Editor’s Note: Last week, in a column titled Why Not Lights? I laid out my rationale for, and experience with, using full-time flashers for daylight riding over the past three years.
The piece got quite a bit of feedback, which I think is worth sharing today. I responded to one Comment just to clarify a couple of points (I’ll run that below, too) but otherwise just tried to stay out of the way as readers offered a number of additional thoughts and perspectives.
Submitted by dgoodwin
Why Not Lights? In the case of headlights, it’s because they BLIND ONCOMING TRAFFIC! Perhaps with low powered headlights in flashing mode there is less distraction, but I seem to see riders with high powered LED lights (say 1200 lumens or more!) running them in flashing mode. It’s a huge distraction for any oncoming traffic (bikes or cars) to the point where it becomes a safety issue.
Submitted by Paul in Friday Harbor
I agree with another commenter, in that very bright LED flashing headlights are BLINDING to on-coming traffic, and are extremely visually distressing to both oncoming cyclists and drivers. As a cyclist/bike commuter, I recommend riding with a steady headlight and flashing taillight. I’ve got a SON dyno front hub and wired-in lights, and cycling with lights on in traffic areas adds little drag. Night riding, I don’t run a flashing rear, but rather a very bright steady red taillight. Throw in high-visibility reflective vest and ankle bands, and I’m covered.
Here was my Clarification
Most of my riding, and thus the time of day about which I was focusing on in the article, is in the daylight. It’s very hard for a light in the daylight to be so bright as to blind anyone. And if it’s not flashing, it’s not very worthwhile during the day. (I’ve never been blinded or affected by any oncoming cyclist with a daytime running light, either driving a car or riding my bike.)
Also, the vast majority of my riding is in heavily trafficked suburban areas in a city of 5 million with nearly as many cars. I feel I need every safety advantage I can get. If I thought my lights were blinding motorists, that would not be an advantage to me.
To your point, though, I realize I should have clarified these things. And I agree with you that steady lights are more appropriate for some types of riding. (I also recognize that flashing front lights are illegal in some European countries.)
[I should also have pointed out that I see a few flashers on my regular Saturday group ride of up to 50 riders, and I’ve never been bothered by one nor heard anything from fellow riders about mine. I specifically ask a buddy whether my rear flasher is bothersome to him – at the slight downward angle I’ve kept it at – just to be safe. If anyone told me it was bothering them, I’d be happy to turn it off. That’s just common courtesy. And, yes, I know it’s safer in the group; still, I think there may be a bit of extra safety to be had by keeping the lights on.]
I agree. I always have a strong LED rear flasher and will now remember to put my front flasher on and use it all the time.
Submitted by kojyjebog
Strobing front and back lights are not only too bright for the cars; they are too bright for the other riders in the group. I regularly ride with a friend who lights up front and back with strobes. I can’t ride in front of her because of the 1,000 watt white strobe but there’s no respite in the back either due to the strobe red. Day or night, out come her lights. I swear I’m going to have a seizure one day due to the dang strobes!
Submitted by dorigat
Personally, I will NOT ride without my lights, both front and rear! I have been complimented many, many times by drivers and other rides alike concerning how visible those lights make me to both oncoming and following traffic. I have also had Sheriffs and police officers comment that “every cyclist should have those lights” — it really makes you visible and stand out.
As far as brightness goes…the ones I have are adjustable in brightness and also, the angle at which you set them is adjustable so as not to blind the fellow riders behind you.
Better visible and somewhat safer than whining and complaining about the lights being bright while riding in a group.
Submitted by peliot
I got reelights (reelights.com – no connection, just a happy customer) a few years ago and now leave them on my bike at all times. They have two great features I love. First, they have no battery; a magnet on the wheel is sufficient to power them, so you never have to worry about getting caught with a dead battery. Second, they are mounted on the axle, so they don’t get in the eyes of oncoming riders, but are sufficiently eye catching to make you visible to cars. They aren’t bright enough to see the road in the pitch black, but where I ride (mostly commuting in the city and suburbs) I have sufficient light to see by, I just need to make sure cars see me. I commute all year round, which means riding home in the dark half the year, and reelights are great as “be seen” lights.
Submitted by DougW
I was hit by a car about 1 1/2 years ago from the front. The car was coming towards me and turned into me. I am convinced that if I had a front light, it would not have happened. My lawyer in the case specializes in car/bike wrecks. He checked his files and found that 17 out of 21 pending cases were exactly like mine. While in the hospital, I decided if I was awarded any extra funds above loss recovery, I’d buy some lights to give away. Ended up giving away 10 Urban 650’s. Hope those folks buy lights for others and spread the word. I always run with front and rear flashers now.
Submitted by stl_biker
I have been using the ‘new’ Bontrager Flare R, all the time…day and evening. It’s the brightest I have used, at 60 lumens for a rear light. Great product, and I feel much more confident riding in traffic with this light on my tail.
Submitted by glenn
Agree wholeheartedly with everything you wrote on lights and use them almost always when riding solo. But not in a group since I feel it’s too distractive to other riders, and collectively we have safety in numbers by the size of our peloton.
Submitted by tispectrum
John, I have inexpensive front and rear lights on my bike but have never used them. They were there in case I got stuck riding at night. You’ve convinced me, they will be on every ride. Thanks.
Submitted by Gervelo
Perfect. Just had a friend go over a car. He broke his back — L2 vertebrae, luckily with 2 months of careful, NO activity he should recover. Top Pinarello Paris is written off.
He is going to buy a flouro kit and lots of flashers for daytime use. I run night rides and my nickname is “sirlightalot” because of all my lights. I don’t care that I look ridiculous. I am still riding in one piece.
Submitted by cwilly8
Until reading your comments, I was a part-time lights user in rural Tennessee. Will reconsider that now. I have front (white) and rear (red) lights mounted on my two bikes, both used in the flashing mode. I use the front for “trouble spots” — places on my normal rides where I know I may be at risk. One is a sweeping curvy downhill with lots of trees, and a couple of side roads where people pull out. The other is a long straight downhill where oncoming traffic has an option for a left “veer” at a speed limit of 55 mph. I use the front light to enhance visibility. The rear light is reserved for reduced visibility conditions (rarely used).
If I’m going to have the lights installed, why not use them full time? (I know what my wife will say if I ask her…)
Submitted by qumehexiq
On group rides I find other riders’ lights rather distracting (they do their job very well!) and I don’t want to be “that guy”, so I use a rear-only flasher/strobe when I’m solo. Group rides seem much safer vis-a-vis visibility and I am not too worried about cars; other bikes are the hazard instead.
Submitted by gregconderacci
John — AMEN! I ALWAYS ride with front and rear flashers, day and night. The only exception is a group evening ride, when I ride with the lights solid to keep from making my riding partners crazy.
AND while we’re on the subject of visibility, BLOODY is the new Black. Once again, riders are heading out into the gloom of the lower-light time of year dressed in Black (a color that makes them essentially invisible).
The current issue of Bicycling mag has no fewer than 33 riders pictured in jerseys that are either totally black, primarily black or in a dark enough color that they might as well be black. It’s by far and away the most dominant color jersey, whether in articles or in ads.
I’ve written to both Bicycling and the manufacturers of these products, noting that black is essentially road camo, but I get no response. You’re right that a flashing light beats almost any color outfit, but dressing like a Navy Seal on a night combat mission is still STUPID, STUPID, STUPID!