Depending on where you live or the weather in your area, cycling at night can be awesome or an utter nightmare.
Cycling at night is very interesting, yet very few people take advantage of night riding. Although it can be intimidating and reasonably dangerous riding at night, some find it to be very fun and therapeutic even.
I’m a huge fan of cycling at night and have become accustomed to riding 1-2 nights a week during the night. At the same time, it’s important to be prepared while out riding at night.
So in this post, I would like to share with you 13 critical tips when riding a bicycle at night that will not only make riding after dark safe but more enjoyable.
1. Assess Your Environment
Before going out on your first night ride, it would be wise to know beforehand which areas to ride or to avoid. Whether you’ll be riding in a well-lit area or an unlit road, safety should come first. Some environments are not safe to ride at night and some places are perfect for night riding.
You will have to judge whether or not it will be safe for you to ride at night. Take note that cycling at night will not be any less dangerous than cycling during the day.
One thing you’ll find is that riding at night takes some adjustments. You’ll be more cautious, things will seem to appear out of nowhere, and it can be overwhelming riding at night especially if there is car traffic.
It’s important to be familiar with certain streets and the main roads as street signs may not be as clear during the night. You want to choose areas that are either well lit or more public and accommodating for pedestrians.
Some of the best areas to ride a night will be main streets in commercial areas, areas where there are restaurants, stores, and sports arenas. Major metropolitan areas like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York may be ideal places, but since these are heavy traffic areas, cycle with caution.
Avoid country roads where there usually are no street lights and even some residential areas that can be a bit sketchy.
2. Be As Lit As Possible
The best advice for cycling after dark is to make sure you and your bike are equipped with lights. I won’t go into some of the legal or suggested advice that states have regarding riding a bike a night, but you will know what to do after reading this topic.
It is advised from almost every blog post about cycling at night that you must have front and rear lights on your bike. The front light should usually be white colored and the rear tail light red. But I’m here to tell you it’s better to have too many lights than not enough.
I usually ride with 1-2 front facing led lights and one red taillight. I make myself more visible by attaching wheel lights to each of my wheels. You can find most wheel lights at your local electronics store or you can buy Wheel Brightz available on Amazon.
Having lights, not only facing the front and rear of your bike, but also on the sides of your wheels will ensure that you will be seen a lot easier at night.
Another option if you don’t care about wheel lights is to pay attention to the lumens, which is how bright the light will shine. If you want very bright lights, make sure to buy something that puts out at least 800 lumens or higher and has a long battery life.
Lastly, if you have non-rechargeable lights, be sure to have at least one backup headlight to shine for oncoming vehicles.
3. Map Your Route
How many cyclists ride during the night without first mapping out where they are going? Probably none. At the least let’s say a few, but they may be familiar with where they are going and have an idea mapped in their mind.
It may not be the brightest idea to go with the flow on a night ride because you may go too far, get lost, and put yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time. To ensure your safety and enjoyment of riding at night, the least you could do is map out the area during the day.
I will often drive around during the day and search out bike lanes, roads that may have more street lights than other areas and take note of where I might want to ride.
If you are not as comfortable mapping out a ride or have bad directional sense, it may be beneficial for you to map out a ride using Ride GPS or the Strava App. These apps will allow you to see routes of other riders who have ventured the areas you want to ride.
Another option is to ride with someone who is familiar with the area you want to ride and can show you around safely.
4. Avoid Riding Alone
Most cyclists have no problem riding alone especially if it’s during the day and would prefer not to wait for someone.
One of the main reasons why you should not be alone when riding a bicycle at night is because you never know what could happen. It’s very unpredictable whether a passerby vehicle or pedestrian will see you or not. Even with all the reflective gear in the world, you may still face some close encounters.
Many new cyclists who have never ridden their bike at night before can benefit from some form of a night cycling group.
You also have the option of just joining a group night ride which is put on by cycling clubs and or your local bike shop. If you are a party goer, why not check out your local “Bike Party” for more night cycling fun!
5. Wear Reflective Gear
Cycling clothing and gear have evolved to include reflective material in a stylish yet feasible way.
One of the best areas to wear reflective gear are on parts that move. These parts would include your bike tires, wheels, ankles, and knees.
Many cyclists would assume that being highly visible at night would mean to have reflective clothing such as jackets and reflective trim on garments. But this only becomes visible to some and are not enough to be seen in the dark.
To be highly visible at night, look for cycling gear that is bright and unusual. If you ever wondered why construction workers wear screaming yellow shirts or safety orange, it’s because they are highly effective at drawing your attention.
If you want to be extra visible when riding a bicycle at night try out this LED Reflective Vest.
6. Be Watchful
Making sure oncoming vehicles and pedestrians visibly see you from afar is as equally important as you, the cyclist, looking ahead as to what’s coming.
The best tips I can share with you regarding being watchful when riding a bicycle at night:
- Look down the road 10-15 seconds ahead of you.
- Use common sense.
Looking ahead about 10-15 seconds is about one block ahead. Now I’m aware this may be very difficult to do in low lit streets. But if you practice doing this, it will more than compensate for that 1-2 delay in reaction time cycling in the dark.
When speaking of common sense, it will amaze you how many people lack this skill.
For example, you are cycling with a group of cyclists, common sense will tell you to allow space between the rider in front of you to avoid rubbing tires or crashing.
It’s very crucial to use common sense cycling after dark by keeping your distance from cars and pedestrians. Also if you are not racing in an actual race at night, then use common sense to slow down and ride cautiously.
