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Commuting Bicycle commuting is easier than you think, before you know it, you'll be hooked. Learn the tips, hints, equipment, safety requirements for safely riding your bike to work.

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Old 04-12-11, 10:51 PM   #1
wxduff
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Night Commuting Tips?

Sorry if this has been done before, but I searched it, I swear!

I start my first job in June (1st real job), a great place for bike commuters. I get a locker and access to showers, and there are plenty of bike paths. It's truly a great place to work. The problem is, I'm probably going to be working the night shift for a while. 10PM to 6AM. The bike in and out of work will both be in the dark. The good thing is that between the low traffic and the high amount of bike paths on the trip to work, I'm confident this can be done safely.

What I need to know from you guys is:
1. What Lights can I get that will do the job and wont break the bank!
2. Should I use bike paths at night? Is that legal usually?
3. Is there anything you think I should know before I choose to do this?

Bike commuting was great last summer. I got in shape, picked up a great hobby, saved on gas, and felt healthy. Now that I'm leasing a car (the old one blew up ) I have to keep the miles down and the long distance relationship I'm in just got longer, so that is important too.

Any advice would be great. Thanks in advance.
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Old 04-12-11, 10:55 PM   #2
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Is your location correct? All the bike paths in State College are open 24hrs. Get a reflective vest and reflective ankle bands.
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Old 04-12-11, 10:56 PM   #3
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actually night is a great time to ride if you are in a safe area. my guess is state college is pretty safe. the reduction in traffic is the big difference.

that said, motorists will be les able to see you and also not expecting to see you. so give them no reason to miss you. i would suggest
* reflective yellow jacket
* PlanetBike SuperFlash rear light
* MagicShine headlight
* tires with a reflective strip
* BikeGlow light to wrap around your frame for side visibility

that should do it. you also might want an AirZound so you can honk at anyone who doesn't see you.
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Old 04-12-11, 11:02 PM   #4
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The location is correct (well it will be). I'm working at the same place I interned last summer. Thanks for the quick response.
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Old 04-12-11, 11:13 PM   #5
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during daylight hours take a ride through the parts and make mental notes on the road conditions, and any parts to be cautious of such as potholes, ruts, etc that could sneak up on you in the dark.

also make sure to have your tool kit, and it helps to practice tire changes in dim or no light. you never know if you have to repair a flat in the dark and sucks when you have to do it the first time. i practice in the garage with lights off putting tools in a logical sequence, and discovered no matter how good your lights might be on the bike, having a helmet light really helps instead of clenching the bike light with your teeth. and always check your brakes after you put your wheels back on!
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Old 04-13-11, 01:24 AM   #6
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Retro Reflective Films (Avery or 3M) , and Lightweights For Wheels. Night riding can be a killer if you don't have side visibility (as demonstrated tragically in my home town earlier this year).
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Old 04-13-11, 06:39 AM   #7
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I use pretty inexpensive lights up front that flash, and a red blinkie, also inexpensive for back. The 2 cheap flashing lights in front, one on the handle bars and the other down on the fork, provide enough light for my unlit MUP.

Soon you won't need any lights for the ride home, if it isn't already light out now.

The more reflective you and the bike are, the better your chances of not getting run over when you are off the MUPs. You can get a lightweight and inexpensive reflective vest. I have one that I can wear without a shirt when it's warm and it stretches enough to fit over layers, even with a jacket when it's cold.
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Old 04-13-11, 06:53 AM   #8
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2 purpopses for lights To see and be seen. If you have bad roads and narrow tires, you really want a bright headlight to light your way. Now that I have a dedicated commuter with 35c tires at lower pressures, I don't worry about the bumpy streets nearly as much and I just have a blinky mounted on my helmet. I didn't realize just how helpful reflective sidewall tires are until I saw this pic that I snapped in broad daylight and apparently the flash was on on my camera phone

So after seeing that, yeah, reflective clothes help tremendously. I can go so far as to say that if I need to build another set of wheels for my commuter, I'll look at paying the extra money for Velocity rims with the Halo coating that look black by day but reflective by night, then I can run any tires i want and not worry about finding ones that I like with reflective sidewalls.
Depending on how long your commute is and how SOL you will be if you breakdown will determine just what you need to carry with you in terms of emergency goods.
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Old 04-13-11, 06:58 AM   #9
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I ride predawn. One lesson I learned was that puddles like the streams that run along the edge of a street's lane, do not show their depth in the dark. So you might cross a stream of water and be OK because its running over flat pavement or you might cross that stream in another spot where it runs over a pot hole, you can't tell. Water depth is obvious in daylight but not in the dark and lights just make it worse as they reflect off the water.
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Old 04-13-11, 07:24 AM   #10
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If this schedule is going to be a long-term arrangement, you may want to consider a dynamo hub (Shimano Alfine is the current best bang for the buck) and dynamo-driven lights. It's a bit pricey, but there's a lot to be said for never having to worry about whether your lights are charged.
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Old 04-13-11, 07:29 AM   #11
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I am very happy with my magicshine front and rear lighting. I am forced to ride at night due to my young family so I have nearly 1000 night miles over the past year. I also commute in the dark sometimes. I think lighting could be the most important part next to the mass between your ears. Good luck.
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Old 04-13-11, 08:26 AM   #12
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The most important thing is to get a good light system. Now is a good time to buy one because lots of places should have them on sale with longer days and daylight savings. Magicshine may be a good inexpensive option if they ever get their battery problems resolved; until then I would steer clear. I've got a Magicshine that I can't use due to battery problems and replaced it over the winter with a Light & Motion Stella 300, which is nearly as bright but with a much better battery and run times.

