Blinded by the light

lights This is a topic that comes up a lot in online cycling forums and always seems to garner a rather polarized response - and I don’t get why. With the advent of new compact, high-wattage lighting systems cycling commuters have become either the haves or the have-nots. I’m a have-not by choice. I have a Light and Motion Vega light that only puts out 85 lumens. I can see fine with it on low power on the trail(1), reserve the high setting for rainy nights(2), and the flashing mode only when on city streets(3). The whole point of the light is for safety, and I outline my usage to maximize for each of these conditions below.

  1. Trail use - this is where I hate the “me-first” Haves. They use their 700 lumen High Intensity Discharge (HID) light in conditions that do not warrant it. As the commuter density reduces, this is less of any issue, especially if the Haves use common courtesy and occlude their light with a hand over the bulb. My preferred usage here is to shield the left side of the light (right in UK/Aus) so that it doesn’t shine in the eyes of the oncoming rider. You still get to see with the rest of the light generated by your light, without blinding your commuting brethren. The worst offenders are the guys with helmet mounted lights that say hi to you as they pass and stare you in the face. Good luck people might as well ask me to ride while staring directly at the sun. Cover your light. Use a dim setting. Be considerate of others PLEASE.

  2. Rain is tough. Seeing through fogged glasses, rainy conditions, and wet pavement can be a challenge. On those nights I skip the trail and go for a less-traveled road. You need the higher setting to pick your way through all the optical noise, but running a high setting can be brutal to the others who then have to add your bright beam to the mix of challenges.

  3. City riding is the only use for a strobe flasher. It is intended to get the attention of drivers and is not to see by. You don’t need to get the attention of other cyclists on the trail, so turn off your damn flasher when on a trail. The only thing more blinding than a HID light is a flashing HID.

So please Haves - a little courtesy. It takes no effort to shield your light. There are plenty of Have-nots out there riding with 10 lumen lights with every right you have to the road/trail.

Oh - and for gods sake. Do NOT put a red blinker on your front. Red is for the rear, white for the front.



15 Comments

Both my wife and I have and regularly use the Vega.  For it’s size, lack of wires and easy rechargability it is a great light.  I waited for the sale and was able to aleviate the high price to some degree.

I my favorite use is when I hit the residential streets on a dark rainy night, and am actually able to see all the debris that blew off the tree that day.

Considering the capabilites of modern led’s and rechargable lights, I just don’t get hub or wheel mounted generators any more.  Even if the wires are descretely positions, it just seems a matter of time until they short out.  There is the extra weight and friction that affect performance.

What I would like to see is a set up where you can put a battery pack and control in the stem, and the light on the plate that attaches the handlebars.

What do you think?

Interesting Spencer.  I’m sure you could make something like that work, but for a part that has so many sizes for so many people, you’d need to make it modular some way.  Otherwise, you’d have a ton of 80mm and 140mm stems lying around in backstock :).

Some of the newer Nightriders just velcro to the bottom of the stem these days and mount on top rather small.  I doubt their footprint is much bigger than the “inside the stem” idea.

I confess. I am guilty. I am using a DiNotte led headlight. It is very good. I use it on flash as I make my way home from work in the dark along E. Marginal and then onto the Alki Trail. Nowadays I do not seem to be passing many riders going the opposite direction, which would be people commuting toward downtown at 6:30-7PM.

The light uses less power on flash than on low. Rollerbladers and joggers with ipods are my main hazard. From behind they can’t hear me yelling “bicycle on your left”. They do usually seem to notice my light flashing off of street signs. I think this is a good thing.

Tonight 2 walkers coming in the opposite direction refused to give me room to get by. These were not tough gangsters, but perky middle-aged women. The trail is about 12 ft. wide. Staring right at me and my flashing LED light, neither yielded any space. I slowed to about 5mph and yelled as I approached “can you see me?”. One gal, yelled “yes, I can see you.” I wanted to reply “well then give me some goddam space”, but let it go.

Back to the light thing. I suppose it all depends where you ride.

I stopped riding at night after several close calls, including riding off the path into the Sound once—that’ll get your attention. The biggest concern I had was my width. Without adequate running lights, cars don’t perceive how wide you are and I was getting brushed. The bar end lights help, but those should extend on posable wires another 6 inches at least on each side.

Spencer- check out the light + stem combo that is available from UK brand Hope (better known in the US for their disk brakes) http://www.hopegb.com/voir_vishid.html.  I was super impressed with the high-quality execution and the integration of it all but in the end I wasn’t really interested in replacing the stem on my bike. 

After years of faithful service my Niterider Digital Pro finally crapped out on me and I just replaced it with the Minewt X2 one of the new LED systems.  Comparing the new with old I was amazed at how far rechargeable bike lights have come.  The weight difference and compactness of the new system is phenomenal compared to what was state of the art just a few years ago.  I pedaled home with the Minewt last night and was totally happy with it.

Andrew, thanks for posting this. I like my high powered lighting but they’re mounted on my handlebar and aimed to illuminate the road. I too have been momentarily blinded by fellow cyclists with their bright helmet lights. They seem to find it especially amusing to aim their lights right at my face when I’m driving—trust me, you’ve just made things more dangerous because I CANNOT SEE A THING when you do that. Your bright helmet lights make you less visible, not more.

