Riding Safe and Being Seen

Your riding safety depends on staying vigilant and not putting yourself in dangerous situations. It is also important that you are visible, both during the day and at night. Vehicle drivers do not want to hit you. Our job as riders is to help them avoid hitting us.

I ride with bright lights during the day and at night. I have front and rear lights on my bike and front and rear lights on my helmet. I like to use Niterider lights. The ones I have are rechargeable. I also find that Niterider is responsive if I have trouble with a light. I set both my front and rear lights to a flashing mode. I am more visible with the flashing lights on. I particularly like the helmet mounted lights. The rear light is more visible because it is up high. With the front light I can look off cars so the drivers know I am there. You can also buy helmets with built in lights. You can order lights online or purchase them at all the bike shops in town.  

Peter's bike covered in reflective tape

My front lights are powerful enough to use as headlights if there are no street lights. It is not necessary to have such powerful lights just to be seen at night but sometimes I like to take pre-dawn rides on country roads and my lights make that possible. 

In addition to lights, it is useful to wear reflective clothing and have reflectors on your bike and panniers. You can attach plastic reflectors to you bike but I like using reflective tape. It can go on your bike, on your panniers and backpacks, and on your clothing. I have a friend with an artistic sensibility who decorates all my gear. I use Gear Aid Tenacious Tape. It is easy to cut, and long lasting.  

If I am riding on the Burlington Bike Path, I turn off my front lights because I do not want to blind oncoming bike riders.  I turn the lights back on when I get off the path.  

Paradoxically, you are safer at night than during the day if you use bright lights and lots of reflective gear. Car drivers can’t avoid seeing you.

Peter wearing his reflective jacket, lit up

Showers Pass sells good quality bike gear with powerful reflective qualities. I purchased a jacket from them that looks black during the day but at night really pops! It features maps from cities around the world.

During the day, bright colored clothing helps you be more visible. I have a black vest with reflective strips and also hi-visibility yellow elements.  Even if you don’t like hi-visibility clothing, you can still be seen with ordinary bright clothing. In daylight a bright blue jacket really stands out.

How you ride has a lot to do with how visible you are. Riding on a sidewalk or on a bike path next to the road makes you nearly invisible to cars. I ride up Riverside Avenue three or four times a week. I take the mixed use path until I am approaching Intervale Street. Then I get onto the road. If it is busy my plan is to get back on the recreation path after I cross Intervale Street but I am more visible in the road than I am on the recreation path. More than once, in spite of my lights and reflectors and high visibility wear, drivers have cut me off as I have tried to cross Intervale Street. They just did not see me.  

Whenever possible I take the center of the road at stop signs and traffic lights. When I am right in front of a car they tend to see me. If I am next to a car that is less likely. Once traffic starts moving I pull over to the side and let cars pass me.  

My taste in clothing runs toward somber colors. I prefer black, white and grey but when I am riding I have learned to embrace lime green, fluorescent yellow and lots of orange!

About the Author: 

Peter Burns

Peter Burns is a long-time bike enthusiast, and one of the original year-round bike riders in the greater Burlington area. In addition to writing about walking and biking, Peter teaches a variety of bike workshops. He also works at a group home for people with psychiatric disabilities, teaches classes for the Vermont Humanities Council, teaches swimming at the Burlington YMCA, and is a regular host of Storytelling VT.  You can contact Peter at [email protected]