The PB Superflash is a great inexpensive tail-light and there are other comparable ones made by other brands. I use two of them.

Bright clothes are also important. In summer, a jacket may be too warm but vests are a great option. Look for neon yellow/green, which is most visible. I have a whole collection of yellow/orange/red jerseys that I wear commuting when it's too warm for jackets.

Remember to slow down when riding in the dark. No matter how good your light system, it's easier to miss obstacles, potholes, sticks, rocks, etc. when riding in the dark. That's also a good reason to use larger tires than you might use on a regular road bike. My commuters have 25-28 mm tires.
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Old 04-13-11, 10:48 AM   #13
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I'm a big fan of side lighting. I want to be as obvious as possible to people who might turn into me in an intersection.

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Old 04-13-11, 11:14 AM   #14
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Magicshine may be a good inexpensive option if they ever get their battery problems resolved; until then I would steer clear.
They're selling lights with new batteries. But the new batteries aren't cheap enough to use for a recall. So their battery problem is resolved (from GeoMan anyway) on new lights.
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Old 04-13-11, 11:24 AM   #15
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One thought on whether to have lights on your bike or just on your person/backpack/helmet etc.

A taxi driver told me that having lights on your bike are important because there they are at the same height as car tail-lights. That is the level where drivers' eyes are automatically scanning for other cars/obstacles, and you are more likely to be seen.

I know other people will have different views on this, but that made sense to me. I have a light on my backpack - but I have a few on my bike too. I think you can't have too many!

Last edited by Tourfan; 04-14-11 at 06:31 AM.
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Old 04-13-11, 11:25 AM   #16
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I like twin rear and front lights. Two lights on the rear stays or rack makes you look like a scooter and people give more space. Reflective sidewalls on the tires and something like a spokelit can greatly increase visibility from the side. Two in the front for me, one for drivers to see me and one to see the road. Vests or a reflective triangle or two can help, but I prefer active lighting. If you buy new clothing or bags etc consider how well it can be seen at night. Night and evening riding has brightened my wardrobe considerably.
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Old 04-13-11, 11:52 AM   #17
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I like Cygo-lite Rover, or something similar, for the front. I'd rather not go with anything smaller (e.g., AA battery powered) to light up a bike path -- unless it's on the street, I've never seen one lit. You need a more expensive light to see than to be seen with.

PB Superflash is OK when it's dry -- I've killed two by letting them get wet. Check with your LBS to see what they recommend for bright enough to be seen from the rear, and get two. I like Cateye -- they've got waterproof down better than anybody else, IME. Run one steady, one blinking, so there's a chance you'll notice before it's too late when the batteries run down.
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Old 04-13-11, 12:30 PM   #18
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I used to work overnight shift. What you wear or what lighting you use is going to vary.

1st, How long is your commute? If it is less than an hour some cheap flashlights from dealextreme should work fine. Something like the Ultrafire WF-502B should work well. Don't forget you will also need batteries, charger, and bicycle mount. You can get all of them from there as well. Just expect about 2 weeks for delivery.

If your commute is longer than an hour then the Magicshine lights are usually highly recommended.

For tail lights the Radbot 1000 and New Super Flash turbo are recommended. A reflective vest is also a good investment.

However, being visible is great in most situations, but not all. There were parts of my commute were I would ninja and occasionally salmon it. Some places you might want to just blend in.
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Old 04-13-11, 12:34 PM   #19
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Originally Posted by wxduff View Post
What Lights can I get that will do the job and wont break the bank!
Break the bank if necessary. Light is important. A lot of people like the MagicShine, and it seems to be the current brightest light for the money. I've got a Dinotte 200L, which is good but not perfect and costs more than the Dinotte. A particular weak spot of either of these lights is that they've got no beam cut-off, so you'll blind anyone you meet oon the MUP.

My next light will either be the B&M Ixon IQ or a Supernova E3 Triple, depending on whether I can spring for the dyno-hub.

Check out this page before you buy anything.

http://www.peterwhitecycles.com/headlights.asp



I agree about the reflective strip on tires. I noticed this one night while driving. The tires lit up a bike that was otherwise invisible to me. Other reflective material is a bonus. While I love the PB Superflash, the Mars 3.0 and 4.0 are similarly bright and have side-facing LEDs.

