Washington, Oregon and California have all passed laws saying that they are ready to switch to permanent Daylight Saving Time, but we still need to meaninglessly and abruptly plunge the evening commute into darkness next week because Congress has not yet approved the West Coast time zone change.
That means sunset today is 4:47 p.m. today, so you need to make sure your bike lights are in good working order if you aren’t used to biking in the dark.
Commute Seattle is hosting its annual Light Up Your Commute event 7–9 a.m. Thursday on the Westlake Bikeway near Lake Union Park. You can get swag there or just grab a breakfast burrito and some coffee.
If you are new to biking, lights are not optional. Not only is a front headlight and rear reflector legally required, but lights are vital for your safety. We have ranted about this many times before but it is ridiculous that lights are not a standard feature on bikes sold in the U.S.
tldr; Buy a headlight bright enough to see bumps in the road, don’t put it on flashing mode and don’t point it in people’s eyes.
We’ve written about bike lights many times over the years. And the good news is that LED and battery technology keeps improving, so quality lights that are easy to keep charged are plentiful. Whether you go with a USB-charging light or a light that can take rechargeable AA or AAA batteries is up to you. Just avoid cheapo lights that require little watch-size batteries: They are usually not bright enough and you will pay a lot more later buying those expensive little batteries.
Though a taillight is not legally required, you should have one. Luckily, those are usually cheaper than headlights, and most taillights out there will be just fine since they don’t need to illuminate the road like a headlight should.
It’s best to angle your headlight slightly toward the ground. This does three things: It prevents you from blinding someone coming the other way (including other people biking), it helps illuminate the path in front of you, and the splash of light on the road helps people driving to see you.
Do not use the flashing mode on your headlight, especially if it is a powerful light. It seems like common sense that a flashing light makes you more visible. After all, emergency vehicles have flashing lights. But a flashing headlight can be disorienting, especially for people heading in the other direction. It can also make it difficult for people to pinpoint your location. A steady headlight is best.
If you want to use additional lights, that’s up to you. Whatever makes you feel more comfortable on the road is great. I won’t tell people they need to wear reflective vests or wrap their bikes in Christmas lights, but I also won’t tell people they shouldn’t. You do you.
Oh, and you should really take your lights with you when you lock up. Light theft is unfortunately common.
If you want to never think about bike lights ever again, ask your local bike shop about dynamo lights powered by your bike’s movement. This is my favorite bike upgrade, though it can be a bit pricey since you will likely need a new front wheel. But you can keep them on your bike when you lock up and they turn on automatically when you start riding. They’re almost magic.
Once you have lights that work for you, biking at night can be wonderful. It’s empowering to know you can get around by bike 24 hours a day. And if you’re going to commute through winter, you’re going to need to bike in the dark a lot.