Friday 7 November 2008

Night riding

When I went out this evening to visit a late opening DIY store, I took my camera in the hope of catching some typical night-time cyclists.

I'd not really thought of doing this before, as taking photos at night doesn't work very well. However, a few days ago I read a post on the American blog a few days ago which posed the question of whether night riding was "Safe or Insane?"

Over here, you'll perhaps not be surprised to learn, it's definitely "safe". The first photo shows a boy of perhaps about 12 who was cycling along on his own. The segregated cycle path provides a good degree of safety.

The second photo shows a family's bikes parked outside the store that I visited. There is one adult bike and two different size children's bikes. The one with the blue panniers probably suits a child up to 12 or so, while the smaller one behind has 20" wheels and I would guess is for children up to about 8 years old.

Note that children's bikes here come equipped for regular use because they'll get regular use. They come from the factory with carrier racks, mudguards (fenders to Americans), chainguards, kickstands, sensible tyres, a lock permanently mounted on the frame and... dynamo lights. All the things you need for everyday cycling. The manufacturers expect that children will cycle a lot and that they will cycle in the dark.

These bikes were parked outside when I arrived and still there when I left. There is proper cycle parked at the shop, but they clearly didn't want to use it, and obviously it's not dark enough to be wanting to ride home yet.

This photo shows another family buying Oliebollen (a type of donut. Delicious, but you need a good cycle afterwards to work off those calories) at a stall next to the DIY shop.

Again it's one adult and two children, with their bikes and intending to ride home in the dark some time soon.

Finally the last photo shows another cyclist who I photographed on the way home. This one doesn't have working lights. It is a legal requirement to have lights, but it's pretty popular for people not to bother anyway. Only about half of the cyclists I saw tonight had lights.

What's more, absolutely no-one had extra bright lights, or more than one set of lights on their bike. Also, no-one at all was wearing any reflective clothing. In fact, most people seem to prefer black clothing for their night riding.

It doesn't matter if it's day or night - cycling is safe here, and seen to be safe. As I've pointed out before, Dutch cyclists are substantially safer than those in the UK or USA whether or not they have lights at night. The environment has been made passively safe for cyclists, not relying on everyone to do everything right all the time. Lights and fluorescents have only a second order effect in comparison to having a truly safe environment. After all, how often are motorists known to tell cyclists that they've not seen them even in broad daylight ?

Our children also cycle after dark on their own. It feels safe to let them, and it is safe.

Sorry about the blurry photos. I turned off the flash on the camera to try not to swamp the photos and two of them were taken as I cycled along and I had to brighten them up somewhat in the computer to make anything visible. Oh, and in case you're wondering, my lights were switched on and working.


Anonymous said...

Even in Jacksonville FL, I felt safe to ride to Downtown at night. I chose empty roads on my 22.5 km trip. It added .6 km to my trip compared to a conventional route on a busier road.

Controlling the lane and moving over to the center of the lane at traffic lights kept me visible and safe. I do have a fairly powerful blinky (Blackburn Mars 2.0) and a decently powerful head light (cant recall the brand name). I have no problems riding at night but have avoided it when I was still a novice in bicycle commuting.

Similarly, it feels unsafe riding in heavy rains too due to reduced visibility of motorists.

Anonymous said...

Even in this North American city of 120,000 people, I've had a few close calls with cars in the dark - mostly oncoming traffic who make a left turn.

Once a car turned in front of me. I hit the back of the car and rolled on the road. I had been using steady beams on my lights rather than blinking, because I thought blinking lights were illegal and reserved for emergency uses.

Well I switched to blinking mode and guess what? I've never had close calls again. I think letting cars know that there's something to be cautious about up front is more important than being able to judge its speed and distance - which normal AA battery powered lights fail to provide to begin with.

David Hembrow said...

You're both describing the sort of situations which are the reason why there is so little cycling in North America.

Those things simply don't tend to happen in the Netherlands.

There's really no substitute for having infrastructure which makes cyclists safe, and what's more makes everyone feel safe too.

If it also makes journeys shorter and faster then you're even better off.

This is really the point of the blog post. Not to show that people like you two and myself as experienced cyclists can ride in the dark, but to demonstrate that everyone rides in the dark here, and thinks little of it.

That is what is so different between this place and English speaking countries. Here there is much cycling, most people cycle and they go anywhere they like, with or without lights, and it's utterly routine and safe.

In the English speaking countries there is very little cycling, and those who do cycle tend to worry about which lights they've got, what clothes they're wearing, where they ride etc.

Anneke said...

:D I can't remember who said it, but I remember someone commenting on the English speaking countries and a possible relation to the lack of bicycles? ;) Was that you David?

If you have a infrasructure to cycle people use it, and if cyclists do not leave their homes after the sun sets, the country would come to a standstill in winter.

cocosolis said...

The British are fond of bright and blinking lights (Manchester's Xmas street lights have already been switched on). This fondness extends to cycling, it seems - if I don't look like a blooming Xmas tree, I'm in danger!. I now carry 3 rear lights and two front ones. And a reflective vest, which I deploy after dark or if it is too mucky/rainy.

David Hembrow said...

I should perhaps point out that I used to obsess somewhat about lights when I lived in the UK, and I made very bright lights for my commuting bike a few years back. I also wore fluorescents and retroreflective stuff after dark. It all made sense in that context.

Anneke, yes that probably was me. There is this awful fact that the English speaking countries really have less cycling than others.

Coco, the Dutch have a head start on Christmas. Next weekend a nice old man with a red coat and long white beard called Sinterklaas, who lives in Spain, travels to the Netherlands by steam-boat and rides a white horse is going to arrive here in Assen.

I'm really looking forward to it. Somehow I will find a cycling angle so I can write a blog post about it next weekend.

Hmm. Pepernoten. Lekker.