Tis the season to get lit and try not to slip

Posted by on October 27th, 2009 at 12:53 pm

Rain rider.
(Photo © J. Maus)

The rain has come, the ground is full of leaves, and darkness falls ever earlier. Add it all up and things get a tad trickier on a bike this time of year.

We thought it was a good time to share a quick reminder about staying lit and watching out for slippery spots.

I got an email from a reader who witnessed an “ugly bike crash” on N. Willamette last night. He said a girl wiped out and “smacked her (helmet-less) head very badly”. Luckily the reader knew how to respond and took care of her until EMTs arrived.

The CCC’s new Get Lit bat signal!
(Photo: Ben Latterell)

After the ambulance left, he went over and checked the spot where she fell. “It was very, very slick. I think the leaves and pine needles leave behind a slimy residue that makes that white paint extremely slippery.”

It’s also an excellent idea to make sure you’ve got a good set of bike lights. The Community Cycling Center is doing their part with their “Get Lit” free bike light program. I rolled up on one of their “random acts of bike safety” at Portland Community College on N. Killingsworth the other night (their new bat signal caught my attention).

The CCC expects to give out 400 sets of lights this year at surprise locations throughout the city. If you don’t run into them, stop into a local shop and pick up a pair of good lights. They aren’t too expensive and they’re essential equipment in winter.

I’ve enjoyed riding on the wet and colorful streets so far this fall. The challenging and changing conditions make my daily ride into the office a bit more interesting. How have conditions been treating you?

NOTE: Thanks for sharing and reading our comments. To ensure this is a welcoming and productive space, all comments are manually approved by staff. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for meanness, discrimination or harassment. Comments with expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia will be deleted and authors will be banned.

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cory
Guest

Awesome Jonathan,

I found a bag of lights that my grandpa had and I give them out randomly when I am out and about. Mostly to homeless. I think people are catching on but we need more lit riders!

Paul
Guest
Paul

My main challenge this time of year are the folks that rake up their leaves and push them into the street. The 40’s bike blvd through Laurelhurst really suffers from this.

toddistic
Guest
toddistic

I was fortunate enough to catch a deal on Chainlove for a rechargable front light that is actually really bright ($60 normally $150). Love it for the foggy mornings on blinky setting and even more so for the dark nights at full power. Battery life is rated at 4 hours at full power, more than enough to get me through an entire week of commuting on one charge.

Dave
Guest

Clever Cycles has a really good Axa tire generator, which can be used as the power source for any of their lights (and can power front and rear) for $40. Personally, I have a halogen Busch and Muller light that lights up the road really well and has a standlight. Not having to worry about batteries is a huge plus.

I don’t mind any single inclement condition by itself, it’s when they start getting mixed up that it gets nasty – wind or rain or cold by themselves, not so bad… wind blowing rain at you, then freezing, while you get sweaty pedaling against the wind, not so hot 🙂

AaronF
Guest
AaronF

Excellent article title!

It is pretty dark when I leave for work in the morning these days. I wouldn’t want to make the trip without lights!

I’ve started clipping my rear light to the back of my helmet. I’m convinced it’s easier to see up there.

Zaphod
Guest

When on the Xtra with giant balloony tires, all is well. Riding the track commuter with 110psi skinnies it gets more sketch… need to swap to the winter tires. I find it’s all about awareness. If you must be on a leaf strewn section, take it really easy and don’t expect much traction.

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

I still don’t get why homeowners insist on raking/blowing/shoveling leaves into the street. Our home in SE has three very large trees that drop a lot of leaves. And every year, I rake them off of the street and into containers for composting. Oh, now I know why people won’t do this; they’re fragging lazy and inconsiderate.

Neil C
Guest
Neil

Very timely article.

I had a fun experience last week coming down through Washington Park early in the morning. Going downhill on an unlit road, heavy rain, leaves covering the roadway, then a fog bank. I made it through okay, but it was a bit dicey for 100 yards or so.

Don’t forget about all the rail tracks as well. Yeah, I’ve had a couple of encounters with them when it’s been raining.

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

I just finished building my first wheel via the Community Cycling Center’s bike maintenance class. (Thanks CCC!) I used a dyno hub. I’m looking forward to rocking lights with massive 3 watts of power!

Additional safety notes: watch out for steel man(people)hole covers. Slippery when wet.

