Sunday, November 8, 2015

Friend Forgot Their Set of Lights? Form a 'Bike Train' in the Night!

Most of us have been there one time or another: You are out cycling with a friend during daylight hours. You lose track of time and stay out too late. When you finally make your way home it is already growing dark, and one of you doesn't have lights on their bike. Maybe it's you who is caught out, maybe it's your friend - doesn't matter. Whoever it is, now feels dejected, as they are faced with a choice between risking their life cycling home in the dark versus feeling like an idiot and phoning to ask for a rescue. But wait! Because as long as one of you has a set of lights (at least one of which is removable) and is willing to chaperone the other home, there is another solution: you share your lights and form a "night train."

It is a fairly straightforward concept: One person gets the headlight and cycles in the front. The other gets the tail light and cycles at the back. You ride in as tight a procession as possible, never separate  and never change positions. In this manner, you essentially become a tandem bicycle, with one complete set of lights.

I forget when exactly it was that I tried this for the first time, but I remember being impressed with how well it worked. I kept my tail light on my own bike, and gave a speedy friend my powerful headlight, which was bright enough to keep his rear wheel visible enough for me to latch onto. We cycled home as one efficient, illuminated machine, and I got to practice my paceline skills in the dark!

Apparently the night train was once a not uncommon method of sharing lighting, to save both weight and money. One friend tells me stories of him and his father sharing lights in this manner, when they toured together in the 1970s with a set of what he describes with a shudder as "utterly brick like torches." According to another, they used to form "night trains" on club rides on a regular basis, until new rules put a stop to the practice.

Needless to say, sharing lighting is not as safe as each rider having their own set of powerful lights, and would be stressful to maintain over long distances. But in a pinch it does provide a solution. After all, not all of us are prepared for all eventualities 100% of the time. The "night train" is a useful emergency option to keep in one's arsenal.

31 comments:

  1. I always chuckle when you post something as a new discovery or insight when in fact it's a common solution which has been around for forever. I must add, however, that I rarely, if ever, encountered the 'dejected' attitude you mention or the thought of risking one's life in order to continue down the road. Mostly, it's a minor wrinkle and fun event to share with a traveling mate. Glad no one was injured and all arrived safely.

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    1. My friend, it is no minor wrinkle on main road where I share travel with hurrying traffic. If I forget the lights it is yes, dejected! Very dangerous.

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    2. Certainly not a new discovery. More like an "oldie but goodie" that might not necessarily occur to all riders intuitively (and according to my own on-the-road experience it doesn't).

      And as far as the attitude to being caught out with no lights - I mean yes, that would depend on one's location, terrain, general risk aversion, etc., etc. Where I live, cycling home after dark without lights is not for the faint of heart!

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    3. I didn't read this as though V imagined this was a new discovery at all. Quite the opposite. Still, I had never heard of it and would not have thought of it. Great idea. Thanks for sharing it.

      I suppose it wouldn't work with dynamo lighting, but it's a nice idea for battery lighting.

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    4. Sure it's not an original idea but it's also non-obvious, as simple as it is, and it's not something I would immediately think of were I in the situation to need a bike like train. Great info to spread around. Fortunately with dynamo lighting this is not an issue for me, but if I know I'm going to be riding in the dark, I keep redundant battery lights with me anyway. In part to be able to loan out if needed, and also in part to increase my visibility. I do believe that having more than one taillight, at different heights, aids in visibility. And if one malfunctions, you're not left vulnerable to being seen.

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  2. Had to do this recently as a trio, with one set of lights -- stressful, but we were on dead-empty country roads (the only car we saw was off in the distance on another road, and turned out to be, in fact, someone looking for us to see if we'd gotten lost (we hadn't, we just had been terribly delayed)). We set up two of us in this tandem formation, and the other to our right (driving on the right, so the lighted pair were further out in the lane). I think you could do it side-by-side in general, with the taillight out further in the lane, and thus the pair doesn't need to be comfortable riding in such close formation, as long as your headlight is one of the modern ones with a fairly wide beam.

    (Things I will take bike touring the next time: lights! Even if we're supposed to be done well before dark 100% of the time, because delays happen.)

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    1. I have only done this as a trio once, and it wasn't a good experience - probably because I didn't know the other people very well, yet allowed myself to be talked into being the middle - i.e. unlit - bike (the logic was that I'd be most protected from cars in that position). The person meant to be cycling behind me kept coming up to the front, half-wheeling between me and the lead rider. After a few instances of this, I had to insist we stop and switch positions, so that I got the tail light and stayed in the back. It was okay after that, but I will never give up both my lights again and relinquish control in that manner.

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    2. How terrible - you offer both your lights and then you are the one placed at risk! Yes, I would definitely be keeping at least one light on my bike regardless of whom I was riding with - such rude behaviour.

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  3. Partner and I have done this not a few times due to battery/charge failures while en route. We can usually come up with one working head- and tail-light if we rummage deeply enough in panniers and/or saddlebags...

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  4. My question is, how does the rear cyclist tell where front cyclist's rear wheel is in the dark? Isn't there a danger of getting too close?

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    1. With a good modern LED headlight, the beam off the front will be powerful enough so that you can see the rear wheel.

      Of course the vintage halogen "torches" are another story!

