Question on trail etiquette for the community: When biking the Cap Cres, Custis, and W&OD trails in the morning and evening, I notice that about 20-30% of cyclists cover their lights as they go past. I get the courtesy aspect here, but I am a bit concerned that the person doing this a) is riding past me one-handed in the dark and b) can't see because they just covered their light. My thought is that the safest option would be for both parties to make sure that their lights are oriented correctly (mostly at the ground, and not shining up and across into the eyes of oncoming traffic), and to accept that dealing with the lights of others is more or less a part of night riding. Is there a generally accepted convention on this?
I've been thinking about this, and I wanted to do a fun write up about it. I've been commuting for a few years now on the trail, but didn't start thinking about it till this past year when 1) I started being on the trails at "bike rush hour" instead of the butt crack of dawn and 2) I use a light now that's more powerful than a key-ring light.
[please keep in mind, the following are simply my own musings and/or thoughts, all written stream-of consciously, not to be taken as completely factual or as law]
In the past, as the rider with the crappy light that I never had to cover up, I was always irked by people who had those 1957.2 lumen spotlights right in my eye (however, even pointed at the ground can be blinding when you've been on a dark trail for 25 mins already). When I started using a bright-ass light (BAL), I noticed other riders looking away when I passed (and not just because they were blinded by my awesomeness), and that's when I started noticing other commuters with BALs covering them up when they were headed toward me. I, in turn, followed suit, and it was amazing how many oncoming riders actually thanked me, as they recognized what I was doing. It's like a driver turning off the high beams when they see oncoming traffic.
When I cover my light, I still have BOTH hands on the handlebars, one on a hood/shifter, the other on the middle section of the handlebar (you know, the part that you see le Tour riders holding as they're sitting up on long climbs?). I feel I can maintain full control of my bike with this way of holding the bars (for the 10 seconds I'm passing an oncoming rider/runner).
Think about all the time's you've ridden with only on hand (grabbing a water bottle, reaching into your rear pockets for what seems like 27 minutes to find your last Peanutbutter Gu, etc... were you safe then? Were others safe then? When a rider is covering their light, their hand is still by the bars (if not, then that's a whole new level of stupid set ups, but I haven't seen that to be the case in the last several years, perhaps only the case of very long lights that protrudes far in front of the handle bar).
Am I saying there's no danger? Certainly not. But we accept that there will be some inherent level of danger (albeit extremely low in this case) accepted by extending certain courtesies. Even while not covering their lights, I still fear collision by the dolt who blows around corners riding partly into my lane as they whiz by me. What I am saying is, that for the few moments part (if not all) of their hand is off the bar to block the light, thus allowing oncoming riders to maintain better visibility, we would all hope that all retain full control of their bikes.
Basically, in the end, the generally accepted convention is that you keep one, if not both hands on the bars, and try to cover your light as best you can - to be courteous. The angle of the light should inherently be pointed to the ground (if used for illumination) anyway, otherwise it's being misused. If the light is simple a safety measure, the acceptable convention is that you use a dimmer light (typically on strobe) to catch the attention of other riders/drivers/pedestrians/loiterers/tax men/etc. There will be fools who misuse their lights and/or leave their trail etiquette at home. As in all other communities, we must accept this as an inherent truth that not all trail users will abide by the generally accepted (yet still unwritten) rules of courtesy.
Brilliant question to pose. I'm interested in the thoughts of others. I got tired of writing, but I feel like there are still a few more aspects that could be considered or mentioned.
What do other bike commuters think?
I commute ~32mi up and down the Mt Veron Trail daily (before the crack of dawn and after sunset), and my intitial take is the same as driving at night. You don't take your hands off the wheel with oncoming traffic. Personnally, I try not to look directly into the 'BAL' and just maintain my line. Sometimes, depending where I am on the trail, it's hard to tell what's on the trail and what's on the road with oncoming traffic headlights flashing through the trees. I certainly understand the courtesy of covering the light, but in the end it doesn't bother me that much. The BAL on flashing bother me more than solid lights. BAL flashing come close to throwing me into a seizure.
Couldn't agree more with you. There are some cases where I don't take my hands off the bars, like if I'm climbing or making turns that are safest with two hands on the hoods.
I guess a more generalised way of looking at "to cover nor not to cover" if it means taking your hand off the bar, perhaps it should be favourable if covering can be executed safely, say, during a straight section. And as an oncoming rider, knowing that in some cases it may be unsafe for the rider with the light to attempt to cover the light.
wbdowntown offers a great option, by averting your eyes. I feel like I remember a trick from Drivers Ed where they say look to the right, and down at the road, not directly toward the light. Then again, roads have a white line at the edge to know where the pavement ends...
I'll bet there are a number of solutions to help both parties stay safe. I also offer that at night, it'd be prudent to slow down just a bit so we have more time to see potential hazards, and hope that other riders (and runners) take similar precautions. There will be a few idiots out there, still...
There are two strobe settings on my BAL: "slow and steady" and "rave party/epilepsy". They latter is inhumane, so I don't use it. Even as the "driver" it still makes me queasy.
Trevor, can I borrow your rave party light for a bachelorette party I'm going to in a couple weeks? ;)