A lot of people buy bicycles never intending to ride after dark and then sometimes find themselves pedaling home after the sun's gone down. This is dangerous because you're almost invisible to drivers and you can't see hazards that could cause a crash. It's also illegal and you could be ticketed should a cop spot you.
To avoid these risks we recommend coming in and picking up a basic lighting system comprised of a headlight and taillight. This will set you back only about $25 to $50 (depending on what you select) and offer you the piece of mind of knowing you'll be safe no matter how late you ride.
You might wonder why you need a light when your bike is already equipped with reflectors. While these are helpful at night, they only light up when lit by a vehicle's headlights. And, they do not light the road at all to help you see. So, for optimum safety, you really need lights.
It's also good to dress brightly for night rides. There are now jackets and vests made of, or featuring, built-in reflective materials that make you light up in traffic like a reflective street sign! Another trick is adding reflective tape to your crankarms and/or rims (between the spoke nipples; not on the braking surfaces), which will provide moving reflectors more visible to motorists than stationary ones.
While these steps will increase your safety, headlights and taillights are the most important accessories for riding at night because they make you visible to cars while also providing decent light to ride by. These lights run on standard alkaline batteries (usually AAs; though you can certainly use compatible rechargeables if you have them).
The headlight attaches to the handlebars with a small quick-release mount that makes removal easy when the light's not needed. This means the light can also double as a handy flashlight for fixing flat tires; lighting the walkway to your front door; finding your keys; etc. Plus, it's easy to move the light to other bikes.
The taillight also has handy features. Most models offer flashing and steady modes and can be mounted to the bicycle or a pack (when mounting it to a pack make sure the light remains visible when you lean forward to ride).
Taillights use LEDs (light-emitting diodes), which are bright enough to be seen by motorists in plenty of time to move over. The LEDs are very energy efficient, too, so your batteries will last a long time even if you ride at night a lot.
Interestingly, some headlights today feature LEDs for lights, too. While these provide ample light to be seen by, we recommend purchasing a light with a regular bulb if you need to illuminate the road enough to see. Common bulb types are halogen and xenon, which cast a nice beam to illuminate the road ahead.
Keep in mind that all of these lights meet the basic safety requirements for riding at night, yet they're best for roads peripherally lit by traffic, buildings and streetlights. If you get into serious night riding where you travel long distances on unlit roads, or especially on trails, you should come in and look at more advanced lighting options.
Another type of basic light is the generator system. Generator lights increase visibility in traffic for safety, provide adequate light for navigation on roads and don't require batteries, which is their primary selling point. They run in the $40 to $50 price range.
These systems, however, aren't as available or popular as they once were for 3 reasons: 1) They usually drag on the wheel (sometimes slipping and cutting out in wet weather). 2) They must be bolted to the bike (making them difficult to remove quickly for rides when you don't need lighting). And, 3) They usually turn off when you're not riding, which means at intersections you disappear to motorists unless you also carry a battery-powered bike light.
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