Bike commuting, even at night, is a great way to get to and from work—and it’s fun too! Not to mention, it saves money and burns calories. Bike commuting is a win-win.
But is it safe to do at night?
I’ve been commuting by bike for the last 7+ years, even to my NYC job during the winter months.
To commute safely by bike, especially at night, there are a few Do’s and Don’t’s to consider. Here are just a few:
|Use a front (white) light||Rely only on bike reflectors|
|Use a rear (red) light||Wear dark colors|
|Wear bright colors, or reflective material||Ride against traffic|
|Wear a helmet||Travel on poorly lit roads|
|Assume people cannot see you||Assume people can see you|
If you’re interested in commuting to work at night, then stick around. Keep on reading for a more complete guide to staying safe while bike commuting at night.
Is it safe to bike at night?
It is safe to ride at night if you use flashing lights on the front and back of the bike, wear reflective clothing, and ride defensively. Riding at night can be dangerous if you are not clearly visible to cars. Essentially, cycling at night is as safe as you make it.
Simple things that you can do to keep yourself safer while commuting by bike at night revolve around:
- How you ride
- Where you ride
- What you wear
- Your lighting set-up
How to ride safely at night
The best way to ride safely at night is to always ride defensively, use flashing front and rear lights, and wear reflective clothing.
Cyclists should consider riding defensively, especially at night. In other words, you should assume that no one can see you, even if you employ the methods mentioned in this article.
Now I’m not encouraging you to ride with fear or to be scared of the worst-case scenario while you’re out riding at night. In an ideal world, cyclists are seen by drivers and are given priority while on the road. However, the reality is that drivers simply do not see cyclists. It’s not because they are malicious, but rather because they are generally not looking for bikes. It’s an effect of Tunnel Vision. Meaning, they don’t see cyclists because they are only looking for other cars on the road.
You should enjoy your commutes at night just as much in the day. But what I recommend is to ride confidently and in a cautious manner so that in the event of something going wrong, you are prepared.
There are a few things you can do to ride defensively:
- Give yourself extra space: bicycle lanes and wide shoulders are great, but what if there isn’t one? Don’t forget you can take the whole lane if you want to. You do not need to squeeze into a tiny roadside shoulder if it means that you’ll be unsafe.
- Look multiple times: before you make your turns, or enter into an intersection, or do anything, look once, and then look again. The quicker you can form a habit of double-checking the surrounding environment, the safer you will be.
- Indicate your plans: using hand signals is very important for cycling at night. You can notify the drivers and other cyclists around you when you plan to stop and turn.
- Look out for pedestrians: pedestrians are harder to see than moving cars with lights. Look out for pedestrians in crosswalks, and avoid riding on the sidewalk.
How to stay visible
How you remain visible on your nightly commutes depends on what you wear and where you ride your bike. Brightly colored, or better yet, reflective clothing is a priority for riding at night. If your work clothes don’t alloy for bright colors, consider bringing a change of clothes or extra layers with more colors to cycle home in.
Incorporating “passive lighting,” aka reflective materials, into your wardrobe cannot be stressed enough. In some places, it’s even the law.
Staying visible while you cycle also depends on where you position yourself on the road and where you ride your bike. It’s best to get used to riding on the road itself and to avoid riding on sidewalks (in some areas). Sidewalks may seem safer, but they create too many blind spots for you and other drivers that may cause accidents. In large cities, like NYC, it is not recommended to ride on the sidewalk. However, in small towns and neighborhoods, it is perfectly feasible and safe to ride on the sidewalk.
If there is a bike lane, ride confidently in the center. If there is no lane or shoulder, feel free to take the full lane. This may mean that car traffic behind you will move slower, but at least you will be more visible.
Another way to stay visible while cycling at night is to pick and choose where you ride. We recommend you plan out a route ahead of time that you know will be well lit. Traveling on roads or bike paths with plenty of streetlights should be your preferred method of getting around.
However, there is a caveat. If the most well-lit streets are the busiest and lack bike lanes or adequate shoulders, you might consider a quieter and darker street to do your commuting on.
Lastly, perhaps the best way to remain visible at night is by installing a rear light and front lights on your bike. The rear light should be red, and the front light white, with multiple lighting modes and very bright. If you want to up the ante, and if you can afford to, installing two rear lights on your bike is a favorite strategy among those who spend a lot of time cycling at night.
The first rear light you install can be kept in the brightest, solid red mode. The second light you install can be turned to a flasher mode. The combination of the solid and flashing red lights create an effect that is very visible for drivers, pedestrians, and other cyclists.
How to see at night
Cycling at night would be a lot easier if we all could have the night vision equivalent of owls. Unfortunately, we are only human, and therefore, our eyesight at night can be rather limited. But because we are human, that means we are intelligent and that we’ve created tools to help us see better at night.
Using front lights or “active lighting” on your bike is non-negotiable. And in some places, it’s the law. If you are curious about what the local rules are in your location, in regard to the type and strength of light, it’s worth researching. However, almost any bike light will meet the requirements.
The front light on your bike should be white, just like your car. Bicycle lights come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and price points. It’s very easy to find a light that fits your budget and lighting needs. Here’s the budget-friendly one I recommend.
If one is not enough, you might consider installing a second light on your bike as well.
We also know that the usage of a headlamp, in addition to the light on the actual bike itself, is popular among seasoned cyclists. That way, you have a light always pointing where your bike is headed and one-pointed where ever you choose to look.
Other helpful tips for commuting at night
- Don’t blind drivers with your lights: nowadays, bicycle lights can be impressively bright. It’s good to be seen, but we don’t need to temporarily blind the surrounding drivers. Just make sure your light is pointed straight and slightly down towards your riding surface for the best effect.
- Have backup lights: backup lights that are stashed in your bag or on your bike are great for when you forget to recharge your lights or forget them altogether.
- Tell someone where you are going: make your commute known to family or friends, especially if you spend most of the time on the road alone.
The prospect of having to ride your bike home from work or running errands at night should not stop you from getting out there. Sure, there are a few more obstacles and steps to consider. But if you take the time to prepare and equip yourself with the right gear, cycling at night can be a very enjoyable and empowering experience.
All you have to do is remember the simple things: wear a helmet and bright colors, cycle confidently and defensively, follow all regular rules of the road, and don’t forget your lights!