Just Ask Jack — Lights At Night?

A reader sent in the following question:

If you ride at night, what would you consider to be most important:

1. To be lit on the front
2. To be lit on the back
3. To be lit on the sides?

My gut feeling tells me that if I only had one light to choose from (let’s say a freak occurence disabled all other lighting choices or drained all but a couple batteries), I’d pick the light in the back as most important. My reasoning is that to a certain degree, we have more control over events that happen to the front and sides of us as we ride at night — we can see cars coming from the other direction and can (hopefully) watch out for vehicles turning, road hazards and other perils. That’s really not the case with cars coming up from behind us; a cyclist never knows just how close an overtaking car is until it’s pretty much right alongside!

It turns out, though, that crash statistics don’t bolster my “gut feeling”…overtaking collisions between motorists and bicyclists happen a lot less frequently than you might think (between 4% and 10%, depending on the study).

A couple of studies have suggested that the overwhelming majority of car/bicycle collisions (nearly 80%!!!) come when crossing or turning events occur. Here’s a diagram of two of the most common collisions in question:


I spoke to Julie Bond of the Center for Urban Transportation Research at the University of South Florida about this. Julie looks at crash statistics (among other things) for a living, so I thought I’d get her input on this question. Her response was:

“You probably know that in Florida [as in most other states], it is the law that you must have a front light and back light between sunset and sunrise. I wouldn’t want
to use crash statistics to try to justify one light over the other.

In my opinion, if you ride between sunset and sunrise both lights are
mandatory for safety and to abide by the law. I turn my lights on during
the day also. I think it makes me more visible on my ride to work.”

Good points, Julie…but where does that leave us? And how do we defend against turning or crossing collisions? We’ve got lights that point to the front and to the back…but there’s not a whole lot of choice or emphasis on side lighting, right?

There’s hope on the horizon! In addition to Hokey Spokes and RL’s favorite, the LED Spoke Light, Moe sent me a package of Nikko Starlights, an ingenious and inexpensive wheel light from Japan:

Nikko Starlight

The Starlight attaches to the spokes of your wheels and serves as both reflector and motion-activated light. Inside the plastic case is a tiny screw floating inside a magnet…as you roll down the street or bounce over rough spots, this tiny screw makes an electrical connection and fires up the light. I’ll try to shoot a video of it soon.

The light is surprisingly bright, and at cruising speed it creates a red “hoop” effect that’s pretty darn visible. This might just be the neatest solution to side lighting that I’ve seen in a while!

starlight mounted

So, in order to be prepared riding at night, I always preach redundancy: multiple lights both front and rear, spare batteries in your bag or repair kit, reflective tape or other reflectors everywhere you can squeeze some in…and now side lighting to help protect yourself against those turning or crossing collisions. You CANNOT be “too visible” out there!

We’d sure love to hear if any of our readers have other side lighting solutions or additional considerations for nighttime safety. Just leave your comments below!

Have a cycling-related question? Just Ask Jack! Click on the link in the right-hand column to send me your questions.


  1. Just Ask Jack — Lights At Night? March 7, 2008 9:27 am 

    […] Writerâ??s Block Media wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerpt A reader sent in the following question: If you ride at night, what would you consider to be most important: 1. To be lit on the front 2. To be lit on the back 3. To be lit on the sides? My gut feeling tells me that if I only had one light to choose from (let’s say a freak occurence disabled all other lighting choices or drained all but a couple batteries), I’d pick the light in the back as most important. My reasoning is that to a certain degree, we have more control over events that happ […]

  2. Quinn March 7, 2008 9:38 am 


    Great post, I agree that you cannot be to visible. Hoever this post makes me think of the Nevada law that states that a headlight is mandatory, but a bike can have a light Or a reflector in the rear. Though my main commuter has all the lights and reflectos I can stand, my lil SS park bike has a headlight, rear flector.

    I also have some trick reflective tape on my commuter that I think you’ve seen.

  3. David Veatch March 7, 2008 9:46 am 

    When I first started commuting to work, I set up four Cateye TL-LD600’s plus a Cateye EL-700RC Triple Shot Rechargeable LED. Two TL-LD600’s on the forks pointing to the sides, two mounted to the rack pointing to the rear, and the EL-700RC on the bars pointing straight ahead. I knew from the get go that side lighting would be very important for visibility.

