Lighting Enlightenment

There are plenty of good reasons to have a headlamp and taillamp on your bike. In fact, in California, and in most other states and countries, you are required to have a white light on the front of your bicycle if you are riding at night. You are also required to have a red rear reflector, but a lamp plus reflector combination is much better. (And despite what most people assume, a steady lamp is better than a blinky. In fact, blinkies are outlawed in such bike-friendly nations as Holland and Germany. Road-diet NIMBYs aren’t the only ones who cherish unfounded opinions based on, well, nothing….)

Nevertheless, many of us ride without lights even at night. The “ninja cyclist” has become both theme and meme lately, as well as helping boost hospital profits. Although I now run hub dynos and bright, clear light-up-the-road lamps in front, with solid, steady German red LEDs to the rear, I too used to run silent, run dark. That changed on a beautiful moonlit night long ago….

I lived in Echo Park then, and had been visiting a friend of mine who lived in Glendale. He was a musician who kept late hours, so I knew I’d be pedaling home in full darkness…but I also knew that it was the night of the full moon, and I figured our companion planet would light my way home.

I left Glendale and headed towards Griffith Park to see whether Riverside Drive was open at that time of night. And indeed it was. So I pedaled gently along, enjoying the cool night air, perfumed with desert scents, and slipping in and out of the shadows of roadside trees. At one point I startled a small black-and-white cat that was crossing the road; I hadn’t seen it in the shadows. I made some of the silly noises we direct towards friendly animals to soothe them, and rode on.

About half a mile later I came to a stop sign by the turnoff to a picnic ground. As I rolled to a stop, a car pulled up beside me, and one of its four occupants rather ominously rolled down the passenger side window. But, they only wanted to ask directions. While we spoke, a horrible reek enveloped me, and I remember thinking, “Man, that’s some really foul weed they’re smoking; I hope they can drive okay….”

They rolled up the window and went on, and I pedaled onward. Up one hill, down another, and to the stop sign by the turnoff to the miniature train, where I stopped again, to savor the sweetness and quiet of the night.

Only the same foul reek enveloped me as had before. No car nearby, no one at all within eyeshot.

And then I realized: the “cat” had been, in fact, a skunk, and had scored a direct hit on me and my bike.

When I arrived home, I threw away my clothes. Unfortunately, in the neighborhood where I lived, I had to park my bike inside if I wanted to keep it. The place stank for weeks till the skunk essence dried enough to crust over. I did not dare wash the bike.

I bought a set of lights within the week. Well before my next night ride.

It could have been worse than a skunk. It could have been a deep pothole that looked like another tree shadow, or a large rock, or any number of conditions that could have led to a face plant, rather than a stink bath. I got into the habit of running lights at night, since I love to pedal through the hours darkness.

I used to ride that same bike from Echo Park to my office in the Miracle Mile. The building had a walled parking lot patrolled by an armed guard, and I would lock the bike to a hundred-foot-tall lamp standard with the anchor chain I had used to secure my motorcycles back in the day. Despite all that apparent security, someone snuck in, froze the chain, and stole the bike one fine day.

I sincerely hope they tried to wash those little brown spots off the downtube. I really do….

So there’s a double moral to the story: put lights on your bike, and get a good lock. And there’s an intelligent selection of both locks and lamps right here at Flying Pigeon LA. Even dyno lights for those of you who live to ride at night. Come check them all out!

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