Dark Skies Cycling. Be Seen, Be Safe.

Helen Pollard By Helen Pollard

Now the clocks have changed, make sure you're safe cycling in the dark with Helen Pollard's top tips.

Some of the most spectacular adventures can happen at dusk and beyond.

With the clocks going back at the end of October the temptation not to venture outside in the evenings is a strong one. It is definitely not my favourite time of the year! However, it is a mistake to disappear inside, some of the most spectacular adventures can happen at dusk and beyond.

We are therefore determined to minimise the impact the change in daylight hours has on our community cycling activities and we aim to continue to encourage children and families to GetOutside safely on their bikes all year round. However, we do need to rise to the challenge the night skies pose us.

Wensleydale in the Yorkshire Dales is the 2nd darkest place in the England so perfect for star gazing and getting lost. To avoid navigational mistakes and acknowledging that cyclists are at greater risk at night on our roads we decided to develop a Dark Skies Riding plan!

Know your stuff

The first part of our plan was a bit of Professional Development. We undertook a specialist training course with Cycling UK, designed to enhance the skills we have as cycling instructors to lead groups safely at night time.

This was an excellent opportunity for us to put together some top tips for staying safe in the dark (this course is open to all through www.cycling.co.uk)

The key message is... Be seen and be able to see!

Bike lit up with tube lights

Be seen with reflective hi-vis kit

In our experience having the reflective strips integrated into the standard clothing such as the jacket is a good alternative to add-ons which often don’t fit children well and can be a little bit workman like! Also, helmets are now available in brilliant colours such as Lazer’s flash yellow.

Bikes MUST by law fitted with a red rear reflector. White front reflectors can also help you to be seen.

If you are an everyday cycling commuter, full reflector tyres are available from Continental Schwalbe tyre manufactures and are excellent to be seen from the side which can be a black spot.

Cyclists at sunset

Be able to see - lights

The UK Highway law requires that at night your bike MUST have a white front and red rear lights lit.

There are lots on the market. When choosing we do recommend you pick lights that can be recharged, they use batteries similar to those in your mobile phone. The days of disposable bike lights are gone. There are a few cheap versions still available, but they are really not worth it.

As with most outdoor equipment it does pay to invest as you improve longevity, reliability, weather protection and ease of use.

Front lights guide

​Urban commuting 100-200 lumens

If you are only going to ride in urban areas, then then important requirement is you light choice allows you to be seen by other road users and are often described as commuter lights.

They have a wider beam angles and side illumination but a lower lumen (measure of strength, 1 candle=12 lumens). A light between 100-200 lumens is perfect to be seen with for a ride to work or school.

Our tried and tested recommendations:

  • Light and Motion models are a good option ranging from £40+ for a front and rear commuter set.
  • For children mini blinker sets from Infini lights are £15 each and are ideal stocking fillers.

Unlit roads and paths 200-600 lumens

If you’re going to be riding on unlit roads and paths at night, then you will want a light that will help you to see the pot holes in front and round corners however not so power they will dangerously dazzle other road users.

If you are riding at a normal commuting speed, then a front light of 200-600 lumens is recommended.

These more powerful lights start at approx £70.

Group of kids cycling with lights
Group of kids cycling with lights

Offroad riding 1000 lumens

If Mountain Biking is your thing or if you fancy taking the kids away from busy roads, then you need a very powerful bar mounted front light. You need to consider a light that is greater than 1000 lumens. High powered off-road lights feature the ability to "toggle" down the light level; so you can light up the world when needed, but conserve battery life, on those long rides. Some of the most powerful lights have a capacity when fully charged of 4500 lumens.

In addition to a bar mounted light, a helmet mounted light with a narrower beam will help you to see round corners and spot any additional hazards that might be lost in the shadow of your main light.

Our tried and tested recommendations:

  • The leading manufacturer for this type of high-tech light are the British engineering company USE Exposure with their off-road cycle light products starting from £200+
Bike leaning against a wall at night

Night navigation

What is normal and familiar quickly becomes confusing at night. Here are our top 5 tips for not getting lost in the dark.

  1. For all routes a pre-ride in the light is a great idea. It is very easy to miss turnings and gates and become quickly disorientated in the dark
  2. Take more notice of road signs to ensure you don't miss calculate positions and distance travelled.
  3. Use outlines of hills, sounds of rivers and contour features to orientate and navigate.
  4. Consider avoiding dense forestry area it can be very disorientating (forestry activity can change how they look compared to the map) and naturally dark. At night it is usually best to take a longer safer route along well-defined features. Not only is a mistake less likely but you will be moving a lot faster on the safe route.
  5. Weather conditions can offer additional challenges lowering temperatures and block out natural light from the moon and stars. Be careful of the mist. If it is misty then the beam from the light will be reflected back at you and navigation becomes really difficult.
Riders at night

Night riding equipment

Essential kit must include a location specific OS Map and a decent compass. Make sure you are comfortable using both. Remember your smart phone is an excellent bit of extra kit with OS Maps and OS Locate apps loaded and ready to go but the cold night air will play havoc with battery life so CANNOT ever replace the paper copy.

We also carry waterproof outdoor tech power packs and with the correct leads you can recharge phones and give a boost to failing lights in emergency situations. Ours also has a built-in torch ideal for map reading.

Do not be put off by the extra kit and preparation. The more you practise the easier it gets.

Cycling at night, if safely undertaken, can make a normal ride with kids exciting, fun and much more enjoyable.

Helen Pollard By Helen Pollard

About:

Helen spends her days, managing a cycling business, chasing her daughter Daisy, running with dogs, falling off her bike, and hopefully encouraging others to do something similar.

Find out more about Helen Pollard.

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