Is there really a bike light arms race, or are we all just confused about what’s safe?

Screenshot from Crosscut

Screenshot from Crosscut

I absolutely love biking around Seattle at night. Our city is simply stunning, and a nighttime bike ride can turn a simple errand into an existential experience.

People who have biked through Interlaken Park alone at night probably know how easy it is to spook yourself out. Each rustle in the leaves or snapping twig sounds as loud as a bomb. Your reptile brain takes over and your senses go into high-power mode. The woods transform from being just a useful bike route to being a wild land straight out of a fantasy book.

I love it.

But as more people in Seattle turn to bikes as a year-round way to get around town and bike light technology advances allow for brighter lights to enter the market, nighttime riding has become more and more a topic of arguments. Specifically, there is little consensus about how much light is too much, and how much is too little.

For example, there was a vibrant and sometimes testy conversation on our October post about a Commute Seattle bike light event. And today, a strongly-worded piece by Eric Scigliano in Crosscut claims:

The scariest thing about biking at night in Seattle isn’t the cellphone-jabbering SUV drivers or the bone-crunching potholes … It’s other cyclists — specifically, their high-powered, strobing and flashing headlights, shine straight into the eyes of motorists and other cyclists, transfixing them with disco-ball distraction.

On the other side of the issue, studies suggest that people often feel more visible to others than they actually are. This leads people to have a false sense of security when biking without lights or with completely inadequate lights.

Both of these are problems, but let’s be clear: Neither comes even remotely close to causing as much damage and carnage as distracted driving.

Let’s take a look at both the underlit and overlit issues and what we can do to make everyone safer.

tl;dr

Looking for the short answer about which lights to buy if you’re on a budget but want to be safe and legal? Get the middle ones. I’ve never spent more than $70 on a light, and that one had a super-bright mode I never used because it was a bit on the bright side for my city-biking needs. On the other hand, don’t cheap out and get the tiny, weak lights. Anywhere between $25 and $70 is probably fine. If your light is bright enough to illuminate potholes in the road in front of you, it more than surpasses all legal requirements and is bright enough for a person driving responsibly to see you.

If you want to spend the cash on a higher power or better quality lights, that’s great. Just don’t be afraid of using the low-power settings and definitely don’t use the strobe or blinking setting on trails and dark roads.

We need more bike light giveaways

Cascade Bicycle Club’s Bicycle Ambassadors have recently been setting up in locations all around the city during dark rush hour times. Their goal is to talk to people about the importance of bike lights. But here’s the best part: If someone passes them and does not have lights, the Ambassadors will simply give them a set.

This is awesome work that solves the problem of “ninja” unlit bicycling at night, one person at a time. The law requires that everyone on a bicycle have a front light and rear reflector during dark hours, but giving people a set of lights is so much cooler than giving them a ticket.

In the past couple weeks, Cascade has given out 60 light sets to people without lights.

I have written several times over the years about the need for more attention to bike lights, especially as more and more people take up bicycling. Unlike an even more divisive issue like bicycle helmets, bike lights actually prevent collisions from happening.

So why on earth are bikes sold without lights in the first place? Could you imagine a car being sold without headlights? Of course not. But unlike some European countries (for example, Germany and the Netherlands), the US never developed complete bike light laws and regulations. The result is that lights are sold as optional add-ons to a bike purchase, not standard features.

Many people take up bicycling because they are low on cash. When you are low on cash, you skip or skimp on the extras. But bike lights are not optional, like fenders or panniers. They are vital safety equipment.

The complete lack of regulation or standards in the bike light industry leads to a ton of confusion. The market is flooded with hundreds of different options rated in different ways (lumens, Watts, number of LEDs) and taking different kinds of batteries. It’s simply confusing, especially for someone on a budget who is just trying to be safe and legal.

To blink, or not to blink

Technically, it is probably not legal to have a flashing headlight on a bicycle. State law allows for a blinking tail light, but not headlight. However, it is commonly accepted that it would be somewhat crazy to give someone a ticket for trying to be more visible to cars while riding a bike. And while I’m not aware of the court history (if any), I would guess that a person who got such a ticket could make a pretty strong case to the judge that they were acting in the interest of self-preservation as best they knew how. But, you probably could get a ticket if an officer really wanted to give you one.

I am actually a fan of using the blinking mode on my normal-strength bike lights during daylight hours and especially at times of day when the sun is in people’s eyes, causing glare on windshields. I don’t have any evidence that blinking is safer during these conditions, but it makes me feel safer. At the very least, I’m sure it’s not more dangerous.

At night, it really depends on the power of your lights (or the level of your batteries). On some busy roads, it might be perfectly fine or even helpful for someone with normal-strength lights to put them on blinking mode. In the end, the choice is really up to you and what you feel is safest. There are so many different kinds of lights out there and so many different kinds of streets that there really is no one rule that works for all situations.

However, on a trail or dark street, blinking front lights can be a menace. There is only one reason I can think of for using the blinky headlight mode while on a trail: Your batteries are about to die (we’ve all been there, right?).

Blinking headlights on trails is especially a problem if you have purchased ultra-bright bike lights.

OMG your light is too bright!

Exciting advances in LED and battery technology has made it possible for extremely powerful lights to enter the consumer market. If you have spent any time on the Burke-Gilman Trail on a recent evening or night, you are surely aware of the problem this causes. Someone biking toward you with a high-power light can actually make it difficult for you to see the trail and the other people using it.

Some European countries regulate the angle of bike lights to make sure, like the low beams on a car, they point toward the ground and not into people’s eyes. But in the US, most bike lights are more like flashlights: They illuminate everything. And sometimes, that’s OK.

What’s often missing from bike light debates is the fact that not everyone is biking under the same conditions. Just like the high beams of a car, a bike light that illuminates everything can be great if you are on a dark trail or road alone. But it’s not good if you are sharing that space with others.

It’s courteous to hold your hand over the top of your light so it doesn’t shine in people’s eyes, and I strongly urge people to get into this habit. But it is a somewhat clumsy solution to the problem that is not likely to be picked up quickly by new trail users.

The other problem is that there is no agreed-upon level at which lights are bright enough to be safe and be seen, but not too bright as to hurt the eyes of other users. Without some kind of standard in the market, it’s nearly impossible for a person who simply wants safe and legal lights to know what to buy.

The rather exaggerated headline for the Crosscut piece calls people who buy ultra-bright lights “bike bullies,” and the story likens them to people who bought bigger cars under mistaken hopes of being safer:

The same impulse leads motorists to buy outsized, top-heavy SUVs which are twice as likely as ordinary cars to flip over, and even more likely to plow right over those ordinary cars in a collision. It’s a sociopathic sense of personal security and a belief that safety is a zero-sum game that can only be won at the expense of someone else’s.

That seems rather harsh. Maybe a couple people bought lights for this reason. But most people with ultra-bright lights simply want to be safe and likely do not realize how their light affects other users. After all, it was sold as a bike light, so why in the world would they think that it’s not actually proper for use on a bike trail?

So, yes. The bike light debate is likely to annoy people for all kinds of reasons because there is no easy and clear solutions that works for everyone. Aside from some kind of quality set of national bike light regulations that I won’t be holding my breath waiting for, what solutions can we pursue?

Trail courtesy education

The city and Cascade Bicycle Club have both made attempts in recent years to educate trail users about different behaviors and courtesy issues, from announcing that you’re going to pass someone to urging people to stay to the right. Perhaps signs telling people to use the steady mode instead of blinking would be a good way to encourage the behavior.

