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:
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!
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.