Cyclescheme How to: Cycling in low sunlight

Cyclescheme, 24.02.2016

Cyclescheme How to: Cycling in low sunlight

Winter sunlight can dazzle cyclists as well as drivers.  Here's what you can do to see and be seen.

Sunny winter days are a welcome respite from greyness, rain, or snow, but they carry an additional risk: blindingly bright low sun. The sun never gets high in the sky at this time of year, and it's at its lowest in the morning and late afternoon – just when you're likely to be commuting. Anyone looking east or south east on a sunny winter's morning or west or south west on a sunny winter's afternoon may be dazzled. It's worst when looking uphill into the sun.

Best Visibility

Sunglasses are an obvious way to cope with low sun on a bike. Cycling glasses have more wraparound coverage, which helps stop your eyes watering in the wind, but in terms of reducing glare, any sunglasses will do.

Very dark sunglasses obscure your vision when you move from strong sunlight directly into deep shadow so they won't suit all commutes. Photochromic lenses, meanwhile, will not darken or lighten quickly enough to cope with fast changing conditions of sunlight and shade. If you're going to take your glasses on and off, you'll need master the art of resting them on your head or helmet, like road racers do. Alternatively, use glasses with lighter-coloured lenses – yellow or orange, for example. These will reduce glare without compromising your vision in shadows.

Wear a peaked cycling cap, which will fit fine under a helmet, or a peaked helmet. You've then got your own sun visor. By dipping your head towards the road, you'll pretty much eliminate the dazzle of low sun.

Dipping your head to focus on the road directly in front of you is a good way to deal with flickering light and shadow when the sun is off to one side, behind a fence or foliage. This flickering can be distractingly hypnotic otherwise.

Make Sure You Can Be Seen

Cyclists are not required to have daytime running lights and, most of time, will not need them. In low winter sun, however, they may be useful. Your aim is to draw attention to yourself as soon as possible, so a flashing or better yet a pulsing light will be more effective than a steady light. A rear light needs to be very bright to be visible in strong sunlight; look for one offering tens of lumens in output. The front light doesn't need to be much more powerful than this, as you won't be using it to see where you're going and so don't need 'full-beam' brightness.

Clothing colour is less of a factor when someone is looking towards you in blinding sunlight. Either you'll be silhouetted or you won't. More contrast is nevertheless good, so a bright white jacket isn't ideal. That doesn't mean that black is best. Lighting conditions change during any ride, as well as between rides, and black will be less visible in other circumstances.

Drivers are more likely to be ready to react to your presence in two circumstances. One is if you are cycling where they expect traffic in general to be, which good road positioning should ensure. The other is if you are cycling where they expect cyclists to be – not 'the gutter', but rather 'thoroughfares popular with cyclists'. A driver who has overtaken half a dozen cyclists already is more likely to expect one in that sun-glaring section of road ahead. 

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