Bike Commuting 101: Lights

California vehicle code mandates that any bike operated in darkness is required to have a front headlight that emits a white beam visible from 300 feet and a red rear reflector that’s visible from 500 feet when illuminated by motor vehicle high beams. The law also mandates reflectors on both pedals or the rider’s ankles, and side reflectors or tires with reflective sidewalls. The headlight can be attached to either the bicycle or the rider. Check the vehicle code for the jurisdiction in which you ride to be sure you’re meeting at least the minimum requirements.

A normal part of year-round commuting is riding in the dark. Beginners tend to be nervous about night riding, but with a little preparation, many people quickly grow to enjoy the experience. Roads tend to be less trafficked after dark, off street paths are often deserted, and, assuming you have a good lighting system, motorists give you a much wider berth than they do during daylight hours.

We’re currently in the golden age of bicycle lights, due mostly to the incredible efficiency of LED emitters (aka bulbs). In recent years, bike lights have become brighter, lighter, and cheaper, while offering longer run-times and a wider variety of mounting options. There’s a wide selection of bike lights on the market and new models are coming out all the time, so instead of getting into specific models (which would date this article), I’m going to touch on a couple of basic approaches and point you to your local bike shop to discuss current offerings.

Simple, Effective, and Inexpensive
The simplest and least expensive lighting set-up is a white LED headlight on the front, and a red blinking LED on the back. Small, but surprisingly powerful, AA- and AAA-powered lights are available for under $50 each. Mount the headlight on your handlebar, and either mount the red blinkie on your seat post or rack, or clip it on your back, and you’re good to go. I highly recommend rechargeable batteries and a battery charger as part of the system.

Dedicated and Convenient
For those who ride in the dark regularly, a dynamo lighting system provides battery-free lighting that’s always available at the flip of a switch. Power is provided by either a bottle or hub dynamo. Bottle dynamos mount on the bicycle frame and have a small roller that rotates against the tire to generate current. Hub dynamos (aka generator hubs) have the generator built right into the hub. In recent years, hub dynamos have far surpassed bottle dynamos in efficiency and popularity. Dynamo lighting systems are more expensive than small battery-powered systems, and unless they come pre-installed from the factory on a commuting bike, they also require a more involved installation process. If you’re interested in a dynamo system, contact your local bike shop or one of the dealers on the internet who specialize in dynamo systems.

The Sky’s the Limit
I’ve just barely scratched the surface on bike lighting possibilities. From fully-integrated systems wired right into the bike frame, to high-powered flood lights designed for 24-hour mountain bike racing, there’s practically no limit to how deeply you can get into lighting. The good news is that a basic set-up to get you back-and-forth to work safely can be picked up at any well-stocked bike shop and installed in just a few minutes.

42 Responses to “Bike Commuting 101: Lights”

  • B Amer says:

    I saw a really cool headlight recently in a local bike store that’s rechargable with a computer USB port. It’s really small because there are no AA batteries to make room for, but seemed really bright to me. Must have a Lithium Ion battery.

    Definitely considering buying it!

  • Rick says:

    @ B Amer:

    I own one of those lights (NiteRider MiNewt Mini-USB), and I’d recommend it–it’s a good light for a fair price (about a hundred bucks), and even when I had my generator setup, it was handy to have for a backup. And yes, always carry a backup with your generator system!

    If anyone needs to discover more about the wide and wonderful world of bicycle lighting, I’d suggest a visit to Peter White (http://www.peterwhitecycles.com); he can be a bit on the curmudgeonly side, but what Peter doesn’t know about bike lights, probably isn’t worth knowing.

  • t. jay fowler says:

    I’m looking for a classically styled headlamp and tail light — I have the plastic super bright lights, but would love something that looks a little more in line with a streamlined bike. Think the old friction headlamps, but with LEDs. Anyone seen anything like this?

  • Fergie says:

    I bet we look back on today’s lighting options in 30 years and consider this the bronze age, not the golden age. We haven’t even scratched the surface of things that nature already has mastered, such as bioluminescence. At some point, we’ll have surface treatments that can be activated so light will emit from your clothes or bicycle frame at the flip of a switch (or automatically when it starts getting dark).

