08 December 2012 Life

Tips for the unprepared night-time cyclist

I love cycling, especially in the City. I can hold my own in heavy traffic and stick to the rules of the road as best I can - I sure don’t need to give cars more reasons to be annoyed with cyclists. But inevitably, I sometimes forget my lights. And at this time of year, when the days are getting shorter, nightfall can easily take me by surprise when I leave work.

So what to do when you’re stuck without a light but need to use your bike? Obviously the letter of the law says that you can’t be riding on the road without a light, and you also can’t be riding on the sidewalk. But waiting until sunrise is rarely an option, so if you must cycle in the dark, here are the rules I use to keep me alive.

Lower your expectations
You don’t have a legal right to be riding your bike right now, so you’re going to have to be extra cautious. Double the time you would expect to arrive at your destination under normal conditions. Forget any notion that you have the right of way, ever. Expect to creep along behind pedestrians until there’s a safe opening for you to pass them. The world doesn’t owe you anything - you’re the one breaking the law.

Constant vigilance!
This is the kind of think that goes without saying, but needs to be said anyway. When you’re biking at night, treat every driveway and intersection as if a Hummer will come thundering out of nowhere at any second. Every ten seconds, you should be thinking, I could die tonight. For the other nine seconds, you should be training your catlike senses on your surroundings.

Pretend you’re invisible
This is the most practical tip I can give. Nobody can see you, and nobody knows you’re coming. You’re invisible, so you’ll have to wait for the rhythm of traffic to sync up in your favour before you cross it. Think of it like Frogger, but where you only have one life.

Stick to the road less travelled
Trails, residential streets, alleyways and sidewalks are your friends. Unless there are absolutely no cars on the road (and this is why it’s good to take detours on quiet residential streets), use the sidewalk. But don’t treat the sidewalk like a bike lane, because it’s not.

Speaking of the road less travelled, here are some of my favourite nighttime routes in KW:

Alternative route through Downtown Kitchener: Halls Lane

Alternative route from Uptown Waterloo to Downtown Kitchener. Park Street sidewalks are usually empty.

Rail path through the Mary-Allen neighbourhood

Sam Nabi

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