set your clock back and turn on your bicycle lights

Lights mounted on your bicycle help keep you visible and safe on dark city streets. The end of Daylight Saving Time this weekend — you know the drill, “fall back” one hour at 2 a.m. Sunday —  is the perfect reminder to check that your bike is set up for night riding.

First, the law: New York State requires a white headlight and a red taillight and reflectors between dusk and dawn. The need for night-time safety couldn’t be more real. According to the Department of Transportation, 45 percent of New York City bicyclist fatalities occur in the dark.

You’ll find a wide assortment of models to choose from. Here, I’ve posted reliable and economical lights that I use on my city bike. Your local bike shop can help you select the features that work best for you. And remember, safety lights aren’t just for night rides; many urban commuters use them during the day to boost visibility.

Here are some see-and-be-seen tips.

  • In urban settings like New York City, where street lamps contribute ambient light, headlights with LED bulbs are a good choice. They’re bright, lightweight and inexpensive, and many offer multiple settings.
  • The headlight should evenly illuminate the road ahead, so that you can avoid potholes, debris or other obstacles. (An interactive feature on Planet Bike’s website lets you compare the area of illumination offered by a variety of headlights.)
  • The light should be bright enough to assure visibility to oncoming motorists, riders and pedestrians — without blinding them.
  • Choose a headlight that mounts securely to your handlebars and also detaches easily. Look for tool-free installation and quick-release features. To avoid theft, remove lights along with other accessories when you lock up on city streets.
  • Red rear reflectors, available in a variety of shapes and sizes, are typically mounted to seat posts, rear racks or rear fenders.
  • Many battery-operated red LED rear safety lights offer the same variable settings as are available on headlights. Compact, inexpensive and easily detachable models work well.
  • Battery life varies based on a light’s power source and settings. Take your riding habits into consideration when choosing.
Ultrafazer3 Bike Light
UltraFazer 3.0 front bike light, NiteRider, $24.99.
  • Carry your lights in your bag even if you don’t think you will need them. You never know when a commute may take longer than anticipated, or a late afternoon get-together may extend to dusk.

Finally, for added safety on the road at night, wear light-colored clothing. And consider buying apparel and bike accessories with reflective qualities or features. Some options will be, ummm, illuminated in an upcoming post.

Top: Micro W/R safety lights, Sigma, $9.99 each.

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