    In the meantime, I’ve got a serious dynamo hub fixation right now but I’ll probably have to hold off for another year. For anyone interested in exploring their dynamo lighting options, Peter White Cycles has a pretty well informed reference: http://www.peterwhitecycles.com/lightingsystems.htm

  • AndyN says:

    @ BA mer – Sounds like you’re describing the Blackburn Flea. I have one and love it. It’s quite bright, and the flash mode is almost obnoxiously attention-catching. I also like that it doesn’t really look like a steal-able item when parked in public. My wife and I have tested this – we were both locked to a staple rack, and somebody stole her (not-flea) light and left mine untouched. She now has a Flea, too.

    One charge lasts me a about a week (I have a short commute, ~20 minutes) and it’s easy to charge on my PC while I work. The sole shortcoming is that when the battery is low, the light shuts off without warning, so every now and then, I look down and discover the light is out. It would be nice if it switched from steady to a distinct ‘charge me’ blink.

  • AndyN says:

    I want to point out something subtle about Alan’s beautiful photograph: The lights are arranged in a triangle. Evidently there is research indicating humans see triangles more readily than other shapes (I can’t find a cite). That’s why we have “slow vehicle” triangles, traffic cones, etc. So there’s another reason to have a nice rack or basket – more mounting options to create a triangle of lights. It can’t hurt, and it just might help.

  • Ted says:

    Thanks for mentioning rechargeable batteries and a recharger. I’ve many different light systems..from Sigma EVO to lots of clip-ons and now a dynamo system….but I think the best for all economies are lights that use rechargeable AA or AAA batteries. Try Cateye’s strap-on 3LED versions for less than $30. They give a bright white light or flashing, and also come with a detachable red lens.

    My Sigma EVO system gives very bright light that you can really navigate by and you will be noticed by traffic….but is not something you can leave on your bike while in the store…it’ll walk away for sure.

    I’ve determined a dynamo system is best for my commuter and grocery bike: always on the bike, theft resistant, no batteries to keep “freshly charged”. I like the Spanninga brand systems for my vintage Peugeot with fenders. The modern LED lights have capacitors, so the light stays on for several minutes even when you’ve come to a stop. VeloOrange sells ‘em.

  • Wayne says:

    @t.j fowler:

    The B&M Lomotec Retro is halogen rather than LED, but it’s classically styled:
    http://www.bumm.de/index-e.html?docu/1706e.htm
    Rumours are that a battery version of this will be available next year.

  • Dolan Halbrook says:

    My dynohub setup (Son, B&F Fly & B&M rear) is the one bike purchased that I’ve never second guessed. Rain or shine, it just works, and has never failed me. When it’s dark it turns itself on and when it’s light it turns itself off. It’s brighter than all but the brightest of battery lights, and I never have to worry about ‘run time’.

    I can’t say enough good things about dynohub systems. It’s a shame they’re not offered as an option on more bikes, especially commuter bikes, but in the U.S. we’re bent towards short term thinking so we tend to add the lights, fenders, racks, etc after the fact. Still a little blown away that the Civia Bryant (for it’s $1600 asking price) doesn’t include the front dynohub.

    In any case, if you commute seriously you owe it to yourself to do some research and check them out. Peter White is indeed a good resource on the subject. In the last few years the prices have come down and the choices and efficiency have gone up. At the end of the day, it’s probably the best bike investment I have ever made.

  • Ken says:

    Quick question on the dynamo hubs. How many lights can they power? I think in the “old” days if you hooked up both a rear and front light, they would shine half as bright as hooking up just one light. Does that hold true for the LEDs?

  • Pete says:

    While $100 plus set ups are great, it’s important to emphasize that you can get by for a lot less if you just starting out. A decent rear blinky can be had for $15, and a Two Fish light block will turn that Mini Mag Lite you probably already have lying around into a servicable headlight for under ten bucks.
    Of course this isn’t an optimum set up, but since the post is “Bike Commuting 101″ it would be great to emphasize how easily and inexpensively you can get started.