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  5. I've done this with my young sons before, as a trio, although we've never actually had just one set of l lights. Only my bike has amazing, no excuses bright lights, as I'm the one who regularly rides at night. They have $10 clamp-on headlights, just in case.

    I put the youngest (slowest) one in front, and I take up the rear so I can keep an eye on them. It's only residential streets with one busy crossing, so it works great.

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  6. Ye buncha dozie Morons! Ha ye never heard o' FIRE!?

    Strap a twisted bit of newsprint or a sack to yer bars an mudgaurd and set em' alight! There's na shortage a fuel in the ditches an the driver to run ya down in such a conflagerin condition has'na been whelped... Manys the night I've arrived home in a cloud o' bats swoopin after the moths baited in by the flames, to find the Mizzuz holdin the door open for seein the glow coming down the lane.

    It's a jolly thing ridin home from the Mill with "The Times" blazin away in yer basket and a string traffic hangin back a couple hundred yards unwillin to crowd the man on the flamin bicycle.

    George Bernard Shaw



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    1. This may very well have worked in your day, when mudguards were wooden and accoutrements made of cork and twine and such. Nowadays, think about it - 'tis all plastic and will melt rather than burn. Good thinking though, George.

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    2. And that's why the enterprising lad or lass will always insist on wearing silk underthings. Think about it- lantern mantles are made of silk. A nice glow coming from your basket, and the breeze from behind will propel you smartly homeward.

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    3. Funny you should mention this, as I've just been chatting with a bicycling purveyor of silk on twitter. You might enjoy his site (here)!

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  7. I see a lot of people doing this, either at the end of a ride after sunset or at the beginning of rides before sunrise.

    In the last week, with daylight savings time over and people riding home in the dark, I've had several people trailing me closely, unwilling to pass. When they do pass me once we get to a bright urban street, I see that they have no lights or reflectors and they needed my light to get them safely to roads lit by streetlights. I don't mind as long as they aren't close enough to draft me.

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    1. Ah yes. The "got a light?" drafting!

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  8. Yes! I love it when you bust a rhyme, its been awhile!

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    1. Too long indeed.
      I hope it made you smile!

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  9. Not street smart or street legal, better off to walk your bike home, at least you will get home...

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    1. I tend to agree, although I have never been part of a 'night train' so can't comment on its effectiveness I believe I would feel more secure walking - but I suppose that also depends on where you are, how far you have to walk and innumerable other factors which may render the 'night train' the better option at the time.

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    2. That is true, it's not road legal. Has to be an individual judgment call whether it's worth it.

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    3. That's right and there are some areas where riding without a light would still be a safer option than walking :(

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  10. Fond memories of the old halogen dynamos and brick like rear lights that ate batteries. Wouldn't be the first time I turned my bike upside down so I could pedal by hand to provide light for someone else to fix a puncture. Modern lights are fantastic but still too many people riding in black clothing.

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  11. My lights cannot be easily removed so I escort an unlit bike by riding behind them and offset to their left (US), which allows my headlight to light the road ahead and be seen by oncoming traffic.

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  12. Last spring, caught out too late on the wrong bicycle, far, far from home, I remembered seeing a blinky clipped to the post of a roadsign where I surmised it had fallen off some commuters bike, and another rider found it and stuck it on the post where the first rider would hopefully see it and reclaim it. Well it had been there for at least a couple of weeks already so I made a quick detour and sure enough, it was still there, and the batteries were still good, so finders keepers and I continued on my way with at least the Caboose of my personal Road train lit up like Christmas.

    I got home and took a look at my new score and discovered it to be an improved but unlabelled version of my favorite Bontrager blinky, a neat, cheap light our bike club gives out at rides and events as an incentive for people to listen to us drone on and on about why they should sign up. It's only real fault is the plastic clip that doesn't grip very well. But this one has a burly stainless steel clip that pinches like it means it. I like it so much I tried to find one like it at various bike shops, to no, as they say, avail.

    A few weeks ago I was riding along the same stretch of road where I plucked my favorite blinky off that post and THERE WAS ANOTHER ONE JUST LIKE IT ON THE POST!!!

    I, more dumbfounded than usual, stopped, took it off to see if it was just like the last one and instantly realized what was going on. The Highway Department apparently uses a small battery operated blinking LED light to illuminate the "DANGER, HIGH WATER" signs around here. In a weather event I suppose the crews prefer stepping out of the truck just long enough to click the button on a $3 light they leave on the sign permanently over getting out a folding sign with a big ass lamp attached.

    So, I'm in sort of a dilemma, not about whether I need to put a light back on that sign, I already did that, BUT... the light I put back on the post was one of my old ones with the cheap plastic clip that grips the sign ever so well enough(since no one is riding the sign off curbs or stair jumping with it). My question is; Would I be a "Bad Person" if I were to, you know, go around replacing a few more of the nice stainless clamp variety with my remaining cheesy plastic ones?

    Spindizzy, snapper up of unwatched trifles...



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  13. I've done this in the woods with friends who's batteries have failed (and they with me when mine have failed). It's a really interesting time as the shadows wreak havoc on how fast you can react to the obstacles in front of you. I've also bounced thru the woods at night with only the moon as my light source. That can be a blast it really forces reaction timing and skills to go up significantly.

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