LED Bike Lights: Choices Enhance Safety With Fun
I often trick out my bike frame with battery-powered twinkly lights for holiday rides. But at this dark time of year, it’s much more important to have good lights for safety, and even use them during the daytime.
And a good set of bike lights or other reflective safety items makes an excellent Christmas gift.
With LEDs now common and reasonably priced, and a bunch of new innovations that just amaze, there are plenty of lighting options.
Many of the LED-powered lights are rechargable with a USB connection, or use the CR 2032 battery, which is smaller, cheaper and lighter than old alkaline AA or AAA cells. And because the LEDs sip at power rather than gobble it, you get a lot more life out of those flat, quarter-size cells. Rechargeable lights are great, but the feature brings the price up quite a bit.
So here are some ideas to light up your night ride.*
Planet Bike’s Blaze set combines a powerful 180-lumen LED front light with an attention-getting multi-function rear light. I’ve long used this set on my commuting bike, and now that it comes in a rechargable version, I can stop buying batteries.
Kids like the same company’s little Spok light set, which each has a blinky LED on a short Velcro strap. They can be attached to helmets, packs or the bike. Not super-strong, so don’t use these as your only lights.
I like the concept of the Light & Motion helmet system, which combines front and back lights attached to the helmet. After the ride, it’s much easier to just “plug in the helmet” rather than unclipping the front and back lights from the bike and charging them separately.
Again, I think lights are needed on the bike as well as on the helmet, because a helmet light is too high to say “this is a bike” at a glance, so I wouldn’t use this system as a stand-alone.
There are lights for spokes, magnetized reflectors with lights for clothing or backpacks, even a set of lights that fit within your wheels and cast a path of light on the ground in front and in back of your bike. And more innovative designs are being released regularly. I like the Lite Beams mount that puts the headlight down low on the front fork or wheel skewer, and is made in Washington.
Even if you don’t want one of these high-tech systems, just visiting their websites to play the amazing videos of their products is a lot of fun.
…and last but not least, an innovative helmet that provides great front and back lighting, and turn signals!
Thought on light use
When shopping for lights, I think it’s important to think about other cyclists, other vehicle drivers, and the law.
Be kind to fellow cyclists. Don’t use a rear light that is blinding to those riding behind you. I think the strobing red lights are the worst offenders.
When on a trail, switch to solid rather than flashing. Better yet, find a light that has multiple stages of brightness.
Don’t strobe motorists. Motorists often complain about cyclists either being invisible in traffic (no lights or very weak lights) or annoyingly bright. The latter problem comes with these powerful LEDs. Again, using the flashing mode can be the most annoying.
The white strobe of a front light can blind a driver through his rear-view mirrors, or at the very least distract the driver from paying attention to the road. You don’t want to endanger the cyclist or pedestrian in front of him, do you?
If you see this situation happening, position yourself so your lights aren’t nailing the car right in its mirrors.
A great test for your lighting is to get into a car and see what your bike lights look like. Have a friend ride your bike while you follow in a car, and then pass and look at the front light in the car’s mirrors. You’ll quickly know if you purchased a light that is too bright.
Know the law. Washington state regulations require a front light and rear reflector when riding during the hours of darkness.
The front light must be white and visible from at least 500 feet away. The rear reflector may be red and make you visible from all distances 100 to 600 feet to the rear when the low beam of a vehicle’s headlights hits you.
It’s good to go out and test your lights and reflectors on a dark night with a friend in the car. Get real-world input from a loved one, who of course does not want to see you become the victim of an accident.
If you’re still replacing double-A batteries and light bulbs, now is the time to brighten your night riding with these new innovations. Ride lit and ride safely this winter.
* Disclaimer: this is just an unscientific sampling of the many lights on the market. I have not tried them all. There are good sites that do bike light reviews, like the Bike Light Database, which has lots of specs and has reviewers test out many lights. I like their “Beamshots” pages that show how far light is thrown by the products being tests.
** You can find most of these lights at bike shops, but my links are mostly to REI, because they’re a great all-purpose store with the best return policy. Try it, if it doesn’t work, return it promptly and get something else. They also will ship free to a store, so you don’t have to pay shipping if it’s not in stock and you don’t mind picking it up at one of their stores. I have no financial relationship with REI — I’m just a member of the co-op and a longtime satisfied customer.