7. Do A Pre-Ride Bike Check
Before heading out for a night ride on the road, there are a few checks you want to make on your bike. The key checks you should focus on are your tires’ air pressure, chain, and any loose ends or noises.
Doing a pre-ride check can be a very quick task but if not done, it can sometimes mean the difference between walking home or having an epic night ride.
It’s a good idea to use a bike pump or pressure gauge and make sure your tires are pumped up to where they should be when riding a bicycle at night. Overinflated tires can cause a blowout and if left underinflated you risk catching a pinch flat.
With your chain, the main thing you want to check for is if it’s lubricated. Also, you want to care for your chain by cleaning any gunk or dirty grease to make it last longer.
Lastly, listen for abnormal noises and squeaks while test riding your bike and make an adjustment or fix what’s making that noise. Could be something rubbing against the frame or interfering with the wheel rotation.
8. Choose The Right Bike
What is the right bike really for cycling after dark? Many would argue that choosing a cheaper bike or one that you wouldn’t mind crashing or getting damaged is the bike of choice.
In my personal opinion the bike that you are riding now, or, are using the most is the right bike to choose from. Missing out on an epic night ride because you don’t have the right bike should never be the issue.
If you want to ride your carbon frame bike or your hand-me-down 10-speed bike, then that’s on you. I find that most cyclists will ride with the bike that is the most comfortable for them at that moment.
9. Be Prepared For Mechanical Issues
I hate to bring out the Murphy cliche, but “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” The important thing is to be prepared for when things go wrong the best way you can.
To be prepared for mechanical issues while out cycling at night, be mindful of how your bike operates during the day. In most cases, you will discover what’s wrong with your bike from how it performs during the daylight hours.
We all try to be prepared for things that go wrong by having our basic tools and patch kit. Sometimes we might need to carry something else.
I remember my first few times when riding a bicycle at night and thought I would be ok with just the basics since I was only going a short distance. Not being prepared with a spare tube with my new wheels was a mistake. I didn’t plan for a flat but it’s inevitable when cycling at night and not seeing everything that’s on the road.
10. Avoid Plugging Ears With Headphones
Some cyclists prefer to ride with music in their ears while others like to be amused by their surroundings and natural sounds they can hear along the road.
There is nothing wrong with having a little bit of background noise in your ears while riding, but having both ears plugged might be a problem.
The reason I suggest avoiding both ears being plugged with headphones is to keep your senses active. You want to be able to hear what might be approaching you and or coming up behind you.
Whether you’re wearing headphones or not, your hearing will be distorted with just moving in the wind. You can reduce the probability that you might not hear something by avoiding both ears being plugged.
11. Protect Yourself While Riding
Whether you’re out cycling during the day and or night, you hardly ever think about how you might protect yourself in the event of an assault.
Depending on how vulnerable a cyclist you are, regardless if you’re male or female, being equipped to defend yourself during an assault will be vital.
Now there are many ways to protect yourself while cycling, but I will only touch on a few obvious tips. The first tip is to avoid any strangers trying to stop you or engage you, and the second tip is to carry a personal safety weapon.
Someone on the side of the road could be smiling and seem approachable, but as soon as they ask you to stop, Do Not Stop. Proceed to speed away either in the other direction or away from the scene.
In some circumstances you may not be able to avoid a sketchy scene, so cyclists needing to defend themselves should resort to pepper spray or mace if that is legal in your state. Avoid using an offensive weapon like a U-Lock or makeshift knife as this can be used against you if outnumbered.
12. Bring Your Phone
This tip might be very obvious as many people are technically glued to their cell phones now more than ever. But it’s still very common to forget our cell phones with all the other things we have to bring on a bike ride.
Try to make it a priority to have your cell phone with you while cycling at night and most importantly having a fully charged cell.
Having your cell on you will make it convenient to call for help when needed. You could be totally prepared for a night ride and then something happens where you need to make a call. Gone are the days of phone booths.
You may be with a group of friends while cycling at night, but if you happen to be riding by yourself and need to call for help, having your cell phone will become crucial.
After having been stuck on the side of the road countless of times, I highly credit having my cell phone to getting me unstuck during those times.
Likewise, I encourage you to bring your cell phone to save yourself some headache if you ever get stranded when out cycling at night.
Read some tips on how to charge your phone while riding.
13. Avoid Getting Hit By Cars
It doesn’t matter how safe a cyclist you are, or how many traffic safety rules you follow, cycling after dark still puts you at some risk of getting hit by a vehicle.
To shed some light on this matter, I will share just a few general tips to help you avoid getting hit which is:
- Use bike lights.
- Take a whole lane.
- Avoid traveling on busy streets.
As mentioned earlier in the post, you want to be as lit as possible. Just make sure to have at least one front headlight and one tail light. It makes a world of difference having just the basic lights not just for your safety but also to see what’s ahead of you at all times when riding a bicycle at night.
When it is necessary to take a whole lane on a multi-lane road, do so. This will make you more visible to other vehicles so that they can’t just cut you off but will have to drive around or behind you.
Lastly, if at all possible if you can, avoid traveling on busy streets.
You will definitely reduce the risk of getting hit by sticking to the roads and the trails that you know are safe. It’s ok if you have to cross busy streets, but if you learn your streets well you can travel safely on other roads and avoid traveling on busy roads.
If you’ve never tried to go out riding your bike during the night then I hope this article helps you get started because it can be a great experience seeing your local area in a completely new light.
I’ve discovered some amazing places in my city that I never even recognized as something special during the day but that stood out during the night.