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« Restored to its former glory | Main | Tiny Ripples on the Pond of Life »

Night or Day, these lights could save your life.

I first bought lights for my bike some years ago because I was setting out on my morning ride before 6:00 am and in the winter months it was still dark. My first lights were the cheap kind that run on replaceable AAA batteries. I soon grew tired of replacing batteries and they were unreliable as the batteries would vibrate loose, and the light would go out.

I soon invested in a set of the rechargeable kind. 700 lumens of light, the equivalent of a 60 watt bulb, it projected a beam of light up the road some 50 or 60 feet ahead. I could actually see where I was going. The other thing I noticed, people didn’t pull out in front of me. They would stop and wait for me to pass, even though they were some distance away, and had time to pull out.

Although the headlight is only about 3/4 inch (2 cm.) diameter, in complete darkness the light is so intense, it appears to be much bigger.

Drivers I’m sure mistake me for a moped or scooter, and assume I am traveling at a greater speed that I actually am.

The other thing I noticed, drivers gave me more room in passing.

I seldom ride in the dark any more but as I already have the lights, I use them in daylight too. Imagine yourself in this scenario. You are riding in the city, or some country road, and a car comes barreling across a parking lot or a along a driveway. You can tell by his speed he probably does not intend to stop. Most likely he hasn’t even seen you, you might be hidden behind trees or bushes. All he sees is a gap in traffic and he is going for it.

When this happens to me I go into defensive mode, and slow getting ready to stop. But at the last moment the driver sees my flashing head light and slams on the brakes. If I had no such light, I know this driver would not have stopped, even if he saw me. I would not register as a danger or threat to him.

I cannot think how many times this actual scenario has played out over the years, which is why I label these lights a “Life Saver.” I would not usually make such statements, unless I truly believed it. Other times there have been a line of cars coming towards me, and someone has pulled out to overtake. They the spot the flashing head light, reconsider and pull back in line. How mant cyclists are killed in such head-on colisions?

My under the saddle tool bag (Below right.) is actually a padded camera case I picked up for $5 at Wal-Mart. It is strapped under the saddle with a couple of nylon toe straps. I poked two holes in the zippered rear flap and threaded a black plastic zip-tie through to make a loop to hold the lamp. The rear light comes with a seat post clamp, but I figured it would be more visible in this position

Both the front and rear lights in flashing mode, can be seen a mile away. Especially if you are riding in the shadow of trees, the lights show up even more.

I can’t count the number of times drivers will actually slow as they pass, to comment about the light. “Those are the best lights I’ve seen,” is pretty typical. One time I was taking a roadside break when a car stopped. The driver said, “I could see that flashing red light a mile away, I thought it was a cop car.”

With so many distracted drivers on the road, it is good that they see a flashing light and think it is a cop, or some other emergency vehicle. At least you have their attention. With having advanced warning there is a cyclist ahead, they have time to adjust their speed to accommodate road conditions and other traffic. I generally find that most drivers will go clear over to the opposing lane to pass, and if they can’t do that they at least slow and pass with caution.

I have had good luck with the Nite Rider brand of lights. I have had them several years now. One of them stopped charging and I sent it back to the maker. They fixed it under warrantee, and sent it back. Apart from that I’ve never had a problem. They are spendy, around $80 for the head light, and $50 for the tail light. But shop around and you can find the same brand for less.

(Left.) They plug into your PC with a USB cord to rechage in a couple of hours. Or you can use a phone charger.

They are now available in over 1000 lumens. I advise you use a steady beam in the dark, as the flashing mode is distracting to both the rider and other road users.

In day light the flashing mode uses less current, and actually draws more attention that a steady light.

I am surprised when out riding, I see more cyclists without day time lights, than with them. How much is your life worth? Anything you can do to make yourself more visible is a plus. Personally, the added peace of mind these lights give me makes it money well spent. Getting drivers to stop and not pull out in front of me, or turn in front of me, because of these lights, just makes my ride safer and more pleasurable.  


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Reader Comments (19)

I have been using "Daytime Running Lights" (DRL) for some time, and I have quite a few of them. I have some very small Knog lights that I largely use on my road bikes (including my Fuso), a couple of larger Knog lights, including one that throws out 300 lumens that I use on my commuter (just in case I get caught in the dark). I also have some synchronized lights that I got from Arsenal Cycling, which is run by former racer Thomas Prehn (www.arsenalcycling.com), and a NiteRider 750 I use on my commuter when I KNOW it will be dark. The small ones are just to be visible, and between the two of them, may weigh an ounce. The larger ones I use when I may get caught at dusk, and the NR 750 I can use in pitch dark.