    I like the idea of this light better than the LED Spoke Light b/c there’s no configuration. You don’t have to line up magnets. You simply attach and go.

    Any idea how to get hold of one here? A quick Google search didn’t yield anything.

  4. Ghost Rider March 7, 2008 10:13 am 

    Quinn, that “blackout” reflective tape is some pretty fantastic stuff. I’m going to have to look into that. Strange that only a reflector is required in Nevada — a passive light source just leaves too much to chance in my opinion (an opinion shared by others, notably John Schubert in a guest article on Sheldonbrown.com:


    David, that was quite an arsenal of lights you put on your bike…visibility FTW!

    I had the same trouble searching for a dealer of these lights…Moe, can you help us? Seein’ as how you hooked me up in the first place?

  5. Moe March 7, 2008 10:24 am 

    Those lights can be found at an LBS, if your LBS doesn’t carry them, ask them to order them from KHS.

  6. Spinner March 7, 2008 10:49 am 

    Lights are important, but the best way to avoid a right hook is to be in the correct lane position. Never be to the right of a vehicle that might turn right. Get out away from the curb and take the lane if necessary when you approaching a driveway or an intersection.

  7. Ghost Rider March 7, 2008 11:00 am 

    Thanks for the insight, Moe.

    Spinner, excellent point…NO amount of side-lighting will protect you if you’re in a bad position to begin with!

  8. db March 7, 2008 11:06 am 

    For side-lighting, I use these Knog Frog blinkies. I also have wheel reflecters and tires with a reflective strip on the sidewall — Vittorias for my roadbike and Panaracers for my MTB commuter.

  9. Robin March 7, 2008 11:11 am 

    I agree with Spinner here and would like to point out that bike lanes actually promote this type of poor position and often lead to right hooks. I am working on a program in Bethlehem PA called Bicycle Heaven in Bethlehem http://docs.google.com/Present?docid=dc46kwjn_44gw5ttk&skipauth=true
    which uses a shared lane marking as an alternative to a bike lane to promote proper positioning on the road.

  10. Fritz March 7, 2008 2:54 pm 

    My gut feel is for the front light, so it’s reassuring to see that the empirical data seems to back that up.. Spinner, lane positioning doesn’t help much if you’re not visible. I agree that redundant lights are good to have.

    That spoke light looks promising — better than tireflies I imagine. I really like the Reelight lights on my commuter.

  11. Ghost Rider March 7, 2008 3:04 pm 

    We’re big fans of Reelights too. I particularly like that they’re positioned lower to the ground — giving motorists another point to (hopefully) focus on. No batteries = no worries!

    In addition to Hokey Spokes, there’s another alternative I should mention — Lady Ada’s kits:


  12. Jamis_Bater March 7, 2008 3:26 pm 

    I grabbed a roll of reflective tape at Wal-Mart and cut it into squares, then wrapped them around the spokes about two inches from the ends. They work pretty good for side shots. That’s in addition to a headlight and blinky tail light, and every last stitch of reflective clothing I can wear. If a flashing neon sign wasn’t so heavy I’d consider that too.

  13. Mike Myers March 7, 2008 4:05 pm 

    I wear a reflective vest which has blinking LEDs front and rear. I don’t have side lighting on my main commuter, but I have reflectors I bought from Rivendell on the wheels. They’re reflective fabric stitched to strips of velcro, which attach to the spokes. Much more reflective than the old plastic reflectors, and don’t affect wheel truing. I put strips of reflective tape on the front and rear of my crankarms, and a strip on the rear fender.

    Actual lighting? DiNotte 600L headlight, DiNotte 140L taillight, PB Superflash blinkie on rear rack and one on rear of helmet, and DiNotte 200L helmet light. That, plus the vest makes me pretty darned visible.

    That setup is on my commuter. Grocery bike has a Superflash and a Hong Kong special 40 LED headlight. It works. I have Tireflys on the valve stems, and Tirefly Reflects(which look like the Starlight but have an on/off switch) on the spokes. I’m not happy with Tireflys. They work intermittently, at best. +

  14. Ghost Rider March 7, 2008 4:40 pm 

    Mike, I bet folks can see you coming from miles away — like a pedal-powered UFO!

    That’s the experience I had with Tireflys, too. Besides, they blow through batteries like nobody’s business!

    The Nikko Starlight has a coin slot to turn them on or off. So far, it’s a battery sipper — I just leave mine on all the time since I never manage to have a coin with me…damn soda addiction!

