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RBR Newsletter

Why Not Lights?

By John Marsh

You might call this the semi-Angry Old Man issue (keep reading for a brief explanation). Or you could just call it the good ol’ common sense issue. Your decision.

Coach Fred Matheny spent a couple days last week in Aspen, Colorado, catching the end of one stage of the US Pro Challenge, and the start of the next stage. (Aussie Rohan Dennis of BMC Racing Team was the race’s overall winner.) Fred noted the exciting racing “as some of the pro continental riders have been holding their own with the Pro Tour guys.”

But he also paid keen attention to a recent phenomenon in the pro ranks that, sadly, has trickled down into the ranks of recreational roadies like us – the so-called “super tuck” descending position. Fred shares his thoughts on this potentially dangerous position leading off News & Reviews, below.

You might have seen the “super tuck” on a local ride you’ve done. I saw it just last weekend on a 50-rider group ride, and it was an already squirrely rider who was doing it. Needless to say, I steered clear of that rider for the rest of the ride. Lack of bike handling skills and lack of common sense are a truly hazardous combination in a group of any size.

Meanwhile, on this and other rides I’ve done lately, I’ve been noticing a few more riders using full-time front and rear flashers for daytime riding.

Why? Because They’re Noticeable

I notice them, well, because they’re noticeable. If someone is riding toward me, I see that flasher far in the distance, because it’s exactly the sort of thing that catches the eye. The same can be said for closing the gap on a rider with a rear flasher. That flasher is the first thing you notice when you get into visual range. It captures your attention.

I’ve been using front and rear flashers full-time for about three years now. I’m a true believer in their value as safety tools.

Quick Angry Old Man digression. My younger son, Andreas, who’s now 15, earned the family nickname “Angry Old Man,” or AOM for short, years ago, when he was in elementary school. He would (still does) go on rants about what’s bothering him, just as if he were 75 instead of 5. It was and still is pretty funny to witness.

Fred and I are both somewhere between 5 and 75, but we’re both in somewhat of an AOM mood this week, I suppose. Fred just doesn’t get the rationale behind the “super tuck.” And I can’t figure out why more riders have not adopted full-time lights as a simple, inexpensive safety feature.

Many riders will talk your ear off about how they only wear bright-colored jerseys and never leave home without strapping on their helmet.

Yet, they may have their computer on board when they hit the road, but not a light in sight.

Here’s what I’ve noticed over the three years I’ve used full-time flashers:

Cars in front of you pay you more attention.  By this, I mean both cars driving toward you in the opposite lane and, typically more importantly, cars waiting on side streets to turn into your lane of traffic, or cross your lane to get to the other side of the road. Those are usually the situations fraught with danger.

Anecdotally, in the time I’ve been running the front flasher, I’ve had far fewer of the close calls where the driver just seems to “look through you” as you approach, and begin to pull out in front of you.

Even a brightly colored jersey moving through space at a steady rate can sometimes blend into the surrounding field of view, or be overlooked wholesale if a driver is simply not paying close attention. (And we all know that last statement to be more the rule than the exception these days.)

However, a flashing front light, even when a driver isn’t really attentive, can still be an attention-grabber. It’s not something a driver is used to seeing, and it’s not static. In fact, some lights (like the SeeSense front and rear flashers I’ve been testing lately) have a built-in accelerometer that alters the rate of flash based on changes in your speed and movement of the bike. The SeeSense lights also get brighter as it gets darker out, or when you ride under an overpass or through a tunnel.

Drivers see you sooner from behind and give you a wider berth when passing.  Because I also ride with a Fly 6 rear camera/tail light, I have better than anecdotal evidence to support this. I’ve reviewed the camera recordings numerous times and can clearly see that drivers see the light and move over earlier than they normally might, and a little farther over, as they pass.

Flashers are invaluable if you get caught out in a storm.  This happened to me last week, in fact. On a ride that started out with clear skies and no threatening forecast, I found myself in the midst of a pop-up rainstorm that quickly darkened the skies for the last 10 miles of my slog home through the downpour.

I don’t care how bright your jersey is in the sunlight, when the skies go dark, so does the brightness of your shirt. Let’s not forget that it’s also harder for motorists to see in these conditions, so flashers are ideal safety beacons in the rain. I definitely felt safer in that storm with my “responsive” flashers getting brighter as it got darker out.

I was also more than happy to be carrying the extra 110g (about 4 ounces) of weight for the pair of lights – nothing in the grand scheme of things.

For the price of a lower end helmet, you can easily equip your bike with any number of very worthy head lights and tail lights with a growing array of features. (Like the Niterider Sentinel tail light, which we’ll also be reviewing soon, that projects “laser lanes” to define your riding space.)

So, no, I just don’t understand why more serious roadies aren’t rocking full-time flashers front and rear. By all means, keep wearing what you’re wearing, strap on your helmet for every ride, and keep your bike in tip-top shape.

But if you really value safety on the road, Why not lights?

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