Being safe when you're out riding your bike is paramount. No one wants to crash or get hurt. There are a lot of topics when it comes to bicycle safety tips, and I'm going to start breaking them down over the coming weeks and months. I'm going to start with one of the easiest and affordable issues to fix: lighting.
Proper lighting is one of if not the most important areas to invest in if you want to be safe. A quick Google or Amazon search will bring you a litany of options. You can spend $10 or $500 on lights. There are lights that run off of electricity generated from your hubs, lights that run on AAA batteries, aerodynamic lights (Come on really? Does everything have to be aero? Oh, who am I kidding. I own an aero taillight) and nearly everything in between.
I'm not going to push a certain product or type of light on you. I just want you to be as safe as possible. Let there be light.
Next to a helmet, a taillight is possibly the single most valuable safety asset in your cycling arsenal. If you aren't familiar, they are little lights, usually red, that clip onto your seat post and point backwards towards drivers coming up behind you. If I had to give you just one bicycle safety tip, it would be to get a taillight. Taillights are crucial for one single reason: being seen.
It may seem like being able to see where you're going on a bike is important (and it is. Cue Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman. If you're too young, look it up) but being seen is so vitally important when you're on the road. Being seen is the difference between a good bike ride and a trip to the hospital or worse.
You may think that it is the responsibility of drivers or other people on the road to see you, and you are partially right. Anyone who gets behind the wheel of a car is responsible for whatever happens to those around them, but consider it this way: if you're riding your bike and get hit by a car, does it really matter who's fault it is? Not really. So why not do everything in your power to lower those risks.
Enter the taillight. There are hundreds if not thousands of different brands and variations of bike taillights. There are only two important things to consider when picking one out though: is it bright and does it flash. You're going to want to get the brightest light that you can, and you're going to want a light that has some sort of variable flashing pattern. Anything that stands out and catches drivers' attention will do just fine.
The primary goal is simply to be seen. Cyclists have every right to be out on the road (Unless you're in an area where bicycles are specifically prohibited. Don't sue me.) but it is our responsibility to advocate for our own safety.
In the minds of us cyclists, we are easy to see. We are human beings moving along and drivers should see us. That's just not the case, though. Drivers today are more distracted than ever. So do whatever you can to draw as much attention as humanly possible to yourself.
If you plan on riding in the dark, you're going to need a headlight of some sort. If we disagree on this point, you are in a breed all of your own and good luck, daredevil. For those of us who value our lives, a headlight is the first step in the right direction.
Whereas a taillight is more for the benefit of other road users around you, the primary purpose of a headlight is to illuminate the way in front of you. I suggest that you always err on the side of caution with headlights.
If you're going out for a ride in the evening and you're not sure if you'll get back before dark, take a light. If you're going out early and you think you maybe will be alright without a light, take one anyway.
Take it from me, being stuck in the dark is no fun on a bike. Lights are easy to carry and they don't weigh very much...they're light. Yes my dad jokes are really coming into their own with the addition of my second child. I digress.
Many headlights have built-in strobing features like taillights that will alert drivers coming towards you of your presence. I don't necessarily think that it is vital to ride with a front strobe light, but if you make a habit of riding on busier roads or in areas with higher rates of traffic incidents, I would say go for it.
Many companies even make strobe-specific front lights; meaning that they cannot be used as headlights. They are only strobe lights for being seen. These are usually cheaper than a head light and handy as well if you never ride in the dark, but still want a front light to strengthen your visibility.
Okay so reflective clothing isn't lighting, but I think it fits nicely in this article. Depending on what brand of jersey, bibs, helmet, etc. you have, chances are that you might own something with some in-built reflective qualities. All MHCC jerseys, for example, have some small reflective strips sewn into the back pocket that glow when they light hits them.
It's a small detail, but it can make a huge difference if it's the only thing that causes a driver to see you. A lot of brands have similar features in their jerseys and bib shorts, and I have seen plenty of jackets and vests as well that are completely reflective.
I think it is also worth noting that you can buy a package of reflective stickers for next to nothing and put them on your helmet or bike frame. This is a great alternative if you don't want to shell out for any new gear.
Here are some general tips for bicycle lights. I have learned some of these the hard way
Always remember to charge your lights. Don't be 20 miles from home and watch your headlight slowly fade out. It is terrifying (Especially if you're 30 years old and scared of the dark...and dogs...and everything.) Check your lights and make sure they're good to go before you set out.
Make sure that your lights are very securely attached to your bike. Most lights will come with some type of rubber strap or tightening bracket to attach to your seat post, handlebars, stem, fork, etc. Make sure you're confident that those bad boys are installed correctly before you go bouncing down a gravel road in the dark.
Don't be afraid to buy lights on Amazon. I'm not sure if this is universal, but I was very worried about buying "cheap" lights when I first started riding bikes. Several years on, and I just bought a light on Amazon a few weeks ago. There's nothing wrong with a light that isn't crazy expensive. I have lights that are from brand name bike manufacturers and I have cheap lights. As long as they are bright and they keep you safe, don't worry about what brand it is.
Safety trumps "coolness" every time. I have actually stared at my bike before and thought "My bike would look a lot better without that light mounted on there." Don't be that guy (me). Be safe.
When it comes to bike lights, any lights are a step in the right (and safe) direction. The goal is to become as visible and noticeable as you can be. The unfortunate truth is that drivers can be reckless and careless. I can't count the number of times that cars have gotten too close for comfort, or not seen me at all and pulled out in front of me. I've been honked at, cursed at, and flipped off. But I would much rather be yelled at than hit by a car or injured.
Cycling is a very fun sport/hobby/pastime/interest/obsession/bank account killer, and it can and should be very safe if you take the time to think about and plan for your own safety. Observe your surroundings and make it a point to be seen.
Anywhere is home. Just ride bikes.