We've fallen backward...
...which means the sun will set in Seattle today at 4:38 p.m., just in time for the evening commute.
I'm always a bit disheartened by this yearly time-change. Far from "saving" daylight, the annual clock-changing ritual signifies dark, cold winter rides ahead. My carefree days of skirt-clad riding are officially over. If I forget to pack an extra pair of shoes in my pannier, I'll probably spend all day with wet socks. If I neglect to charge my light, I'll likely be relegated to the bus.
The bottom line is that winter riding requires a wee bit more planning. For me, it requires moral support, and it requires back-up plans. I don't claim to be an expert, but as someone who has braved the dark Burke-Gilman for three winters in a row, I've learned a thing or two (or seven) that might help those of you who are contemplating winter bike-commuting for the first time (And those of you who, like me, need to take a moment to renew your resolve every November.)
Without further ado:
Take it one day at a time -- Don't think about the whole winter, or even the week ahead. Just think about tomorrow.
Buddy up -- It'll make your ride go faster. Plus, there's safety in numbers, and you'll have twice as many lights! Start asking around -- maybe there's someone at your office who would consider year-round bike commuting if given a gentle push from (or a pact with) a partner.
Headlights and taillights -- Do some research to figure out what kinds of lights work for you. If you're going to be riding through the darkest sections of the Burke-Gilman Trail, or if your ride takes you on busy streets with lots of cars, a rechargeable LED light is worth the investment. On a related note, there are varying opinions at the Cascade office as to trail etiquette when it comes to extra-bright lights. I've been yelled at for shining my lights in the eyes of oncoming bike traffic. I've also been thanked for shielding those same oncoming bicyclists from my light. Since (like most) I prefer being thanked to being scolded, I do my best to cover it.
Sidelights! -- Remember that you need to be visible from the side as well. According to crash data, 72 percent of all car-bike collisions happen at intersections. Lights and reflectors on the sides of your bike improve your "cone of visibility," which will help you avoid those all-too-common right-hooks. (See Lights and Motion for some great diagrams illustrating this point.)
Reflective tape is brighter than you think -- Those little white strips work wonders. Adding extra reflective stickers to your gear is a great way to make yourself more visible on the cheap.
Test your gear -- Have a friend shine headlights on you and you'll gain invaluable insight into how visible you are on the roads (Stay tuned for information about our Lights and Reflectors Clinic, coming up on Thursday, Dec. 1 at Cascade's office.)
And, if all else fails...
Take the bus -- I've been known to beg for quarters from my co-workers. And there's no shame in that.
Good luck out there. And don't forget to pack your lights!