As many of you know, I have mostly successfully tried to transition from car to bike when it comes to my local transportation needs. I’ve mastered riding in wind, rain and hail, I’ve become a faithful bicycle commuter to and from work and have even started to ride at night more than I ever have in the past.
I recently took what I think was my 6th night ride and am always surprised by how different I feel when riding at night versus riding in the daytime. My very first night ride, about a year ago, started out blissfully. What a rush to be out alone on a cold, dark night, experiencing the quiet streets! That ended quickly when, a mile into my ride, I was almost hit by a car. I soon realized that the accident was my fault, having not been visible enough.
I quickly solved that problem by suiting myself and my bike up with many (and I mean many) lights. However, this brought on a whole new safety issue. These lights made me visible to cars, which is what I wanted, but they also drew a whole lot of unwanted attention from people. My second night ride – the first time I used my night gear – I was frightened by a young man walking by on the sidewalk who commented on my lights, then called out to me several times asking me to come to him and give him a cigarette (like I would have a cigarette!). He didn’t express any physical aggression, but I was scared by his odd request and I rode home as fast as I could. I didn’t bicycle at night again for several months.
Copyright: Five Seed
This past summer, I’ve gotten my courage up and tried again, several times. I may be a woman, and more physically vulnerable than a man, but I do not want that to stop me from doing what I want to do. Yes, safety is important to me, but I also do not want the fact that I’m a woman to limit my personal freedom. I refuse to live a life like that.
Unfortunately, there’s nothing I can do to guarantee my safety – heck, even a man can’t guarantee his safety. We can only do our best to be as safe as possible. I’ve addressed my fear of getting hit by a car by bicycling on the sidewalks on the super busy streets around here. I am normally a stickler about not riding on the sidewalk – it’s technically against the law, after all, and I want to be the best example of a responsible bicyclist that I can be. However, I don’t find that cars are particularly careful around bicyclists during the nighttime hours, and therefore, to ensure that I’m safe, I’ve chosen to take the sidewalks when I need to. Obviously, I go slowly and am very careful to watch for pedestrians.
My other fear – one that equals my terror of being hit by a car – is that of being assaulted. Every single time I have ridden my bike at night since I’ve gotten these lights, I have had people comment on it. First, it was the cigarette guy – a situation that made me very nervous. Once, I had teenagers drive by and yell out the window just as they were passing, in an effort, it would seem, to startle me into falling over (which was almost successful, I might add). Another time, a man parking outside his home commented that my lights were really neat, an encounter that didn’t cause me any suspicion or worry, whatsoever. On my last ride, I passed a house where two men were working on their cars just outside their open garage. I heard one say to the other, “Hey check that out!” I knew they were talking about me and that they’d yell out to me, and sure enough, one said, “Hey, don’t get run over by a car!” I couldn’t tell if he was being sarcastic or not (he actually sounded sincerely concerned), and before thinking about it, I yelled in a firm voice, “I’ve got it covered.” The guy laughed suddenly and yelled back, “Holy cow, I thought you were an old man or something!” At this point, I didn’t answer, and just kept going.
This brings me to my point: The one advantage of riding your bike at night in a dimly lit town like mine is that no one knows whether you’re a man or a woman. Obviously, that doesn’t stop anyone from making comments or harassing you, but it’s definitely a plus. It’s not necessarily likely they’re going to jump you if they’re not sure whether you’re a buff dude who can fight back or just an idealistic woman with no upper body strength (although, you never know…). What gives it away is that I always respond – and then kick myself for it later.
I’ve thought about this a lot, actually. I hate it when something comes shooting out of my mouth because, oops, now they know I’m a woman. I’ve just made myself more vulnerable. However, I’ve worried in the past that ignoring someone might aggravate them and cause them to retaliate by chasing me, attempting to knock me over or pursue me in their vehicle. Hmmmm…. All in all, though, I think it might be safer to just keep my mouth shut. Maybe throw people a thumbs up or OK signal if the occasion calls for it and I’m not hearing internal alarm bells.
When it comes to biking at night, though, there’s one thing I can say for sure – I always ride fast (except when I’m on the sidewalk)! I prefer to take my mountain bike because I know I can go pretty fast when I need to. I’m sorry to say that that very first experience of riding at night, just before my near-miss with the car, has not been something I have been able to recapture. I still enjoy riding at night simply because I like riding my bike. Period. But I am much more cautious, nervous and watchful at night – and always on edge. It’s a shame, but I’m trying to accept it as part of the experience of biking at night.
Do you ride your bike at night? I’d love to hear your experience! Leave a comment, or feel free to contact me about writing a guest post about it!