Low sun can be a problem year-round, but more often when daylight is shorter. It will be a while till the return of daylight-saving time gives us some evening sunlight. And in midwinter, when the sun doesn’t rise very high, it takes longer to rise and set.
A simple rule helps to evaluate the risk: if your long shadow points toward someone, that person could have trouble seeing you. The photo illustrates the difficulty seeing a rider at dusk. Photo credit: American Bicycling Education Assocation
If the long shadow points forward, one positive thing I can say is that you can see ahead well. Also, drivers behind you can see you. But you can be hidden in sun glare for people ahead of you, increasing the risk of a motorist’s cutting across your path. Exercise caution. If you can adjust your speed so as not to pass a driveway or intersection at the same time a vehicle is approaching ahead, that would be good.
Also when the sun is low behind you, looking to the rear can be difficult. Sometimes my helmet-mounted rear-view mirror just glares the sun into my eye. Fortunately, this only happens over a narrow range of angles. But it does suggest more caution with lane changes.
Low sun ahead is a problem for your seeing, and for that of motorists behind you. You can avoid the glare most of the time with a visor on your helmet, or even by tilting down you head so the helmet brim hides the sun.
A motorist also needs to use a visor, and I find myself repeatedly making small adjustments to mine when I am driving into the sun. I’m not sure that all motorists are as conscientious about this.
Difficult lighting can justify the use of bright, flashing lights on your bicycle. Just make sure that they will also be suitable for nighttime use – steady headlight illuminating the road, rather than glaring into people’s eyes. Changing the timing of your trip 15 minutes either way, or choosing a different route, may avoid the worst of the low-sun problem.
Be safe out there!
John Allen is CRW Safety Coordinator.