  • JRF says:

    When picking a front light, understand the two distinct roles of the light: to see and to be seen.

    If your commute is largely urban with streetlights, the “to see” is much less important, and meeting the “to be seen” requirements is much lower bar, with a zillion inexpensive battery lights on the market. Get two: one for strobe and one for steady beam. Use rechargeable batteries and stagger when you charge them, so you always have at least one light with a good charge.

    If you ride in real darkness, the front lighting demands are much higher if you want to ride safely at the same speed you would ride in daytime. If you don’t mind riding slow, you can be safe with less lighting, and regardless, you can start with an inexpensive battery light for your first dabbling in night commuting, and upgrade once you feel committed to continuing night commuting.

    I’ll re-iterate Peter White cycles as a must-read for lighting information if your lighting needs are in the “to see with” category, but probably not necessary if you just need to be seen.

    And for curmudgeon rant: If you ride on a shared use trail, PLEASE consider what your light looks like from the business end. Essentially all battery lights sold in the USA have round beams…think the HIGH beam on your car. Just as much light is directed in the eyes of oncoming cyclists and pedestrians as goes to the road. Coupled with a big battery and bright LED, this can be a serious safety hazard. I’ve nearly gone off the trail and nearly hit pedestrians due to being dazzled to the point I couldn’t see ahead of me.

    Best for multi-use trail is a light with a sharp vertical cutoff, like an automotive low beam. This focuses all the light on the road, not into the eyes of oncoming traffic. Unfortunately, these lights with excellent optics are almost non-existent as battery powered units, so that leads you into dynamo land.

    If you do have a bright round-beam light and ride on a multi-use trail, please be considerate of others. Don’t aim it too high (well, this applies to ALL lights). If you have it loosely mounted, you can tip it down when you meet another trail user. If you have an additional lower powered light, you can flip off the bright one when you meet other trail users. Or have your retina searing light helmet mounted so you can point it away. Also, please don’t use your “strobe” mode on a multi-use trail. Other trail users can see you fine with steady beam, and it is much harder to judge speed and distance of a moving strobe. (And on the road with cars, best to have a strobe accompanied by a steady beam for that reason.)

    (end rant)

    Personally I switched from battery lights to a dynamo light last fall and my only regret is not doing it sooner and wasting all that money on bad battery lights. When you start pricing the better battery powered “to see” lights, you quickly end up in the same price bracket as dynamo setup, you still don’t get optics appropriate for shared use trails, and you still have to constantly tend batteries which probably weigh at least as much as a dynamo hub if not more. And with the battery headache, you can use your lights all the time, night and day, for that little extra “to be seen” factor when doing battle with traffic.

  • Ben W says:

    Nobody has mentioned HID based systems. These lights are expensive, and the run times aren’t anything fantastic, but they will *absolutely* get you respect in traffic. They cut through rain and fog and mist and snow. If someone looks your way, they WILL see you. Nothing compares, even the best high-powered LED system. It’s confidence inspiring.

    Unfortunately you can’t use them on bike trails. The light is just too intense to subject oncoming cyclists to. Fortunately there’s fewer privileged intoxicated SUV drivers on the trails that need to be reminded to share.

  • Nick W. says:

    Has anyone tried the system put out by Reel Light? It consists of two magnets that attach to the spokes, and a receiver unit attached near the axel. The magnets generate a current in the receiver that powers a light.

    On my retro Raleigh, I have a vintage light that I fitted the guts of a modern dynamo light into. This is fork-mounted. My road/touring bike has a flashlight style light from XLC. Cost was only $15, and you can remove the light for use as a flashlight – but unlike a Maglight, this comes with a full beam, and two flashing modes.

    BTW: you can also now buy LED bulbs for older lights that take “flashlight” style ones. Was about $12 at a local hardware store.

