As well as lights and reflectors, cycle commuting at night requires some adjustments to the way that you ride.
Ride within the limits of your front light. You need to be able to stop in the distance you can see, and your reaction time is likely to be slower at night when you’re tired. At 15mph (24kph) you’re travelling nearly seven metres a second – and twice that downhill at 30mph. Even with a good front light, you’ll have minimal time to react. So keep your speed in check. You might still run over stuff unexpectedly, such as potholes or broken glass, so it makes sense to fit tyres that are wider and tougher.
Good road positioning is arguably even more important at night. You’ll avoid detritus and damaged tarmac at the road edge, and it’ll be more obvious to drivers where you are and where you’re going. You can’t eyeball drivers in the dark, so it’s harder to know if they’re reacting appropriately to you and your hand signals. Correct road positioning is unambiguous and is the cornerstone for communicating your intentions, as less negotiation is needed.
Use familiar routes
Night isn’t the time for navigating new routes. You won’t know how the road is cambered on the next corner, whether there’s a pothole or a cycle-path bollard coming up, or an overhanging tree. Stick to routes you’ve ridden in daylight. But be aware that some routes are fine in daylight, with people around, but can feel riskier in the dark – that unlit cycle-track, for example, or that quiet shortcut through an unsavoury part of town. Don’t ride anywhere you’re not comfortable.
Deal with dazzle
Some drivers on unlit roads neglect to dip their headlights for cyclists. To alert them, try ‘flashing’ your front lamp by waving a hand in front of it. If they continue on full beam, don’t look directly forward. Look down, a little ahead of your front wheel, so you can see where you are relative the edge of the road. This works better if your eyes are shielded by the peak of a cap or helmet. Also: slow down. If necessary, stop.
Check your bike over
Mechanical problems are harder to deal with in the dark, so make sure at the weekend that your bike is in good working order, with tyres properly inflated, gears and brakes functioning fine, and so on. For roadside repairs, a helmet-mounted light or small head torch such as the Petzl Zipka is a godsend. Either leaves both hands free.