Fight Road Rash with a Good Headlight

Matthew D. JohnsonMatthew D. Johnson, Ph.D. is the director of the Marriage and Family Studies Laboratory and formerly the deputy to the president of Binghamton University, blah de blah blah… He’s my brother. Sounds like a smart guy, huh? Like I said, he’s my brother. Decide for yourself. –Ted

I have been thinking about the advantages of headlights for fall commuting. I know that there are two types of headlights, the be-seen kind and the see kind. I am referring to the see kind. Here are three reasons to get a strong headlight if you commute where there are falling leaves, deer, or weather. I live and commute in Binghamton, New York, with a few street lights, undulating terrain as well as lots of deciduous trees, randy deer, and interesting weather. I have been commuting for years with only a be-seen headlight. I always assumed that cars were my greatest danger (a vestigial belief from my days riding through Los Angeles). Recent events have convinced me to follow the advice I have read here at Commute by Bike to have two headlights, one to be seen and one to see. Here’s my story:


The fall foliage is a wonderful part of living in the northeast. In a car a pile of wet leaves (and most piles of leaves are wet in the middle) are hardly noticed. However, when riding on two wheels, wet leaves are as bad as ice. Back when we all bagged our leaves (and their nutrients) in plastic and sent them to the landfill, this was not much a problem in suburban settings. Now, thankfully, we are composting the leaves, but to do this many towns have residents pile them on the side of the road. No problem if you can move to the middle of the road. No problem if you can see them. As I biked home in the dark, apparently, the leaves did not notice my to-be-seen headlight because they didn’t move. When I rode into the leaves, it was exciting, but no harm came of it, so I continued with only my to-be-seen headlight.


Salamander Ramp
Salamander Ramp | Photo: Binghamton University Nature Preserve

The next incident was on my way home from work at Binghamton University, which has a beautiful nature preserve with a road going through it. The road is between the lake and the forest, which means that it cuts across the salamander migration route. During the peak of the migration, the city closes the road. But, to help the amphibians negotiate the curb, there are salamander ramps.

The ramps are made of pavement that slopes down from the curb extending a foot into the roadway. In other words, they are good for the salamanders and bad for pedestrians and bicyclists. Nevertheless, we are all happy to make the salamanders lives a little easier. Besides, I know the ramps are there, so no need to “see” them. The problem was the deer on the side of the road. A doe watched as the three cars that just passed me passed her, but her patience was gone as I came along. First she ran next to me, then she ran right in front of me. Because there was still some sunlight, I was able to brake in time. If it had been dark, I might have not been so fortunate (like this guy).


My luck ran out when recent weather (historic flooding in Binghamton) removed a chunk of pavement right at a corner that is at the bottom of a hill. I like to whip around that corner to get some speed for the next hill. Unfortunately, the flooding had removed a large chunk of pavement and replaced it with gravel. Because I only had the be-seen headlight, I never saw it coming and went down "“ hard.

Fight Road Rash with a Good Headlight
After paying around $200 for the ER visit and follow up appointment with the shoulder specialist (who told me in essence to “walk it off”), I realized that I could get a darn good headlight for what I just paid Binghamton General Hospital and Dr. Don’t-Be-A-Wimp.

The events I’ve described led me to buy a to-see headlight that will arrive any day now.

I look forward to being able to see farther forward. After all, in words of Winston Churchill, “The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you can see.”

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