5 Tips for Bike Commuting at Night

Bike commuting at night can be a daunting prospect. You need to deal with all that frantic rush hour traffic, figure out how to navigate those dark streets and stay warm and dry and get yourself home in one piece in time for your evening meal.

Getting your head around it all when you first get started isn’t easy. And I’ll admit that when I first started cycling at night, I did make a fair few mistakes that left me looking and feeling stupid.

I had far too many close scrapes. The batteries in my lights failed me on more occasions than I’d like to admit. And let’s put it this way, runny noses and cycling gloves aren’t an ideal combination… 

But over the years, I realized that cycling in the dark could be more than just acceptable. It could actually be more fun than regular cycling.

Today I’m going to give you a fast track path to cycling success and share with you five tips that can help you stay safe and enjoy bike commuting at night, which are as follows:

  1. Use your lights           
  2. Wear reflective clothing
  3. Always wear a helmet
  4. Go prepared   
  5. Enjoy yourself!

1. Use Your Bike Lights

You might think that it’s obvious that you’ll need bike lights to commute at night, but you’d be surprised how many people try to rely on street lights then end up having a nail-biting and dangerous ride.

If there’s any chance you’ll be commuting by bike at night, get yourself some decent lights.

You won’t have to struggle to see where you’re going and cars will spot you more easily, reducing your risk of having an accident on the road.

These days, bike lights are much brighter and longer lasting than they used to be and work great, especially if you choose a good quality, middle of the range set of lights (no popping to the £1 shop, please!)

But having lights on your bike is not just a case of comfort either. According to the UK Highway code, you are legally required to have approved front and rear lights fixed to your bike between sunset and sunrise. They also need to work!

Get a white light at the front and a red at the rear and never use the flash mode at night. And as with your headlights on a car, you should never point the light directly forward in case you dazzle oncoming drivers. Besides, this will make it much harder to see the road in front of you. Instead, point it towards the ground; about 8 metres in front of you is a good idea.

It’s also a good idea to wear a headlight if you have one. It will help you to see more when you turn your head (but it’s not a legal alternative to the traditional front and rear lights.)

Additionally, make sure your lights are bright and will last longer than you plan to be on the road for. It’s always a good idea to carry backups, just in case.

bicycle painted on road to indicate cycleway
Photo Credit: Andrew Gook on Unsplash

2. Wear Reflective Clothing

I’ll admit that the idea of wearing reflective or fluorescent clothing might not be the most appealing. But if you want to stay as safe as possible and be seen in the dark, you need to invest. They can often make the difference between life and death.

This isn’t just my option either. A study conducted in Australia back in 2010 found that adding reflective and high-vis clothing significantly improved cyclists visibility;

 “There was a strong effect of clothing on the percentage of cyclists who were recognised by drivers. Adding ankle and knee markings to a typical reflective cycling vest provides a powerful enhancement of the cyclist’s conspicuity,” they said, “This manipulation increased the percentage of drivers who recognised that a cyclist was present from 50% to 90% overall, with 100% of cyclists being recognised by the younger cohort of drivers.”

The good news is that you don’t have to dress head to toe in fluorescent clothing to be noticed!

Wear cycling clothes with built-in reflective panels and consider wearing reflective ankle bands, overshoes and anything else that is reflective. You can also easily find reflective tape and other reflective items for your bike in most bike shops. 

Don’t think that a high vis vest will be enough. These are good for dim conditions such as cloudy days but aren’t perfect when it’s dark. Slap on the reflective gear and you’ll be much better ready for the dark.

You should also make sure your bike is reflective too. The Highway Code says that your bike must have a red reflector at the back of your bike and four amber pedal reflectors.

Most bikes come with these reflectors ready attached, but the high-end bikes sometimes don’t. Make sure you check yours before you hit the road. 

3. Always Wear a Helmet

Wearing a cycling helmet has long been an area for debate within the cycling community.  Although the benefits of wearing a helmet are undisputed, many people believe that wearing helmets can encourage reckless cycling and put people off getting on their bikes in the first place.

While the latter might be true, it’s always worth protecting yourself, just in case the worst should happen.

According to a study from the University of New South Wales, “Helmet use is associated with odds reductions of 51% for head injury, 69% for serious head injury, 33% for face injury and 65% for fatal head injury.”

I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather reduce my risks of serious injury that worry about how I look.

If you’re in the market for a helmet, check out my guide to the best bike commuter helmets here now!

4. Go Prepared

Whenever you get on your bike, think like a boy scout and be prepared.

  • Make sure you’re always dressed for the weather and be aware of the forecast. I’ve set off on many a ride in the sunshine, only to discover that I’m faced with torrential rain and gale-force wind on the way home!
  • Cover those areas that are most exposed. Gloves, a skullcap or balaclava, and good socks can make a huge difference to how comfortable you feel, especially in the colder months. It’s also worth investing in glasses to protect you from the wind or debris.
  • Plan your route beforehand and cycle it in the daylight before you tackle it in the dark. That way you’ll be more likely to know any potholes in the road, junctions and other potential hazards. This isn’t a time for throwing yourself into a brand-new route!
  • Check that your bike is in good condition before you leave. You don’t want to be fiddling around trying to fix a problem in the dark with just your bike lights for company!
  • Also make sure you have a repair kit with you, just in case.

5. Enjoy Yourself!

Getting outside in the dark can be invigorating, exciting and fun so make sure you’re making the most of it and getting that smile on your face.
Yes, you’ll have to deal with traffic and other kinds of hazards along the way, but it’s all part of the adventure.

Besides, when you commute by bike at night, you’re lowering your carbon footprint, getting fresh air and exercise and actually doing your mental health a big favor. Even if the weather isn’t on your side and you’re not really in the mood, you’ll almost always find that you enjoy yourself in the end.

What’s not to like about it?

Related questions

How safe is bike commuting at night? Bike commuting at night is more dangerous than cycling during the day. Traffic and pedestrians are less likely to see you and hazards are harder to spot. Use bright lights and reflective clothing.

What type of clothing should I wear to bike at night? Wear a combination of reflective and high visibility clothing when you cycle at night. Ensure that you’ll also be warm enough if the weather changes.

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