  15. aves March 7, 2008 4:42 pm 

    For side lighting I use something called the down low glow: http://www.rockthebike.com/lights/downlowglow

    Enhances the visibility of the bike to the drivers…components not too big… just strapped it to one of my bottle cages and the neon tube seems to be securly fastened to the bike’s bottom tube.

    This is in addition to my headlight, tail light, and reflective tires. Think I might add the nikko starlights to my current setup next.

  16. RL March 7, 2008 6:03 pm 


    I use my down low glow when I do night rides on our local mtn trails.

    Then what I do is turn off all my lights hide in the bushes and wait for my riding buddies to come, then I jump out and scare them!

    It’s pretty funny…you should try it.


  17. steve March 9, 2008 1:35 pm 

    A few weeks ago, I crashed after a near miss from a left cross situation. It was during the evening rush hours, so the setting sun was in the eyes of the driver before he made the left turn. He fortunately did not make contact, but it was really close and I lost control in my attempt to avoid being hit, hit a driveway curb, and flew over my handlebars. The steel fork bent and I had some lingering injuries (knee and bruised ribs) that are now healed enough to the point where I can ride again.

    I didn’t have my lights on, because I thought there was plenty of daylight. I’m not sure how well my planet bike blaze headlight would have worked, due to the brightness of the setting sun that was allegedly dominating the driver’s eyesight. I think I’m going to invest in the down low glow soon, to give some contrast. I’m just trying to figure out the best alternative in a setting sun situation.

  18. Elizabeth March 10, 2008 2:54 pm 

    A local guy in Chicago sells these great reflective stickers – available online and at local shops:
    (and as a bonus 50% of the proceeds benefit public charities helping children of abuse)

  19. Derek March 10, 2008 11:09 pm 

    another vote for down low glow


    Riding on the road at night is safer than during the day. Cars actually give me an entire lane when possible. Best safety purchase ever.

  20. fruit April 3, 2008 3:37 am 

    I use:

    Blackburn Quadrant Bicycle Headlight

    A cheap Sunlite HL-L300 white blinker Headlight

    ANSI Standard Class 2 reflective Vest, Lime

    Blackburn Mars 3.0 Flasher Rear Bicycle Light

    Planet Bike Blinky Super Flash Rear Bicycle Light

    Planet Bike BRT Strap Multi-Use LED Bicycle Safety Light (Reflection Visible up to 2000 ft ) on my right leg for side traffic coming towards me.

    Super Reflective “Pop Bands” Yellow (Pair) | by Vedante (reflective up to 1500 feet).

    Reflectors/DOT Reflective tape on bike.

    I’m weakest on my side and need more there, plus eventually a brighter Headlight (the new Planet Bike One-Watt Blaze with it’s Cree XRE LED is good I hear). I was almost hit by a dumb cop pulling out, as he was going too fast on my right side.

    Not sure about these: http://www.pekoproducts.com/bikelights.htm

    I can’t find the Nikko Starlight locally or on the net, any suggestions? Is the light visible from both sides??

    The Down Low Glow Lighting Kit – Two Tubes-by Fossil Fool is a really bright, good kit if you can afford it ($100-$169). Comes with a rechargeable battery, charger, two tubes, and “easy” to install kit.

  21. amanda May 7, 2008 2:42 pm 

    I am going to buy these lights when they come back in stock. Apparently cars give you a wide berth as they think you are a motorbike. http://www.ayup.com.au

  22. Moe May 7, 2008 3:00 pm 

    Amanda, we got to interview the people behind Ay up lights, they are very cool. Check out our video interview:


    We are also in the process of reviewing this lights on our mountain bike site, we’ll post a link to the review once it is done.

  23. amanda May 7, 2008 6:24 pm 

    Ah, will go look. I have just received some reelights… although need to get some cable ties to attach them, also have an ironman helmet that has built in rechargable lights (now been discontinued I think) and a planet stealth lights on the back. Together with the ayups I think I will be OK in my Melbourne black!

  24. amanda May 7, 2008 9:31 pm 

    BTW that Lance looks good from the back… what’s the front like? :op

  25. Bicycle Lights May 27, 2011 6:24 am 

    These lights are really good. they provide the rider with an indication in dark conditions. Moreover such lights are good because they are a forms of reflectors and or a reusable source of light. i like your blog .

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