I tend to ride with my headlight blinking in the daytime and turn it to constant on at night.

Many motorcyclists know that the cause of most motorcycle accidents is from motorist not seeing motorcycles. This is the main reason DOT standards require two wheeled motor vehicles to have always-on headlights. (Check out the “Hurt report.”) I figure that on a bicycle having a blinking headlight in the daytime makes up for the lack of candlepower.

Is it just me? I find blinky lights on bicycles at night kind of annoying. Some lights are getting really bright. Most LED lights these days handle rechargeable batteries well and have a decent run time. For this reason I set my lights to not blink at night.

Nick V
Guest
Nick V

I love to ride in the rain – it keeps me awake and alert. But I don’t like riding in the dark as much and so I get lit every night, sometimes in the morning too. Can we classify people who are not lit while on their bikes as plain old ignorant drunks?

Borgbike
Guest

I just finished building my first wheel via the Community Cycling Center’s bike maintenance class. (Thanks CCC!) I used a dyno hub. I’m looking forward to rocking lights with massive 3 watts of power!

Additional safety notes: watch out for steel man(people)hole covers. Slippery when wet.

I tend to ride with my headlight blinking in the daytime and turn it to constant on at night.

Many motorcyclists know that the cause of most motorcycle accidents is from motorist not seeing motorcycles. This is the main reason DOT standards require two wheeled motor vehicles to have always-on headlights. (Check out the “Hurt report.”) I figure that on a bicycle having a blinking headlight in the daytime makes up for the lack of candlepower.

Is it just me? I find blinky lights on bicycles at night kind of annoying. Some lights are getting really bright. Most LED lights these days handle rechargeable batteries well and have a decent run time. For this reason I set my lights to not blink at night.

AaronF
Guest
AaronF

Anonymous 7

Back in the old days the city would come pick up the leaves if you left them in the street

I don’t think they made it by my street last year, and I hear tell that this year there won’t be any collection at all… so people will have to just put them in their yard debris bins!

Geoff
Guest
Geoff

I think riders are allowed to ride in the center of the lane when debris cause the shoulders to be unsafe. This is not popular with the cars, but thier climate controled leather interior causes them to loose touch with most of life’s experiences.
ridin’ in the rain = tough as nails

Geoff
Guest
Geoff

Also, The city collect leaves that have been piled in the street. In Richmond they come by twice in Fall. ~g

chris
Guest

I still don’t understand why people don’t wear helmets. Should it be illegal to go without lights and/or helmet?

Ed
Guest
Ed

Can we lobby that they STOP picking up the leaves, unless they are in the yard debris bin?

Dave
Guest

@chris: no, because lights effect other people’s safety, helmets don’t.

AaronF
Guest
AaronF
AaronF
Guest
AaronF
John Lascurettes
Guest

My dynohub and B&M IQ Cyo light mean I’m both always visible and reliably lighting up what’s ahead of me. I love that thing. I’m probably going to get a matching DToplight soon.

Regarding the leaves, I’m taking a much more center-of-the-lane position on most residential streets and on some narrower busy streets (like NE Prescott between MLK & 18th). I’m not riding in that detritus!

jr
Guest
jr

I like dyno lights. Have a hub and headlight for sale if anyone wants:

http://portland.craigslist.org/mlt/bik/1440416581.html

John Lascurettes
Guest

Aaron, according to the article you linked to, the city is still going to pick up the leaves. There just won’t be a drop-off depot for residents to drop off extra loads. Also, the article stated that there’s another reprieve this year for those homeowners in paying a city tax on the collection of those leaves.

AaronF
Guest
AaronF

Thanks John, I’ll be sure to read articles before I link them again. Imagine my chagrin.

I live in St Johns where they don’t collect leaves for some reason.

Elly Blue (Columnist)
Member

The city only picks up leaves in 17 neighborhoods. Sounds like they’re cutting back this year. Also, the Mayor’s office just announced that they’ll have 4 depot locations where you can drop off leaves for a fee on certain dates. Full info here:

http://www.portlandonline.com/transportation/index.cfm?c=47252

El Biciclero
Guest
El Biciclero

“I still don’t get why homeowners insist on raking/blowing/shoveling leaves into the street.”

Because in some neighborhoods, the fragging water co. comes by and sucks them up for “free” (part of the sewer charge, most likely).

