Before the daylight hours lengthen in the new year, cyclists will talk about nighttime visibility and the merits of this light and that reflective bauble, but I always think back to a time when my colleagues and I emphasized stealth at night. In the 1990s I lived in Gainesville FL, off and on attending the University of Florida. During that time a number of factors, some temporary, made campus pizza delivery by bicycle a great business move by the university’s corporate dining system… and an addictive employment for me. Yes, pizza delivery probably ruined my college ambitions, because it’s hard to get out of bed and pay attention in class if you’ve knocked out sprint after pizza-laden sprint past midnight and then washed dishes until 2am.
But back to the lights and visibility. In those days, my co-workers and I were all slacker road racers who kept pizza bikes for work. Every night was an internal competition for most pizza runs and the most tips. And though cars were a definite hazard, the car drivers weren’t out to get you. The campus police, on the other hand, most definitely were. The nightshift cops always had a hard-on for busting those college-boy punks for running traffic lights or worse not having a head and taillights. Either infraction would be a $35-75 ticket, plus a time-killing citation procedure with a cop-light in your face.
In those days before LED headlights, our halogen Cateyes ate up AA batteries. Standard procedure was to turn off lights whenever possible to conserve. Sometimes the batteries would die in the middle of a shift, but you wouldn’t have time to get new ones. So basically, we came to realize that you wanted the lights to be seen if you had them, but if your lights died you didn’t want to be seen at all. That way the cops might not see you, or might not be able to chase you down as you took evasive maneuvers across lawns, into buildings, down staircases, etc. That meant we blacked out anything reflective on the pizza bikes. We even put electrical tape over the reflective heels of our Sidi shoes. I made better use out of bicycle taillights at raves, where yet again I did not want to attract the attention of law enforcement…though those stories are of debatable propriety within this blog.
After seven years of that (meaning pizza delivery, not the raves), my instincts are always alarmed at new reflective technology applied to bikes. Somehow it doesn’t compute in my brain that messengers actually want to enhance their visibility. The Velocity rims with the reflective coating are a great product, but I just can’t do it. It will be too easy for them to find me.