After all, I think a lot of people simply do not realize how annoying or maybe even dangerous it is to have blinking headlights on a trail. And a sign that sets a standard of expected behavior could go a long way to getting more people to keep their lights on a steady mode.

Other signs could maybe urge behaviors like avoiding shining lights in people’s eyes or pointing lights toward the ground. The signs of course won’t solve the problem entirely, but they could be a good start.

Do you have any other ideas?

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106 Responses to Is there really a bike light arms race, or are we all just confused about what’s safe?

  1. Janine says:

    Thanks for writing about this. I, too, feel safer with the blinking mode, but use it only around car traffic and not on the BGT, since I noticed how irritating some blinkers were and saw peds wincing. I don’t like the idea of irritating people with a blinker, but repeated evidence that many people in cars don’t see me in broad daylight with light colored clothes and day-glo gloves has led me to use it.

    • Allan says:

      $10 for 700 Lumens, yep, how about 1500 Lumens modulating under $50. and that you can run all night, and have 5 modes. That does not mean you need to run it full power in peoples faces, it is just there when you want it. That is about the lumens you will get, the ratings will be higher. Here is how. The Ultrafire 501B or C8 with a t6 led cost from about $9 to $15 on Ebay. They will be rated from 1000 to 1800 lumens depending what the seller wants to try to get away with. That’s ok because you are getting from 600 to 900 lumens for cheap. You need a charger also for about $4 and Lithium batteries, as many as you want for a couple of dollars each. You need handlebar mounts for $2 each. You could run two of them side by side one steady and one strobing thus equaling a modulating system. If you want to cheapskate out on this, you can put a light on your handlebar with a Lance Armstrong yellow rubber band. You can go to RE PC and buy used laptop batteries for $1 each, crack them open and look for good lithium 18650 batteries inside. If you get a bunch of lights you can live with one or two chargers. Lots of cordless drill batteries have the 18650 inside. I have well over 100 Lithium batteries. You will never be stuck without light if you carry a couple of spares. If you want more power you can really find it on ebay. Go to camping and hiking/flashlights, lanterns and lights, and than search T6. That is the most common powerful led. There are lights with 3, 4, 5, 6, or 7 t6 leds. The more you watch the auctions and learn to shop, the cheaper you will find stuff. You can easily move most of these lights from bike to bike if you want, in 5 minutes or less. There are some lights available in the USA if you know how to look. Otherwise they take two or three weeks to come from China. I would like to see everyone spend at least $20 on lights that can actually light the road.

  2. Breadbaker says:

    As someone with growing cataracts I can tell you how blinded I am by the oncoming ultra bright headlights.

    Your middle option for what light to get, at least making the case for hand-hooding for ultra brights, and the idea of aiming down all make sense to me. But if I’m on the Burke in a poorly lit section and there’s a bike approaching with an ultrabright on and a jogger ahead wearing dark clothes (there always is, isn’t there?), my eyes will not be able to see that jogger. And the guy with the ultrabright will have gone on without stopping if I hit the jogger.

    • Allan says:

      What light do you use yourself? I don’t think you would have the problem if you had a decent headlight of your own pointed towards the ground in front of you. I don’t.

      • Ian says:

        Having a light of your own doesn’t help you see past the glare of a really bright light, and it won’t illuminate a runner wearing black.

    • Erik says:

      Sorry you have cataracts but if you have cataracts maybe you shouldn’t be riding at night. What happens when bright lighted cars approach you?

  3. Leif Espelund says:

    I will choose to ignore any complaints from drivers about my bike lights being too bright. Even the brightest version probably isnt’ going to match a vehicles. If you see me and think my lights are too bright that is just evidence that they are working.

    For my fellow cyclists here is my simple and fair compromise: when you are in a bike lane or otherwise riding very near general traffic with lots of spacing between you and the cyclists/pedestrians going the opposite way, have as bright and blinky of lights as you want. But when you are separated from general traffic on trails and cycle tracks please for the love of god turn your headlight to the dimmer/steady mode (or, as I often do, simply cover the light as you approach oncoming users. I hate being blinded by oncoming cyclists on the BGT, especially when there could be an unlit ped walking in front of me who I now can’t see.

  4. Zach Shaner says:

    After reading the RCWs and after starting to drive more, I’ve become a convert of the bright-but-steady crowd. I never use blinky mode, I point my bike headlight slightly downward so it doesn’t get in people’s eyes, and my 90-lumen USB Thunderbolt light provides more than enough visibility. Beyond that, reflectors are vastly underappreciated, as they’re both incredibly effective AND unintrusive to other road users. I’ve noticed much more respectful behavior from people driving since I installed RydeSafe reflectors all over my bike.

    • Leif Espelund says:

      I added black reflective tape to my bike. You can’t even tell it is there during the day because it matches the frame so well. At night it is pretty bright: http://imgur.com/ooArc65

    • Kirk from Ballard says:

      Just as in the Crosscut article, it is a common myth that flashing lights on the front of bicycles are illegal. They are not.
      http://apps.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=46.37.215
      Yes, they should be amber (if your bike is manufactured after 1969) but flashing lights are allowed. I have a flashing light fitted with an amber AV gel.

      • Josh says:

        True, pairs of amber hazard lights are allowed on bicycles as well as on other vehicles, as long as they flash simultaneously and are mounted as widely as possible. But the article isn’t about amber hazard lights, which are designed to throw a broad, widely-visible beam. The article is about headlights, which have tightly-focused, white beams that cause glare issues as much greater distances. Flashing headlights are unequivocally illegal on bicycles.

  5. ktula says:

    I don’t think there’s any cyclist out there intentionally wanting to blind oncoming cyclists on BGT when it gets really dark. The problem is, most cyclists don’t know how bright their LED lights are, unless they take the time to get in front of their headlights on a really dark trail. These are the things i do when i commute home in the dark:

    On the trail:
    - Point headlight down and away from the opposite lane
    - Partially cover the headlight when cyclist approaches from the opposite direction. If i can get a headlight that casts a more focus beam and one does not cover a wide area, this may not be necessary.
    - Adjust headlight to the lowest setting (My Light and Motion Urban 300 has a high setting of 300 Lumens and low setting of 100 Lumens)

    On the road:
    - switch to flashing mode

  6. Davey Oil says:

    I am going to throw a plug out here for dynamo lighting. Most dyno lights are very good at lighting the road and not dazzling people. Ask your favorite shop for suggestions. Many more shops in Seattle are carrying dyno lights now. That’s a good thing.

    I will now throw another bomb into this conversation. I haaaaaaaate super bright lights mounted on helmets. I get that it is cool to be able to point your light around corners and at the faces if drivers if you wanna get their attention, but how can that not blind people inintentionally? Everyone looks in people’s faces.

    That’s my pet peeve.

    • Personally I’m a fan of the helmet light pointing down. Lets me crane my neck to look at things, gives at least a hint of which way I’m looking, but doesn’t blind people unless I’m really trying.

      One other thing on dynamos: when I was a kid we were told not to rely on them because they go dark while waiting at a red light. These days, between technological improvement and Germany’s nice sensible rules, typical dynamo lights stay lit for several minutes after stopping, so this is no longer a concern. I think that’s pretty much changed dynamo lighting from “useless” to “the best option out there”.

      • Tom Fucoloro says:

        In a perfect world, all non-racing bike would have always come standard with dynamo lights and this whole thing wouldn’t have been an issue. But we never developed that kind of culture and regulation.

