I commute on a towpath in Hertfordshire, England and there is ample amount of wildlife about.

During the day it's fine, I can see ducks, squirrels and rabbits in time and slow down if I need to.

However at night it seems to be a problem as I occasionally have close calls with particularly what I believe are squirrels and rabbits trying to cross the towpath as I'm approaching.

I believe they see me rather too late sometimes and despite my front lights and intermittent signalling with the bell I've not been able to mitigate that. It goes without saying that I see them especially late. Particularly problematic are blind sports just before a turn. It doesn't help that often there are no other light sources apart from my lights.

Has anyone run into a similar problem and has any tips?

  • 4
    My main advice, especially on a towpath, is never to swerve. With this in mind, is a better light an option?
    – PeteH
    Commented Nov 4, 2014 at 14:53
  • @PeteH I go carefully around corners and would normally signal as well just in case there are oncoming cyclists. I will probably get around to getting a better light but money are tight at the moment.
    – Nobilis
    Commented Nov 4, 2014 at 14:56
  • @PeteH I'm not sure if a stronger light would improve the situation. For example deer is known to just freeze and stay where they are when blinded by a strong light. But I don't know if that holds for rabbits and the like as well. Commented Nov 4, 2014 at 14:57
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    Other than a stronger light and a playing card clothes-pinned to your spokes there's probably not much you can do. I once hit a chicken in broad daylight on a 20-foot-wide road, and others around here have hit deer. Commented Nov 4, 2014 at 16:48
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    If cycling lights are out of budget a frugal option is to use regular flashlights (torches). I got a 3 pack of 500 lumens each, 3xAAA cell led torches for the equivalent to US$ 23. And installed them to my handlebar with hose clamps. There are several high output cheap LED torches now.
    – Jahaziel
    Commented Nov 5, 2014 at 18:09

7 Answers 7


My commute brings me through a park with a lot of rabbits (or similar animals, not a zoologist here) and it has been rather close a few times ...

I use a head lamp when driving there at night for two reasons:

  1. It allows me to see through turns much better
  2. The eyes of animals reflect directly back at you, which helps to see them a little earlier

All that does not help when they jump out of the shrubs directly in front of you. It doesn't happen a lot, but I have seen dead rabbits on the path a few times. (No dead cyclists yet)

  • I've considered getting a head lamp but I rely on a USB rechargeable light and I'm a bit strapped for cash. A better lamp is probably indeed the only solution.
    – Nobilis
    Commented Nov 4, 2014 at 14:54
  • 1
    @Nobilis - you can pick up a headlamp quite inexpensively (Amazon shows several around £5). The cheap ones might not be bright enough for great illumination of the trail, but should be enough to see retroreflective animal eyes - I can see my dog's eyes reflecting back with my headlamp on its lowest setting
    – Johnny
    Commented Nov 4, 2014 at 16:06
  • @Johnny yeah, good point, I'm looking at one right now, do you have an idea how long they last before I need to change the batteries?
    – Nobilis
    Commented Nov 4, 2014 at 16:08
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    @Nobilis - it's hard to say, it differs significantly between manufacturers, some designs are more energy efficient than others even at the same light level. Unless buying a major name brand, I wouldn't trust the published battery life claims -- check reviews for more accurate numbers. Energizer claims 20 hours of life on its £13 Energizer Pro Advanced Headlight.
    – Johnny
    Commented Nov 4, 2014 at 16:30
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    I've had a couple of cheap head lamps of 100 lumen per more with narrow beams from dx.com. They do take a while to come though. I use them in addition to a bright front light in an unlit park by a lake, with bends. NiMH batteries are a good idea for them if you have a charger. EBay will probably have something similar.
    – Chris H
    Commented Nov 5, 2014 at 10:43

Would making more noise (without being obnoxiously loud) be an answer? Constantly twiddling a bike bell would be distracting, but a few jingle bells you could hang on your bike or gear might help alert the critters that you're coming.

  • That's a good plan, actually, might be worth attaching something akin to a cow bell. There's not that many cyclists and the people living in the boats tend be inside, so probably won't annoy anyone (too much).
    – Nobilis
    Commented Nov 4, 2014 at 19:27

Gotta say I agree with Chris Pink (who'd a thunk it, if it's the same Chris Pink from a certain boaty forum)

I've never hit an animal on the towpath. Sounds to me like you are not riding to the conditions. I know when I ride at night, where there is no lighting you need to slow down a lot, even if you have decent lights. Yelling out before going around a blind corner... Are you going slow enough to stop?

As for being too strapped for cash to get a decent light, that's just daft. If you ride unlit towpaths regularly then get a suitable light, Super bright Cree T6 LED bike light £6.19 free P&P from Ebay, ok you still got to buy the battery & a suitable charger (big_f_d_d on Ebay is the guy to get your batteries from aka Torchy Boy <--google it I cant post any more links)

  • +1 for the links. If you agree with a post then upvote it.
    – andy256
    Commented Nov 6, 2014 at 11:41
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    I've never hit an animal on the towpath either, not sure why you and the other gentleman have so quickly jumped to this conclusion. I'm posting here because I'd like to keep it that way. On the budget point, I've already spent 30 pounds on lights and had to buy new tires due to repeated punctures, change brake pads because of the wet weather and fit a new mudguard. Also, not sure why you'd agree with someone who claims they don't need lights for what is essentially riding in pitch-black darkness.
    – Nobilis
    Commented Nov 6, 2014 at 11:53

In the heat of the summer I like to take night rides on some lite paths to get out of the sun. For night rides I ride my mountain bike as it is slower and more agile. And if I hit an animal (or other obstacle) I would have a better chance of staying on two wheels.

And as linc answered (+1) light it up.

And hit the bell or yell rider before a blind corner. Not sure if animals will move but a cyclist knows what that means.

  • I do signal intermittently as I ride and definitely before a turn, I seldom hear a reply but at least the other side is aware of me. Would hope that aids animals to a degree too.
    – Nobilis
    Commented Nov 4, 2014 at 16:09

If you can get to a children's toy store, you'll like find a few bells. Tie a couple on your handle bars. Try tie a few around the spokes of your front and rear wheels. I believe it would be make difference.....


Im still confused as to where all these animals are coming from. I've ridden on the canal towpath - at night - I've never had anything run out in front of me. I've also seen cyclists coming down the towpath while my dog is out, no collision either.

I dont wish to sound funny, but have you tried looking further than your own feet? Are you sure your not just seeing shadows?

  • There are quite a few ducks, rarely I come across a heron and what I suspect are coots. There's also the occasional squirrel and I think either shrews or mice, not sure.
    – Nobilis
    Commented Nov 26, 2014 at 21:37

Easy - stop treating my home as a racetrack and you won't hit anything. In 30 years of cycling the towpath I've never hit anything and I don't very often use lights.

  • 2
    The towpath belongs to everyone. Nowhere did I say that I was speeding or being inconsiderate to other towpath users. Regardless of how slow I go and how much I jingle my bell, I still find animals crossing in the last possible moment when only a quick reaction has averted disaster. It's also incredibly irresponsible to be cycling on the towpath without any lights.
    – Nobilis
    Commented Nov 5, 2014 at 14:36
  • No, it's not pitch dark (well only on the few days around new moon) it's really quite light in many places you just can't see properly because that's the nature of LED lights. Whenever there's a moon there's plenty of light to see by. Perhaps you should eat more carrots (and try turning your light down)
    – Chris Pink
    Commented Nov 6, 2014 at 14:41

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