So Jeff Hallman and three other West Seattle residents went to a dark section of the industrial Jack Block Park armed with bikes, bike lights of all kinds, a camera and a car.
The series of seven videos isn’t going to win an Academy Award, but it is a useful demonstration of how bike lights of differing strengths look from behind a windshield. Here’s an example:
The results largely reinforce points we were making in a post from November. A: You don’t need super expensive or extremely high-lumen lights for urban bicycling. B: Please don’t use the strobe mode with bright headlights. C: Any light is better than no light. D: There are so many bike light choices that it can be confusing to people just looking for something standard, legal and safe.
This last point is the real problem. If you don’t know what to buy, it makes sense to many people to buy the brightest bike light in your price range. Brighter is better, right? Well, you aren’t stupid for thinking so, but it turns out that might not always be true. The West Seattle Bike Connections folks conclude that at 500 lumens or higher, bike lights are too bright and should only be used if they are pointed at the ground in front of you to illuminate the road.
Cars come standard with standard headlights, and consumers are not required to dive into the intricacies of lumen levels and proper light angle. It shouldn’t be that way for bikes, either. But it is.
So until the US bike market makes things more simple, the best you can do is buy lights you feel comfortable with and try not to point them in people’s eyes. And turn off the the strobe when you’re on a trail or dark street.