Lights. Where would we be without them? We all depend on them to fill our homes with light at night, to illuminate the roadways when driving a car, and to illuminate parking lots. They are very useful.
Even on a bicycle, lights are great for keeping us safe. It helps us see those potholes that are in our path, even debris out on the roadway. If you are a mountain biker, it can make for an interesting ride using lights at night.
The other day it was rather foggy on my drive home. I was working a night shift, so it was early morning when I was leaving, except the visibility was not as good as in the image to the right. Being a cyclist myself, I am always on the lookout for fellow cyclists. This fog was thick. I do not even think I had 1/8 of a mile’s worth of visibility. Since I was driving in the right hand lane, I pay attention to make sure nobody turns out in front of me, and that no cyclists are in front of me. As I was coming up to a busy intersection, I had to get on the brakes hard to avoid a cyclist. I was going under the speed limit, I was watching for cyclists, yet I still did not see him. Why? Why did I not see him even though I was actively searching for him? Simple, visibility. I do not mean the lack of visibility due to the fog either, though that did play a part in it.
No, he was totally not considering the environment he was in. Many riders assume that people are looking out for them. Actually, most are not. You are hindering their ability to get to a destination in their car in a timely manner, you are an annoying fly that they want to swat away. If a person has to hit their brakes, they get severely annoyed. Why this is, I have no idea. I always smile a little when I see a cyclist. I wish I could ride my bike to work, no can do with my hours.
You see, this guy had one of those super fancy road bikes. I slowed down so much I actually made out the SCOTT decal on the side of the downtube. A carbon fiber model. He had a nice under-seat bag, clip-less road pedals, team kit, and a high priced Giro helmet. Now, what I also noticed was his lighting and reflective components on his bike. ZERO reflective components. No ankle strap to help notify drivers, no reflective anything. He had a rear light, sure, but it was a poor light. If you can afford a $2,000+ bike, you can afford a decent light setup.
This light was horrible. A cheap, single LED flasher that had horrible light output. It was so bad that I was not even aware he had a flasher on the bike until I was about 15-feet from him. This is unacceptable. If you desire to be safe, light that sucker up! I run at least one light on the back of my bike, two typically if it is at night. I am also considering running a rear light on my helmet. Heck, on my cargo bike I have two Cateye lights on the rear. One is on the seat post and the other is on the rear rack.
My preferred light is the PlanetBike Superflash Turbo. This little booger costs around $35. Sure, not all that cheap, but not the most expensive model on the market. I have seen headlamps go for well over $100. Compared to that, $35 seems like a steal. Still, it is leaps and bounds better than those cheap $7 budget lights that you can hardly see even at night. No, this Superflash Turbo can be seen a long ways away. Now imagine two of those suckers blinking at you at night. There is no way a person could say they did not see you.
Here is a video of it in action:
Another taillight I have used, and still use, is the Cateye Rapid 5 Taillight. This little thing puts out decent power for such a slim design. It is not as expensive at the Superflash Turbo, but is a nice alternative.
I also use small lights like the Clean Motion Beam Bug Light on my helmet or bars (usually used with another lamp). If I need a little extra view of the pavement, I strap on an actual beam light to my helmet (like my Blackburn Voyager 3.3 lamp), so I can directly illuminate whatever I point my head at. Another light at my disposal is my Cateye lamp that is bar mounted. It normally stays on my cargo bike, since that is my usual rider. I only swap it over if I know I will be riding at night. Just remember, if you have the light, use it!
Headlamps depend on the person. If you are in an extremely well lit location (like where I live), you may just need a flasher to help be seen and keep people form turning in front of you or hitting you from the front. If it is darker, well just do some research and find a worthy headlamp. A nice and compact flasher is the Blackburn Voyager (sometimes simply called the click). You click the lens itself. It has three modes: on, flashing, and off. It does not get much easier than that! Plus it takes the small button/coin cell batteries (like an CR2032).
Just remember, you do not have many defenses while out on a bicycle. So please be conscious of your safety. I know we do not want to look horrible while out riding our bike. We want to cut through the wind easily on a windy day. Having clothing flapping all around creates drag and makes the ride harder. However, are we not out on training rides to train and push ourselves? So what if we have a little extra weight and a little more drag? That means we are having a better workout! Visibility is one of our only defenses as a rider. We need to be seen. If we go up against a 3,000 pound car, we will lose. So do what you can to minimize the risk. Use lights, use reflective material, and be alert.
Maybe I can post up a review of some of I lamps I have experienced or messed with at the bike shop. That is a thought.
Ride on and ride safe my friends.