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Time change means darker evening commutes ahead

Beautiful or hazardous? Both, of course!

I hope you enjoyed the extra glimmers of light during your morning commute today, because you traded some light on the way home to get it. Due to the end of daylight savings time over the weekend, sunset Monday will come at 5:44 p.m.

But do not despair! November comes with some small challenges for biking, but it’s really just a test to see if you can bike through the whole winter. With every new challenge comes something new and beautiful to enjoy on your ride.

Here’s a couple tips for people new to fall/winter biking (and reminders for everyone else):

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  • Keep your bike lights charged. If you don’t have rechargeable batteries for your lights, I cannot recommend enough that you get some. You will start burning through batteries much faster now that it gets dark so early. (It’s almost a crime American bikes don’t come standard with lights, but it’s really a crime that most lights don’t come with rechargeable batteries)
  • Beware of sun glare. Use your lights whenever the sun might be in people’s eyes. Windshields make the glare of head-on setting sunlight even worse.
  • From SDOT
    Ride more defensively during dark rush hour commutes than you already do. Don’t assume that somebody in a car sees you. The number of people driving who strike people on foot in Seattle peaks in November in large part due to the dark evening commute.
  • Have fun! As we’re written before, biking is a great way to get through the dark-before-six blues. Fresh air and mist in your face beats a dreary car interior any day.

November is probably the most difficult month of the year for bike commuting in Seattle. It’s the rainiest month of the year. Puddles and fall leaves clog the bike lanes.

But when you make it to December, then you’ll know that you officially have what it takes to bike year-round.

Do you have any dark commute tips or questions?

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33 responses to “Time change means darker evening commutes ahead”

  1. Jeremy

    Maybe a bicycle trailing weighted angled rakes could move some amount of those leaves edge-wards? Something to experiment with (and no, not with leaf blowers. ugh).

  2. Chuck

    Maybe a trail sweep/rake party? Seems like a perfectly good reason to carry an awkward yard tool on a bike!

    I am still looking for my NightRider charger since our move. There really is very little time left!

  3. Matthew

    Remember not to use a flashing white headlight: solid lights only! Flashing lights are annoying for other cyclists, not to mention illegal.

    /puts on flame-retardant suit

    1. Doug

      Here here!

    2. David Amiton

      Hi Matthew – Can you point me to the law that says flashing front white lights are illegal? I don’t think that’s the case…

      1. Matthew

        Sure, it’s RCW 46.37.280, from which I quote:

        “(3) Flashing lights are prohibited except as required in RCW 46.37.190, 46.37.200, 46.37.210, 46.37.215, and 46.37.300, warning lamps authorized by the state patrol, and light-emitting diode flashing taillights on bicycles.”

        I don’t care for flashing taillights myself, but I do find the flashing red light somewhat less annoying than flashing white headlights.

      2. michaela

        And cover or dim your light when you’re approaching another rider in the dark on the trail.

      3. David Amiton

        I don’t have a legal background, but section 1b of RCW 46.37.010, which outlines the scope of RCW 46.37.280, seems to imply that the prohibition on flashing front lights only applies to vehicles operating on a highway. Am I misreading that?

      4. Matthew

        David, I think the confusion probably stems from the somewhat unorthodox use of the word “highway.” Chapter 46.04 provides the legal definitions of words used in subsequent sections. Section 46.04.197 defines the word highway:

        “Highway means the entire width between the boundary lines of every way publicly maintained when any part thereof is open to the use of the public for purposes of vehicular travel.”

        So, “highway” basically just means “road” in this context.

      5. Tom Fucoloro

        I can’t imagine a cop ever giving someone a ticket for having a front-facing white blinking light.

        FWIW, I think front-facing blinking lights are fine in all conditions except at night where there is low light (AKA, no or few street lights), such as trails and neighborhood streets. Using them during sundown (see note about windshield glare above) or on busy streets is fine.

      6. Gary

        I use a mix. A flashing headlamp which I can direct at cars or away from them and a solid beam on the handlebars. When it’s pitch black/night I switch the headlamp to solid light.

        I find that the light over light is only used by bicycles so that I’m easily recognized as a bicycle by auto drivers.

        That and I’ve got 1000 Lumins of light pointing out the way tends to give me “room” as drivers respect the lighted area of road ahead of me.