  • JulieM says:

    I finally splurged and had a commuter bike build up with a front dynamo hub 2 years ago. What a difference! I had the light mounted on the right fork to light the road as even in city riding, potholes and debris can find dark patches to hide. In addition, I keep an “idiot” blinky on the front left of the handlebar – this has been good at getting cars travelling on my left not to pass then immediately cut me off, as at handlebar height the blinky light will reflect in their mirror. (A frog light works great for this). On the back fender I had a nice light and higher up (on a bag or my backpack) a Plant Bike super blinky. This generally covers “see and be seen”.
    Anyway, that bike was in an accident and needs a new frame :( so I am using a different style bike for commuting and next on the list is adding a dynamo hub wheel. As this bike is no racer (1997 hardtail mountain bike converted for city riding) I’m going with a Sanyo hub from Longleaf Bicycles. I’d recommend checking them out. I think you can get a built-to-order wheel, front and rear lights for under $200.

  • voyage says:

    Regarding taillights, in some jurisdictions they are noncompliant because they don’t satisfy antiquated statutes (ca 1975 or so) that require a red rear reflector, no matter how much of a huge improvement they are over reflectors. Two examples: one cyclist got a “warning ticket” (whatever that is) for not having a red rear reflector even though he had a state-of-the-art red taillight. Another cyclist actually got a ticket ticket and fought it, but the judge ruled that the law is the law and “you broke the law.” Apparently law enforcement and justice is random, antiquated, moody and capricious.

    Red reflectors are very difficult to find in LBS World–LBS World understandably stocks and wants to sell the superior taillights. One might ask where to buy a red reflector that does not also involve buying a Wal-Get $199.99 bike and moving it to your good bike. Can Rivendell or whatever beat that $199.00 price by selling just a $1.99 reflector?

    Pretty much the same story on headlights: a friend had an awesome helmet-mounted headlight. It more than got the job done except for one little thing: it was mounted on his helmet, not on the bike itself, which eventually yielded a $125.00 ticket and a MVR ding.

  • Pete at Electric Bike Report says:

    Great article and comments everyone!

    I have recently been using an LED headlamp that I carry with me in my messenger bag and use on my helmet. I commute on a few different bikes and it is nice to have the headlamp with me almost everywhere I go. Some of the headlamps out there are surprisingly bright and they are very reasonable priced ($50-$60). This is the one I am using: http://www.petzl.com/us/outdoor/headlamps/tactikka-series/tactikka-xp

    The thing I like about the headlamp is that you can see around corners well and alert cars to your presence by “looking” at them.

    The main draw back to this light setup is that you have to be able to mount it well on your helmet. This works pretty well on my helmet, but all helmets are different.

    It is probably not the perfect solution, but for the low price and ease of carrying around it works well for me.

  • John says:

    Dynohubs with high-output LEDs are a godsend in Portland’s dark, wet winters. I leave my light on all the time as the extra “see me” factor during the day helps prevent right hooks and other “I didn’t see him” situations from motorists.

    When I first went from a xenon powered bulb to a high-intensity LED, I kept checking over my shoulder for the non-existent car that was behind me. LEDs have come a long way.

  • Bill O. says:

    1. Carrying a backup on a commuter is a good idea. A twofish block lets you use a good flashlight for that backup, and the flashlight is good to have for other reasons anyway.

    2. I’m not sure that a “to be seen” light need not be as bright as a “to see” light. A “to be seen” light must be brighter in the city and in areas with heavy traffic than on a darker quieter road. On city streets our bike headlights are competing for attention with car, motorcycle and scooter headlights.

    3. I really like the lights with a sharp cutoff. Not only are they safer for oncoming traffic, but the light on the road seems to be brighter. As of now, though, I don’t know of any such lights that are widely available; only European lights seem to be available with this feature. Anyone know of any?

    4. The Reel Light is nice. A bit finicky, and you would not want to depend on it as a primary lighting system, but it’s always there and always working.

    5. There’s an advantage to dynamo setups that I have not seen mentioned yet … cold weather can really take a toll on many batteries. If you leave them out in the cold you may have much less run time than when temperatures are warmer. Hub dyanmos don’t have any problem with cold weather. Bottle dynamos, though they work well in the cold, are not so good in the rain, snow and ice – even with a “brush” roller.

