BikeCommuters.com

Lights

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:

bicyclesafe.com

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.

Rear Blinky Comparo

Since it gets darker sooner, most of us have to ride in the dark. I’m more than a little paranoid about being seen — especially from the back. Most of us know that the DiNotte lights are the brightest but they will leave your wallet very thin (about $169 bucks). So I gathered what most companies considered their brightest rear lights under $40 dollars.

The Players:

Planet Bike Superflash:

* Half-watt BlazeTM LED plus 2 eXtreme LEDs for visibility up to 1 mile
* Unique, eye-catching flash pattern
* Flashing and steady mode
* Ultra compact vertical design is weatherproof, lightweight and durable
* Includes bike mounts and clip mount for multiple mounting options
* Up to 100 hours of run time on 2 AAA batteries (included)

Thumbs Up: Small, light, dual mounting options, easy to remove, really freaking bright.
Thumbs Down: None.

Blackburn Mars 3.0:

*seven superbright red LED’s inside a sleek water resistant case.
*Lens optics increase visible distance and side LED’s provide 180 degree safety-boosting visibility.
*150 hour runtime flash mode.
*Batteries included.
*Water resistant.

Thumbs Up: Small, light, dual mounting options, easy to remove, amber LEDs on the side
Thumbs Down: None.

Cateye TL-LD1000

*2 AA batteries
*10 LED’s
*3 flashing modes runs to 100 hours
*Constant mode runs to 50 hours
*18 – 44 mm seat post mounting
*Clothing clip included
*100 Candlepower

Thumbs Up: Dual mounting options, easy to remove, multiple modes, 2 LED’s per side.
Thumbs Down: Not as small or light as the Blackburn or Planet Bike and pricier.

Lightman Xenon Strobe:

*True Strobe Xenon-white flash tube with high-efficiency circuitry for maximum visibility and impact.
*Unique Pyramid Shape provides 180° of visibility. Does not have to face traffic directly to be seen.
*High-intensity model – 3 to 7 hours; Long-duration model – 7 to 15 hours. 83 flashes per minute.
*Compact & Lightweight 3.5? (9cm) each side. 1.5? (4cm) high. Fits in palm of hand. Weighs 3.9 ozs. (115 gm) with batteries installed.
*Impact & Weather Resistant

Thumbs Up: Multiple mounting options, easy to remove, multiple lenses, remote switch (optional), reflectors, big ass blinkie.
Thumbs Down: Big Ass Blinkie, battery life not as long as the others, No side LEDs, sold in very few places.

Firefly Supernova:

Its durable plastic clip enables you to securely attach it to your waistband, belt or even your shirt collar. Wear it whenever you go out at dark and be seen by motorists from up to a mile away. Available in Red, Blue and Green. Batteries included.

Thumbs Up: Small, light, easy to remove, really inexpensive.
Thumbs Down: Expensive battery, clip on only no seat post mount, only sold at www.RoadID.com.

My Opinion
All the lights performed as advertised, they are all very noticeable and very bright. However, one light outshone the others: the Planet Bike Superflash. The Mars 3.0 and the Cateye TL-LD1000 were a close second but the Mars 3.0 is half the price of the Cateye, the Firefly Supernova in third and the Lightman Xenon strobe in last. For being a single LED light and for being the cheapest, I was really surprised how bright the Firefly Supernova is, it will now become my rear helmet light of choice. As far as the Lightman Xenon strobe goes, I’ve owned this rear light for over 2 years and LED technology has come a long way so I wasn’t surprised that it was outperformed.

Here’s a video of the rear lights from about 40 yards away, I know is kind of crappy but you can definitely see which one is the brightest light.

Christmas Lights for Bikes!

Our buddy Noah over in Kansas City had a holiday-themed post over at his blog the other day…he found some Christmas lights for his bike!

Totally inspired by this, I proceeded to scour the Web, looking for similar battery-powered LED lights for my commuting bike after a search of several local stores turned up bupkis. Yeah, that’s right…I said “BUPKIS”!

Finally, after a good bit of searching, I discovered exactly what I wanted — multi-colored blinking LED Christmas lights powered by AA batteries. I got them from a site called “Deal Extreme”. Right now, there is worldwide FREE SHIPPING on this item!

As Noah indicated on his blog, the battery case for these lights is a bit flimsy and not exactly waterproof. I, too, added a rubberband and a plastic sandwich bag to reinforce the battery case and slipped it into the pocket of my pannier. The full light cable is three meters long fully extended, so I ran the lights up my toptube, around the headtube and down the downtube, securing the cable with a few zipties as I went.

Here’s how it looks:
Christmas lights

Wait — let’s try this poorly-made video to see how things look! The really bright red flash to the right is my Planet Bike “Superflash”:

The picture doesn’t do these lights justice — each LED blinks from red to green to blue, purple, yellow and orange and there are a multitude of flashing patterns!! As I rode home tonight from the annual Hillsborough River Christmas Boat Parade, I got a lot of honks and shouts of “Hey, Santa!” from passing motorists and pedestrians. It was AWESOME! Now all I need to do is grow a big belly and a white beard!