      7. Kirk from Ballard

        The flashing white headlights on a roadway are illegal, and I’ve heard that if you use one and are in an accident, that could be a factor against you. On the other hand, flashing amber lights are legal:
        Hazard warning lamps.
        (1) Any vehicle may be equipped with lamps for the purpose of warning other operators of other vehicles of the presence of a vehicular traffic hazard requiring the exercise of unusual care in approaching, overtaking, or passing… (3) Vehicular hazard warning signal lamps used to display such warning to the front shall … display … flashing amber light…
        I converted a flashing white light to amber with a little piece of amber plastic gel inside the lens. I don’t find flashing lights, or bright lights on other bikes annoying at all. They are needed to keep us safe, and we all need them.

      8. Gary

        Seems like we should get RCW 46.37.280 section 3 modified to include “and headlights’ for bicycles. We have an exemption for tail lights already. And daytime riding with a non flashing headlamp is useless IMO.

        Amber flashing headlamps seem to be allowed only under the “turn signal” clause.

        Besides the wording on the law is a mess because of RCW 46.37.010 7(a) which exempts motorcycles.
        ” (7) The provisions of this chapter with respect to equipment required on vehicles shall not apply to:

        (a) Motorcycles or motor-driven cycles except as herein made applicable;”

        So if you put an electric assist on your bicycle then the flashing light rule might not apply??? ugh. This needs a re-write, but I’d settle for “and headlights” in RCW 46.37.280

        Ok Cascade bike club legislative advocate.. add this to your list of stuff to get changed.

      9. Law Abider

        Flashing lights are ok if they are longer pulses and not super bright. What I don’t like is riding against someone that has a 1 gazillion lumen strobe light that makes me feel like I’m going to have a seizure. How is that supposed to be safe?

      10. Kirk from Ballard

        Flashing Amber Hazard lights are legal, front or rear. White flashing headlights are not. I have no problem with anyone else’s flashing headlight. It’s like the sun, don’t stare at it. I do wish that they would construct bike headlights like auto lights, with a cut off lens to keep the beams down on the road….

    3. Another thing… some of the solid lights people use are just too bright for a dark bike path. Last night I was on the BGT after dark and was totally blinded by oncoming headlights a couple times. On an unlit trail at night that amount of power is not useful, especially when aimed up high instead of at the pavement.

      I know it doesn’t bother some people but it’s a real problem for others. For whatever reason I get blinded really easily at night, and when you’re coming at me with a super-bright light aimed up at my face I can’t see a thing. I literally cannot tell whether I’m about to run off the trail, or straight into you, or what.

      1. michaela

        Al, I’m totally with you on that one. I’ve had to stop dead in my tracks from being blinded by bright lights on the BGT. Sometimes I can look down and use my visor to block the light, but it doesn’t always work. It seems to me that years ago people would cover their lights when approaching an oncoming rider on the BGT, but not so much any more. So much for trail etiquette.

      2. Grogenaut

        I have a super bright light and I try and angle it down on the BGT and shade it but there are some spots that I just can’t see without it. I have the same problem with lights and my eyes don’t adjust fast. I think the filters like someone suggested would be good. It’s a hard problem cause I gotta see those bumps in the BGT to ride safe as well.

  4. Jack

    I’ve been wondering about the BGT also. Especially through the UW. Last winter someone kept it very clear. I assumed it was the UW facilities folks, and I meant to email a thank you to them, but alas…….

    I like the idea of a leaf raking party. Perhaps CBC could organize it in small groups ala the bike count. It would be easy to “ask forgiveness later than permission first” and just do it.

    I charge my lights weekly now. I don’t ride much on the weekends, just my commute, so I charge then.

    I’ve found my Night Rider will charge with the USB cords we have at work that are for the external DVD drives we have around. I’ve been using them for a while and they work great.

    Be safe!

    1. Chuck

      Jack, I am really regretting my decision of opting for the non-USB charging version when I originally bought my Night Rider.

    2. michaela

      I commute along the BGT to Bothell and last week I quite happily noticed that the SRT by the Bothell Landing had been swept clean of leaves. Then the next day when I rode along there I saw a guy on a riding leaf blower clearing the trail. Which got me thinking about why the city and/or the county doesn’t do more to keep the trail clear of leaves and branches. My ride home Friday night in the dark and pouring rain was quite dangerous in spots. With all the leaves and branches on the trail, it’s really hard to tell where the edge of the trail is along the darker parts of the route. The area around the city limits is particularly bad right now. The leaves also cover up all the buckled pavement, making it even more of a challenge in the dark.