    6. Once again. Peter White.

  • Fergie says:

    @ken, if you read around on the cycling blogs and on the Peter White cycles website you quickly discover that if LED lights are used in the proper configuration a modern dynamo can power a system of two headlights and a taillight. That ought to be enough light for any conceivable transportation need..

  • Ben says:

    Someone else mentioned ReeLight, but neglected to provide details.

    Reelight uses magnets mounted on the spokes to deliver current to the lights. They used to only be able to be mounted at the hub, but I just went to the site and was delighted to see that they can be mounted elsewhere on the bike now (seat post, rear rack, front basket, fork crown…). Edit: will be available soon.

    This is a much cheaper option than a dynohub that is still battery-free and can always be on. Great way to go for newbie (or veteran) commuters.

    Reelight website: http://www.reelight.com/

  • JRF says:

    RE: legal requirements…

    Here in Washington, a helmet mounted light doesn’t count, so even if a helmet light is your main light, make sure you have one mounted to the bike too.

    Some tail lights double as reflectors. Just look carefully at the lens. The reflector requirement makes good sense as a reflector will always work, unlike a light. Some headlights have reflectors built in too, though the only ones that come to mind are dynamo powered lights…like the one on my bike.

    RE: to-be-seen needs to be bright

    I admit I have no data to back this up, but it seems to me that a strobe can make up a fair bit for brightness for getting noticed. But like I mentioned, having ONLY a strobe is problematic because it is very hard to judge the speed, distance and distance of a strobe if it is dark enough that you can’t clearly see the moving object otherwise.

  • Lee Trampleasure says:

    Great article and replies.

    I recently “upgraded” to a SON dynamo hub system. For lights, I purchased Busch & Müller Lumotec/front and B&M Toplight Line Plus/rear. The B&M lights are German, and must comply with stiff German bicycle light regulations, which means each has a reflector built into it.

    On the issue of “always carry a back up,” I usually have a blinky or two in my bag, but more because they live there than I need them. IMHO, car drivers don’t carry “back up” lights, and I don’t think I need to on my bike, either. The life of an LED bulb is so long that it will probably not burn out in my lifetime (theft or accident is probably a more likely cause of failure), and if my light ever did fail, I can still ride my bike, albeit much slower, to get home, to the bus, etc. If you’re riding long distances in pitch black, a backup is probably nice, but then the backup needs to be more than a blinky.

    One down side of dynamo lights is that, since you can’t quickly take them off your bike, if you lock your bike in an area it is likely to get vandalized, the lights may get stolen/damaged.

    But these days I my bike feels much more like a car when it comes to lights. I get on my bike and don’t need to worry about how late I’ll be out riding, if the bag I’m carrying has lights in it, etc. This is what I suspect many/most bicycle commuters are looking for.

  • Dolan Halbrook says:

    BTW, I just had a look at the B&M site and noticed they have new revisions of their lights with (best I could translate) “daytime running light” technology:

    http://www.bumm.de/index-e.html

    IOW, looks like they took the Fly and Cyo and added a few extra LEDs at the bottom. Interesting idea.. not sure exactly what to make of it but extra lighting never hurts.

  • Lee says:

    “clip it on your back, and you’re good to go”

    I don’t agree with this. I regularly see bike commuters with their sole rear lights clipped to their back, backpack/messenger bag, or helmet. Usually, these lights are not pointed in the intended, useful direction. Rather they move around and point off to one side or another, or up towards the sky, etc. as the rider’s body/bag/helmet moves around. I think it’s smarter to give it a stable position on the bike.

  • bongobike says:

    Alan,
    in your listing of dynamos, you forgot to mention bottom-bracket dynamos. Yes, they still make them, I have one on my Koga-Miyata. To be fair I think Union is the only one still around. But I like it better than the regular bottle dynamos. It is more efficient and less noisy, and I can operate it while riding by flicking a lever on the seat tube. Now, I haven’t tried the really efficient Busch and Muller bottle dynamos, so I don’t know if those are better than my Union BB generator, but I am really pleased with it. Of course, one problem with it is that you cannot install that cool pletscher two-legged kickstand on your bike with the dynamo taking up all the room behind the bottom bracket.