        I have tried to imagine what instituting such a regulation now would look like, but it’s hard to imagine something that would work that A: Doesn’t hurt bike shops vs online sales and/or B: Doesn’t make cycling more expensive and, therefore, less accessible to people with low incomes.

        But I’d love to see a study that explores options.

      • Leif Espelund says:

        Seriously, standard lighting that is built in so it can’t be stolen would be awesome.

        I just ordered a set of these Reelight SL120′s. I like that they don’t require cords and that they are somewhat permanently installed to deter theft. Not going to be my primary, but a good secondary set, especially for the times when my normal lights die on me because I always forget to charge them. http://www.amazon.com/Reelight-Flashing-Compact-Bicycle-Headlight/dp/B001PLEIBU

      • Josh says:

        “I have tried to imagine what instituting such a regulation now would look like…”

        AUTO HEADLIGHT LAW ENFORCEMENT BEGINS

        Time Limit For Obtaining Dimming Devices Approved By Commission Expires MANY ARRESTS ARE EXPECTED Motorists Have Had Ample Warning, Says Col. Baughman

        Baltimore Sun, Jun 22, 1920

  7. Davey Oil says:

    “throw a plug” for dynamo lights.

    See what I did there?

  8. Thank you for taking the worthwhile bits from that Crosscut article and detaching them from all the sensationalist nonsense!

    The other thing I am completely baffled by are lights that blink on for a fraction of a second, with about 2 seconds off in between flashes. I see them from time to time, and wonder how many times I’ve *not* seen them because I’m not constantly looking in one place.

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      Part of my wonders if “number of blink modes” is seen by makers as a selling point.

      On the other hand, sometimes I like turning my rear Portland Design Works light onto what I call “jelleyfish mode,” where it sort of fades in and out instead of strobing. It’s a nice feature for when you’re riding in a group.

      • Josh says:

        Strobing causes much more glare without any demonstrated increase in conspicuity.

        Motorcycles have the same conspicuity issues as bicycles, and they use *modulated* rather than strobing lights — the light intensity varies up and down, but never goes completely off.

        Modulated motorcycle headlights are quite conspicuous, and they’re legal, unlike strobes.

        WAC 204-21-040
        Headlamps.

        (4) On motorcycles and motor-driven cycles with electronic headlamp modulators.
        (a) The headlamp modular must:
        ….
        (v) Be made to change modulation amplitude:
        (A) Daytime – modulation depth should be at least 50% but not more than 80%.
        (B) Nighttime – not more than 20% modulation.

      • Kirk from Ballard says:

        Modulated headlights are unequivocally illegal on bicycles, even though it would make perfect sense to allow them. It you run two lights side by side, one flashing and the other solid, it is a similar effect.

      • Allan says:

        I just want to add to Josh’s comment that a bicycle should be allowed to have the same lights as a motorcycle. It is your only protection against people pulling out in front of you and the only way you will get respect from car drivers.

      • Josh says:

        Would be interested to know where you get a ban on modulated lights on bicycles. Flashing lights are clearly not allowed. Modulated lights don’t flash. Where’s the ban on modulation?

  9. meanie says:

    This is non thinking actors, people in hi visibility vests with more than two lights, on trails.
    Poorly aimed lights ( too high on the handlebar ) and helmet mounted high intensity lights are the worst.

    When it gets really dark, I find veering into the person with blinding lights, rather than hitting a pedestrian is the best way to deal with the issue. Most people who use lights this way, don’t know they are the ones being jerks.

  10. Amanda says:

    Having moved to Vashon from London a year ago, it is only a recent issue for me to actually need the headlight to see ahead, as well as to be seen. Kudos to Seattle for having so many great cycle paths that make this an issue! However, even so, it’s never so dark on the Seattle side such as to need my light at full strength on the trails, so I always have it on the lower power setting. On the island, however, I rely on the very bright light to safely see ahead. I also notice that joggers/pedestrians on the trails also now often wear a blinking red light on their packs or clothes which really helps for safety, and this practice should also be promoted/encouraged.

  11. Shirley says:

    I love lights (yes, I have a dynamo ones) but the blinking can be blinding on trails and confusing to cars. People in cars are so easily confused. I bought reflective tape last year at 20/20 Cycle and it really improved my visibility. It was a bit difficult to stick that on my bike but in the end it turned out to be helpful. Unless I have colorful lights the reflective tape and accessories makes biking less blinding for everyone. Also highly advocated by Grant Petersen: http://www.amazon.com/Just-Ride-Radically-Practical-Riding-ebook/dp/B0074QGFES/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1385421566&sr=8-1&keywords=grant+peterson

  12. Greg D says:

    Lots of lights are single Cree LED’s which produce a very bright pencil of light and don’t provide a lot of width on coverage so they are painfully bright and yet do not allow you to see people and animals approaching from the side.

    I picked up a TAZ 1200 that I always run on low and point to the right when on trails but it has several LED’s and has a very useful beam without being ultra blinding to anyone who has a realistic light on the Trail.

    It seems like most people are running lights that are designed so that you can be seen and not so that you can see. These people worry me when I am a non-lighted ped on the trail as they are really riding blind and even more so when approached by someone with a light that lets them ride safely on the dark sections of the trail.

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      That’s the other part I’d like to see standardized. If a light isn’t truly good enough to be a bike light, it should not be able to be sold as one. But it might technically pass the minimums required by law (visible from 500 feet, or whatever), so for now it is legal.

      • Josh says:

        In California, state law requires that bicycle headlights be visible from the side as well as the front, which limits the legality of very narrow beams. On the other hand, it’s almost universally unenforced, and most manufacturers are happy to sell non-street-legal bicycle headlights to California bike shops and residents without mentioning their non-compliance with the law.

        The StVZO regulations that make German dynamo headlights to effective specify a beam pattern measured in multiple places… a minimum brightness where the light is needed to see, and a maximum brightness where the light would cause glare to oncoming users. Each model of light has to be submitted for certification by the manufacturer, and tested for compliance by a government agency, before receiving its ~K certification number.

        It’s no more complex than the requirements that apply to headlights for scooters, motorcycles, or cars, they just happen to consider bicycles real vehicles instead of toys.

  13. Kirk from Ballard says:

    I guess I’m lucky. I drive my bike on the trail every single night all year long, and have never been blinded by other’s lights. I’ve seen some bright ones, but I just don’t stare at them. Honestly, I’m baffled by all the uproar over lights being too bright.
    I’m glad the story on Crosscut mentioned that car low beams are 700 lumens. My “bright” light is 500 lumens, and it is more than enough, yet still not as bright as an automobile’s low beam. I use it on flash in traffic, and on steady mode pointed down on the trail. Still other bike drivers will sometimes whine that it is too bright. Seriously, it’s like the sun. Don’t stare at it.

    • Jessica says:

      Often I am trying not to look at oncoming bikers’ lights that are too bright, but that leaves me looking straight down over my handlebars so I can’t see the pedestrian a short distance in front of me. This happens fairly often (at least once per day and usually more) on busy stretches of the Burke Gilman. So in order to avoid that, I’m forced to look into the blinding lights. If other people are “whining” that it’s too bright, it probably is because it’s actually hurting their eyes and their ability to see.
      You’re right that the sun can also be blinding at certain times of day– I’ve experienced this in the mornings crossing 15th in the U-District– the difference is that there’s nobody at fault for that. If I could petition God to aim the sun lower or make it dimmer or shield it with His hand, I’d do that :) Since I can’t, I have to live with it, but I can at least ask you to make yours dimmer.

      I do think that the Crosscut story overhyped the issue– the blinding lights are a huge nuisance, but they aren’t THE scariest thing… not as scary as car drivers who aren’t paying attention.