Which is worse: 1000 homeowners firing up their pickup trucks to haul leaves to the yard debris station, or a few leaf trucks making the rounds and sucking them all up to take to the yard debris station? everything is a trade-off.

We live in a stand of Oak and Ash trees that will literally (and I mean “literally”) bury our yard 2 – 3 feet deep over a (roughly) 350 sq foot area. That’s almost 30 cubic yards of leaves over a season. We don’t have a compost bin that big. Hey, at least we’re considerate enough to keep our cars in our own driveway…most of the time our leaves don’t stick out into the street any farther than a parked car would (and no door zone!).

TonyT
Guest
TTse

A note about clipping a rear light onto backpacks. If it’s clipped near the top of the bag and you’re leaning over the handlebars, the light points straight up to the sky where it does no one any good. Mount it lower so it’s visible. And a redundent light on the seatpost is a good idea.

I saw a similar problem with a front light the other night. There was a bright front light completely obscured by a loaded front basket. We were heading in opposite directions and until I was abreast of the other rider, I saw NO light at all.

Think your light situation through folks, and perhaps ask someone if it’s visible.

One other thing. A rear light with dead batteries does NOT function as a reflector.

Laura
Guest
Laura

We saw gorgeous nighttime wheel setup while we were walking the dog last night. Both wheels glittered a very bright red, green and blue, from tire to hub, as the rider crossed the intersection in front of us. Even the dog was jealous!

Steve B.
Guest

One of the major side effects of leaves in the Fall is that they narrow our bikeways. Staying out of wet leaves is a safe move, but we’re now ‘inconveniencing’ drivers even more.

I’ve noticed tensions on already narrow streets like NE 20th/21st and 28th have increased.

Ryan
Guest
Ryan

The City of Milwaukie has a leaf collection program for its residents…
http://www.ci.milwaukie.or.us/departments/pubworks/storm/leafdrop.html

The downside is that folks have to haul the leaves to the drop site. Still, it is at least an option you can tell people about to get them to remove the leaf piles!

Toby
Guest
Toby

Every season is the season to get lit, if it’s dark. It never fails to amaze me how many people out there ride around at night without any lights.

SilkySlim
Guest

Rails rails rails! Approach at ninety degrees, nothing more nothing less. Those things are worse than ice in the rain.

brian
Guest
brian

Already had my first wet-leaf induced fall of the season and have three nice scrapes to show for it. I think I’ll be taking turns a bit more upright from now on.

StevenA
Guest
StevenA

I slid and fell at the innocuously-seeming lightly-leaf-covered corner of NE Tillamook & 18th. (Gratifying number of concerned non-bikers came to check.) Be careful out there (he tells himself)!

El Biciclero
Guest
El Biciclero

“Rails rails rails! Approach at ninety degrees, nothing more nothing less. Those things are worse than ice in the rain.”

Approaching at 90 degrees vertically is the most important. Don’t be still turning when you hit them. When they are wet, it’s better to go over them at 90 degrees (vertically) at 45 degrees to the tracks than leaning (still turning) at 80 degrees to the tracks. If that even makes sense.

Just straighten up before you hit them; it’s more important than worrying about the exact angle you’re making with them.

Nick V
Guest
Nick V

Also, I’m about to switch from my roadie to my Surly Cross for commuting because slick tire season is definitely drawing to a close.

Ted Buehler
Guest
Ted Buehler

A couple thoughts —

* If you have a bike with 26″ wheels, put on some fat knobby tires for the first couple weeks of the rain/leaf season. Lots more traction. And you’ll have lots more stability crossing rails in the streets.

* Slow down before going through leaves. Treat leaf patches as if they all have slimy slippery underlayers, potholes, and uneven storm grates.

* Approach rails in the street slowly in the rain. Too much emphasis is put on crossing them at 90 degrees in the horizontal plane. The real important thing is to have your bike at 90 degrees in the vertical plane. That means your bike is straight up, and you’re not turning at all.

You wipe out on rails when you cross them with lateral force on your bike — if you’re turning, your wheels are trying to slip to the outside of the turn, and rails offer a 4″ wide section with zero traction whatsoever (esp with water or leaves), plus a little bump. This is enough to get your wheel sliding outwards as you cross the track, and you can wipe out a couple different ways once your wheel starts sliding.

Rather than execute tight turning maneuvers to cross rails at 90 degrees, best to cross the rails at a modest angle and keep your bike 90 degrees to the ground.

