BikeLife: Blazing Away

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Believe it or not, the cycling world has plenty of machismo. Yes, even people wearing spandex bow out their chests from time to time. My calves are way too skinny for me to attempt this. One of the odd byproducts of this machismo is bike lighting. Again, believe it or not, I know a fair number of cyclists who refuse to run lights because they simply believe that lights aren’t cool.

This same thing could be applied to the bike mirror that one wears on their helmet to see what is coming up behind them. Bike mirrors are REALLY dorky but they can save your life, especially depending on what kind of riding you do. I’ve never seen a mountain biker with a mirror, but I’ve sure seen a lot of bike touring pros wearing them, and for these folks it makes sense.

Bikes lights, however, can be applied to ANY kind of bike. And in my mind, they should be. And for those of you saying “I mountain bike and there is no way I’m using lights,” first let me say this. I don’t actually care what you do, but I’m going to share my opinion anyway. In the last five years, I’ve seen two head-on collisions between mountain bikers both resulting in ambulances being called, both resulting in broken bones and lots and lots of blood. Both crashes could have easily been avoided with bike lights. The first wreck was in Texas in a greenbelt area. One of the guys involved in the wreck almost hit me but I remember my front light painting him from about fifteen feet away and he took evasive action. The guy behind me, not so lucky. They not only hit they hit helmet to helmet. It was ugly. The second wreck was in California, early morning, dark. Two mountain bikers on a short stretch of pavement between trails. These chaps also hit head-on but what I remember was the amount of blood and the fact that when I rode by later in the day there was one cycling shoe left by the side of the road. And a giant blood puddle stain.

But there’s more. Last year I was riding from Santa Fe proper to the ski basin at 10,000 feet. This is a classic Santa Fe ride and one I’ve done many times. I was riding with someone who doesn’t use lights. And this ride, people, is a total twisting, two-lane route up into the mountains. There are plenty of blind corners, narrow shoulders and loads of people in gigantic RV’s entering the mountains to “rough it.” It’s the PERFECT spot to run lights. But my friend, nada, nothing, zilch.

Before we started the ride I attached a light to his seat post. I actually ended up giving him the light which I now wish I had back, but that is another story. Halfway up the ride, we stopped for my friend to “throw a squirt,” as we like to say in my family. Minutes before a driver passed us on his way up the mountain. While we were stopped this same driver came back and pulled over. I wasn’t sure what to think. Is he going to yell at us for riding on the narrow road? Is he a bike nut who wants to check out my mid-grade ride? Is he creepy and he wants to touch my leg? I DIDN’T KNOW.

“I just wanted to thank you guys for having lights,” he said. “It makes it so much easier to see you and gives me more time to figure out how and when to go around you.” My buddy just looked at me and smiled.

Two days ago I was riding early morning west of Santa Fe. I came flying out of a downhill and merged with a two-laner heading into a housing development. About an eighth of a mile up, I saw an elderly woman walking her dog. She froze. I could see that she was nervous but didn’t know if she was nervous because I looked like a space alien or because she was afraid for her dog. I slowed down, waved and said “Morning.” She was holding her dog tight, and she still looked terrified, but she said: “Thank you so much for having lights.”

And this brings me to my point with this mess. Lights aren’t necessarily about YOU. Lights are about THEM. I feel that the age of the Internet has turned many of us into wildly self-centered, narcissistic drones, and one of the main reasons we find ourselves in the political and social mess we do is that we tend to spend the vast majority of our time thinking about ourselves while ignoring the needs of everyone else.

Bikes lights a symbol of a cultural abyss? Milnor, have you lost it? No. In fact, I think I’m on to something. So, if you have lights, power on baby. And if you don’t have lights, go get some. They just might make you a better person.

What I use.



Comments 8

    1. Post

      My wife just scored a jacket I’d never heard of. Second-hand store in Salida. I’ll find the name of it. It’s grey. Provis, something like that. Her’s is the running jacket but they make cycling jackets and I want one. It GLOWS in any kind of light.

  1. This was a baffling post to read. Bike lights are not cool? It is more cool and more macho to get run over by some asshole in a car? That is weird. Bike lights are mandatory here because others need to see you coming just as you state. There are so many mad car, bike, scooter drivers etc, I want them to see me. I wanna look cool on my bike, but would also like to not get run over!

    1. Post

      My 60-mile ride yesterday, on country roads, not a single other cyclist had a light.

  2. There’re so many people with green/yellow high viz clothing on bikes in our city you stand out in pure pitch black.

    I write this as a bit of a joke, but we’re almost getting there. Too much of it is making it one green/yellow high viz massive stream. Therefor bikelights with high power LEDs are best for me. I only wear high viz when I’m really on my own in dark unlighted areas.
    Great post Dan, nothing better than a bike related shifter post before sunday morning breakfast!

    1. Post

      I love lights but I am going to get a Proviz jacket at some point too. My wife just got one second-hand and it is the craziest thing to see this baby reflect at night.

  3. I must say though, bicycle lighting has come a long way in the last few years. The new LED lamps are amazing and with modern batteries are super bright and extremely high powered…sometimes a little too much.

    But I agree, just as with cars, it is about being seen in traffic…being seen early before an accident can or would happen.
    I have two main beams on my handlebars and two on my backpack. It’s a lifesaver.

    In Europe it is the law to have light on your bike. It always amazes me how stupid people are who ignore such an important issue.

    Luckily the local Police are very active in catching offenders and spanking them with on the spot fines! 🙂

    1. Post

      Check out Proviz. Their jackets are like wearing the sun. I will get their gloves first, test the waters, but my wife scored one of their jackets at a second-hand store and we were amazed at how it performed at night.

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