    • Chase says:

      I am with you. I don’t get why people complain about the bright lights, don’t look directly at them. I have had some insanely bright lights pointed at me on the burke and I have never had a problem seeing forward as long as you just don’t stare at them. Also, you can see pretty far ahead on the burke. If you don’t know there is a person walking/running ahead of you and you run into them during the very brief moment that a biker with a bright light is passing you, you need to pay attention more.

      • Jessica says:

        I am paying attention and I know when there is a person walking/running ahead of me, but during the time that you are coming toward me, I can’t see them any more, so I have to memorize where they are and do some physics to estimate where our trajectories will take us during the few seconds until you pass. Yes, I can do that math, and/or I can slow down and wait til you pass… and then til the next bright strobing biker passes… and then the next… it’s just frustrating and unpleasant. And if the walker/runner changes their trajectory during that time, there’s a higher chance of a near miss. I still probably won’t hit them– if I’m looking down to avoid looking at your lights, I can see a few feet in front of my wheel, so I won’t collide with them, but may have to slam on the brakes or swerve around them.

    • Kirk from Ballard says:

      Why is it that my flashing tailight, which flashes just as brightly as my headlight, doesn’t get the same negative reaction?

      • Josh says:

        Tail lights are generally more diffuse, not as tightly focused, so while they seem as bright up close, they create much less glare even ten feet away than the same number of lumens packed into a headlight beam.

        In addition, tail lights are red, not white, and that by itself reduces the glare and the loss of dark adaptation.

        Finally, unless you’re running a 600 lumen tail light, it’s really not anywhere near as bright as the lights the author was complaining about. Most really bright tail lights are still 1 Watt or less, while many headlights exceed 5 Watts.

    • Erik says:

      The uproar over bright bike lights is like me complaining about having too much food at home to eat. First world problems baby.

  14. Steve A says:

    According to epilepsy.com, “About 3 to 5 percent of people with epilepsy can have their seizures triggered by flashing lights. ” I know my own front headlight can make me a little queasy if I have it on strobe mode before I leave the house. So a headlight on blink mode in the day is not entirely risk-free.

    • Todd says:

      I can’t watch out for everybody. If I did, I’d never be able to leave my house. And even then it’d be risky leaving my bedroom.

      • Matthew Cole says:

        … But you’re totally cool with telling people with epilepsy to stay in their house because there are thoughtless people out there?

      • Todd says:

        Yeah, I’m thoughtless and the bad guy. Again, I wish people would think things through before they post.

  15. Double D says:

    Samantha Shimogawa wrote on this subject a while ago (http://www.bicyclepaper.com/articles/415-Can-a-Light-Be-Too-Bright) and we received a lot of comments on the article. It is a subject that continues to be debated and I believe it’s a good thing, as it gets people thinking. I’ve seen, so far, less uber-bright lights during my commute home in the evenings this year as well as fewer front blinking lights. Unfortunately, I also regularly see cyclists at night with no lights or reflective material whatsoever, which is dangerous for them obviously, but it’s also risking other people’s well-being. The last thing I want is to run head on into someone because they appear out of nowhere. Common sense goes a long way.

  16. GordonofSeattle says:

    “Both of these are problems, but let’s be clear: Neither comes even remotely close to causing as much damage and carnage as distracted driving.”

    Exactly. The Crosscut piece is, unfortunately, an inflammatory and non-factual red herring. The discussion about light etiquette is worth having, but not framed like it was on Crosscut.

    Personally I’m in favor of steady on trails, blinking or preferably pulsing low to high on roads. It would be great to have some hard data on the visibility of blinking/pulsing vs steady lights. Sounds like a great UW student project.

    • Allan says:

      Gordon, you are right. The author of that article is probably an epileptic who rides at night. If I get some time I should write an article about how only a strobing or modulating light will prevent cars from pulling in front of a bicycle and therefore are the best way to stay alive.

  17. Greg says:

    The key thing is to have a light that directs its output toward the ground, not into the eyes of oncoming riders/drivers. That way you don’t have to choose between a lighting the road and not blinding people.

    These exist in both dynamo and battery versions and aren’t that expensive. A good battery choice is the Philips Saferide (e.g.

    http://www.amazon.com/Philips-BF48L20BBLX1-SafeRide-Battery-BikeLight/dp/B00620Z8M2
    ) I’ve been using one for awhile and it’s great.

    There are a bunch of good dynamo lights – but you’ll need a new front wheel too, so that’s a bigger commitment…

    Your LBS may also be able to get one. There are a bunch of dynamo lights

  18. Todd says:

    It’s simple. Give courtesy and cover your light with your hand when peds or other bikers are approaching. Otherwise, screw you.

  19. Breadbaker says:

    Another item to consider is a SpokeLit. http://www.amazon.com/Nite-Ize-Spokelit-Bicycle-Disc-O/dp/B001TKFZ7S/ref=sr_1_4?s=cycling&ie=UTF8&qid=1385427021&sr=1-4

    Instead of looking like an unidentified headlight, you can look like a bicycle to a driver or another bike.

  20. Eamon Nordquist says:

    I run dynamo lights that are very bright and also have very good optics that place all that light very evenly on the ground in front of you (Busch and Muller IQ Cyo). I was, however, recently run off the Burke Gilman trail when I was completely blinded by an oncoming cyclist. The only way I could have “not looked at it” would have been to completely look away, which is what I did. Luckily, I just ran off into the grass, but it could have caused me to crash. This rider had an extremely bight light mounted on his handlebars that was brighter (and higher up) than a car headlight. The rider also had a strobing light on his helmet. This made it very hard to judge his speed and direction, or even whether it was two cyclists, or one. These lights have their place in situations like mountain biking at night, but are totally inappropriate on a bike trail. This fall, I am encountering many more cyclists using these lights than ever before. The industry is partly to blame for not designing more battery lights with the controlled beam patterns that Busch and Muller or Schmidt dynamo lights have.

    • Allan says:

      Dynamo lights are far to expensive for the light they give and could never put out the kind of light I sometimes want.

      • KCR says:

        I can’t argue with the price comment, but the Supernova E3 Triple puts out 800 Lumens. There are other equivalent lights that have similar outputs and additional features by different manufacturers. I have never had anyone complain about my dyno lights being too dim, but have had people say they’re too bright.

        They also come with a warning that explicitly tells you NOT to look directly in to them.

      • Allan says:

        Sometimes I want 3,000 lumens.

  21. promo says:

    A strobing headlight at night is essentially a “dazzler” and therefore a poor choice of lighting to point at those approaching. Strobes are for daytime use.

    • Todd says:

      Yep. That’s why I ride sometimes with my strobe on at night — to dazzle people. I’m a dazzler and I want attention. I wish people would think things through before they post.

      • promo says:

        Not sure what you’re getting at about thinking this through? I fully grasp why my fellow cyclists use them. It’s true though, it did not take long to come to the conclusion (seems obvious). My opinion is it’s a selfish and slightly paranoid practice. The fact is it’s illegal. Only emergency vehicles are allowed to use them.

    • Josh says:

      Yes, actually, LED “dazzlers” are sold commercially as personal defense weapons, designed to disorient people you point them at. They use the same Cree emitters and strobe circuits as the cheap Magicshine clones. That’s definitely *not* the effect I’m looking for in a headlight.

  22. Andres Salomon says:

    I moved here from Boston. I always had the cheap little lights, for two reasons:
    1) Boston/Cambridge/Somerville were pretty good about lighting up their streets and trails
    2) It doesn’t get dark as early there.