  • kanishka new england says:

    interesting thread. i’m an ixon person myself. i don’t want a dynohub as another point of failure / repair.

    minor note – Blackburn Flea. – i used this for a while. liked it. so long that it would no longer charge again. at that point, you have to throw it away as blackburn hasn’t actually considered what to do with their waste downstream.

  • Dolan Halbrook says:

    @kanishka I’ve never heard of a dynohub failing. They’re incredibly simple, and I think their chance of failure would be about the same as a normal hub.

  • Alan says:

    @Dolan

    I agree, dynohubs seem pretty much bulletproof. On the other hand, the wiring from the hub to the lights can sometimes be fragile and fussy…

  • Bee says:

    @voyage

    Have you tried obtaining a reflector from your LBS by simply asking the mechanics for one? If they sell bikes they are required to equip them with front and rear reflectors, which most customers ask them to then immediately remove. These “take-off” reflectors sit in piles in the corners of my LBS awaiting the rare person who would like to mount one on his bike.

    Does anyone here bother to comply with the side-view reflector rule? I’m thinking of the spoke-mounted sort.

  • voyage says:

    @Bee

    Missing the point and point making the point!

    Thanks and regards!

  • RocBike.com » EcoVelo on Lights says:

    [...] 101, which is shaping up to be very nice. Today Alan posted a bit about a subject dear to my heart: lights. While Alan is based in CA, the law is pretty much the same here. More importantly, the message is [...]

  • D'Arcy says:

    After reading Peter White’s page, I installed a dynamo head light and red tail light. It is much brighter than my previous clip-on lights. They actually light the road in front of me enough to define objects like pop cans or bricks. Before, I couldn’t always see obstructions on a dark path and occasionally ran over them. The lights stay on when I’m stopped.

    I ride all winter now so I need lights for both the morning and evening commute. Cars can also clearly see you with these lights.

  • Larry Guevara says:

    Venus in the evening, Jupiter in the morning.

  • Pete says:

    Re reflectors, most auto parts stores (and Rivendell) sell red reflective tape – 3M Scotchlite or similar. It actually performs better than most cheap plastic reflectors, and is pretty easy to attach somewhere on the back of your bike. It is good insurance if your rear light ever fails and you don’t realize it right away. They often sell white and yellow too.

    For battery lights, I like Planet Bike’s mounting system because I can have several mounting locations on my bike – like the seatpost (higher and more visible) or back of the rack (if stuff on the rack obscures the seatpost) or clip it to a bag. It also makes it easy to transfer between bikes…

  • Moopheus says:

    BenW–I just got a Planet Bike HID light to replace a MagicShine light. In terms of light output, I’d say they are about equal. In terms of robustness of build, there’s no comparison, the PB light is far better design and construction–the MS wiring failed after one season. But the PB light is a very expensive light–the only reason I have it is that I was able to get a lightly used one for half price. I have a PB blinky in the back.

    It is true that when you ride with a wicked bright headlight, cars _will_ notice you!

  • graciela. says:

    My bf strapped a headlamp as his front light and it was much cheaper (only $6) and a lot brighter and covers more area than my proper “bike light”. The one he has can even turn into a red rear light with the touch of a button.

    You can even use a flash light as long as its strapped to your bike and you, the rider, doesn’t have to hold it. The 99 cent store also sells blinky lights. Sure, these are the cheapo way to do things but not everyone can swing $50 for lights.

  • Joseph E says:

    I have a hub dynamo and LED headlight (and wired rack taillight) on my commuter; I think this is the best way to go if you need enough light to see by, and plan to ride daily in the fall or winter. But it’s also a good idea to have battery-powered lights for back-up, or for additional visibility when used in flashing mode.

