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Posted by on Feb 26, 2009 in General, Safety, Transit | 9 comments

Beware the Equinox

Riding in to work on South Street this morning, the sun was blazing in my helmet-mounted mirror.  Ah yes; equinox on the way.  If you remember your astronomy, the sun rises and sets close to due east and west around the time of the equinox.  So if you’re traveling one of those straight east/west roads, beware.  This is one of the few circumstances in which a competent cyclist has to be concerned about overtaking motorists.  If you’re heading into the sun, chances are the motorist behind you can’t see you as well as usual.

There can be problems from the front as well.  A left-turning motorist looking into the sun can miss you.  Motorists pulling out of sidestreets (and driveways) can miss you.

If your shadow is long and straight in front of you, then the sun is right behind you!

Some strategies:

  • Find a different route that doesn’t head straight east or west.
  • Leave 10-15 minutes later or earlier.
  • Find a route with a good tree canopy.
  • Slow down on intersection approaches and prepare for conflicts.
  • Get and use a really bright tail-light.  Put it on flash mode (not those pointless chaser sequences; all the LEDs should be on or off at the same time for maximum effect).  A cheap little blinky won’t cut it.
  • Get and use a really bright headlight for those on-coming conflicts and put it on flash mode.  (Go with a steady beam more than 15 minutes before sunrise or after sunset.)
  • Choose a street with bike lanes or paved shoulders.  I know some readers disdain them, but in this situation, the sun is going to illuminate the lane stripe (assuming they are well maintained) and guide the motorist to keep to your left.  Of course you still need to account for turning conflicts the bike lane might present.
  • Take your bike on a bus.

Some things NOT to do:

  • Ride on the sidewalk.  Turning conflicts are still a greater risk.  Being on the sidewalk only aggravates those.
  • Reflective gear will do little or nothing to help.
  • Bright neon clothes MAY work, but I wouldn’t count on it.

9 Comments

  1. Timely. I hadn’t put 2 and 2 together, but had noticed car drivers coming into my path from left and right were squinting or using their hands as a sunblock when looking for traffic. And as mentioned, I was riding in an East/West direction.

    Good points!! thanks Mighk!

  2. I had the “light-bulb” moment about this one morning as I was headed west on Glenridge Way and waiting to turn left onto Fosgate. There was traffic stacked at the light at General Rees and it kept inching forward as I stood next to the center line, waiting. I could see the sun lighting up the drivers’ faces and the visors casting a shadow across their eyes. As one car crept past me, the driver suddenly saw me standing next to his open window. He said “Oh! I’m so sorry! I didn’t see you!”

    That’s probably the one case where that oft-heard statement is completely valid :-)

  3. Thank goodness the moonlight is not this problematic. Night commuting is fun! Good strategies to keep in mind and use when I ride on my off days. Puts a whole new “light” on safety.

  4. Oh, I almost forgot about the sunshine slowdown in the morning! Dangit!

  5. “Choose a street with bike lanes or paved shoulders. I know some readers disdain them, but in this situation, the sun is going to illuminate the lane stripe (assuming they are well maintained) and guide the motorist to keep to your left. Of course you still need to account for turning conflicts the bike lane might present.”

    “Low sun in the eyes” is EXACTLY the scenario when motorists often drift into bike lanes, same as they cross the center line, only they pull to their right far more often (the right being “less dangerous”).

  6. Due to continually failing short term memory, I cannot recall the full name of a 23w light I saw recently, other than “Betty” and considered it as an add-on to my velomobile. Unfortunately, my research discovered it to be nearly one thousand american dollars! That’s one pricey headlight, but for an LED lamp, it’s perfect for a velomobile. Not enough night riding to justify it, though.

    I’ve had occasion to ride with the sun directly behind me, rather than ahead, so I consider myself lucky. I’m also hopeful that my 2″x6″ superbright LED taillight helps too. In the future, I’ll extend my nighttime pair of 2″x6″ supplemental retractable turn signals and activate them in taillight mode when confronted by the equinox. Is it vernal?

  7. I live where the street grid is offset by 45 degrees, so I don’t have that problem! :-)

  8. Returning from our epic ride Saturday, we ended up in Debary as the sun was dropping toward the horizon. We had to turn west onto Dirkson at exactly the wrong time. Dirkson is never a pleasant road and there was a ton of traffic at the I-4 interchange. The sun was blinding. We managed to negotiate that safely, then pulled into a convenience store immediately on the other side. I used the GPS on my iPhone to find a parallel street that would take us to a trail that crosses and then parallels Dirkson.