For sure, they've saved my life on multiple occasions. Like you, I'm surprised at how few riders use them, although more and more I'm seeing rear flashers. I want to be visible. I find it interesting that you can't buy a car without DRL's, yet people refuse to use them on their bikes when they are a lot less visible, and drivers are more distracted. I am an advocate.

June 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Tonetti

I have two bikes with front hub generators, and one of them is my commuter. For the latter, I have devised a home-made LED DRL, and it's been very useful for all the reasons you very clearly exposed. The main advantage is no need to recharge them (although they have the potentially significant disadvantage of stopping to work while stopped). I believe the best solution would be a permanent DRL attached with some hub-generator/battery-pack combo.

June 28, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterheltonbiker

There should be no NEED for this. No need att all. Completely fucks up the aesthetics of a bicycle and is blinding the fellow cyclists coming towards you. Both day and night. Should be laws aginst this crap.

June 28, 2017 | Unregistered Commenter26er

I respect your opinion, but why so hostile? Trust me, I am the last person who would want to fuck up the aesthetics of a bicycle.
Please keep your responses civil or I will just have to delete them.
Thank you,

June 28, 2017 | Registered CommenterDave Moulton

Great post Dave. Folks tend to put their lights away with the longer days of summer, but they're always useful. I have a Shutter Precision (SP) dynamo and a 35 Lux light on my town bike in DRL mode and NightRider Saber in flash mode, which I've detected has made me more noticeable by drivers. At night I supplement the front with a NightRider MiNewt. The plus of the NightRider system is that it is easily switchable from bike-to-bike and is rechargeable with USB. I'm leaving on a multi-day off-road adventure with no access to electricity, but am bringing a GoalZero Venture 30 and solar charger to keep my Garmin juiced and charge the NightRider in case I get caught in the dark. For the adventure bike I plan to add a SON dynamo with a Supernova E3 F/R http://supernova-lights.com/en/supernova-e3-pro-2 , which will obviate the need for charging lights altogether. I will eventually get an inline USB charger to run off the dynamo. Love this new tech that makes cycling safer and more convenient. Can't enjoy your bike if you're dead!

June 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterHaffassa Tempt

Lights just work. I ride a four lane route most days with some pretty big rigs rumbling by me. I just added a couple of flashing reds to the back end and for the most part the professional drivers give me lots of room and even the regular drivers do. As for aesthetics I'd sooner be riding ugly than being the dead or injured result of that famous phrase "I didn't see him your honour".

June 28, 2017 | Unregistered Commentercj gordon

I have started using a Garmin Varia rear light recently. This one has a radar unit built into it as well as a multi mode flashing light. The radar picks up traffic behind you and displays each vehicle as a dot running up the side of my Garmin GPS unit. The number of dots depends on the number of vehicles behind you.The light flashing pattern changes as the vehicles approach you making it easier to be seen.
It caught my gadget fancy mostly at first and I suspected it was more gimmick than anything, but for me it actually works quite well and it gives me a quick read on what's behind.
I am going to get a headlight as well as recently a colleague of mine smashed right into a left turning car whose driver (uninsured..) failed to signal or notice him coming towards him. His carbon frame snapped in half at the head tube. He was fortunately not injured beyond a few bumps and bruises as the frame seemed to take the brunt of the impact.
While I agree somewhat with the sentiments of "26er" as I don't like hanging all sorts of stuff on my bike either, one has to be realistic and the reality is that it is dangerous to ride in traffic, so it's aesthetics or safety. Safety wins in my book: I stopped needing an adrenaline rush years ago after I quit racing.. that's why I wear a helmet, which I never wore when I was training all those years.

June 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew M

Hi Dave, Good post. I have a Schmidt front hub generator that I purchased in 2003 when halogen lights were really the only lights you could use to see in the dark. The hub is still going strong, and I now have a Busch and Muller dynamo LED light with excellent optics. The throws light on the road and not in the eyes of oncoming traffic.

At night I use my LED light in steady mode so I won't annoy anyone behind me, but during the day, it is not bright enough to blind people behind me, so I use it in blinky mode

I want to be as visible as possible. I would rather a driver notice me and think, "Look, he left his lights on" then not see me.

June 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJay LePree

Personally, I'd rather have drivers see me than worry too much about "aesthetics". I got over aesthetics when I bought my first carbon frame, with oversized, misshapen tubes, funky/clunky stems, and saddles that looked like torture instruments. On my commuter, I have a fender, a bell, lights... I don't care much about what it looks like. I'm just trying to get to work and home without a car taking me out. On my road bike, the lights are like 1.5" square... pretty unobtrusive, really. Unless they're flashing they aren't really noticeable, which is sort of the point, now, isn't it? I suppose that some folks think disk brakes ruin the aesthetics, or saddle rolls/bags, or frame pumps, just like some folks probably thought that derailleurs and gears ruined the aesthetics. No one needs to have a light on their bike, nor wear a helmet. I do both... but, to each their own.

