You may have had the bad luck to come across poorly lit riders at night while you were driving. Having had to react suddenly to avoid a fatality, you wonder how many ways the situation could have ended differently. So, read on and pay attention to how you should illuminate yourself in all situations while riding.
Top Bike Headlight Mistakes
It is so surprising that some people think bike lights are only about seeing where you are going. That is why you will see some city dwellers doing out dark because there are street lights everywhere.
So, you can see clearly. You probably know the streets like the back of your hand.
But take a moment to think about those motorists and motorbike riders who can barely see you. Often, what you can see is not what they see. Remember that motorized vehicles move much faster.
You Need to Be Visible
A driver at high speeds doesn’t have time to figure out whether the figure near the curb is a cyclist, pedestrian, or lamp post. Even when they come near enough to see you, it might not give them enough time to react.
A study conducted in 2018 by University of Toronto researchers found that less than half of drivers paid attention to cyclists. Instead, they will be thinking about where the car is headed.
Another study found that about half of car accidents involving cyclists occur on rural roads, along straight stretches. Not on intersections; do the math. These cyclists were probably not visible enough.
That is one of the reasons the law in various countries requires cyclists to have some sort of visibility standard.
In the USA, the law dictates that you have two reflectors: a white one facing in front, and a red one facing backward. You must also have reflectors on your pedals.
In Australia, a cyclist must be visible from at least 200m/656ft from the front and back. While the US has no such distance law, it helps to follow the Aussies on this one.
Not Being Daylight Visible
Not every day of the month is the summer solstice. You know, when you have crazy long daylight hours and enough light even at 8:00 pm. Once that glorious time is past, you need to think about being visible during the day as well.
Visibility lights aren’t just for the night. Denmark carried out a study many years ago, in 2004/2005 to determine the importance of daylight visibility for cyclists. The conclusion was that it led to a 19% reduction in incidence rate.
Even cars are now being required by law to have daytime visible headlights. For cyclists, it is getting more important to be visible during the day.
How to Stay Visible During the Day
Many bicycle lighting companies have come up with inventive ways of accomplishing this goal. We now have strobe lights that pulse at intervals, so be sure to maintain visibility at all times.
If you don’t have such a headlight, you can easily and cheaply buy some flashing LEDs. These help to attract the attention of anyone you come across.
Solid LEDs, while great at night, will not work during th day. Intelligent lights with a variable pattern such as the model designed by See.Sense is a fantastic option.
Just as drivers often underestimate darkness on the strength of their headlights, cyclists overestimate daylight visibility. Do not make that mistake.
High Visibility Fluorescent Clothing
Wearing high visibility fluorescents is an excellent way to start. Orange is a great choice, although other colors such as green are also great options.
Fluorescents reflect ambient light to be more visible than the objects around them. At night, however, wear a reflective vest.
Reflective clothing works wonders at night. When headlight beams fall on them, you will stand out like a clown in a fair. They use the same technology that ensures we see road signs and markings at night.
Not Bringing a Backup Bike Headlight Along
In this age of rechargeable lights and Li-Ion battery packs, cyclists have grown sloppy. Back then, you would have to carry loads of replacement dry cells.
Granted, lights these days are much more reliable. Most even have a battery indicator to let you know when you’re running out of juice.
What happens, then, when your trusted light fails? It’s not impossible, and it has happened to many before. You may have heard the phrase, ‘when it rains, it pours.’
Always have a backup light on hand. They aren’t very large or heavy. Nothing justifies getting caught up on dark country lanes without a proper bike headlight. Not even the extra weight.
That being said, you should never run out of juice. Before you head out, always have your batteries fully charged.
Even if you are just planning on dashing out to the next block and back, you never know when the road bug might bite. Always be ready.
Almost as bad on our list of the top bike headlights mistakes to avoid, is the capital crime of blinding lights. Cars can blind you, we accept that.
However, absolutely nothing can justify having a 2000+ lumen flashlight on your bike and blinding every oncoming pair of eyes.
The only situation where you are allowed to bring such a powerful lamp is when you are MTB riding out in the woods, at night. Or maybe along lonely country backroads. Anything else is a capital crime.
In the quest for visibility, go on and get a 500+ lumen light. Even 1000-1500 lumens is not so bad. Once you hit 2000, think again.
Even if your light is not very bright, it is always good practice to turn it downwards to face the road. That way, you see your way forward and letting others see past you.
Many advanced lights also feature a diffused headlamp, which spreads out the light towards the side instead of having a focused beam. It also allows you to see a wider angle of the open road ahead.
Flashing About Like A Strobe
At night, there is absolutely no point in having bright flashing lights unless you’re indicating a turn. They are annoying and can be downright dangerous.
