I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but my evening commute has quickly slipped into darkness. My inherent laziness means I never took the lights off my Xtracycle but unfortunately it’s looking like few of the city’s bike commuters are on the same legacy lighting program.
Tonight I almost took out two of the headlight scofflaws on the longbike. I was pulling out of my office parking garage on Dexter. A quick left, right, glance—nothing but darkness— and I made my left turn onto Dexter….right into the path of two oncoming cyclists.
Though the Xtracycle takes a while to clear a lane, I got on the pedals and we all had enough space to avoid a collision. I don’t think they even had to brake, though I probably scared them a bit. As you can imagine, a few words were exchanged in passing:
Rider 1: “Hey man, watch it.”
Me: “Get a light, dude”
Rider 2: (who may have had a light but was riding so close behind Rider 1 that it was invisible: “Look where you are going!” (actually I can’t remember what he said but close enough)
Some observations on the situation I feel merit sharing:
- First of all, you are an idiot if you ride on the streets after dark without a front and rear light. Yes, that sounds harsh but I’ll say it again. You are a freakin’ idiot!
- You may think the street lights are bright enough that you don’t need a light. Keep in mind that the drivers who pull out in front of you, open car doors, and generally have the power to maim and kill may not agree.
- Nifty new “Interurban” signs aside, Dexter remains bad news. A co-worker had her car totalled in the same spot. We watch near misses between bikes and cars (car doors and the garage driveway being the most frequent) from the second story conference room nearly daily. Why the city insists on running the major Fremont/Ballard-Downtown bike route down a congested, on-street-parking filled, uphill both directions, density-maximized road, I’ll never know. Especially when you consider that if not for Suzie Burke, we’d have a dedicated, wide bike lane running both directions on the relatively flat Westlake Ave.
- Us bicyclists don’t like to admit we’ve done anything wrong. I’m referring both to the knucklehead sans light AND the knucklehead who did the California stop leaving his parking garage on the Xtracycle. I seriously fumed for a couple miles about the audacity of those riders calling my riding actions into question. But the bottom line is that I made a mistake, and though it pains me as a rider, I should admit it. We all need to be better about this if we expect the same from drivers.
A Few Bright Ideas
I sometimes fantasize about fancy lights. But in my real life I sport a cheap-ass 3 AA, 1 watt LED Lowes flashlight lashed to my Wald rack with a piece of inner tube next to a small white blinky. The lights are powered by rechargeable Sanyo Eneloops that last me about two weeks/charge with daily commute use. As you can imagine, it looks a little like something Willie Nelson would rig up, but other style-challenged tightwads call the subtlety of found objects très chic.
Around back, I use a Planet Bike Superflash. When full-on darkness commuting hits, I add a helmet-mounted headlamp and another solid rear red light. The helmet is light is great ’cause you can point right in the eyes of anyone you suspect might pull out or open a door in front of you; The extra rear light just feels like a good idea, but I’ll admit I’m a belt and suspenders guy.
Because my commute is well lit, this low-cost (~$50 including batteries and charger) option does the job of helping me be seen without requiring the flame throwing power a suburban, backroads commuter may require.
Let me wrap this up by saying early fall, dark-sky commutes—especially with treats like tonight’s deep red harvest moon—can be glorious. But it’s only going to get darker. If you aren’t lit, do us all a favor and get some lights. NOW.
I love to hear from some of you folks. What’s your dark-commute setup?