June 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Tonetti

Been doing front and rear flashers during daylight for sometime now. We often sit out front of our home and count the people driving looking down at their phones - fully half are looking down. We've reduced our road riding and now ride dirt roads on our Specialized Diverge or mountain bike. Now when we travel to Europe we only mountain bike and love it.

June 29, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTom M

I do the same. The hub dyno lights on my normal commuter bike don't ever get turned off (although my new light offers that function, but for a long time I used a free front light that I was given by a sales rep that was returned because the switch was broken). I also run flashing rear lights.

But please, for the sake of sanity, point your lights down when you're on boike paths so you don't blind people. I include really bright flashing rear lights here, turn them down or off unless you're genuinely scared of being run down on the bike bike path (by an angry bear, perhaps?)

If you want studies to back your theory up I have written two answers at bicycles.SE that have links and commentary. Rather than repeat them... here's the links.



June 30, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMoz

Bicycle lighting technology and design have improved beyond anything I could have imagined back in " the good old days ". Hey Dave tell 'em what things were like in the UK 1950's. I'm not yet sure whether I am mad at or feel sorry for 26er who appears to have a problem.

July 4, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAnthony C.

The best way to ride is as if you are invisible.
Don’t count on lights changing that.
In spite of decades of efforts to make cars, and roads safer, the numbers have been pretty consistent: accidents and deaths. In spite of the CPSC, or companies with “safer” clothing, equipment, bikes, in spite of city councils, national laws, advocacy groups, road changes, signals that notice cyclists, school bike rodeos, pamphlets, apps, games, podcasts, blogs, the number of cyclists killed and injured is pretty consistent through the years.
Take away the stupid people in those accident statistics and bicycling is very safe.

Just don’t count on anything changing that.

July 6, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

But do we know whether those killed or injured had taken any of the sensible precautions - good lights, reflectors etc. - or not ? I suspect the statistics don't include such items.

July 6, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAnthony C.

I started riding again in 2008 after 30 years of effectively no riding. With 750 miles for the first summer, I was starting to feel more comfortable riding and stronger. In May of 2009, while commuting to work at 6:30 in the morning with the sun high in the sky, I hit a car that cut in front of me from the other side of the road. She did not even look at me. Front light of any kind? Nope. Lost my 73 Motobecane Le Champion to bends. Fractured scapula, broken humerous, permanent damage to my vision in my left eye, broken rib that punctured my lung and the required road rash. $65K in medical expenses. Screw the aesthetics or always walk your bike.

July 6, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSJX426

Like helmets lights just another was to cut the odds in a gamble that you always take, riding a bike on the roads. I have survived 84 years, so far. Not sure I am willing to gamble anymore. I will not ride on any roads now, if I can avoid it. Lucky to live in Colorado, that is bike friendly and has miles of paths to ride on with NO bloody cars

July 9, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterjohn crump

It's a fact that huge numbers of drivers are approaching you from both directions are looking down at their phones. This has changed the need for lighting exponentially, can't even compare to 10-12 years ago, very different world. Can't imagine not having a mirror too. Like Dave said, I've seen drivers notice my daylight strobe and give me space. They really do work. Yes, most lighting is ugly and black. So are injuries and death. The only attractive lighting to me is hub driven dynamo B & M stuff, but no flashing daylight mode makes it not worthwhile to me. Lights are now just as important in day as night, thanks to smartphones.

July 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTom

I dislike tinted car windscreens and side windows that hamper eye contact with the driver. Has he / she seen me or not ? I can't tell because I can't see in to the vehicle.

July 11, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAnthony C.

I couldn't agree with you more, Dave. I've had a couple of headlights on the bike for several years now. I have a Cygolight Expilion 800 and a Metro 450; rear light is a Light & Motion Vis 180. The difference in motorist behavior now, with the bright lights, vs. my early days of biking are astonishing. Car drivers actually see me and wait for me to pass before they pull out of driveways! That largely didn't happen without them. When I ride along stopped traffic, I've noticed some drivers actually pull to the left to give me a bit more room! I always give a friendly wave to those drivers.

I do in fact use my lights, both front and rear, whether it's day or night. When I pass stopped traffic, I use the Expilion 800 in steady mode and the Metro 450 in strobe mode, and as I wrote, the lights make a world of difference. I normally use the Expilion 800 and keep the other one as a backup, but riding with stopped traffic is one case where I feel the need to use both lights.

July 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMike

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