The biggest danger of riding at night is rain. Rain and dark together make visibility very near nil for cars. I avoid it as much as I can. Be extra careful if you're riding in the rain at night and always assume that drivers don't see you (a decent rule in any conditions).
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Old 04-13-11, 02:00 PM   #20
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I have ridden many trips at night in winter when the daylight hours all happen while I'm at work. Key things are reflective surface in all directions; mirror to see behind you; lights to be seen; and lights to see. Those are the "things" then there's the most important safety element...your head. Scan your route, make sure there are no places where things can surprise you by jumping out at you (this means people or animals). As mentioned, check out the road surfaces, and scope out alternate routes at the same time. For lights, I really like my dyno, but before I had it, I used Dinotte AA lights front and back and their commuter version on my helmet. Now I have a dyno light on the back, and I use the Dinotte 140 AA rear-facing light. My jacket has about a 2" stripe of reflective material across the back, I use reflective tape and tires with reflective sidewall, and pedal reflectors. Honestly, I feel like I get more respect on the road at night than I do during daylight. Most important thing for you to do at night is to maintain your awareness. Do that and the differences from daytime riding really aren't that significant IMO.
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Old 04-13-11, 02:20 PM   #21
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ack, my Superflash just died in the rain today! wtf???

Quote:
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I like Cygo-lite Rover, or something similar, for the front. I'd rather not go with anything smaller (e.g., AA battery powered) to light up a bike path -- unless it's on the street, I've never seen one lit. You need a more expensive light to see than to be seen with.

PB Superflash is OK when it's dry -- I've killed two by letting them get wet. Check with your LBS to see what they recommend for bright enough to be seen from the rear, and get two. I like Cateye -- they've got waterproof down better than anybody else, IME. Run one steady, one blinking, so there's a chance you'll notice before it's too late when the batteries run down.
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Old 04-13-11, 02:28 PM   #22
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Lighting... so you can see and be seen is pretty critical and if there is not a lot of ambient light you can actually get away with lower output but a 3 watt / 250 lumen system is usually sufficient for seeing. MY PB 2 watt headlight is actually quite practical as a night time driving light (almost matches my 3w Lumotec) and costs $34.00 but ymmv as we all have different night vision.

A reflective vest is some of the best money you can spend and these glow in the daytime too... I never tour without mine.

Reflective sidewalls are one of the best things ever... and good tyres will prevent more flats and make the ride more enjoyable.

This was taken under fairly bright lights...

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Old 04-13-11, 04:42 PM   #23
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personally, i think that no matter how much lighting and reflectiveness you have (and I have quite a bit), you need to also pretend you're invisible while you're riding. Nobody can see you, in your thinking, so nobody is going to try to avoid running into you, so you have to try to avoid them...
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Old 04-13-11, 06:56 PM   #24
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First off, I'd HIGHLY recommend a reflective vest. This one from Harbor Freight is what I ride with, and I've tested it and found it to be QUITE bright. Excellent performance for $5

I am a big fan of my MagicShine light WITH the taillight also. The taillight is $30 from GeoMan, and comes with a Y adapter. You'll never get another taillight that's nearly that bright for $30, so if you go with their headlight then adding the taillight and running both from the same battery makes a lot of sense.

I have an aftermarket battery, though I never had any trouble with the original and I'd have no problem going with it again.

My only caveat is that the connectors are difficult to pull apart, and you MUST be careful to ONLY pull by the connector, not at all by the wire. I actually bought spare Y adapters and extension cables from DealExtreme for really cheap, because even when being careful I wind up messing up a wire about every 6 months and having to replace it, but since they're about $3 each at DX, I don't much care.

If you want an alternative, here's my recommendation:

I use a P7 flashlight as a backup, but apparently this flashlight is reported to be quite good. Add this handlebar mount this charger and this pair of batteries and you have a very bright and versatile light that you can also use off the bike for $36. These are just the parts that I have and they work for me, there are other options. This will give you a 90+ minute runtime per cell.

For on the back, I'd go with a Pacific Design Works Danger Zone or Radbot taillight for about $30. But IMO it's worth having two lights on the back because you won't be able to tell if one fails. As long as you're ordering from DealExtreme, this taillight is essentially equivalent to the Planet Bike Superflash and sells for $3.50. I put one on my helmet as a backup.
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Old 04-13-11, 07:37 PM   #25
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The OP can pm me and I'll give more specific advice. The good thing about State College is that the traffic is way down in the summer. There are still enough college age people in town that it makes a difference in how you equip yourself. Specifically, a helmet light is a good investment, because there are a lot of places in town where people run stop signs like they aren't there if there isn't really good evidence that a vehicle is coming. A helmet light to the face is the only thing that will save you from getting t-boned.
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