19. Biking in the Dark

Love night rides?

Me, too! There are lots of people who do, all around America.  See some of them in the 2 minute, 34 second video from People for Bikes, “Bikes Make Life Better” (click here for “Salinas Youth…,” then scroll down).

Pleasures of night riding include sunsets like this one on October 6, 2013, following the first Ciclovia Salinas. Temperatures were warm, and I biked Salinas until 10 p.m.–just couldn’t get enough!

Ciclovia Sunset - Salinas, Monterey County's 1st Open Streets - Oct 6 2013

Since HER Helmet Thursdays discounts apply until midnight on Thursdays year-round, more people in Monterey County are biking at night all the time.

First, here are some Monterey County evening and night group ride opportunities:
  • Check the Master Calendar for Bicycling Monterey County. Night rides are among the many bike community events.
  • Monthly Twilight Rides at Mazda Raceway, Laguna Seca. Note that in the winter season, Light & Motion typically has loaner lights on hand at these rides.
  • Monterey Off-Road Cycling Association/MORCA) regularly scheduled night rides.
  • MenstrualXCycles is scheduling both day and night rides. Find their contact info on the Monterey County bike community page, then contact them to learn their group ride etiquette/bike party rules and other details.
  • Annual night rides include Critical Christmas Monterey; click here.
  • The annual Sea Otter Classic had its first night rides in 2013–Magicshine Night Ride, a complimentary recreational ride for all ability levels, with choice of mountain or road course. In 2014, Magicshine was back. Keep in touch about any additional annual plans at SeaOtterClassic.com.

Possible eve/night group ride ops:

  • July’s annual California Rodeo, Salinas early evening parade, Kiddie Capers, has many kids who bike. However, as of 2014, the Colmo del Rodeo night parade still awaits an organized bike presence. Visit the California Rodeo site for details and application deadline.  For a gallery of kids and parents biking in the Kiddie Capers parade, click here.
  • The annual Salinas Holiday Parade of Lights takes place in early December.  The Holiday Parade of Lights celebrates “One City, Many Cultures.” Some Salinas Bike Party riders biked in this parade in 2012, as evidenced by the precious little girls in opening scenes of a Salinas Californian video clip, “Holiday Parade of Lights.”  The girls were waiting to watch their papa, a Salinas Bike Party rider.  If you’d like to organize a bike presence in the Holiday Parade of Lights, visit their website and apply by the deadline.
  • Salinas Bike Party, a courteous social bike run, had several organized rides in 2012-2013 and may continue to schedule them (or not–SBP says they may support other local biking activities instead). Email salinasbikeparty@gmail.com to check, or look for any updated info on Bicycling Monterey’s main resources/bike community page.

Monterey Composite - night training
Monterey County’s NorCal mountain bike teams, like Monterey Composite (above) and Salinas  High and Palma High (see all three teams in Serious Cyclists) are fortunate to have a safe setting for night-training–even though (since Fort Ord’s mountain bike trails are closed at sunset), it’s all pavement.

Where? Miles of Class I bike/multi-use path of the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail offer great places to train, day or night. (See Monterey’s countywide map and other maps in Bicycle Maps section.)

Legal requirements for night riding

For California laws regarding required equipment for biking in the dark, see the California Department of Motor Vehicles (and bicycles) Vehicle Code 21201.

Pass the news to your ride buddies by sharing bike laws summary flier – “Be Cool, Be Safe.” Don’t think your buddies will care? Maybe they’ll listen to musician Sarah Factor’s night riding story; click here.

Spanish? The DMV website still does not include Spanish translation of that text as of October 22, 2013.  However, Spanish translation is available on this site’s en espanol webpage–or just download PDF here:

Leyes de ciclismo de California – Laws for bicyclists in CA (Spanish and English) – Summary of bicycle section of CA Vehicle Code

More safety tips

See CA Bike Laws and Personal Safety.  Of course, another way to be safer riding at night (or daytime) is to advocate for better bike infrastructure, including more bike paths and lanes.  Click here for “Bicycle Advocacy:  What you can do.”

Equipment
Below are some suggestions for very inexpensive low-cost options, as well as higher quality night riding solutions worth saving up for.

Equip your bike with, at minimum, the legally required lights and reflectors.

Remember to charge up lights as needed before heading out, and consider making use of high-visibility apparel and accessories too.

Beyond the DMV’s requirements about visibility from a specific number of feet, consider beam pattern and be mindful of conditions such as fog.

Below, high-visibility tape on my bike trailer adds to night riding safety.

Hi vis tape on bike trailer on Alisal St, East Salinas Oct 6 2013

Off to an evening concert or worship service? Spoke reflectors, such as  “chopspokes” from Cyclelogical, can be low-cost, long-lasting, and add significantly to nighttime visibility.

