All lit up… like a Christmas Tree?

Now that daylight savings time has ended and most of us in the U.S. have “fallen back” to standard time, many more of us face dark commutes home. But – on the bright side – literally – we have daylight again for the commute to work in the morning. The fall back could not have occurred for me at a better time, since I had to be at work earlier than usual on Monday morning and was so glad to have the sun grace my commute in.

But the evening commute is all dark. My route typically takes me through an area of Chicago with many tourists. I found myself grinning from ear to ear upon hearing a couple of businessmen comment to each other, “Look – she’s all lit up like a Christmas Tree” and then to me they said, “There’s no way you won’t be seen.” That’s the point – to be seen and hopefully be safer in the dark. My helmet has a Cateye Opticube headlight strapped to the top and a Planet Bike Superflash secured to the back (with a small kitty collar), along with reflective tape and stickers along the side.

My fellow cyclists get creative when it comes to being seen, and I admired this woman’s hi-vis rear reflectors and lights! What a great use of old CDs.

Yesterday I read a post on the Bicycle Victoria site about visibility and was surprised to read “Riders seem generally have a poor understanding of what makes them visible.” The article went on to state: “Reflective vests, rated highly by many riders, were nowhere near as effective as reflective strips worn on the ankles and knees‹which riders thought poorly of.” And it rated flashing lights as most effective.

I never assume any driver sees me, so I just use a combination of visibility tactics – hi-vis jacket or vest, flashing lights front and back and reflectors.

My next addition to my bike will be a Fiber Flare, which should add even more 360-degree visibiltiy.

In Chicago, it’s the law for cyclists to have a headlight on their bikes after dark and at least a rear reflector. The Active Transportation Alliance recently ran a campaign to raise funds for headlight distribution to cyclists. Don’t be surprised to volunteers out there – flash mob style – in the attempt to equip more than 200 cyclists with free headlights and educate cyclists about staying safe on the street after dark.

If you need some advice as to what the differences between all those lighting choices are, Noah’s recent review of lighting systems should help you assess your lighting needs to get all lit up, too.


  1. Dalton

    Wow, I really like the fiber flare. I have been getting more and more into lighting and keep looking for new options. I am going to make some Gino mounts on my father’s old metal lathe and get some lights added to my fork, but those will be more as headlights and not as much focus on visibility – I have a PDW Spaceship for that and it works well. I think my next purchase will be a fenderbot from PDW also since I have added fenders (went with the yellow hardcore hybrid from PB). I am thinking I will be pretty good once I have those few upgrades done.

  2. Ghost Rider

    Good article — we can never be TOO visible! And it’s good to mix tactics; flashing and steady lights, reflectors in various colors and shapes, bright outerwear colors, etc.

  3. harry krishna

    good article. and thanks for the tips. even this geezer learned something.

  4. Rusty Wright

    I’ve been tempted to get these but I’m thinking that they’ll push me over my dork/geek threshold:

    But it just occurred to me that perhaps they could be mounted on our helmets?

  5. Elizabeth

    @ Rusty – great idea… I’m sure someone will figure out the best way to mount them to helmet or bike.

    That site also features a beacon light — think mounting it to the top of a helmet would get attention?

  6. Rusty Wright

    I was glad to see you underscore the importance of flashing lights.

  7. Iron_Man

    It’s a good idea to have a friend step outside with you at night and check you out riding up and down the street. It’s kinda hard to get a good handle on just how visible you are unless you get a third party opinion on it. Having them jump in a car to get that vantage point wouldn’t hurt either. Psychologically it’s also rather reassuring to hear “Wow, I could see you coming from a long way off!”

  8. Deb

    I read the report about the reflectives, and their lack of effectiveness above the waist, but I had a couple problems with the report – it seemed to ignore different heights of riders, as well as different heights of vehicles! Given that I have buses, dumptrucks, and tractor trailers behind me sometimes, I can’t see how it is possible that reflectives above the waist wouldn’t be helpful!

    Also, it seemed to ignore the issues when riding in low light. I have less worries in the dark because of lights and reflectives, than I do in low-light, when lights and reflectives aren’t as visible…that’s when the fluorescent vest/jacket seems most important.

  9. Tokyo By Bike

    I’ve been using a Down Low Glow for over 3 years now and would highly recommend it. Even on the narrow streets of Tokyo motorists give me noticeably more space on the road when I’m riding with it.

  10. Elizabeth (Post author)

    @ Deb, for the reasons you state, I use a variety of visibility tactics and placements. I like the flashing lights on my helmet, as they are often more visible than the blinky lights on my bike. But I love the reflective triangle on the back of my bike (hanging off the rear rack) as I think vehicles see it. In low light or hazy conditions a hi-vis vest or jacket can’t hurt. Stay safe out there.

  11. Elizabeth (Post author)

    @ Rusty, too bad this beacon light attached to the top of a helmet is likely illegal. I’m sure it would be noticed.

  12. John the Monkey

    Anecdotally, Fibre Flares are a bit prone to damage from water ingress- a friend of mine bought two last year, and both failed because of that. It’s worth giving some thought to where you mount them, bearing that in mind.

  13. Danny

    That helmet-mounted Superflash might be overkill—a couple of PB Spoks work very well for me, and the Superflash can do the job under the seat. The problem with a flasher hung from a bag or a helmet is losing the optimum angle to catch motorist’s eyes. I’d recommend a flasher on the seatpost (as long as any cargo bags don’t obscure it)—with the ‘beam’ slightly off center to the left where the motorist would see it easier.

    To each his own—thanks for a great article. I hadn’t thought about kicking it old school with a reflective band—in motion on my leg would be an attention getter.

  14. Elizabeth (Post author)

    @ John the Monkey – What I like about the Flare is its ease of attachment and its flexibilty — a friend of mine has attached to a various spots on the bike, on a bag and on a helmet! I’ll be experimenting too.

  15. Elizabeth (Post author)

    @Danny – I could put a rear light on my helmet that actually has a helmet mount. But what I like about my current set-up is that I’ll always have light with me wherever I take that helmet. Sometimes I’ll forget that I removed a light from my bike while I have it parked and suddenly find myself without necessary lighting — so at least I’ve got some lighting.

  16. Matt

    I use the following lights ( will last for 3 hours and provide 1800+ Lumens We are talking supernova bright lights and are brighter than most car headlights on the down side they do cost over £400 – but you cant put a price on safety

  17. Mike Myers

    I may have gone overboard with my lighting, but I was hit from behind in BROAD FREAKING DAYLIGHT so I take no chances. I have a Superflash mounted to the strap on my Bell Metro helmet and I wear a reflective vest which has flashing LEDs. Main commuter has a DiNotte taillight(!) and a Superflash mounted on the rack. Secondary commuter has a Flash Flag on left seatstay, with Superflash on Carradice bag and BLT light on right seatstay. Tertiary commuter has single Superflash. All bikes have strips of 3M diamond reflective tape on crankarms. I’m visible.

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