For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven. Late autumn is the season I normally write about winter tires. I tell readers that winter tires are made from a pliable rubber compound that stays soft below 7 degrees Celsius and provides a tighter grip on the road. I demonstrate that they allow for shorter braking distances. I’ll often add that winter tires have deeper tracks, which bite into slush and snow. All-season tires are not designed to clear snow and slush.
After the article is published, a number of irate conspiracy theorists write me angry emails calling me either a fool or a shill (often both). Winter tires are a scam, they declare. They are a minority. The majority of drivers agree that winter tires are an important safety measure. A recent survey of 1,521 Canadian drivers commissioned by The Tire and Rubber Association of Canada and conducted by Leger found 81 per cent say driving a vehicle equipped with winter tires “has saved them from an accident or loss of control.” The rest prepare for a snowy season full of skidding and causing needless accidents.
This November I decided to mix it up. This November is the time to discuss bicycle lights. Bicycle lights are not new technology. The first oil-fueled “bicycle lamp” was introduced in 1876. They are standard.
Similar to winter tires, most cyclists believe these lights are a safety necessity. They are also mandatory in Canada. For example, Section 62 (17) of The Ontario Highway Traffic Act stipulates that lights are mandatory “any time from one-half hour before sunset to one-half hour after sunrise and at any other time when, due to insufficient light or unfavourable atmospheric conditions persons and vehicles on the highway are not clearly discernible at a distance of 150 metres or less.” Additionally, there must be a “red light or a reflector on its rear,” as well as white reflectors on its front and red on the rear. Violators risk a $110 fine.
And like winter tires, there are a minority of bike light naysayers. They do not use “bicycle lamps,” preferring instead to disappear into the cold embrace of the dark. I encountered such a shadowy wraith this week at six in the evening, haunting the separated bike lane on Danforth Ave. I was turning right on a green light. I checked my right-side mirror and saw two bike lights approaching. They were in the distance, and I had the right of way, but I waited for them to pass as I didn’t want to risk an accident.
I was about to complete my turn when I gave one more check. I could not see anything, but I sensed something was wrong. So, I waited, and sure enough from out of the darkness emerged a cyclist riding a bike with no lights and no reflective material. The rider did have a bell, which cheerfully ting-a-ling-a-linged as the rider blew by me.
I am cautious when driving, especially at intersections. I look out for cyclists. I can’t look out for a cyclist I can’t see. If you are riding a bicycle without a light in a Canadian city during the fall and winter seasons when the sun isn’t shining then you have a death wish.
It’s at this point that bike light critics will argue that cars are a dangerous and bad means of transportation and that public transit and climate-friendly transportation (read: bicycles) are what we need. I agree. For instance, I believe we should hand over design and planning control of the Greater Toronto Area to the City of Tokyo and let them run it. That is not, however, the world we live in. We live in a world of congestion, cars, bike lanes and under-funded public transit that has the predictability of a roulette wheel. If you are going to ride a bicycle in the dark then you need to have a bike light, just like automobiles must have working lights. How is it possible that there are riders out there who are willing to cruise around as shadowy apparitions? What explanation could there possibly be?
But why be surprised?
We live in a society that now accepts thousands of its citizens living permanently in tents, that thinks climate change is real but takes minimal action to make the situation better and that accepts daily traffic fatalities as the “price of doing business.” As I write this somebody somewhere is arguing that the world is flat. In this context, riding a bicycle without a light almost makes sense.
If Diogenes could carry a lamp around Athens in broad daylight looking for an honest man, cyclists can strap a light on their bikes in search of a safer ride.