The dad below (notice the child carrier at rear of his bike) doesn’t have precious cargo with him on this ride. Nonetheless, he still wants to get home to his family in one piece.  You’ll see him, night and day, in hi-vis apparel.

Bike lights

Start with local bike shops in Monterey County, or wherever you live. You may be surprised at the many options–and the range of choices to fit a variety of budgets.

Personally, I’ve never had a better headlamp, or rear light, than those made by Light and Motion, a local company. Yes, this world-renowned manufacturer of lightweight, high-powered lights is based right here in Monterey County! Find Light & Motion lights at most Monterey County bike shops, a shop nearer your home, or online. (Want to learn about one of the many ways Light & Motion looks out for the needs of others, right here in their home county? Click here.)

After “making do” with inexpensive lighting for a long time, I saved up for two Light & Motion lights–and I’m so glad I did!

Read “Night Ride Home” to learn why I bought my first, a Stella 120 front light. Later, I purchased a Vis 180 for the rear. Both L&M purchases have made me a much happier, safer night rider.

Richard Masoner of Cyclelicious is a fan of Light & Motion lights too, as evidenced by his 11/5/13 post on headlights. However, like me (see below), he knows that budgets don’t always allow the light of one’s dreams, so Richard offers suggestions for a range of budgets.

Shopping by bike? Although a rear light is not required by law (just a rear reflector is), this Del Monte Shopping Center, Monterey security guard knows that in areas like the Center–where there are typically many cars and far fewer bikes–it especially makes sense to do what you can to be more visible.

Del Monte Center security guard - night riding

Low-cost lights, including DIY

Even if bike safety is a high priority to you, sometimes a budget just doesn’t allow getting the bike light you’d like–yet, anyway.  Click here to download a PDF from Light and Motion about why it’s wise to move that up your priority list as soon as possible!

Meanwhile, until better equipped, below are some low-cost ideas:

  • Many of us had a flashlight on our bike handlebars in decades past.  Check out these tips from bicyclelighting.com – including flashlight-type lights.
  • Here is a simple do-it-yourself solution for mounting a flashlight to your handlebar, which a bicyclist could do with just about any type of flashlight.  Listed here are some Harbor Freight flashlights for under $3 each; there is a Harbor Freight at 117 Abbott Street in Salinas.
  • Here is another example of an effective light for cheap that takes one AA battery.  There are plenty of stores where you can purchase rechargeable NiMh batteries.
  • I love my Light & Motion Vis 180 rear light! It took a while to save up my nickels though, and if you’re not quite ready to spring for a better rear light, consider this: Salinas Bike Party organizers found the light below, which has seven light functions, for 99 cents!  Where? At the 99 Cent Store, 102 E. Laurel Drive, Salinas.  It was suggested by Salinas Bike Party on Facebook by one of their FB friends that folks put a bit of tape over the ON/OFF button, otherwise, it falls off pretty easily. (Hey, ya get what you pay for. Start saving up that coffee money for a Light & Motion or other quality light.)
Photo: Don't have lights? Found this one that has 7 light functions at the 99 cent store on 102 E Laurel Dr. in Salinas. So how much do you think I spent for the light? (yes, that's a dumb question)

 

Rear lights / Tail lights

As of 10/22/13, California does not require a rear light (only a rear reflector) for biking in the dark.  Nonetheless,  a rear light also makes sense!  Click here to download a PDF from Monterey County-based Light and Motion about improving rider safety with a new generation of lighting. For the Vis 180 referred to, and other commuter bike lights from L&M, click here.

I saw a cyclist with the most wonderfully visible tail light on his bike one evening, and–taking care not to approach him at night in a way that could feel threatening–I inquired.  In replying, this touring cyclist, Wyatt Wood, recommended DiNotte, and he had these additional helpful comments:

I receive so many compliments *in broad daylight* that I run this tail light all the time on that bike *when I am riding alone*. I’ve had cops, bus drivers, etc, pull up next to me and say “Great lights!” or something similar.  Motorists talk to me when I am stopped, and it’s always extremely positive.  They really appreciate that I am so visible. Remember, I’m talking daytime.  At night they really stay away from me.

Cyclists in “stealth clothing” get really upset when another road user says “I didn’t see them!”  Well folks, it’s often the truth.

The downside of the light you saw me running is that it’s too bright to have it in another cyclist’s face, so I have to use a “normal” tail light for those situations.  I have a similar light on one of my tandems, but it’s under the rear rack, so a cyclist right behind looks over it.

I’m fully aware that only a very few cyclists really want the sort of lighting I use, and they’re mostly serious commuter types.  Since I am asked so often about my light [which he custom made], I’ve gotten used to suggesting the DiNotte.  While it isn’t as “over the top” as what I make, it is “daylight visible,” and slick enough to sell.  It’s a bit pricey, and if there are cyclists behind you, you’ll need to *not* use the brightest setting; but for the general market, it’s one heck of a light.

