In the 1970s a small figure wearing yellow rain hat, coat and boots trotted across the sides of buses, trams and television screens. It was part of a campaign to encourage pedestrians to dress brightly and take care at night. The message was simple: be seen, be safe. Cyclists are just as vulnerable in the dark.
When you can see quite well, it’s easy to forget you can be invisible to motorists. If you’re not concerned for your own safety at least spare a thought for the drivers who do not want your injury on death on their conscience.
In low light conditions, cyclists are legally required to display a white light on the front of their bikes and a red light on the rear. By the end of summer, bike shops have usually stocked up on lights for the winter. They range in price from $25 to $100. Some really compact LED lights are about the size of a 50 cent piece. They throw out just enough light for you to be seen. Larger flashing red LED lights put on a light show that’s hard to miss. They generally use AA or AAA batteries and last for around 100 hours. Headlights are either designed to help you see or to help you be seen. If you ride mainly in well lit areas, you probably don’t need to go to the expense of lights that will illuminate the road.
Don’t forget to keep an eye on your batteries. Lights dim so gradually that you may not realise you’re becoming hard to see again. Replace them or recharge them regularly.
Bright clothing will also help you be seen. There are all sorts of reflective vests, strap-on bands, and jackets available. But if you don’t want to spend money on cycling gear (or you just can’t come at a reflective vest) at least wear light coloured clothing. There is a reason stage hands dress in black – it makes them hard to see.
So you’re dressed brightly and you’ve got lights on your bike. Good start. But the way you ride is also important. Look around before you cross roads or make turns, to see what the traffic is doing. You still can’t be sure you’ve been seen by a motorist. Behave as if you haven’t and both you and the drivers who pass you will get home safely.
Look forward to seeing you on the road soon, God willing. Eddie Barkla
First published in the Bendigo Weekly Friday 26 May 2006