Although the dark winter months tend to curtail early morning and evening riding, the right lights can improve your visibility and keep you in the saddle all year round.
“When customers come in, I always ask them whether they want to see where they are going or be seen,” says former South African road champion Bruce Reyneke, owner of Bruce Reyneke Cycles in Lynnwood, Pretoria.
Although the type of riding conditions will determine the equipment needed, cyclists are required by law to have at least a white front light and a red rear light in poor visibility.
“If you simply want to be seen under streetlights, you can get away with a flashing front and rear light for a couple of hundred rand.”
Although prohibited overseas, Bruce believes flashing lights are effective because they catch the eye, causing motorists to slow down in response.
“However, if you want to see where you’re going in the dark, you’re going to need a solid light at the front and will have to spend a bit more.”
Bruce says that for just over R1 000 you can get a light that is 1 600 lumens strong.
“That’s brighter than a car light. You have to angle it down to light your path, otherwise cars will sometimes flash you because it’s so bright.”
He says aside from roadies training in the pre-dawn hours, the popularity of evening mountain bike races, such as ASG Events’ Night Rider Series, has resulted in a growing trend towards good quality lighting.
“For most people, money is an issue. So the first time they buy something cheap and then they come back and buy a proper light.”
Bruce recalls his heyday in the early ‘80s, when lightweight dynamos were considered cutting edge.
“They didn’t really work though. I used to have a thing on my arm; a little light showing front and back. It was very primitive.”
He says significant advances have been made since then, especially with the advent of LED globes. “In the last three to five years, the technology has improved a lot in terms of brightness, battery life (mostly rechargeable) and weight.”
According to Bruce, riders can also consider larger clip-on lights, whether for clothing or bike, with reflective kit another useful add-on. “In this case, more is definitely better.”
He says maximum visibility is the key and the concept is effectively illustrated during the monthly “critical mass” social night rides taking place in cities like Johannesburg and Cape Town.
Part of a worldwide movement, the contingent of more than 500 riders regularly takes to the streets on well-lit bikes to create awareness of cyclists as legitimate road users.
Bruce says this is particularly important in light of the department of transport’s long-term plan to promote cycling as a commuter mode of choice.
“But there’s still a belief out there that as a cyclist you don’t have a right to be on the road. There is no such law.”
LIGHTBULB MOMENTS: Bruce’s top five tips for riding in the dark
1. Don’t wear black – choose light-coloured and reflective clothing;
2. Be vigilant – look out for vehicles;
3. Take quieter roads where you can;
4. Ride in a group for greater visibility;
5. Get into a routine – if you ride the same route at the same time every day, motorists get used to seeing you.
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