    Then I moved to Seattle. Neighborhood streets are poorly lit, and the Burke is pitch black near my house at 5pm. So, I got a 250 lumen *bright* light for $130. A year later, the cost of the same exact light was $60. Now, the company has stopped making that model, and has upgraded to a 350 lumen LED for the same price.

    It’s a no brainer that lights are going to get brighter and cheaper, and as long as Seattle doesn’t bother to light up trails, people are going to use them. I try to point my 250 lumen light down, but sometimes I want to go faster than 10mph at 6pm, and lighting up the trail only 6ft in front of me isn’t compatible with that.

    We need better trail lighting, or we need better transportation alternatives. The Burke (and other trails) are wonderful, but they’re maintained by Parks. We need well-lit bicycle infrastructure maintained by SDOT, and at bicycle/ped height. The streetlights that are 30ft up the air on residential streets end up being blocked by trees at night. A streetlamp that is designed for slower speeds, located at 6ft off the ground, would be much more effective on slower streets, imo.

    • Allan says:

      I really enjoyed your article, especially the part about going faster than 10 mph at night. I also want to see road hazards at night, such as glass or Seattle epic potholes before I hit them. I probably ride on the BG once a year at night if that. I do ride on the Duwamish trail where the light is very sketchy at times. I have had people without lights complain that my lights are annoying. I usually just say good, that means they are working.

  23. lars Halstrom says:

    This is the current bike light law in WA.

    RCW 46.61.780
    Lamps and other equipment on bicycles.
    (1) Every bicycle when in use during the hours of darkness as defined in RCW 46.37.020 shall be equipped with a lamp on the front which shall emit a white light visible from a distance of at least five hundred feet to the front and with a red reflector on the rear of a type approved by the state patrol which shall be visible from all distances up to six hundred feet to the rear when directly in front of lawful lower beams of head lamps on a motor vehicle. A lamp emitting a red light visible from a distance of five hundred feet to the rear may be used in addition to the red reflector. A light-emitting diode flashing taillight visible from a distance of five hundred feet to the rear may also be used in addition to the red reflector.

    This law above does not prohibit a flashing headlight on your bike.

    However RCW 46.37.200 1-3 prohibits a flashing lamp on a MOTOR VEHICLE.

    • Josh says:

      RCW 46.37.280, Special restrictions on lamps, specifically lists bicycles within its scope:

      (3) Flashing lights are prohibited except as required in RCW 46.37.190, 46.37.200, 46.37.210, 46.37.215, and 46.37.300, warning lamps authorized by the state patrol, and light-emitting diode flashing taillights on bicycles.

      FYI, this is the same code that makes it illegal to run a red taillight facing forwards, another entirely unenforced law as far as I can tell.

      (2) Except as required in RCW 46.37.190 no person shall drive or move any vehicle or equipment upon any highway with any lamp or device thereon displaying a red light visible from directly in front of the center thereof.

      • Josh says:

        RCW 46.37.280, paragraph (1), does limit itself to motor vehicles, so bicycles are not covered by the ban on level- or upward-facing focused beams exceeding 300 bcp. That particular limit applies only to motor vehicles. (Which is good, since no manufacturer I know of gives a reliable beam candlepower rating for its lights.)

        (1) During the times specified in RCW 46.37.020, any lighted lamp or illuminating device upon a motor vehicle, other than head lamps, spot lamps, auxiliary lamps, flashing turn signals, emergency vehicle warning lamps, warning lamps authorized by the state patrol and school bus warning lamps, which projects a beam of light of an intensity greater than three hundred candlepower shall be so directed that no part of the high intensity portion of the beam will strike the level of the roadway on which the vehicle stands at a distance of more than seventy-five feet from the vehicle.

      • Kirk from Ballard says:

        It’s pretty simple. Any flashing white light (in any direction) is prohibited by WAC 204-21-230: (5) Flashing white lights are prohibited on any vehicle other than authorized emergency vehicles, law enforcement vehicles, school buses, and emergency tow trucks as defined in WAC 204-88-030 (1), (2), and (5).

        Flashing red lights on the rear and flashing amber lights on the front are permitted by RCW 46.37.215, concerning hazard warning lamps. “Any vehicle may be equipped with lamps for the purpose of warning other operators of other vehicles of the presence of a vehicular traffic hazard requiring the exercise of unusual care in approaching, overtaking, or passing.” I think most auto drivers would concede that a bike driver warrants the exercise of unusual care in approaching, overtaking, or passing, seeing as we are all scofflaws.
        Redundantly and specifically, RCW 46.61.780 permits “A lamp emitting a red light visible from a distance of five hundred feet to the rear may be used in addition to the red reflector. A light-emitting diode flashing taillight visible from a distance of five hundred feet to the rear may also be used in addition to the red reflector.”

    • bill says:

      The law has been left in the dust by technology. The law is only concerned with whether a bicycle is visible. It does not consider the effect of a bicycle’s lights on other road users. Those of us who object to flashing and inappropriately-aimed super-bright lights are pleading with their owners to show some respect and concern for others.

  24. wombat says:

    Great discussion. I think I’ll actually start riding without the strobe mode on my light from now on. Makes sense to me from what I’ve read in the comments. Thanks to everyone for weighing in with their bits of knowledge!

  25. MikeG says:

    On the trail with a properly aimed headlight, I would disagree with the cover the headlight with your hand courtesy to oncoming peds/cyclinst in favor of seeing the peds directly in front of you. I won’t stare at your headlight, but I want to see what’s in front of me at all times.

    I always dim my light for oncoming traffic but not cover it.

    • KCR says:

      I think it’s more of an education thing. I’ve seen a lot of people attempt to “dim” their headlights and turn it on to strobe. “That’s great – you just made a bad problem worse!”

      Most people don’t realize you don’t need to cover the whole headlight, just the part that shines in to their eyes. It works great, and honestly, I think it’s up to veteran cyclists to… Light the way to their less well informed brethren :P.

  26. Allan says:

    Just supposing, Princess Di’s car was travelling 90mph+ when a motorcycle in front turned on a super strobe facing backwards just before an unlit curve and just as suddenly turned it off. Maybe we could get in the SH-1-t if there was an accident and someone blamed the strobe? Is a modulating light a better plan? How do we test what appears to be a modulating light as some of my lights fire so fast as to appear modulating? I really think you need to be as visible as possible in the daytime and the more power the better. I think that at night where there is no one around it doesn’t matter what you run. If there are bikes without lights there I have no compassion for their eyes though because they are idiots. Otherwise the amount of light needed for different situations varies according to the situation. That is why they put high, medium and low on most of them.
    I have 10 bicycles and it would be rediculous to put generator hubs on lightweight French full carbon bikes. I like to move my lights onto a bike I am going to ride according to how much light I might need. I don’t think a generator hub would hurt a mountain bike or commuter to much but it would cost too much on a lot of bikes and I would lose the ability to change lights easily. I would really like to hear if anyone out there road the STP in one day with a generator hub. I doubt it. I have ridden it with lights though and on many country road rides I use the lights all day. A bright blinking light is especially useful when going down hills at 40 mph to prevent anyone pulling out in front of you. Does anyone who rides like that have a complaint about blinking lights? I doubt it.

    • bill says:

      I would really like to hear if anyone out there road [sic] the STP in one day with a generator hub.

      This has to be one of the more unintentionally amusing remarks I have read on SBB. One extra watt of drag (or five with the lights on) and about 400 additional grams put a one-day STP finish at risk? Really?