Ted Buehler

El Biciclero
Guest
El Biciclero

…what Ted said.

rixtir
Guest
rixtir

@13:

I’ve been adjusting my lane position to the left with all the leaves on the right side of the road (and completely covering some bike lanes). However far left it takes to avoid the wet leaves. Riding through them is just a fall waiting to happen.

LizardMama
Guest
LizardMama

Timely article. I had to tell my husband I was late arriving home last night because “of the leaves”… at least it is an excuse you will all understand.

One word of advice is that I commute home in the afternoon while it is light and pay close attention to road conditions so that during my crack of dawn dark morning commute I have some heads up on icky spots.

Good advice on the rails. I fell on them last year, despite good effort. I have some mild paranoia about the smooth decorative brick at the corner from the Burnside bridge onto 1st when its wet… I always take it slow.

Stay wet, but safe, everyone!

Hanmade
Guest
Hanmade

I got a light for my bike at Fred Meyers in Oak Grove, I don’t remember the company brand, but it fits in your spokes and blinks or can be set constant. Bright, green , make me visible at 90 degrees and from the front. Only $8

SkidMark
Guest

Watch out on the bricks down on the waterfront, my front wheel wash out and I went bang! around this time last year.

On the fun side it’s fixed gear skidding season!

Vance Longwell
Guest

“A note about clipping a rear light onto backpacks. If it’s clipped near the top of the bag and you’re leaning over the handlebars, the light points straight up to the sky where it does no one any good.”

If you can’t see the light, how do you know where it is, where it’s pointed, and how it’s fastened? If indeed you observed these things, then the light served it’s function, yes?

“Almost”. “Could have.”. “Hard to…”. “Just in time.”. “Near miss.”.

Ya, but go right on ahead and simply ignore, “didn’t”.

spare_wheel
Guest
spare_wheel

“lights effect other people’s safety, helmets don’t.”

Disagree. Someone not wearing a helment can scar others psychologically.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

If you ride in the rain, please, please invest in fenders — I am fed up with eating gravel and road spray on my commute.

rixtir
Guest
rixtir

Because from some angles, the light can be (barely) seen. Just not from the angles that count.

doggedly out there
Guest
doggedly out there

Hmmmm… haven’t wiped out yet on the corner I’ve always expected to take me down. Probably time to break out the backup girl’s bike with the knobby, mushier tires and let old faithful have a little vacation.

Headlight and taillight on each bike, plus a taillight that I hang on zipties on the backs of my multiple helmets (sz S without hat or cap, sz M with) and a 5 led light that clips onto the cap’s visor. And I still worry about not being well lighted from the side.

jim
Guest
jim

It seems like a comman attitude these days that bikes don’t have to follow the traffic rules and that it is just way more cool to not have a light than to be safe. I was frustrated driving when I nearly pulled out in front of a bike with no light. More recently a car in front of me did turn in front of a bike with no light which sent him flying through the air. he swore up and down that there is no law requiring him to have a headlight at night. There should be a law against being stupid.
I see people raking the leaves out away from the curb and the storm drains into the street so the drains don’t clog and flood the intersections. The city recomends this so when cars drive on the leaves the tires grind the leaves up small enough to pass down the drains without clogging the system. You only have 1 leaf can that is dumped only every 2 weeks, many people don’t have any space for gardens or compost bins, so the leaves in the street are going to stay in the street and with the city cutting back on services it will be worse this year than last. but they will spend money on pet projects.
I feel for the people that have to endure the leafy streets, it is treacherous, there is just no perfect solution. Mr smith is not going to bag up leaves out in the street that fell off mr jones trees. I have piles in my yard that will that will take months to get rid of.

Jon Grinder
Guest

I just mulch my leaves and let them nourish my yard.

Lazlo
Guest
Lazlo

“Also, I’m about to switch from my roadie to my Surly Cross for commuting because slick tire season is definitely drawing to a close.”

Actually, slicks provide a larger tire patch, and therefore better traction on pavement than treaded cross tires. Treaded tires can help on leaves, however.

jenn levo
Guest
jenn levo

thanks CCC!!! I rode past their tent last evening on Williams where they checked the lights i had already on my bike and told me they were insufficient. So, I got lit!! Ya’ll rock.

Dave
Guest

Apropos of this whole discussion:

http://yehudamoon.com/index.php?date=2009-10-28

🙂