The trip where you encountered me was one I do a few times each year. I refer to it as “Going Coastal.” I love to do the Big Sur Coast at night. There is virtually no traffic, and with the lighting I use I really show up.

More high-visibility accessories, and apparel

Hi-vis items  are smart during the daytime and essential at night!  See high-visibility apparel and accessories section for tips.

This man’s vest keeps him highly visible on the bikeways, day and night.

Street Smarts

Look over the tips on night riding in John S. Allen’s book Bicycling Street Smarts Riding Confidently, Legally, and Safely. Versions of the book include a California edition.

Night bike stop at ATM downtown Santa Cruz

Night on the town, rolling up to an ATM–one of our Santa Cruz neighbors.

“Are those lights I see around the bay?”

Some visitors have asked about lighted bike paths. If you are a long-distance cyclist and find yourself arriving here at night, or taking off before dawn, you may appreciate the lighting along many sections of the bike paths.  From the north end of  Sand City to Fort Ord, there are 3′ ballards that shine onto the path, and these don’t interfere with views of the night sky.

A stretch of trail that enjoys an uninterrupted view of the night sky–though beware of “cool with a chance of fog.”

(Photo courtesy of Leo Kodl)

For much of the City of Monterey portion of the bike path, and for a three-quarter mile stretch of the seaward side of the bike path from Humboldt Street in Seaside to Tioga Avenue in Sand City, there is also lighting.  However, these areas feature 25′ tall overhead lamps that shine down on the bike path, which demonstrate one disadvantage to lighted bike paths: adverse effects on views of the night sky!  Another downside to bike path lighting is energy use.

Just how valuable bike path lighting is to personal safety (especially in terms of preventing a bike accident/mishap) is debatable. However, a good personal bikingheadlamp (a front light fastened either to your handlebars or helmet) like those discussed above is highly recommended!

Lighting on bike trails may have more value, however, in terms of preventing nighttime assaults in these often isolated areas.  Is this common in Monterey County?  No.  Nonetheless, common sense precautions are in order.

Safety

Use common sense.  In some locations,  it makes sense to bike with a friend, or even in a group.

Changing your usual route is sometimes wise at night.  For example, some cyclists might skip the multi-use/bike path at night and instead bike in more traveled areas, even if it’s a road shared with cars–and sometimes even a sidewalk (more on sidewalks in the CA Bike Laws and Personal Safety section).

Here’s one example of what helps make this a safer county for people who bike: excellent local law enforcement. See a sampling in “Constables of the Peace–Cops on bikes.”

Looking for great places to star-gaze?

No doubt about it, there’s a lot to be said for being at a high altitude during the annual Perseid shower.   A trip to the Sierra is mighty appealing come August.   But I’ve seen many a shooting star right here in Monterey County, including directly on the coast in Big Sur, way out Carmel Valley Road, out many other rural roads, and–though not on a foggy night–even in my own backyard, about a 20 minute bike ride from the coast.

A big plus about being outdoors in Monterey County at night:  no need for bug repellent.  I think I’ve swatted a maximum of two mosquitoes in 35 years on the Monterey Bay.

One place where I’ve loved star gazing is Fremont Peak. Fremont Peak State Park falls in two counties of the Monterey Bay region. The majority is in San Benito County, and the northern tip is in Monterey County.  My first good look at the rings around Saturn was courtesy of some Stanford students who brought their telescopes there one night long ago.  Head on up and make your own night-sky memories! Fremont Peak State Park

Many other federal forests and state and regional parks are a good choice, too.  Check them out in the Camping in Monterey County post.

Most years for the Perseid shower, getting away from the coast a bit is a good idea—due to chance of fog, as well as city lights.  There are many rural roads with wide open skies that offer great opportunities for star-gazing.  To avoid frustration (running into neighborhood dogs, private property signs, and the like), check things out a bit earlier in the evening so you are all ready to kick back and enjoy when those meteors start rapid-shooting into view.

Pack up a tarp to stretch out on, along with some warm clothing (it’s rarely warm in MoCo at night–so this advice applies not just to December’s Geminids but to the August Perseids too!). And remember your bike lights and such for that return trip in the dark.  For many locations, you may want to do the bike-and-ride, perhaps putting your bike on your car’s bike rack and drive part-way there, then bike the remaining distance to your primo star-gazing spot.

If you want to keep tabs on the night sky, or perhaps even attend one of their star parties, visit the Monterey Institute for Research in Astronomy (MIRA) website.  Also see Earth Sky.org for annual updates.

High visibility?  Keeping it fun

Discovered this one on the Portland Bureau of Transportation website.  If you want a good chuckle, see Let’s get visible (B:C:clettes’ video).