I was leaving work – late – the other night in what seemed a normal manner. It was dry and clear, but dark as I’d stayed at work solving a problem (funny how you can be most productive in an office environment when 80% of the rest of the company has already left.) I grabbed my bike off the rack, flicked on the lights (they are nice and bright) and roll out the door.
About halfway home from the office I’ve got this strange feeling something isn’t right. I’m riding on lit streets, but on a whim I put my hand in front of the Planet Bike Blaze 1/2w Headlight mounted on my handlebars. It barely illuminates my palm at 4 inches. Damn. Dead batteries. While I’m at it I stop and check the tail light. Completely dead. I try to turn it on. Dim light then nothing. Damn. More dead batteries.
Not to worry – I have spares in my backpack. Hmmm….. my backpack. That would be helpful if I actually had my backpack instead of my messenger bag. Which also means I don’t have a lock for my bike. I’m disinclined to leave my bike sitting outside a gas station store unlocked while I grab batteries, and since I’m about half way home anyhow I decided to just pedal on and get fresh batteries at home.
As I head out, knowing I don’t have any lights seems to created a heightened state of awareness. I look both ways at intersections – about 5 times. I find myself looking over my shoulder a lot more. My hearing seems more acute – I’m conscious of hearing cars approaching from side streets. But then I remember something that I said myself, in a different context, that makes me immediately feel like hypocrite:
If you find yourself riding differently when you are not wearing a helmet then when you are, then you are doing something wrong. If you are more careful, or imagine that you would be, when you are riding without a helmet then you are putting far too much stock in the idea that the helmet will protect you. You should ride with just as much care regardless of what you have strapped on your head. Not only are helmets not shown to offer any real protection statistically, that plastic hat isn’t going to provide any protection against the more common injuries in bike crashes – road rash, broken collar bones, wrists and ribs. Don’t assume your safety equipment will protect you – always operate as if you have no safety equipment. To do otherwise is folly.
At the time I was talking more about bicycle helmets. But here I was, relying on my safety equipment. My 1/2w headlight doesn’t really provide any significant illumination of the rode in front of me as I pedal along at 15-20 MPH. It is there more to make me more visible than to make the road more visible to me.
So why was I riding differently now that I was conscious I didn’t have my bike lights. Why was I paying more attention to the road than the night before when my lights and been (presumably) shining brightly?
Well, frankly, because I was doing the exact same thing I’d advised others not to in my quote above. I was presuming that my safety equipment would protect me in a way that allowed me to relax – lower my defenses slightly.
Shame on me. I’m glad my batteries died that night. I reminded me not to let my awareness dim like my lights did – ever…