Spokes & soles // Dont forget the lights

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October 29, 2012 // UPDATED 2:00 pm - December 31, 2012
By: Hilary Reeves
Hilary Reeves

Just as fall’s arrival catches many with coats and hats still in storage, so too does it hinder bicyclists’ ability to see and be seen during key dawn and dusk hours.

Between now and the winter solstice (Dec. 22) we lose about two minutes of sunlight each day. Bicyclists who think they can continue to safely ride at this time without being properly illuminated and reflected are putting themselves and others at serious risk. 

“More light!” — the famous final words of German poet and scientist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in 1832 — could just as easily describe many bicyclists along the city’s most popular bikeways. But it doesn’t need to be this way. For little more than the cost of a half-dozen Starbucks’ Frappuccinos (about $5.50 apiece) you can get a high-quality set of front and rear bike lights from a local bicycle shop.

Just keep in mind: not all lights are created (or priced) equal. When purchasing bike lights, it pays to ask for expert guidance, and it’s smart to test the lights yourself. Some tips when purchasing bike lights and becoming more illuminated:

Everyone needs a light. Whether you’re a regular bike commuter or a more casual cyclist, be ready for the dark. A good light both makes you visible to others and illuminates the road or path in front of you. While bike lights range from $15 to $300, you should be able to find a good light with rechargeable batteries for about $35–50. Planetbike.com has a “light finder” that shows different models illuminate objects ahead of the bike. Note that some lights draw battery power much faster than others.  

Buy lights as a set. Riding with only a front (white) light is a recipe for disaster. Add in a steady/flashing red rear light for optimal safety. They’re very effective in allowing cars approaching you from behind see you. While Minnesota does not legally require you to ride with a rear light, it’s still smart to do so.

Carry extra batteries and bulbs. Once you’ve bought a light, you’ll still need to know how to replace the batteries and bulb. Don’t be caught short in the dark of night. Consider carrying replacement batteries and bulbs with you, or be ready to stop in at the convenience store for new batteries on your way home, as I did recently when my light died.

Wear reflective clothing at night. If you don’t own any reflective clothing, at least invest in a few inexpensive reflective arm and leg bands; they’re easily attachable/detachable. Consider also adding additional reflectors or reflective tape to your bike. Life’s a parade, as they say — you may as well ride around like you’re in one!

Once you have the basics, accessorize at will. You can add a down tube light to your bike or more lights to your helmet, front and rear. There are kickstarter campaigns out there for helmets with lights built into them. And a company in the U.K. sells a helmet with an illuminated yellow band. We-Flashy, a Brooklyn company, makes clothing with reflectors built in, so you don’t have “to choose between looking like a crossing guard and wearing safer clothing.”  

Edina expands bicycling capacity

In recent years, the leaders of many first-ring suburbs have been diligently working to expand their bicycling capacity, through the assistance of Bike Walk Twin Cities. The results of such efforts are now on full display in Edina, which has significantly expanded its bicycling appeal by making key north-south and east-west roadways more bike-friendly. Edina has also installed 48 new bike racks at 12 popular retail and municipal locations throughout the community. 

Minneapolis bicyclists heading west into Edina on West 54th Street will notice many improvements on this roadway, including a new dedicated bicycle boulevard, advisory bike lanes, neighborhood traffic circles, and Edina’s first bicycle detector stoplight, at the intersection of 54th Street and France Avenue.

Advisory bicycle lanes also have been added to Wooddale Avenue, between West 50th and Valley View Road. Advisory bike lanes have dashed lines that indicate that motorists may drive on top of the lane and use the center space to pass bicycles as long as there is no on-coming traffic. 

Bicycling improvements and expansions like these fill out the network for safe cycling for both bike commuters and recreational cyclists. They affirm that bicycling is not a “city-only” endeavor, and provide key links between cities that benefits all types of road users. These improvements are also cost-effective, since they typically involve reconfiguring existing roadways into more bike-friendly havens, as opposed to building brand-new roadways.

Transportation Survey in Northeast Minneapolis

If you reside in Northeast Minneapolis, you may be visited before the end of October by a survey-taker from Bike Walk Twin Cities assessing the area’s transportation habits. The survey should take just a few minutes. If you’re asked to participate, I hope you are able to lend your valuable opinion.  

Hilary Reeves is communications director for Bike Walk Twin Cities.