Sunday, November 7, 2010

In celebration of Daylight Savings Time

In celebration of daylight savings, I have done absolutely nothing to increase the visibility of my bike.

Because I already count on being visible 365 days a year.  My bike is my primary transportation, and I can't be bothered with transportation that I can only use during the day.  November,  January, July,  I ride in the dark and need to be seen.

I personally don't go in much for reflective clothing.  I am a firm believer in reflective tire sidewalls however.  Nothing transmits "bicycle" faster to the brainstem than two circles of light.  I do have a retroreflective sash that I wear if it's raining, I'm wearing head to toe black, or it's Friday or Saturday night and I want just a little extra edge.  I bought it at a running store, and like it because it's easy to stuff in my bag for an instant transformation into an ordinary person.  It's also easy to shed if I'm trying to de-layer at a stop sign.

For maximum effectiveness, your lights need to actually be, you know, visible. Lights clipped to the top of your backpack so that they're pointing at the moon when you're bent over the handlebars, or on your seatpost hidden by the tail of your coat or the stuff  on your rack aren't actually doing anyone any good, except possibly battery manufacturers.   It's not a bad idea to have someone else either ride your bike while you follow them, or have them follow you when you're riding every so often to make sure everything is as visible as you think it is.

I like a combo of fixed and flashing lights.  Flashing lights are eye catching, but can be harder to track when someone is trying to figure out how fast you're going (like before they pull out in front of you).  A lot of people have rear blinkies because they're worried about being seen by cars from behind, but neglect front lights.  Front lights not only help you see obstacles in front of you but they keep cars from turning in front of you, and help pedestrians and other bikers know you're approaching.

 If you're a regular reader of this blog, you too probably have a lighting strategy in place, whether it gets dark at 4pm or 9pm.  What's your favorite light, and why?


  1. Depends on the bike...

    My most used Raleigh Twenty has Busch & Muller Cyo Senso N Plus for the headlight and a fender mounted B&M 4D Lite plus. I have a PB Superflash on the seat post, as well as Schwalbe Marathon reflective sidewall tires. I keep a ANSI Class 3 vest in my bag for the night time/low visibility rides.

    Most of my bikes are set up for day and night riding. All but two have generator hubs of one sort or another. Of the other two one has a bottom bracket mount the other a sidewall generator.

    I use my bikes as a second car and expect them to be usable at any time of night or day in any weather.

  2. Forgot to mention...I much prefer the B&M lights, especially the LED versions. Great lights with great light patterns for a reasonable price.


  3. Note that as far as lights go, only a front one is required by law, and by far the most important. When someone, whether car or cyclist, is turning into traffic their lights aren't pointed at you and will not see you coming no matter how much retroflection or rear blinks you have. From behind their lights are on you and a good reflector works, but rear lights are an important _addition_ if they are bright enough.

    I prefer a dyno powered front and rear light. I find them more reliable and often brighter.

    Flashing lights are very distracting; it's difficult to see the whole road when I'm following someone with bright flashers. Flashers are best only in inclement weather.

  4. I don't like any of my Cateye headlights. All three have design flaws. Cateye taillights are better.

  5. Hey, nice new blog design.

    Though I have good lighting 12 months/year, I worry about it more from October to April, simply because during those months a greater percentage of my time cycling is spent in the dark. I prefer dynamo powered front and rear lights, with a battery operated tail light back-up. I am "against" flashing lights.

  6. I don't like any of my battery powered lights. Mostly because I hate how they are constantly getting dimmer until you replace the batteries. But dynamo lighting is to expensive for me right now.

    As for flashing, what I think is most important is the "average" brightness of the light. Even if a light flashes brightly, it isn't very useful if the flashes are widely spaced. For this reason, I think the PB Superflash is massively overrated. A driver quickly scanning his surroundings can easily miss its intermittent flashes.

  7. Herzog,
    Have you looked at the pre-built wheels from Velo Orange?
    They have 700c and 650B pre-built dynohub wheels from $130. that's about two months of T pass. Or there's always a bottle generator- $60 for a good B&M one. Velouria, did you ever install my old one on your Gazelle, or are you still using the one that came with it?

  8. cycler - It's not for my Gazelle (is in fact incompatible with the Gazelle, because it is right sided and Gazelle has a left-sided mount) but for the Bella Ciao. Am still waiting to buy the lights that would go with it, which I hoped I'd get sooner. I am planning to install it on the left rear chainstay (which requires the same orientation as on the right of the fork) using a special bracket.

    Herzog - Whether the wheel cycler mentioned, or a bottle, they are worth saving up for. I find it unbearable to rely on battery lights after having gotten accustomed to even the crappiest bottle dynamo. But it is sucky that the bottles cost $60+ in the US; in Europe you can get good ones for 25eur.

  9. Added comment on the PB Super Flash it is bright and has very distinctive pattern that makes it stand out amongst the background clutter. It is also very affordable when caught on sale.

    Flashers may not be for every situation, but where I ride they get me noticed, and being a single, solitary cyclist on a road full of cars that is probably a good thing.

    @Brian-Some states require a tail light. NC will accept a reflector or a tail light as long as it can be seen from 200 feet away. Not nearly a long enough distance IMHO.


  10. steve: i have the opposite experience as you regarding cateye lights. i like their headlights, but i've had bad experiences with their taillights falling off.

    i would love to have hub dynamo lighting on most of my bikes, but it would be prohibitively expensive to do this on a bunch of bikes... and i can't stand bottle generators! the non-constant pitch of the buzzing drives me insane! strangely, i find ticking freewheel pawls calming and pleasant, but the bottle buzz is just plain irritating. hence, battery lights on all my bikes. i agree that they are a pain, and fussing with replacing batteries is no fun. moving forward, most of my future bike builds will probably have hub dynamo lighting.

    velouria: can you explain how mounting a bottle generator on the left seat stay causes the orientation to be out of phase relative to mounting on the left fork blade?