I think the Dinotte is amazing (especially the rear), but just make sure you guys are using it with other cyclists in mind.  Shielding your light on your handlebar takes very little effort.

Steve - I just ordered the MiNewt as well for some nightime riding in the woods.  That’s one place where some extra lumens and a helmet mount really makes sense.

Be safe out there folks.

I believe I may have instigated this post, with a letter I sent in. To me, on the trails I absolutley cannot see if you have a high intensity blinking light. I can’t see the trail and can’t see pedestrians in front of me, and can’t judge your location on the trail. The ped issue is the big one. My answer to this has been, move to the left (towards the incoming rider), look straight down, and pray. Basically I am choosing to put myself and the owner of the blinking light at risk versus putting pedestrians at risk. I figure if you have that much wattage on your bike, you can avoid me by whatever means necessary.

Secondly, and this was addressed in the blog, point the damn thing at the road! There is no good reason in urban riding that you need to be throwing a beam a hundred yards ahead. Or consider getting a second, weaker light for the trail, which is what I do, even though my main light isn’t all that intense to begin with.

Lastly, if you are looking at saving batteries, you are using rechargeables, right? So you are saving pennies while making things both harder and more dangerous for others. Please think about that choice, and then do what seems good to you.

Thanks for the blog-


Craig in Seattle

Spencer:  Considering the capabilities of modern LED lights and high efficiency generators, I just don’t get battery lights anymore…seriously, the reason for generator powered light systems is simplicity and reliability; the two reasons for generator powered light systems are simplicity, reliability, and integration; amongst the reasons….basically, I realize that there are many compact, incredibly high powered battery lights out there, and I am always amused to hear riders trading notes about what batteries they use, how long the charge lasts, how many charging cycles, where they have chargers stashed, how they strap them on, etc.  Me, I get on my bike and ride.  It has lights.  They are extremely visible, make me look bigger than I am, and give me enough light to see on the trail just fine when there is no other light source, without blinding anyone.  That’s it.  In over thirty years of riding with generator lights, I have had a few wires get pulled out by clumsiness, but have never seen one short out.  The ability to ride my bike every day, and know that I always have lights, because it’s my bike, is much more important to me than an extra 3% gain in performance - I wouldn’t notice that anyway, since I hardly ever ride at my absolute maximum possible speed (do you? always?).

I ride on the Burke on the eastside of the UW and agree that folks with bright lights need to keep their focus to 10’ in front of them. I also agree about getting blinded by helmet mounted lamps.

On the other hand, I also can’t believe the number of riders that ride without front lights and nothing or just a tiny red blinker clipped onto their pack that shines straight up. I’d rather be blinded than run into these stealth cyclists.

For visibilty I was dreaming of a blinking led mesh that I could put over my helmet so I could look like one of those Christmas ships. I am still concerned about cars seeing me even with all my reflectors and various lights.

By UW, there are plenty of non-lit riders and although a little foolish, I know to look for it.  Once you get north of Sand Point - I rarely run into people without a light. 

My worst run-in was a guy who was walking with his head down, listening to an iPod or something - but riding on my side of the trail (his left).  I just barely missed him before rolling into the brush.  Yikes!

my winter commute in NJ is much safer with my HID because of it’s blinding effect on drivers. they are uneducated about bikers and usually proceed once they see it is only a bike they will plow into if they hit the gas. I try to be considerate with the light and I certainly don’t want to cause an accident but I don’t hesitate shining the light into any and all cars that could potentially do the deed! Last week was a good example, I was waiting at a stop sign to turn left when a car approaching from the right started turning onto the street I was on way early putting me and my blinking LED bar mount headlight directly in the cross hairs. I blasted my HID into the windshield and she slowed to a stop and turned away driving around me. boy did she glare at me for denying her bumper it’s fresh meat. she wasn’t apologetic, she was angry at me for shining the light at her, synapses not connecting the fact that killing me would be the worse outcome here. I made it home to the wife and kids and thats what counts for me.

‘squatch -

I hear you on the merits of the helmet-mounted light.  The difference is rather than blinding cyclists on a dimly-lit trail, you are getting the attention of drivers.  I’m not complaining about road-users.  In that case it’s do what’s needed to keep yourself safe.

This is an interesting and timely conversation since I have just started bike commuting a lot more in San Diego.  While I’m not bound to run into any cyclists on my daily journey, it’s the cars I worry about.  I’m glad for all the perspective on where to point the Minewt X2 but I was getting it mainly to point at the road anyhow as the roads here resemble a ragged lunar terrain.  Thanks for the tips, Huggers!

By the way, big ups to the other Tim K who posts on here. Much respect.

great stuff
super great stuff

they should hand out books on common sense
or maybe devote a year of school on the topic of common sense
everyone would go
it would be the year after high school
even if you were going to college
as we know the kids in college sure could use some common sense
ask me… I did some dumb sh_t in college


lights are awesome

lights equal life
get a light

but yes
do not shine it in my eyes

thanks
and sorry if I shined my light in your eyes
we are all human

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