Cycling Lights

As we all know, it’s the time of the year where it gets darker sooner, and this weekend the clocks change and it will be darker even sooner than it is now.

This change in light levels means that now most commuting cycle journeys will be taking place in darkness. From my experience, most cyclists light set ups are not what I would call up to scratch. In the following paragraphs I will talk about what I think make good and bad set ups, why you should have a set up similar and what my set up is.

A good light set up should consist of at least 4 lights, 2 front and 2 rear. One of each should be on constant mode and the other two should be on flashing. The steady mode helps road users gauge your speed as the light is constant and easy to follow. The flashing light helps grab the attention of road users and they should see that you are there.
The added bonus of having two lights of each, is if one does, then you have a back up ready. Cycling without lights is very dangerous so having a back up light is essential!
I suggest that placing your second light in a different plane to your first one, what I mean by this is not attaching your second light to your seat post or above your handle bars.  This is because in a different position it makes you look wider and possibly two cyclists from a long distance. Instead the rear light can be placed on your helmet, seat stays, rear rack of backpack depending on which you use. The front lights are best used if one is above and the other below the handle bars on either side of the stem, this puts a good distance between the two and makes the flasher stand out more.
Another reason for having good lights is the amount of light that is often in and around London, with plenty of other vehicles and cyclists with lights on it can often become confusing as to who is who and where they are. With descent lights you should stand out straigth away.

Why are most set ups bad? Most cyclists I see on my commute through London can be categorised in four different groups by their lights. 1. no lights 2. the wrong lights 3. not enough lights 4. perfect lights
No Lights – these cyclists are often on cheap mountain bikes and ridden by people who couldn’t give a toss about their safety and often flout the laws of the road.
The Wrong Lights – Cyclists with either white/red lights facing in the wrong direction or non standard colors i.e. yellow/green/blue those colors don’t stand out anywhere near as well as a descent white light and a blue light is illegal to use on the roads unless you are an emergency vehicle.
Not Enough Lights – Most users will fall into this category. They have 1 of each kind of light on either steady or constant. The lights can’t do both jobs of grabbing attention and easy speed reading abilities for other road users. They also don’t have back up lights. So the lights can often appear dim because the batteries are near dead.
Perfect Lights – Maybe 3% of the cyclists I see have a good set up of lights, with the minimum being the 2 front and 2 rear, some have gone even further and having added lights on the bike.

It is worth noting that Hi-Viz is not a substitute for some good lights. Whilst I see the great application of hi-viz, it doesn’t perform the job of the lights as I have previously discussed but does make you stand out a little bit more but with a good light set up, you should be perfectly visible without hi-viz.

Depending on where you cycle, you may need more powerful lights than the ones that are readily available in bicycle shops. For example I have to cycle down a few roads with limited to no street lamps, this means that I need lights to see with. So I have lights with varying power levels so that when I need to I can turn the power up and light up the way ahead of me. Lights that can output that kind of power at much more expensive that what most people are willing to spend on lights. But are worth it if you need to see where you are going.

My light setup. At present I’m running two front lights, a Hope Vision 1 and a Magicshine MJ-808. The hope alone is a very bright light, but for me the flood from the light was not good enough to light up the dark roads I use and this is why i have a Magicshine which is rated at 900lumens but outputs more like 700lumens. That perfectly lights up the road in front of me when required. Each of these lights has several modes ranging from flashing to different power settings.
My rear lights are a Blackburn Mars 4.0 and 2x Fibre Flares. The fibre flares are mounted on my seat stays and due to their long nature and near 360degree shine is perfect for standing out, these are both set to flashing. The Mars 4.0 is on constant and located on the back of my saddle bag. This is a bright rear light and grabs attention from drivers easily.
I shall be doing a video review of my lights shortly with more information about prices and stats in another post.

Note this post is intended for people cycling in a busy metropolitan area.

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4 thoughts on “Cycling Lights

  1. Very true about using double lights front and rear.
    There are quite a few people out with good lights, but low batteries at the moment. Maybe just haven’t checked them after the summer. But it makes the lights fairly useless.
    Knog Frogs are quite good as a secondary light, but I see alot of people using them as their only light which they aren’t bright enough for.

  2. You say you shouldn’t put the two lights next to each other because that will make you look wider than you are, or appear to be two cyclists. That would make motorists pay more attention to you, and I’d say this is a good reason for mounting them in that way! However, I doubt that will actually be the case; the main reason for not mounting them like this is that, even over quite a small distance, the two lights will appear to just be a single light. Two lights combined will only be slightly brighter than a single light, and if you have one on flash it will not be noticeable.

    I also don’t like the idea of primary and secondary lights. As you say, if one light fails, you’re left with just the other. In that case, each light needs to be sufficiently bright enough to be safe on it’s own.

    • My mistake, i did mean that you should put some distance between the lights, height as well, to make them look like two seperate lights rather than one.

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