After the traffic passed, I could see it was an at-times invisible bicyclist riding in dark clothes on a bicycle without front or rear lights or reflectors.
It was only 6:45, but completely dark. It occurred to me that riding a bicycle on poorly lit suburban streets is probably more dangerous than bicycling that way in well lit urban areas.
Let's hope I'm preaching to the choir here, but if I'm not, let me stress that bicyclists need lights to be visible at night. You can argue the motorists need to be vigilante when driving at night, but that won't help you when someone isn't.
About half of all bicycle fatalities occur at night with adults riding without lights. That's why it's not only common sense, but the law, to use lights and reflectors when bicycling at night. RCW 46.61.780 is the law Washington state. It reads:
“Every bicycle when in use during the hours of darkness … shall be equipped with a lamp on the front which shall emit a white light visible from a distance of at least five hundred feet to the front and with a red reflector on the rear of a type approved by the state patrol which shall be visible from all distances up to six hundred feet to the rear when directly in front of lawful lower beams of head lamps on a motor vehicle. A lamp emitting a red light visible from a distance of five hundred feet to the rear may be used in addition to the red reflector. A light-emitting diode flashing taillight visible from a distance of five hundred feet to the rear may also be used in addition to the red reflector.”
The Seattle Bicycle Touring Club posted suggestions from a bicycling instructor entitled: ”Bicycling at Night.” In summary, it states:
- Learn and comply with your state laws regarding lights and reflectors
- Use a headlight that illuminates 35-50 feet ahead
- Carry extra batteries or a spare headlight
- Angle rear reflectors and lights properly
- Place reflectors and reflective tape on moving parts
- Place reflective tape on frame parts, helmet, and you
- Test your visibility.
As for choosing which lights to buy for a bicycle, REI has a good primer on styles and effectiveness of bicycle lights — “How to choose the right bicycle light” — without trying to sell you anything. [As aptly noted in the comments, that article doesn't include LED lights. A complete list is available at Wikipedia's Bicycle Lights webpage.]
For getting the attention of motorists approaching on side streets, there are products like the MonkeyLectric Monkey Light for your spokes.
As for my bicycle, it's equipped with a handlebar LED light that I set to blink during the day and put on beam for my short rides at night. I have a red rear blinky on the frame. My jacket and rain pants are also reflective.
Photo of approaching car headlights above at flickr.com by arfblat.