      I second the idea of a trail raking party. It’s going to be a long time before all those leaves and branches compost enough to make the trail safe again for all trail users.

      1. Gary

        I used to clear the Bellevue Slough trail. I’m not riding it right now but I suppose I should just take a couple of hours and go do it. Pretty easy, grab a steel leaf rake, a square nose full length shovel and a big broom and it goes pretty quick. I wear my reflective vest when cleaning so I don’t get run down by other trail users.

        I figure if each of us clears just 2 hrs of trail that matters to us, then the rest can ride easy and it will be mostly done.

  5. Doug

    That chart is really something. The number of people cycling drops sharply (from my personal observation), but the rate of collision skyrockets. I’m not surprised, though: it seems everything about November is designed to make it miserable for cyclists.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      That chart is for pedestrian collisions only. I used it because it clearly could affect people on bikes, too. I don’t have the bike-involved collisions data month-by-month (if anyone has that, please post here)

  6. I have recently been communicating with the city regarding Ravenna Blvd from the Ave to Greenlake.

    They did go and sweep up a bunch of leaves and cleand a few drains and it is much better now.

    With regards to our NiteRider lights, I just sent my 15+ year-old Dual Halogen back to them for a new battery and some small repairs…why I did not do this in July when it was light till 10:00 I’ll never know!


    1. Gary

      Sorry to hear you wasted your money on NiteRiders… They are the worst customer service bicycle light company I have ever had the misfortune to deal with. When they break again, and they will, I recommend Dinotte, but there are others.

      1. Andres

        Really? I’ve had the opposite experience. When the housing on my minewt 250 broke, they were quick to replace it (it comes with a lifetime warranty for the housing). A friend of mine bought a cheap one off ebay, of which the warranty was questionable, as it wasn’t sold by an authorized dealer – and they had no problems fixing hers when there was a problem with it.

    2. Grogenaut

      On 84th over in bellevue by the overlake golf club, the city has helpfully swept the leaves off of the road and sidewalk into the bike lane. That was fun. For that stretch I’m very glad to have my motorcycle class 1500 lumen headlight.

  7. I have been so happy with a generator hub. Paired with an LED headlight, there is not noticeable drag, its lighter than a battery system, and the light is always there when you need it. Its nice to not have to grab a battery in the morning when you’re in a hurry to get out the door and its even better to not have your headlight die in the middle of a dark commute.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      In many European countries, hub generators are standard on most bikes. Because you wouldn’t think about sell a car without headlights, but we sell bikes without lights all the time. Hub generators are awesome, but they’re still pretty rare in the US. Cheap plastic battery-powered lights are king here. Batteries can die, lights get lost, dropped, or forgotten in another bag. And don’t get me started on how horrible most cheap light mounting brackets are (it almost seems like they don’t want you to ever get the damn thing to stay on).

      It’s silly that we deal with lights as an optional add-on feature. Some day the industry may change…

      1. I agree- a bicycle should be sold as an integrated unit with lights, fenders, and racks. It works better than bolting after market parts onto the bicycle. I think the industry is starting to move in that direction, especially with upright style commuter bikes. Its at least on the radar. It would be nice if it could happen with more high performance bicycles- right now that is the realm of custom builders and out of most peoples’ price range.

      2. Gary

        I know! Even trying to figure out which headlamp and which hub generator and how long it will last vs a regular sealed bearing hub wheel. I probably should have bought a hub system for all the money I’ve dropped into the lights but I went with the “safe” known expense route. But next set of lights I’m seriously considering going with the hub system for the basic handlebar and tail light system.

  8. Clint

    Good post, and especially the part about hazardous wet leaves on the Burke and elsewhere. I encountered a couple of trouble spots yesterday as well — one on Ravenna Blvd as someone mentioned, the other on the new Dexter bike lanes of all places. A leaf raking party sounds fun, but truly these are regionally important bike routes and the city should keep them clear; it shouldn’t require volunteers. I hope the Bicycle Master Plan update can deal with these sorts of maintenance issues — clearing hazards, prioritizing repaving and pothole fixing on bike routes, better construction detour signage for bikers, etc. — along with the needed emphasis on infrastructure improvements.

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