  11. Last year I went with one of those cheap Magicshine lights, and it lasted exactly one winter. It was bright but poorly made. Recently I picked up a second-hand Planet Bike HID light, which is much nicer. At 10W or so, it's serious overkill on lighted streets, but cars turning across your lane _will_ see you coming. And in darker areas it really lights up the road. Personally I have no use for a blinking headlight; I want one to see by. I'm not convinced the blinking light really makes that much of a difference; it is much less important than just having a light of some kind. My experience as a driver is that it is easier to see the bikes with lights than those without, no matter what kind of light they have, and the brighter the better.

  12. cycler - Pshhh... I can't afford riding the T either. :)

    Velouria - I think the bottle dynamos are a total ripoff here. You can get a hub dynamo for $35 or the Sturmery Archer generator + brake hub for $65. You need to rebuild the wheel, but you can do it on the cheap. If you can reuse the rim and do it yourself with cheap spokes, then you keep costs as low as $10.

    2whls3spds - I stand by my skepticism. The PB Super Flash has low average intensity, and I think its intermittent flashes can still be missed by a scanning eye. Besides, most of these PBSFs I see aren't have low batteries and aren't all that bright.

  13. Moopheus - The problem with "be seen" lights, IMHO, is that cars can't see them from around corners. All of the "near misses" I've had in the last year involved cars careening around turns at night.

  14. @Somervillain-
    The generator we're speaking of is designed to pivot "'left" into the wheel to engage when it's facing "front"
    If you turn it around to mount it "backwards" to use on a rear wheel (they're usually mounted upside down off the stay), it would need to be on the left rear side so that when it pivots "left" it's pivoting into the wheel. Does that make sense?

    Moopheus- I'm with you on blinking headlights, although I very occasionally have used them as a supplement in lousy conditions for an extra punch of visibility.
    I would think that there are a lot of very fancy and bright HID lights in people's basements or old parts boxes and available cheap as people move to LED. Herzog, maybe this is the solution for you? One does have to re-charge the batteries, which is a bit of a hassle, but if you're willing to deal with the weight of the battery packs, it's probably a good inexpensive way to get a REALLY bright light. Not having been into that scene though, I don't know what people who use HID headlights do for tail lights.

  15. cycler-- i was assuming that velouria was going to mount it in the traditional french way, with the bottle oriented the same as on a front fork. i've never actually seen one mounted upside down!

    see this traditional alex singer:

    or any of jp weigle's french inspired bikes:

  16. I don't have a favorite light, the ones I use are fine and haven't broken yet. I have a planet bike blinky seven for the back, and on the front I have two: a planet bike beamer 5(that I keep on blink) and a princeton tec eos that is on steady. The two front lights provide enough light for me to see, especially when I go past the golf course. I've picked them up at different times, mostly getting the cheapest ones available. But they serve me just fine, and I'll keep using them until one breaks.

  17. I love my headlight. I can't remember the brand but it's a rechargable battery that I just plug in when needed ( I've had it for 6 months and plugged in 2x but I don't ride at night that much- usually 2 miles round trip) It's super bright and lights up all the sign posts up the block and my neighbor thought I was a car when I turned into our street and he was crossing the street with his dog. It was $150 which I thought was a good price compared to dynamo deals but my husband laughed out loud when I told him how much it cost this past friday. However at the end of our bike date me leading the way with light I think he kinda saw that it was no crappy light.

    The best part about it is that the bracket to put onto one's handlebars are $5 for extras so I really only need that one light for all of my bikes. The bad part was I dropped it and the plastic got cracked on my first ride :-/. My neighbor bought a super bright light from China for $80 so that's a good deal. But I love my light. It's european I know b/c I have a plug converter that came with it....

  18. I, too, really like the Planet Bike Blinky 7 - great visibility from a the sides and back.
    I seem to upgrade my lighting a bit every year - front and rear blinkies the first year, sidewall dynamo, halogen B&M Ovaltec front, LED B&M Securelight rear the year after, Dynohub and LED B&M IQ Fly two years ago. Last year I bought a Dinotte 200 battery operated headlight to use as a backup in case of dynohub failure* or as a second light during rain and snow.
    This year, after moving to Roslindale, and a 35/40 minute commute (10 minutes before)to the Leather District, I have become more safety conscious, even wearing a helmet on my ride. So this year I added a second front dyno light and a second blinky/reflector at the rear.
    And, yes, my tires have had reflective sidewalls for the past two years.
    *The only problems I have had with the dynamo hub is a connector slipping off a terminal, usually just after it is first installed, and the rear wiring shorting after two winters.

  19. My favorite lights are the generator lights on my Oma, because I never have to worry about them - they're always there and always working. Luckily, in the city I only have to worry about being seen, not about seeing with my light. For that reason, I use only a blinkie on my Rivendell. But that's a good point about a solid light making it easier for cars to track your speed. Maybe I should get a second headlight. I'm also a huge fan of reflective sidewalls.

  20. Hmmm, I haven't done anything to change my bike either. I did choose to use the time change as an opportunity to write about my visibility, because I believe there are plenty of people who don't think about it 365 days a year.

    If I get my act in gear I will finally get my generator headlight mounted, that will be an upgrade for the darkness. I've been pushing that generator hub since July, it would be nice to finally have the light on it.