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Lighten Up, Cyclists

As the days shorten in Arlington, cyclists should take the time to be sure they’re visible on streets and trails.

We’re well into the season of ever-shortening days.

Commuters who enjoyed an easy ride home in summer’s sunshine are now rolling home at dusk. Soon, they will be commuting almost entirely in the dark. This means it’s time for Arlington cyclists to prepare to meet the added challenges of being seen while riding through the fall and winter seasons.

Lights are cheaper and better than they’ve ever been. If you’re used to riding with an old incandescent light powered by a handful of AA batteries – get to a bike store. Even cheap LED lights in silicone cases (like these) are bright and small. This means they can be left on your bike, eliminating the common “Oops, I forgot my lights” scenario that often occurs with lights people take off their bikes after each use.

Small LED lights, however, are only good for being seen – they don’t do a lot to help you see.

If you find yourself on poorly lit side streets, or using Arlington’s trails at night, you’ll want a proper light. These usually come with external battery packs that need to be charged on a regular basis. The cost – these lights usually start around $90 and head up from there – might be surprising. But that’s not nearly as surprising as how well they light the road in front of you.

Lights in the rear are important, too. The small LED lights are usually sufficient here – just make sure that they’re not obscured by your saddle bag or pointing toward the ground. One thing some cyclists do to supplement the rear lights is add reflective tape – like 3M Scotchlite – to their frames. They're remarkably bright when hit by a car's light.

Finally, remember that clothing can also play an important role in being seen.

If you’re in the market for a winter jacket or windbreaker, look for one that incorporates reflective material into the design. It need not be some day-glo orange getup that makes you look like you’re on your way to hunt. Simple light-colored material with reflective piping will serve your purposes just fine. 

The most important thing? Be seen, one way or another.

Mark Blacknell is chair of the Arlington Bicycle Advisory Committee, a member of the board of directors of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, and a League Cycling Instructor.

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