      I mean no disrespect to STP participants. Riding STP is a great accomplishment. It’s just that there are far harder rides out there, where a generator system’s benefits far outweigh the virtually undetectable negatives.

      • Eamon Nordquist says:

        No kidding! There is no shortage of randonneurs out there who regularly complete 400 km (and well beyond) brevets at such a pace (or even faster), while using dynamo lighting. They are, in fact, quite commonly used by long distance endurance riders. Dynamo lighting may not be practical for everyone, especially for a fleet of bikes, but the detractors of such systems often seem all too eager to prove how little they know about them.

      • Allan says:

        Right, well since I run the lights all day that would probably be about 4% energy loss for the ride and that is a lot plus the extra loss up hill for replacing a 70 gram front hub with a 500 gram front hub. So I would have to turn the lights off for most of the trip which would defeat the purpose. Than there is the rip off factor, you overpay big time for a generator system. How much does it cost for just one bike? With a high end carbon bike like a Look or Time you spend about a dollar a gram to shave weight off. Now you want me to spend a dollar gram to put it back on. Than I would need to spend another dollar a gram to take it off again. Cool, I am made out of money. Now take my cheaper commuter bikes that I build up for about $400 or less. Now you want me to double the price of the bike to add lights. Way cool. If I had money like that to burn I wouldn’t have to build my own bikes. All 10 of my bikes need lights when in use. You want me to mortgage my house to buy generator lights? I’ll rush right down to the bank so I can buy 10 crappy front wheels and the rest to go with them.

      • Allan says:

        One more thing, sometimes I want to run several thousand lumens, I can just picture the generator hub smoking itself into oblivion when I connect several thousand lumens to it, and the fire department chasing me down the road.

    • Doug says:

      People regularly ride 1200km brevets in less than 90 hours with generator hubs.

      I regularly ride down hills at 40mph. Since I want to see the road at those speeds, I prefer a bright, steady light that illuminates the road. Flashing lights are useless for that.

    • Conrad says:

      Well, I have 5 bicycles. A while ago I switched to a generator setup on my commuter bike. I’ve found that given the choice of strapping on an inferior battery powered light to my fancy racing bike or riding the commuter with a generator setup that never runs out of juice and has much better optics and has more drag but you can’t notice it…. I ride the bike with the generator setup. Because it is always dark here!
      The weight doesn’t matter in the first place but remember that you have to include the weight of the hub, light, and battery in the equation. A generator hub is heavier than a conventional hub but you get to skip the heavy battery. So in most situations the generator setup weighs less.
      And finally, the Schmidt generator hubs having amazing bearings that last forever. Previous battery powered setups never lasted more than a year or two for me. Either bulbs burn out or the batteries give out. A generator setup is cheaper in the long run. Getting back to the intent of the original post: the lights designed to be used with the Schmidt hubs have optics that throw all the light on the pavement in front of you, and not up in the air into other peoples’ eyes.

      • Allan says:

        You did not address the cost. Battery lights are not inferior. Most of my trips require only one very light lithium battery.(45 grams each) If I turn down the output to what a generator light has it would last a very long time. Not that I care if lasts longer than the trip. I have plenty of batteries. And don’t forget, lithium powered lights such as I have clip on and off the handle bars in a minute. I don’t have to carry much in the summer where I won’t likely get caught in the dark, the weight is not there except for occassional night trips. I can choose what kind of power I want on my bars, depending on what I am going to do and change it quickly. Can you do that? I could put 50,000 lumens on my bike for the price of a good generator set up and start fires in the next county. Not that I would do that but there are times when I think I should have the same lights as a 1000cc Ducati. I have ridden motorcycles and routinely passed oncomming motorcycles on two lane country roads at 70 mph and no one crashed and ran off the road. Therefore I think it would be quite fine to simulate the lights of a 1000cc Ducati and very legal. The aiming point would be more like 75 feet down the road for the low beams. Higher for the high beams. I never had a problem with bright lights in years of motorcycle riding where everyone has a motorcycle headlight. This is just for occasional winter night trips mind you and the weight is occasional too. Generator lights seem to be a permanent overpriced fixture with too many drawbacks to bother with and very little flexibility. I explained on a different posting how you can have a 700(real) lumens light for $10 and the batteries, charger and handle bar mount for $10 more. My personal cost is a lot lower than that. Can I get a nice 700 lumen generator light that is removable for daytime use, pops on and off any of my bikes quickly for under $20? Fat chance of that. Also, do you even get the amperage for good lights where you would want to draw up to 2 amps on high or are you restricted to 300 to 500 milliamps. It is amazing how ignorant the generator club is, about what you can do with battery lights, and I am only giving you a very brief overview here. If I wanted to I could clip 10,000 lumens of light on a bike in 5 minutes in the form of just two lights that I won in a summer auction on ebay for just $60 for the pair. I wondered if perhaps the same people who are whining about bright lights are the ones who use generator lights. Than I found you could get a claimed 800 lumen generator light for only $177.00 on sale but not including a good front wheel with a generator hub to run it.
        Now to be fare I probably could find a generator hub a lot cheaper than most people, build my own wheel and wire up my own 700 lumen(real) light for maybe $100. all in, if I really wanted to. I don’t want to. Someone else will probably spend $400 for a setup like that because most people don’t build wheels and solder wires. I can build a whole commuter bike for that price including the lights.

    • David Feldman says:

      Allan,
      A dynohub front wheel can be set up with a headlight mounted to an extension of the front quick release–Velo ORange used to sell one and Nitto still does. You can then have a lighting system that’s easy to move from bike to bike as needed.
      And, dyno systems have come a LONG way over the years–a modern Schmidt or Shimano hub with an LED headlight is as different from the last generator light you might have had as a wood-tired high wheeler is from a Cervelo or a Davidson.

      • Allan says:

        Batteries have come a long way too. I recently read that the worlds fastest production motorcycle runs nearly 220mph on batteries. The Tesla car is terrific except for the price. There is no way you can get the kind of power from a hub that you can get from batteries and no way you can get the kind of low price from a hub set up that you can get from batteries. The most powerful and expensive generator hub sets do not move easily from bike to bike. A $500 hub set set up will only equal a $75 to $125 bike shop light that will only equal a $25 light ordered direct from China on Ebay. I really find the $25 Ebay approach to be much more convenient than the $500 hub set approach. There are also bigger lights on Ebay and spare batteries that are much stronger than anything in the hub set market. It is also typical that most of my lights work with out a bicycle which is very much more convenient if you need some light for fixing a flat or other problem in the dark, or when you arrive at a camp site. The only reason to buy a generator hub set is if you are so rich you can afford to waste money.

  27. Chris says:

    I have been blinded by bicyclists headlamps – while driving and riding, but being blinded by a strobe is far worse, in my opinion.

    And its not the brief moment that the light is shining in my eyes – its the moments after we pass, and my night vision is so blinded that its now difficult for me to see my own path, lit up by my relatively inferior bike light. Sometimes just looking away isn’t an option – where else can I look on a 10′ wide bike path? At my feet?

    Not to say that strobes are all bad – I like to have my headlamp on strobe during daylight hours. I think it helps bikes stand out from all the visual clutter on the side of the road. And I find rear reflectors to be weak alternatives to a flashing red light.

  28. Lars Halstrom says:

    After talking to SPD officers this morning, they said flashing headlamps are illegal and I was wrong. However, they said that it probably won’t be enforced either. I think bright car headlights have the same effect as bright bike headlamps. You can’t see hazards in front of them and your eyes are affected after they pass for a brief time. However, if you use them on your bike in flash mode and cause an accident, you are then liable for claims against you because you broke the law. This law is problematic if other states don’t have this restriction. There is no warning label on the packaging either. What about use of flashing headlamps on a bike trail or sidewalk? Do these laws apply to them as well?

