Now that we have sorted out keeping warm, it’s time to get out in the winter air and get rolling. Winter however throws up a few more challenges more critical than just the cold. Winter for many of us means more time riding in poor light conditions, the days are shorter so many of us fitting training in around 9-5 jobs have to do the majority of our training in the dark and sunrise and sunset can throw up some precarious situations.
Bright, visible clothing is a great idea, the current trend of neon colours being fashionable makes it possible to be safe and still look good. Moreover though lights are your best protection in the dim hours. Only a few years ago decent lights were pretty expensive and choice was fairly limited, now however the choice and price range means here is something for every application and budget and leaves no excuses for not being seen.
The road rules simply state that you must have a working front and rear light, that means a single dim LED would keep you legal, but probably not safe. As the saying goes, “There is no point being dead right”. A single flashing LED is fine if you are to assume that drivers will give more than a passing glance when looking for other vehicles. However with the current level of distractions that are available to drivers these days, I’m not prepared to wager that a driver will look twice to double check for me in the darkness. A good strong solid beam or fast strobe, powerful enough for you to see the road ahead clearly should be the minimum. Set your lights high enough that you are not staring down at the road just in front of your wheel, as in reality anything you see there will be too close to avoid safely. Point the beam up the road so you can see what is on the road well in advance and so that peripheral light will be visible to motorists well up the road. I am usually a bit over cautious and give my handlebars a little flick in the direction of cars entering from side streets so I know they have had every opportunity to see me. Once the sun comes up then is the time to flick your lights to “flash” or a slower strobe to stay visible.
A self contained USB rechargeable LED light is an effective, tidy and affordable option.
Rear lights seem to be an issue for triathletes. Aero frames and seat posts, aesthetic concerns or simply poor preparation see many triathletes lights placed on helmets or in pockets. A helmet mounted rear light may be fine when seated normally, however as soon as you look down or get aero the only ones seeing your light are magpies up early or approaching alien craft. Equally, placing lights in pockets because you can’t find a suitable mount is simply not going to cut the mustard. There are now lights available with multi LED’s that can be mounted on any seat post or seat stay. It is worthwhile remembering also that if you train in a group and you are at the rear of the bunch, the rest of the group is dependent on the quality of your rear light. Either light up or move up in the bunch for everyone’s sake.
The one downside I have found with the modern lights is while the internal rechargeable batteries and LED lights make a great combination they do seem to die rather quickly and unexpectedly if not kept charged correctly. Unlike the older style replaceable battery types, which tended to dim slowly enough to give you fair warning, the rechargeable LED lights tend to be at full brightness then simply stop. I have found on occasions also that a small residual charge will be sufficient to let you think the lights are fine only to be out minutes later. This is where your old single LED lights, that hopefully you will be convinced to replace, can come in handy when relegated to emergency back-up duties. When on my own, and dependant only upon my own lights to warn cars that I’m there, I also make a habit of intermittently checking my rear light is working so I don’t end up blissfully riding off into the darkness.
Rear lights like this one are inexpensive, reachargeble, have multi LED's and can be mounted almost anywhere.
The new Fly 6 rear light camera is also a good option for those that want an extra layer of security and although the Fly 6 won’t stop you getting hit, it may prove useful if an issue does arise and you need some proof. Hopefully also, when more motorists realise that bikes can be carrying evidence gathering devices, they may be less likely to act inappropriately towards cyclists.
So now that we are warm and safe, there is no excuse for not getting out and getting a head start on summer. In our next instalment we will look at a few bike related skills and tips to keep you moving and improving over winter.