A flashing light calls attention to itself. It is incredibly hard for a driver in front or behind you to focus while you keep flashing bright lights.
Such a distraction can turn out to be dangerous. A solid light is enough to let others know that you are there. Keep the bright flashing LEDs away, please.
Don’t Wear Your Primary Light on Your Helmet.
What kind of person wears full headlights on their head? Why would you want to blind everyone you look at?
Such behavior may be acceptable in rural areas and dark trails, but it won’t do where you are likely to meet even a few people.
The natural tendency of man is to look directly into the eyes of those we look at. A helmet light points exactly where you are looking. It can light on oncoming drivers, other cyclists, or pedestrians.
Good manners and humanity dictate that you keep your headlights where they are supposed to be. If you want to wear decorative or assistive lighting, there are many options out there that are much safer.
Don’t Forget Your Helmet Light, Though
There are legitimate helmet lights you can use to assure yourself of your safety out on the roads. There are distinct advantages to being able to light wherever you look.
Helmet lights are particularly useful when you want to flash inattentive drivers. It is also much more visible because it is dynamic and sits high up on your head.
When out on the streets, a helmet light allows you to see above the roof level of small vehicles and allows drivers of large ones to see you.
You are also able to direct your attention around corners, jagged curb edges, and debris on the road. If you are going to be doing a lot of night riding, take an acceptable helmet light with you.
Don’t Forget to Turn On Your Lights.
Often, in the heat of the ride, you may forget to turn on your lights. This oversight usually affects rear lights.
Whenever you’re out riding and darkness sets in, always remember to turn on your lights. It’s about your safety, after all.
In that regard, you should also take care to ensure that your lights are correctly oriented. Don’t have them on the curb side where nobody can see them either.
The red backlight should always face the back of your bicycle, while the white front light should face in front. Do not confuse other road users about this!
Similarly, don’t count on lighted wearables to contrast you in the nights. There’s a reason why bicycle lights are a standard. If I may add, leave your wheel reflectors on if you please.
Yes, they are not pretty, and no, they are not aerodynamic. Unless you’re a high-performance cyclist, they also play a role in making you more visible. In this game of darkness and light, you need all the help you can get.
Bike Headlight Mistakes: FAQs
These tidbits should teach you what you need to know about what you need to do to avoid the top bike headlights mistakes.
However, here are some questions we have received over the years from fellow enthusiasts that will shed more light on the matter at hand.
How many lumens do I need for a headlight?
A bicycle headlight needs to be about 500-600 lumens. That gives you the sweet spot between brightness and battery performance. You can usually squeeze 2-3 hours of battery life out of it.
For the rear light, you don’t need such a bright light; 100 lumens will typically do the job beautifully.
How do I choose a bike light?
When selecting an appropriate light for your bike, you need to think about what you need it for. If you are going MTB biking or riding in lonely trails, you need more light, so go for more lumens.
You should also think about battery life. If you ride long into the night, you will need some serious battery life.
Are flashing lights legal?
In most countries, flashing lights are legal. In urban riding conditions, they can even be helpful (they are more likely to be annoying.)
In dark roads, however, always use a solid standing light. That is, a steady light that doesn’t fade off like the old dynamos.
Is it illegal to ride a bike without lights?
In most countries, it is illegal to ride without lighting. You can be fined heavily for endangering your life and that of others, so always be sure to have appropriate lighting when cycling.
Where should I put my bike lights
Front lights come with a custom bracket to fit on your handlebars. Always make sure that the light brackets fit snugly around the diameter of your handlebars.
Rear lights should be just beneath the seat on the saddle, but low enough that a bag or seat pack will not block it. Most lights will come with detailed installation instructions.
Whenever you are out riding in the day or at night, always remember that visibility is your best card when it comes to safety. You should always aim for maximum visibility without being inconsiderate to other road users.
Going out without bicycle lights is a big no, so always avoid it where possible. You can even get in trouble with the law for not having appropriate bicycle lights.
When choosing your bike headlights, make sure that they are bright enough to be seen, help you see, and maintain that light for as long as you need it. Have backups in case of anything, and always have more than enough power to last you the ride.
However, don’t buy extremely bright headlights. These are likely to blind anyone who looks at you head-on. In the same way, make sure you are considerate with your helmet lights.
Headlight positioning is paramount to ensure maximum visibility. Mount your lights on your handlebars, and turn them slightly downward to light the path ahead. It also avoids glare for other road users.
Apart from bicycle lights, also make sure to wear high visibility clothing to improve your safety. Wear fluorescent clothing during the day, because daylight visibility is just as important.
At night, have reflectors both on yourself and your bike. These simple tips will help avoid the top bike headlight mistakes when out on the road. Take care out there, be kind, and always do what you can to stay safe!