Staying Visible at Night – A Guide to Bicycle Lights
Riding your bicycle during nighttime is not as safe as riding during the day. And while there’s no doubt that visibility is low, the number of safety factors isn’t. Wearing a reflective vest and strips around the ankles and knees is essential for staying visible. But for reflective straps and vests to be truly effective, you need to be on the move. Something that doesn’t need you to move to attract attention is a bicycle light – it can only make you more visible. However, not all bicycle lights are made equal.
The angle, distance and beam settings play an important role when it comes to getting a bicycle light that will illuminate in front of you without blinding other people. The beam angle tells you how the light is dispersed. A wider angle will give you a broader field of view whilst a narrower one will provide a more acute beam. The former decreases a light’s lux and the latter increases it.
Sometimes the beam angle is referred to as a bundle, meaning the wider the bundle the broader the angle and light distribution and the smaller the bundle the narrower the beam and light distribution. Lux is the measurement of the intensity of light that gets transferred on an area or surface from a certain distance. Lux is usually measured at a distance between 1 and 10 metres.
Usually, a cycle light with a beam distance of up to 20 or 30 metres is going to be okay, but you should also take into account the various beam settings available on the light. There are flash, low, regular, standard, high, super and pulse settings but not all manufacturers call them the same. These settings can also affect run-time as manufacturers state that their lights can run for 5 or 6 hours, but this is only when you use the flash setting and not high or full.
This unit represents the amount of light a cycle light is able to produce. Although they are not the only factor when it comes to brightness, the more lumens your light has the brighter it will be. Bicycle lights go as low as 30 lm and as high as 2000 lm (some even more than that).
How Bright Should a Bike Light Be?
A bicycle light can be extremely bright but you should only purchase one if you are riding in pitch darkness on off-road conditions. Otherwise a light with a range from 300 to 500 lm will be fine for inner city rides.
The majority of bike specific lights will mount easily on the bar/ seat post but if your bicycle has aero bars/ seat post, you’ll first need to make sure they are going to be compatible. Seat post lights can sometimes turn into the wheel, so it is best that you get one with a mount that can allow you to adjust its tightness easily. You should also look for lights with interchangeable mounting straps to fit the diameters of your aero, larger than standard handlebars and ones with non-circular surfaces.
Front lights feature straps and clamp mounts whilst rear lights only use a silicone strap. Strap mounts are easy to release and tighten but do not offer as secure of a hold. Clamp mounts require a bit of time to tighten and remove them but they do offer a more secure position.
The most common technology when it comes to modern cycle lights is LED, which has replaced halogen bulbs. LEDs are far more efficient as they use less energy to produce the same amount of light and sometimes even greater amounts. Once upon a time, there were high-powered HID bulbs which were featured in high-end bicycles but they were soon pushed away from further production due to the advancements of LED.
You will either need to recharge cycle lights via USB or replace the batteries from time to time. USB rechargeable lights are a lot more convenient and cost efficient than those with replaceable batteries since they only require you to plug them in to fill them up with juice. There are also high-powered lights that will require you to mount the battery separately and then connect it to the light – this won’t be the best choice if you have a bell and a GPS computer mounted on your handle bars.
If rain becomes biblical, there is no waterproof rating that will guarantee your light will stay operational, but it’s never a bad idea to get cycle lights with the proper rating. IP is known as Ingress Protection and it tells you how protected a device is (not just form water also from dust and debris). It’s best that you go for a bicycle light that has an IP rating no less than 64, but you shouldn’t go anything more than 67 as it’s an overkill at this point.