Lights On Bright Days (Just For Cyclists)

I’ve ridden with LED lights in daylight before, but generally only on murky days. However, I’m adopting them all year round now.

LED Light on a bike

Flashing for safety

No, I haven’t suddenly decided cycling’s a terribly risky thing to do. It’s simply because the other day I was out cycling, I was going down a lane that was partly in shade, partly in bright sun, and I didn’t see a cyclist coming up the road.

There wasn’t an accident. It wasn’t even a near-miss – it was plenty wide enough for the two of us – but I didn’t see him until we were almost level. I was genuinely shocked … and I’d say that by being out in the open I had far better visibility in those circumstances than someone in a car.

Hence the new attitude to lights (Knogs, if you’re interested), and today’s ride was the first with them. Pleasingly, the experience I’ve had before with riding with them – by and large you get given a wider berth – remains true even on decent days. All the observations I had about them last October are still true.

So, no, I don’t subscribe to the view that cycling’s some terribly dangerous way of getting around that requires as many ‘safety aids’ as possible: I think a lot of that attitude arises to assuage the consciences of drivers and those that make and enforce the rules for drivers. But I don’t mind applying some (for me new-found) common-sense to my own visibility.

Observations And Reflections On Using Flashing Rear Lights Whilst Cycling

I’m very fortunate – I’m able to do most of my bike riding during the day, on (relatively) quiet roads. On the whole I don’t feel I need lights, high-visibility clothing and so on; I don’t feel that vulnerable. (I would have a very different attitude if I was riding in towns / commuter traffic.)

Lately though, the days are just not brightening up and there’s a lot of general murk around, and so I’ve been riding with a flashing red LED back light on at all times.

The interesting thing about this is that I’m pretty sure it does make the average driver give me a wider berth as they overtake me. For that I’m grateful – it all contributes to making for a more pleasant ride.

The very interesting this is that the average driver is giving me a wider berth but often taking quite significant risks to do so – going over the central line despite approaching blind corners; in some cases despite approaching traffic.

I don’t know how I feel about that. On the one hand, I’m still the winner – I’m getting a wide berth and if drivers are taking risks to do so, that’s their look-out.

On the other hand, it would appear that by riding with a flashing back light I’m creating a conflict in drivers: they feel compelled to give me more room than they might otherwise, but they can’t fight what seems to be a deep-seated urge to get around me even at considerable risk to themselves.

No, I don’t think I would feel guilty if, in overtaking me, a vehicle takes a risk and they don’t get away with it. I can’t be responsible for another’s actions and, surely, it’s reasonable to expect competent adults – especially those judged capable of driving a vehicle – to be able to exercise a degree of foresight. They can easily wait for a safe spot to overtake me.

That said, I drive a car too, and I know how deep-seated the urge is to get around something that’s going very slow; how innate that urge seems. I’ve been there – I’ve felt it.

The upshot, perhaps, is that we need to look at the expectations that are somehow engendered in drivers, of driving; what is it that makes the urge to get by something slower so strong. Is it over-crowding – are we feeling too pressured, too hurried to cut anyone any slack? Is it the image of motoring that’s ‘sold’ to us – the very attractive myth of forging ahead on an open road?

I don’t know, there could be any number of reasons, but I know the problem’s real, and I know that while I might not feel guilty if a car overtaking me foolishly then crashes, it’s not going to be a life-enhancing event for anyone – me included.

And the other upshot? Using flashing red LEDs at all times seems sensible. While we wait for a solution to the urge to overtake, perhaps cyclists will have to learn to live with witnessing accidents. Witnessing is better than being involved.

Bravery In The Fading Light

The coldest night of the year so far, followed by a very slow-to-warm-up day – blighted by lots of patchy cloud. It wasn’t quite that foul uniform blanket of grey that’s enough to depress anyone, but it was doing its best to bring you down.

I suppose in my defence I can say that riding in cold weather has played havoc with the general chronic sinus-related grief I’m cursed by, so my wariness about going out when it is in the low 40s Fahrenheit, or lower, is justified.

So it was that I rolled out at around 2pm, just as it reached 46F, with the intention of getting in a 40 mile trip.

I don’t go well in the afternoons. I don’t really like riding after lunch at all. Needs must – it’s a full week this week with a patchy weather forecast too. And in truth I did OK for the most part, but at about 30 miles the light started to drop rapidly and I had to make a judgement about whether to keep riding with just a couple of small ‘safety lights’, or whether to call it a day and call on a friend for a lift home. I went for prudence and called Charli; I carried on riding and we met up at about 33 miles. It was very dull by then, and the decision was the right one. By the time we pulled in to my place it was, well, late dusk and dusk is probably the worst time to be out on the roads – it’s a far more dangerous light than when it’s properly dark.

So, why this humdrum tale? I thought the unbidden considerations that just turned up in my mind as I was wondering whether to stop or not were interesting, albeit in a not very satisfying way. For a start, I don’t think anyone would ever call me proud but I was wondering whether I’m somehow failing for giving up. I wondered, too, whether I was being somehow cowardly or a bit of a wimp, but I’ve never thought prudence was cowardly nor the prudent wimpish.

Initially I thought the question to consider is where do those thoughts come from; why do I give them any mental time when I know I disagree with them. But really, I guess, that’s easy enough to answer: ‘macho values’, for want of a better shorthand, are all too commonly held desirable, particularly for males. On the whole they’re stupid but that’s never stopped a notion from having currency.

Perhaps a more interesting angle to ponder is why I was happy to ‘fail’ and ‘wimp out’. I’m not sure what the answer is. Maybe it’s age and the lessons of experience, but I’m not sure I’d have behaved any differently 20 years ago. Perhaps it’s rooted in the way I’ve rarely felt the need to prove myself to anyone other than myself – I just never have. (For that matter, I’m not interested in competing with others either; the only person I ever feel a need to beat is me and all the limitations I come with. If I beat someone else at something – so what?)

Perhaps I’m really very macho; perhaps it would be more sensible if we all recognised that knowing your limits, knowing what’s prudent, knowing when to stop as well as when to carry on, is harder than just ‘toughing it out’ or ‘carrying on regardless’. Perhaps.

And then you read of someone like Tommy Godwin, who in 1939 set the record for the most miles ridden in a year – a record that still stands. His utterly staggering 75,065 miles – yes, seventy five thousand – makes any notion of effort, endurance, bravery or anything else on my part that I might even vaguely think of as laudable into a permanent and very deep shade.