Table of contents
If you commute by bike, then you are most likely aware of the joys that come with being “one with your environment” during your ride. However beautiful your commutes may be, you probably know that riding your bike to and from work can also be very dangerous. Whether you are out on the road before the sun comes up or after the sun has retreated for the evening, one thing is certain: safety is key. To ride safely in the dark, it is important that you and your bike are highly visible to those with whom you share the road. To ensure maximum riding safety, both you and your bike should be equipped with the proper lights and reflective devices.
In recent years, lighting technology has made significant advancements, providing cyclists with low-power, high-intensity LED lights. LED lights are especially effective in helping increase visibility because the projected light is particularly bright. With the proper use of such lights, cyclists’ ability to see and be seen is increased tremendously. When you are selecting appropriate lighting, be sure to meet the “to see” and “to be seen” categories by including headlights, taillights, and supplemental lighting.
The ideal bicycle lighting setup includes a helmet light and a handlebar light. While it may seem excessive to have both lights, it is important to keep in mind that they each serve a different purpose. The handlebar light illuminates the path that follows the direction in which the bike is being ridden while the helmet light provides lit visibility in the direction of where the rider is looking. Remember: the cyclist’s visual direction can be very different from the physical direction in which the bike is being steered. For instance, a typical cyclist will “look into” a turn prior to actually turning. The helmet light allows the rider to see the upcoming road well in advance so that they can make a safe turn, while the handlebar lights maintain a steady stream of light on the road that they are currently riding.
Along with the helmet and handlebar lights, which provide illuminated guidance for the rider, it is important to include additional lights to alert upcoming car drivers that they are sharing the road with a bicycle. A steady red taillight accompanied by a bright red strobe (flashing) light is recommended. Attaching extra lighting to yourself or the bicycle will only make it easier for others to see you, which will in turn offer you more protection.
Another way to increase visibility is through the supplemental use of reflective clothing that illuminates when struck by light from car headlights. Reflective clothing is readily available at bike shops and other sporting goods stores. An alternative to reflective clothing is to attach reflective triangles to the rear of the bike or to the back of the cyclist. Though small, these reflectors become very visible when struck by car headlights. Other bicycle accessories, such as tire valves and spoke reflectors that illuminate when the wheels spin, increase visibility for both vehicle traffic and pedestrians. You may be thinking that the use of lights, reflective clothing, and reflectors is excessive, but when it comes to safety, you can never be too prepared.
Unfortunately, accidents do happen, and when they do, it is important that you are prepared to deal with them. Many bicycle commuters attach personal video cameras to their bike to provide the authorities and insurance companies with visual, concrete evidence in the event of a car versus bicycle crash situation. Recording can begin at the start of the ride and then stopped, or even deleted, once the rider has safely arrived to their destination.
The worst-case scenario involves an automobile, cycle versus pedestrian accident, or another bicycle. However, not all accidents will involve another person. An “accident” can include something as simple as a flat tire, bent wheel, or broken chain. Because these accidents can happen to anyone, including the most experienced cyclist, it is important to plan ahead. We recommend that you stock your saddle bag with the tools needed to resolve the most common bike issues.
Your saddle bag must contain the most basic pieces, including: patch kit, spare tube, tire levers, CO2 inflator, Presta-schrader adapter, multi-tool, money and personal identification. If you do find that you need to use something from your kit, be sure to replace it immediately so that you have it in the event of another emergency or accident.
While keeping money in your saddlebag might seem unnecessary, it can turn out to be a lifesaver. A folded dollar bill can be placed on the inside the damaged tire and serve as a protective layer between the tube and the tire, this is known as “booting.” Finally, if your bike suffers the level of failure that you can’t successfully repair, you can pay for a cab.
This article would be incomplete if we didn’t mention a piece of equipment that we believe every cyclist should have - wearable identification.
Consider the vulnerability of commuting by yourself and not having identification on you. You don't think twice about wearing a seatbelt or a helmet, yet cyclists repeatedly venture outdoors with no identification. Imagine paramedics not knowing who to contact simply because you did not have ID. In the event of an emergency, minutes matter and you would want family to be contacted immediately.
There’s a number of wearable identification products on the market, all of them are very similar: they look like bracelets that contain a tag and can be worn on the ankle or the wrist. The tag usually includes up to 6 lines of information that the wearer can specify. Recommendations include name, town/post code, NHS number, 2 emergency numbers, medical insurance number, blood group and any known allergies or conditions.
Commuting by bike can be a very enjoyable experience, despite the many challenges that riders encounter. While no one can control their riding environment, they can certainly take precautions to ensure their safety and plan ahead for “accidents.” With the appropriate lighting and reflectors, as well as the appropriate tools, commuting by bicycle can be a safe experience for not only the cyclist, but for pedestrians and motor vehicle drivers, too.