    • Matthew Snyder says:

      Right, it’s not a question of enforcement — i.e., will I get a ticket for using a blinking light? Almost certainly you won’t. I think of it more as a question of liability. If I get creamed by a car at 8pm, I want to make sure that I was doing everything exactly by the book. It’s hard enough to get the cops and/or the prosecutor’s office to press charges in cases of clear negligent driving, and the last thing I want to do is to give them an excuse to shift the legal blame towards me.

  29. Jack says:

    Anecdotally, I know flashing head lights make cyclists more visible. I have experienced many times when the lights from cars and busses BEHIND a cyclist have completely washed the cyclist’s lights out. There were nothing but a shadow, I have been lucky to see them.

    I got hit by a car, and I’m certain this is what happened to the driver (and the illegal right turn….) the traffic behind me washed out my lights.

    So I use a flashing light on my helmet, pointed up as high as I can get it. When I see it flashing on the street signs ahead of me, i know it’s in the right spot.

    KTula’s guidelines are all that’s needed, and a little common sense.

    Of course, we are humans, and we all know how humans can be, at times.

  30. Phil says:

    I would revise that number to at least spend around $100-$150 on a front light, such as some of the 600 lumen self contained models from Niterider and similar ones from Light and Motion. You could spend less if you ONLY ride on bike trails, but I can’t recommend anything budget for a commuter.

    Frankly, I’ve been the driver who has LOOKED FOR BIKES AND NOT SEEN THEM BECAUSE THEY USED “REASONABLE” LIGHTS during torrential downpours. It’s not fun. Those Planet Bike lights? They become just another little star running down your window. They’re just not enough for severe conditions, and sometimes you just get caught out there when you don’t want to be.

    When times get trying, you need a burning sun, not a twinkling star.

    I found that for general night riding:
    350-500 lumens is enough to see potholes on a wet road and be recognized as at least a motorcycle in bad weather.
    700 is enough to cut through heavy rain going downhill at a good clip.
    50-150 is good for most bike trail riding.

    If you know you’re riding all year, I’d actually skimp on the niceness of the bike to pour money into the lights. To ride in winter here is to ride in the dark in the rain.

    I will totally agree on the sentiments against running a strobe a night. In mid evening I switch from strobe to running my light at low, and then ramp it up once I need it to let me see. Strobes are for daytime visibility at 12 noon on the summer solstice.

    • Gary says:

      I run my strobes in the city on well lighted streets to stand out from the rest of the traffic. You have to be brighter than the neon sign in the store window, the car behind you, the bus off to the side. You need to look like a bicycle and not just another light.

      I also wear a vest, it’s for cross traffic so cars can see me in intersections.

      I dim my lights on the trail, I need all the battery power I can get to make the 2.5 hrs of riding everyday as my batteries age. I also have no desire to hit oncoming cyclists, that’s why I like the helmet light, I can aim it to the side. It’s also good for illuinating cars at intersections.

      And that article on cross cut was “troll bait”. When I see a traffic report about a car hitting a cyclist that was blinding by the bike lights I’ll take the complaint seriously. Until then I’m doing what appears to work to stay alive.

      • Gary says:

        On nite rider I’ve had terrible luck with them and their customer service sucks. $30 just to look at their busted junk. I’m Currently using DinotteLighting.com and they are holding up well. Great customer service.

      • Phil says:

        Complete agreement!

        And I could take the commentary on motorists getting annoyed by strong lighting more seriously if only I’d witnessed complaints myself. I’ve had comments, but not complaints. I’ve had drivers I met on the road see me in the grocery store and say my lights were really bright and blinding, and then tell me that they were really happy to have a 100% chance of seeing me.

        Then they complain about people with wimpy lights….. Minimalist front “blinkies” be damned.

        There is no such thing as car lighting. There is no such thing as bike lighting.
        There is only road lighting.

    • stewart says:

      Good synopsis Phil: 700 lumens at speed at speed on unlit rural roads in driving rain with storm windfall about leaves me wanting more. I’d be willing to sacrifice strobing at dusk and in the grey though: I don’t want to be taken for a police action or explicitly demarked road hazard from a quarter mile. 700 is enough to be mistaken for a motorcycle and enough to get high beams flashed at you if aimed too high. Bright to the point of causing problems if abused. Accustomed to that much headlight now, I’d not like to go back.

  31. Stuart Strand says:

    I ride a low recumbent so I am especially affected by aggressively powerful lights on the BGT. I commute the nothern BGT and it gets plenty dark under the trees near the city limits, so the need for pretty bright lights is understandable, but too much is too much. The good part about the crosscut article was its attempt to quantify the problem by the lumens emitted by the lighting system. Regulation should first focus on lumens emitted.

    After messing with battery systems, I converted to dynamos for reliability reasons. But only the hub dynamos were reliable. The driven dynamos failed in wet conditions.

    Riding the BGT the best defense against light in the eyes is to focus on the edge of the trail and ride straight.

    • bill says:

      Stuart — google “carbon spider recumbent visor”. These are great. You can just lower your head a little and the visor shades your eyes. I covered mine with reflective tape to throw some of the light back at the source. Unfortunately these are no longer made, but there is a useful thread on BROL: http://tinyurl.com/o2puayo.

  32. Stuart Strand says:

    I should have said, ” The tire-driven dynamos failed in wet conditions.”

    Also: the blinding brightness of oncoming lights at night can be disorienting, but morning sun at this time of year also blinds and never dims out of courtesy.

  33. Allan says:

    I have seen really bright multiple lights on motorcycles. I only think it fair that bicycles be able to have the same lights as a motorcycle, now that finally we can.

  34. Mark says:

    The brightness is not the problem. Bright lights are great, but aiming the up into the night where they do nothing but blind motorists & cyclists and waste energy is the problem. Aim it at the road, 1.5 to 2.5 bike lengths in front of you. This is what the long distance cyclists who ride long miles have been doing for decades. Everyone can see you, you can see what you need to and no one is blinded. DON’T aim it straight out. Aim it down.
    (Many of the newer, brightest generator lights on the market are being designed to naturally aim that way.)

    • Allan says:

      You need to aim a lot further unless you are riding 8mph. I have decided what to do. I am going to go out one evening with several lights. Find a friendly person with a big motorcycle. Match my power and aim to the motorcycle for my low setting to the motorcycle’s low beam. I would dim my full power around other people anyway so that does not matter. That is the going to be the legal way out and by the way, I am pretty sure a generator light can’t match a big motorcycle or a car. Am I wrong about that? I think strobing or even modulating at night could be a liability issue so that is now out of the question, maybe even for daytime use. The 700 lumen light lasts a long time on strobe with a 45 gram battery. Unfortuneately bigger steady power needs a 4 pack at about 200 grams. I think we are probably talking about 1500 lumens aimed at 75 feet with possibly a hood on the top of the light.

      • Allan says:

        So I left the house today with a steady light aimed down and within the first mile a car pulled out in front of me. So I set it back to strobing or modulating. It seems that is all that works.

