bike lights

How to Plan Your Commute Route: A Guest Post

A guest post by our Bike Ambassadors member, Marieke! 

Route planning tips for bike commuting

Planning your bike commuting route can be challenging. When commuting, you want to get to work or home as fast as possible and you don’t necessarily want to spend a lot of time on a longer detour. Of course, you would like to be safe too. Fortunately, there are different tools and websites available to help you out.

Just like a car route, Google Maps is a great way to start: identify your home and your destination and GO! Make sure to look at the bicycle overlay, which will show green (or brown) lines as bike friendly streets and trails, and use the bike search option, versus the standard car search. Google bike routes are considered in beta version, but the data behind the maps are usually directly fed by municipalities and do give a great first approach of the route to tackle… After a first result, I often check the satellite images for bike lane signs or use streetview to get a lay of the land. It is always good to know if you are on the street, if there is a bike lane, or if you are directed to a poorly-maintained sidewalk that only in name has just been upgraded to bike route. Would you be better off in the street in that case, or should you reroute? Another great way to get an idea where others ride is via Strava heatmaps, which is free and can be accessed without an account. It is fun to see what other riders prefer, and maybe you can optimize your route.

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Be aware and prepared, a bike lane or trail can unexpectedly end.

There is a personal touch to each bike route. Not everyone likes or is comfortable riding in the same streets. Some people wish to avoid bike lanes at all cost and are willing to take longer routes to be completely off street on a bike path. Some quirks, like unfriendly intersections, you will only find out by trying your route, which is done best when you are not in a hurry for a 9 am meeting. I usually keep optimizing my routes to be faster and safer for a long time after my first attempt. Bike infrastructure in Colorado keeps improving rapidly, and new bike lanes or trails show up all the time. I also like to ride with colleagues and friends, just to learn new ways. I even have different routes depending on the time of year. In winter, I will partly use a bike trail that is nicely plowed after each storm, has no cars, and is safer and off-street in the dark. In summer, I won't dwindle and go the shortest route, which is unfortunately along a busy highway. A bonus gravel trail along the way makes up for it and is a shortcut and quiet.

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If you have the luxury, trails are a wonderful and safe way to commute off street.

Denver, as most other Front Range municipalities, has a network of designated bike trails across town. In Denver these are labelled as D-routes and they are a great way to start plotting your commute. It will be worth to check out what your own city or county has listed as bike trails and routes. Bicycle Colorado has a nice list to get you started for most communities (link below).

A GPS, your smartphone or just a plain old map can be handy to take a peak when you are lost, have an unexpected flat and need the nearest bus stop, etc. And.. rule number one when riding your route for the first few times is to give yourself enough room before your first morning meeting.

Happy pedaling!

Useful websites:

My summer morning commute is unfortunately on the shoulder of a busy highway. It is very scenic and by far the quickest way to work, but I try not to ride here in the dark.

My summer morning commute is unfortunately on the shoulder of a busy highway. It is very scenic and by far the quickest way to work, but I try not to ride here in the dark.

Lights Please!

Hey friends, happy fall! Hard to believe it's already November.  We have been so fortunate (unless you're hungry for ski season!) not to have a first freeze or snow just yet, so the leaves have been hanging in there and we have had the glorious opportunity to enjoy those colors even longer this year!  

The time changes this weekend, and with the "fall back," comes darker bike commutes!

On that note, let me address bike lights.  I have been regularly riding to a new local brewery here in Golden (literally- faster to ride than drive there!) and as I've parted ways with my friends in the evenings, they've all commented about my bright bike lights:  

"Oh, I didn't know that bike lights were required!" 

Short answer: Yes, bike lights are mandatory, from sunset to sunrise (Here in CO and in most other states, too).  Specifically, cyclists need a white light on the front and a red reflector (I recommend a light) on the back.  Cyclists also need to be reflective to the sides! (So check those high-viz options or add reflective tape if you are not visible from the sides).  

Here's why this matters:

1) You need to see where you are riding, and what you are riding over!  Riding in the dark, unable to see your path, is not good.  It's dangerous. 

2) Other road users need to see you!  Folks joke about "bike ninjas," as in, those cyclists wearing all dark colors with zero lights or reflective gear, but it's not funny at all.  Cars cannot be expected to avoid cyclists they cannot see.  The law requires cyclists to use lights because as a vehicle, you are expected to be visible at night just like cars are required to use their lights at night.  

*So -Will an officer ticket you if they observe you riding without lights?  Maybe.  The bigger issue is that if you are hit by a car while riding in the dark, and you don't have appropriate lights on your bike/person, you may be considered at fault or partially at fault, even if you were doing everything else right. Don't put yourself at risk! 

Be visible - don't be shy when you buy those bike lights; the money you spend is a very wise investment! I recently purchased a Light & Motion 800 lumen light for the front light -it is AMAZING.  It lights up the entire road- I can see so clearly, AND it is USB-rechargeable so you don't have to deal with batteries.  I also use a frogger (blinky) light on the front as an attention-getter to oncoming traffic.  On the back of my bike, I have a red light (steady mode) and a second one I sent to blinky mode.  My gear  typically has reflective piping on the sides, also.  

The applicable CO statute sections are as follows (most states use very similar language):

§ 42-4-221. Bicycle and personal mobility device equipment

… (2)

Every bicycle, … in use at the times described in section 42-4-204 (see below) shall be equipped with a lamp on the front emitting a white light visible from a distance of at least five hundred feet to the front.

(3)

Every bicycle, … shall be equipped with a red reflector of a type approved by the department, which shall be visible for six hundred feet to the rear when directly in front of lawful lower beams of head lamps on a motor vehicle.