    I like the Plant Bike SuperFlash taillight. It is a little pricey compared to similar 1/2 watt red LED taillights, but good imitations are available for as little as $15 at cheap bike shops and online. The RadBot (http://www.amazon.com/Portland-Design-Works-Radbot-Light/dp/B0030BS30K) is a 1 watt red LED taillight. It will have about 1/2 the battery life but 2 times the brightness. The Superflash seems plenty bright and attention-getting to me, but those who commute on country highways with 55 mph+ traffic may want the brightest light possible. Dinotte sells a 120 lumen (2 watt?) tailight powered by a big lithium battery, for those who want a tailight as bright as those on an SUV.

    Most headlights are not as well designed to be used “to-be-seen”. Unfortunately, the cheap Planet Bike headlights (with 1 or 3 LEDs) have a very narrow beam, good for people to see you from straight ahead, but not from much of an angle. Most LED flashlights have the same problem. More powerful, 1 watt or greater headlights are actually too bright to be pointed straight ahead into oncoming traffic, according to German regulations and the laws of human decency; you really shouldn’t get a P7 flashlight or Magicshine and aim it into the eyes of oncomings cars; that’s like driving with your high beams on. Even if you don’t care about that, a high-powered light like this uses a great deal of power; AA batteries last less than an hour, and most require lithium rechargeable.s

    After some research of AAA and AA powered headlights, I decided to spend the $30 for a Planet Bike Sport Spot headlight. It is a bit pricey for a 4-LED, moderate-powered light, but it comes with a good helmet and headlamp mounting strap, as well as a handle-bar mount. Better yet, the LEDs have a very wide, flood pattern of beam, with the center of the beam over 60 degrees wide, and large amounts of light spilled out to almost 180 degrees. This provides much more visibility to crossing traffic and pedestrians on sidewalks, compared to a headlight with a focused beam meant for seeing the road. It actually looks as bright as my 1-watt dynamo-powered headlight, from the side of the street. I also like that you can turn the light on and off without changing the mode from flashing or constant; I plan to leave in on flashing most of the time, but keep the headlamp strap in case I need to use it for roadside repairs or map-reading at night.

    On flashing mode, the 3 AAA batteries should last for almost 70 hours, about as good as the SuperFlash taillight.

    If you already have a solid headlight and taillight, and want to add flashing, battery-powered lights for extra “to be seen” power, consider the Sport Spot plus Super Flash (or a similar imitation), for long batter life plus good side visibility.

  • Moopheus says:

    “More powerful, 1 watt or greater headlights are actually too bright to be pointed straight ahead into oncoming traffic,”

    Of course, you shouldn’t be riding straight into oncoming traffic either. If you’re on a narrow MUP, that’s a different story, you should be on the lowest light setting for that.

  • Brian C says:

    I use a combination of lights. I have some cheap lights on the front forks (using Paul Engineerings clever little attachments), then a decent bright headlight on the handlebar (normally a NiteRider, but I have others that are as good from DiNotte). And a light on your helmet is a good addition (I have a nice cheap attachment for the planet bike 2W light that works adequately; I have used a dinotte light mounted on the helmet when cycling on our recumbent trike – very bright (and they have a great daylight version with an amber light) that certainly makes sure the cars are aware you are there.

    Our trails here have no lighting in winter, so a bright light is required (better than 100 lumens); if you are only cycling on well-lit roads, then lights similar to the planet bike 1 or 2 W lights are adequate. For me, having one mounted on the fork makes a good additional source of light, and ensures that you are more visible.

    For tail-lights, I strongly believe in the brightests lights I can get. I have been using the Planet Bike Super Blinkys, but have now started switching the bikes over to the Portland Designs tail-light (with integrated reflector). I have been really impressed with them. And for really bright, we have a dinotte red taillight, which is brighter than most cars.

  • EcoVelo » Blog Archive » September’s Greatest Hits says:

    [...] Bike Commuting 101: Lights [...]

  • EcoVelo » Blog Archive » Bike Commuting 101: Rain Riding says:

    [...] Visibility is dramatically diminished in the rain, so it’s a good idea to run lights even during a daylight downpour. Fortunately, most lights today are water-resistant, if not completely waterproof, so a standard nighttime commuting set-up is usually sufficient for riding in the rain (read more about lights for commuting here). [...]

 
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