Bike Lights – What You Need To Know!
It’s that magical time of year again when the days are incredibly short; it’s dark on your way to work and it’s dark when you’re on your way home too. Riding in the dark isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but if cycling is your main mode of transport, you’ll certainly be out and about before the sun has risen and long after it has set. Riding in the dark presents more than a few challenges: when it’s dark, no one can see you and when it’s dark, you can’t see where you’re going either! Those two are definitely the main issues about riding in the dark; luckily for you, riding without a light on is against the law, so you should have tackled those two major problems already. If you haven’t though, read on to find out what you need to keep on the right side of the law and what products you can buy to keep you safe at night.
So what do you need to keep the law happy when you’re riding at night?
- A front lamp with a white light, at a height no greater than 1.5 meters.
- A rear lamp with a red light, positioned between 35cm – 1.5 meters from the ground.
- Rear reflectors.
- Pedal reflectors.
Lights and reflectors are legally required between sunset and sunrise, although they aren’t required to be used while the bike is stationary or being pushed.
With all that in mind, what lights are best for you?
Choosing For You
The right style of light for you depends on the type of riding that you’re doing. If you like riding the trails in the middle of the night, you’re going to need something powerful and reliable that can guide you through the lanes and get you back to civilization in one piece. If you’re commuting through well-lit urban areas, you might want something a little less heavy duty. Generally, the more money you put on the counter, the better your light’s going to be. Here are the two main types:
The standard safety lights: these can be bought relatively cheaply at anywhere from professional cycling shops to supermarkets. They generally run on conventional batteries and have the minimum output in terms of beam capability. They are perfect for zipping around urban environments but they won’t cut it out in the middle of nowhere. They usually come equipped with adjustable blinking patterns from steady to disco!
High output systems: these lamps are more expensive but for good reason. These lights are ideal for areas where there are no street lights; you’ll be able to see where you’re going, be visible and be safe. They often come with rechargeable power solutions to make life easier too. They’re probably overkill for towns and cities though.
Unless you’re already familiar with a tried and tested brand, the best way to buy bicycle lights is from a professional bike shop. At a bike shop, you’ll be able to ask a sales assistant for advice and physically hold the lamps in your hands before parting with your hard earned cash. It’s important to see what you’re buying because there are a lot of cheap brands out there that offer lights but they may come with poor housings, weak fixings and a less powerful beam than advertised.
Apart from a durable casing, you should also look for how the light is created. These days, LEDs are the way forward; they’re incredibly energy efficient and bright too. LEDs can also perform a wide range of light patterns, so make sure that you check them all out before you buy. Be sure to invest in a light with an output that suits your needs.
Another thing to consider is the power source. While rechargeable batteries may be the best solution some, regular batteries may be the way to go – it all depends on how your daily schedule works. As long as you can remember to charge them, rechargeable batteries are the most cost-effective type to choose from. If you know that you’re likely to forget, standard batteries are the way to go; if they die mid-ride, you can pop into any shop and buy some new ones!
Continuing on from battery choice, it makes a great deal of sense to research the type of battery life you can expect from your desired lights too. There are a lot of variables that can affect battery life, from the light’s blinking pattern to its overall output. Standard lights than run on regular AA or AAA batteries can be drained quickly if left on a ‘steady’ setting, so it’s worth ask reading the approximate battery life estimate on the side of the box before investing.
Most rechargeable units have a wide range of settings, including a power save mode that keeps your light on but at lower power.
Where To Mount Your Lights
Finally, before you leave the shop, it’s worth looking at the mounts that come with your lights; make sure they are strong, durable and can handle the stress of the task that you want them to perform. As soon as you’re satisfied, by the lights and mount them at home! Where do you mount them? It’s pretty straightforward but just in case:
Headlight: Mount the headlight in the center of your handlebars. This way, it will align with the center of your bike on both axis, allowing any oncoming traffic to assess your position. With the light on the handlebar, you will always have a light pointing in the direction that you’re travelling!
Rear light: As mentioned earlier, there’s no set height for your rear light, providing that it falls within the parameters. The best place to position one is on a rear bike rack or your seat post. If those options aren’t available to you, you can place it on your backpack, as long as it’s not too high up.
Side lights: These little lights are usually positioned on the spokes of a wheel. They’ll spin around with the wheel, allowing any traffic coming your way to see that you’re definitely moving. If you can’t mount them on your spokes, mount them on your frame!
Others: Some cyclists like to wear a head torch too. Although it’s not a requirement, it might be worth investing in; you never know when you might need a little extra light.
Don’t Get Caught Out!
Although the lighting law is rarely enforced, make sure that you’re on the right side of the law. If you end up having an accident at night without having any lights on, you’ll probably find that the blame falls on you! Don’t get caught out!