(4)

Every bicycle, … when in use at the times described in section 42-4-204 shall be equipped with reflective material of sufficient size and reflectivity to be visible from both sides for six hundred feet when directly in front of lawful lower beams of head lamps on a motor vehicle or, in lieu of such reflective material, with a lighted lamp visible from both sides from a distance of at least five hundred feet.

§ 42-4-204. When lighted lamps are required

(1) Every vehicle upon a highway within this state, between sunset and sunrise and at any other time when, due to insufficient light or unfavorable atmospheric conditions, persons and vehicles on the highway are not clearly discernible at a distance of one thousand feet ahead, shall display lighted lamps and illuminating devices as required by this article for different classes of vehicles, subject to exceptions with respect to parked vehicles…

Shown here: my front light with a full moon = absolutely the most magical night ride!

Bike Lights During The Day?

I told the author of this Outside Online article that this issue is a double-edged sword and we want to be careful about imposing even more non-law-required "requirements" on cyclists. Is riding with a light during the day time a good idea and does it help if you are hit from behind in your case against the motorist's insurance company? Sure. But do we want this to work against cyclists who choose NOT to use day time lights? No, we do not. We don't ask motorists to drive their cars with daylights running, so let's be careful insisting that cyclists must.

The law requires us to ride with lights on the bike from 30min before dusk through 30min after sunrise. There is no law that requires daytime lights. This is up to the discretion of each individual rider.

"“Anytime a cyclist can say they were doing everything right, such as riding in a bike lane, wearing bright colored clothing, bright helmet, reflective gear, it decreases the chances of blame or fault being apportioned to the rider,” says Megan Hottman, a Golden, Colorado-based attorney specializing in cyclists’ rights through her company TheCyclist-Lawyer.com. “So the addition of blinking lights in the daytime helps bolster the case for the cyclist.” Hottman cautions that daytime lights won’t determine the outcome of any case, but they could help. "

Complete article here.

"Shine Bright Like a Diamond," Cyclists... (days are getting shorter)

September and October are the very best months to be outside here in Colorado.  While it remains warm, it is not intensely hot.   The leaves change colors, there is that crisp cool snap in the air when you wake in the morning, it rarely rains or storms, and it is predictably sunny and gorgeous almost daily.    

It is, therefore, the ideal time of year to bike commute!  (ahem, #ridemoredriveless).

However, commuting this time of year means something else: the loss of daylight on both ends, with later sunrise and an earlier sunset, and sometimes it can change quite a bit from one day to the next.  (On average in September, the sun rises 1 minute later each morning and sets 2 minutes earlier each evening).  September 1 sunrise was 6:28am, whereas by September 30, it does not rise until 6:55am.  September 1 sunset was 7:31pm, but by September 30 it will set at 6:44pm.  

In other words, if you are leaving your office around 5:30-6pm to start your ride home, these daily changes require different lighting considerations each trip.    

So- as the calendar ticks towards the shortest days of the year, bike commuters need to increase their level of preparedness when it comes to lighting and visibility.  One day a ride home at 5pm may be in total daylight… yet just a week later, it creeps into dusk … even a slight delay at the office can mean the difference between riding home in the dusk versus the dark. 

For these reasons, let’s talk about what the law requires of cyclists when it comes to being seen.

In a nutshell: cyclists must have a white light on the front and a red light or reflector on the back, at least 30 minutes before sunset, through 30 minutes after sunrise.  Cyclists must also be visible/reflective from the sides.  The same is true when visibility is low, for example on cloudy or hazy days or during times of fog.  

For your reference, here are the Colorado statutes on point: (most states are similar or identical on this issue):

§ 42-4-221. Bicycle and personal mobility device equipment

… (2)

Every bicycle, … in use at the times described in section 42-4-204 (see below) shall be equipped with a lamp on the front emitting a white light visible from a distance of at least five hundred feet to the front.

(3)

Every bicycle, … shall be equipped with a red reflector of a type approved by the department, which shall be visible for six hundred feet to the rear when directly in front of lawful lower beams of head lamps on a motor vehicle.

(4)

Every bicycle, … when in use at the times described in section 42-4-204 shall be equipped with reflective material of sufficient size and reflectivity to be visible from both sides for six hundred feet when directly in front of lawful lower beams of head lamps on a motor vehicle or, in lieu of such reflective material, with a lighted lamp visible from both sides from a distance of at least five hundred feet.

§ 42-4-204. When lighted lamps are required

(1) Every vehicle upon a highway within this state, between sunset and sunrise and at any other time when, due to insufficient light or unfavorable atmospheric conditions, persons and vehicles on the highway are not clearly discernible at a distance of one thousand feet ahead, shall display lighted lamps and illuminating devices as required by this article for different classes of vehicles, subject to exceptions with respect to parked vehicles… 

It is not likely that a cyclist would be pulled over by law enforcement and cited for lack of appropriate lighting as a stand-alone issue. (But then again -See below)... However, a lack of lighting and reflective gear can be a contributing factor in a crash; for example if a motorist cannot see a cyclist and makes a left turn directly into the path of the oncoming cyclist –then the cyclist be found at fault, either in whole or in part.

The reality is, it pays for cyclists to be seen.  Many riders have adopted the practice of riding with blinking lights during daytime and nighttime hours, in the hopes of being seen and therefore avoiding crashes with motorists.  Whatever your philosophy about lights during daylight hours – be sure you have lights/reflectors/reflective gear during those dusk/dark hours!  Failure to pack lights means you will not be able to see your path clearly, but even worse, other road users will not be able to see you!

Lack of proper lighting can provide the basis for a valid traffic stop –so law enforcement could plausibly pull a cyclist over for riding at night without lights, ask for their ID, and check for –say – outstanding warrants (just like a defective headlamp in your car could provide a basis for a traffic stop). For example: