Riding with your family is a great way to be outside, get exercise, have fun, all while traveling together. Sometimes you end up riding home after the sun goes down - we found ourselves doing this after riding back from a recent event in Berkeley. Being visible is an important component of safety. Though the burden shouldn't be on you to ensure that others use the road safely, it helps to make sure others are aware of your presence. We use a couple of different types of bicycle lights and reflectors to stay visible.
Here's how we stay visible at night (while riding as a family)
Headlights are essential and are required according to state law. Basically, the headlight needs to be:
A lamp emitting a white light that, while the bicycle is in motion, illuminates the highway, sidewalk, or bikeway in front of the bicyclist and is visible from a distance of 300 feet in front and from the sides of the bicycle.
Aside from the legal aspect, they help illuminate the road so you can see where you're going, avoid potholes, and alert others of your presence on the road. Your light should be bright enough to illuminate the road ahead of you, but be aware of the potential for blinding other road users*. This probably most often an issue if you're riding on a bike/pedestrian path with two-way traffic. You can aim your light downward a little and avoid using the blinking setting. For our kid, we're currently using a relatively cheap light that has worked fine for our purposes. I think we may upgrade in the future to find something with longer battery life.
*In Germany, for example, there is a StVZO standard that regulates bike light angles and intensity.
A tail light is also an essential bike accessory. Of the collisions that happen between drivers and bicycle riders, many happen when the bicycle rider is rear-ended. The tail light should be bright enough to be visible from a distance (California vehicle code 21201 specifies 500ft visibility for a reflector or tail light). Some bicycle advocacy groups recommend using a steady-on setting rather than a blinking setting to avoid distracting other potential bike riders behind you.
Bike Beam bicycle light
We developed the Bike Beam LED Bike Safety Flag to help enhance the visibility of smaller riders or those on cargo bikes while making the bike ride a little more fun. It is a bike safety flag pole with LEDs attaches to the rear axle or cargo rack of a bike and holds a flag. It stands taller so that there's more visible area for the rider, which is especially useful for bikes like kids' bikes and smaller-wheeled cargo bikes that are lower to the ground. The LEDs can change colors for a light show as well.
The light up flagpole also can function as a light up bike totem for staying visible at Burning Man, etc.
In addition to lights, reflective features on a bike and clothing can help increase your visibility at night. I don't like the idea of placing the burden on the bicycle rider for safety, but luckily a lot of these features are already included in bike components and outerwear.
Most pedals already have these built in! Somewhat surprisingly, yellow reflectors also appear to be mandated by California state law. Most pedals have a small yellow reflector on both the front and back sides. It's good for visibility if your pedals already have these. There's also a new product out called Arclight that replace the reflectors with red and white LEDs that automatically shine a white light in front and a red light in the rear.
Many helmets have reflective elements such as stickers on the outer shell or reflective straps. Some jackets are made entirely of reflective material and look great at night when a light is shining at them. Others have a few reflective bits here and there that help. Many shoes also have small reflective elements that would make someone on a bike easier to see.
Riding with your family at night can be fun and rewarding and is sometimes necessary depending on timing. It can be calm and fun, and you can follow the above tips to stay visible on the road.
- bicycle products that help families ride together
- our bicycle education and community bike rides such as our Bike Parade and Bike Bus