    • Josh says:

      The law for single-beam motor vehicle headlights sets a reasonable compromise between distance vision and potential glare for oncoming drivers:

      (1) The head lamps shall be so aimed that when the vehicle is not loaded none of the high intensity portion of the light shall at a distance of twenty-five feet ahead project higher than a level of five inches below the level of the center of the lamp from which it comes, and in no case higher than forty-two inches above the level on which the vehicle stands at a distance of seventy-five feet ahead;
      (RCW 46.37.240)

      If you have a round flashlight beam, you need to aim it lower than a modern headlight beam in order to keep the top of the beam below level. Something like the Philips Saferide or other high-powered StVZO-compliant lights can be aimed out 100-150 feet without putting any high-intensity light above level. That allows you to see the road at a good speed without blinding oncoming riders or drivers.

      • ED sander says:

        Lightig is about visibelity , for the riders benifit and the threating traffic information. Motor vehicles have very specific standards for illumination and aiming so ought bicycles. In the absense of regulation common sense must prevail . Lights should be aimed to illuminate what you must see, a fairly flat cone of light that reaches out a usefull distance ahead of you . Flashing modes are only of value for day time visibility inhancment. at night they are counter productive at best due to retinal fatigue damaging over all night vision. Slow down at night your vision is diminished as is your visibility. Wear a good reflective vest.It is an amazingly useful item . Blinding the oncoming traffic is not just rude , but may be life threatening if the traffic is disoriented by your over bright lighting. I am an older rider. all people loose the ability to accommodate to high contrasts of light as they age . Improve your visibility by helping us see you. Ride safe, and long Thanks ED

  35. Allan says:

    Just found in California law……

    (1) A lamp emitting a white light that, while the bicycle is in motion, illuminates the highway, sidewalk, or bikeway in front of the bicyclist and is visible from a distance of 300 feet in front and from the sides of the bicycle.

    It seems you need a pretty bright light to also be seen from the sides for 300 feet.

  36. bill says:

    “Is there really a bike light arms race, or are we all just confused about what’s safe?”

    The comments show the answers to both questions are “yes.”

    • Allan says:

      Naw, because if it really was an arms race I’ll bet I could squeeze 20,000 lumens onto just one bike. But I am not confused about what is not safe, I know that would’t be safe.

  37. Allan says:

    I was in downtown Seattle waiting outside for my wife for about 45 minutes tonight. Lots and lots of bicycles went past. 3 out of six cops were missing a tailight. Their headlights were minimal to be sure. 3 out of 4 pedicabs were missing lights. I don’t know how a cop with crappy lights could quite give a pedicab a ticket for bad and missing lights. I must have seen 50 bikes and only one had acceptable lights and it was one of the pedicabs. The few with headlights that could be seen at 500 feet would be missed by anyone not actively looking for them. I guess they meant in the rule book “they should be seen at 500 feet on an unlit forest road with no other vehicles around.” Riding a bike in downtown Seattle at night, it would be way better to have to much light than too little and get run over.

  38. David Feldman says:

    This is a marvelous problem to have! I have cycled at night for more than forty years.
    The best lights then were worse than the worst lights now–as well as being run by a tire sidewall generator that felt like dragging a brick on a rope behind your bike. I believe that the subhuman predatory animal that the American motorist is needs the high output of today’s lights just to notice us–a front blinky isn’t worth a damn where you need to see where you are going, but it sure will distract some motoring primate’s attention from their text message in time to see you. Please, tolerate the firepower used by other cyclists. There is a night riding discipline that you have to learn, which I learned on a suburban commute years ago–one can develop the reflex of following a fog line or equivalent with your eyes and keeping oncoming lights on the periphery of your vision.
    It worked with car headlights then, it will work with other cyclists’ headlights now.
    Aiming one’s light down at the road doesn’t meet the needs of all night cycling situations.

  39. Rob Stone says:

    It seems like there are a lot of soap boxes being stood upon in this thread.

    I find it a little confusing because (some) people are talking about many different road conditions as if they were all the same.

    Just to be on the safe side, I will segregate my responses with respect to the individual case.

    Daylight usage: Knock yourself out. Put out as many lumens as you want, flashing or not. Personally, I think that flashing lights in daytime are better seen by drivers. Hopefully said drivers will not use the flashing lights as an aiming point.

    Night time on roads with cars: Knock yourself out. Ride legally, with traffic. If there are streetlights, I could care less if the bike lights are flashing and they might still be seen by drivers better than lights that are merely on. Typically where I ride, there is enough ambient light to see the street. If this is not the case, say outside the city, with few or no street lights, the more light the better.

    Night time on a trail (like the BGT): When opposing bikes are only several feet away, the big lights are too much, blinking or not (and blinking is dangerous when there is little available ambient light). If you have to have enough light to start fires, then it is incumbent upon you, the owner, to respect other trail users, either by dimming or using your hand to obscure some of the light so that others are not blinded. Always use your power for good, never evil.

  40. razr says:

    I like to ride @ all times of the day, but when it comes to night time I have one very bright light that I wear on my Helmet & a few lesser bright lights on the bike itself (none overwhelming) & here is how I use them. When on-coming bike traffic begins to come into view, if the biker has sufficient lighting I turn my head down & to my right just enough to not blind the biker & just enough for me to be within safe parameters for viewing forwards & still see. If the biker has no light or insufficient lighting I blind him as much as I possibly can. Since I am very fit & have a large stature, I will stand my ground against these punks who think that they can ride without lights or insufficient lighting. I have many lights that I have bought over the years & it seems to me that as cheap as most {sufficient lights} cost, that there shouldn’t be any reason why everyone who rides bikes shouldn’t have at least one light for the front of their bike to allow bikers notice of their presence. I will vote for any law Initiative that requires bikers to have bike lights & License plates also for bike makers to stamp VIN #’s so that each & every bike would be tracked like an Automobile. If a person has a bike & no VIN # then it must be stolen & suspect would be arrested for theft. Tabs could be associated with VIN # & maybe we could even have Title’s & Registrations for our bikes. This sure would put any end to many bike thefts. All the monies made from the Tabs & Registrations would be used to make our bike paths clean from over-growth of weeds, tree limbs, root damage, etc. etc. etc, & other stuff that tends to steal away bike path width during the growing seasons. Seriously if your go to bike in our world then get a Sufficient Light.

    • Allan says:

      I am so against licensing bikes and feel it would antagonize many out of biking at all. I am sure the city would be happy to charge the guy with a $75 bike a $50 a year license fee. Maybe Target and Wallmart could just add $50 on at the register. Maybe bike shops could do the same. You know the city would smell a profit in something like that and than just think of the fines they could collect. Add illegal bike parking to the meter maids route. What about the bike collectors, just hit them up for $500 or $1000 a year. Make a mistake and get caught by a red light camera? I think your plan would screw just about everybody from the Huffy rider to the serious multi bike owner and the stores that are trying to eke out a living in the bike business. It seems like an evil wealthy Republicans idea. It seems like a great idea from people who actually hate cyclists. Do you hate them?

  41. Kirk from Ballard says:

    Since the bike light topic always creates so much discussion, I started a thread on the Seattle Bike Blog forum summarizing my perspective. Check it out!

  42. ED sander says:

    Bicycle licensing. Back when bikes were a valued part of our transport system they were licensed by the municipality. the license included a registry of the frame number . it gave you a chance of getting your bike back if stolen. There were also minimal reflectorizition and lighting requirements for night riding. Due to the changes in our life styles . a state registry , would be the most effective now. I too dislike taxes and regulation, but there are benefits to be gained. It must be noted that considerable public investment is now going into bicycle infrastructure . It is not unreasonable to expect the user to show appreciation for this by contributing to it financially through registration fees, It would be good to keep these fees out of the general fund and retain them for bicycle transport issues only. Ed

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