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The Right Bike Light for your Riding Environment

By Jo 3 months agoNo Comments

When trying to decide on which bike lights we need we are overrun with choices and options, often this just leaves us confused and overwhelmed.  Riding with the right bike light is a solution that helps you ‘get Safe’ so making a good decision is really important.  You need to understand your needs and what features in a bike light will match those needs.

There are two types of bike lights to choose from.  A front light that has a white beam that shines forward in front of you or a back light that has a red beam that shines behind you.

Why do you need to use a bike light?

To help you be seen by others, make you visible to motorists, other cyclists, and pedestrians.

So you can see where you are going.

You need to decide whether you need a bike light for one or the other of those reasons or both.

Bike Lights to help you be seen by others, make you visible to motorists, other cyclists, and pedestrians.

The first simple rule on a bike is you want to be as visible as you can be.

Bike lights help you to be visible, help you to be seen by others. So when should you use a bike light? New Zealand law states that you must use a bike light from 30 minutes before sunset through to 30 minutes after sunrise. Law aside basically you should use a light when your visibility to others may be compromised. For example, when riding in high traffic volumes, or when there is poor weather conditions like rain or fog, or when the riding environment effects visibility like a narrow windy road, or in an environment that traffic is not expecting to see cyclists or when riding at twilight or at night.

USB rechargeable bike lights are a great be seen bike light solution. They may cost more on the initial purchase but once you have them they cost nothing to run. I hope that means we see more people choosing to ride with bike lights – to be more visible – in more environments not just at night time.

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bikelights 800 w

Riding at twilight with a front light to be visible.

Rear lights commuting Vertical stacker 600w goRide

Riding at twilight with vertically stacked lights 1 flashing, 1 a steady beam to be visible.

What is the right bike light strength you need to make you visible and what mode should you set that light to? This will depend on the environments you ride in. 

Strength: The front light is important for visibility for any type of on-coming traffic and requires a strength of 5-200 lumens when being used as a be seen light. The back light is important for visibility for any type of traffic behind you and requires a minimum strength of 5 lumens.  Maximum strengths can go as high as you like to match the environment e.g. riding at night with no assisting street light.  The higher the lumen strength the greater the distance a driver will be able to see it from and therefore be aware that you are in their traffic environment.

Modes:

Flashing mode:  Why would you use a flashing mode?

Anything that is flashing or blinking will attract the eye, which is great in poor visibility or situations where you think drivers are not expecting to come across a bike or need help seeing the bike (small child in traffic).  Front flashing modes are great for increased visibility (poor weather, dawn/dusk) making sure drivers have seen you before they turn in front of you or pull out on you.   Note: Don’t use a front light on flashing mode for night riding if your lumen output is over 200 and it is the only front light you have.  This will disorientate oncoming traffic, making it difficult for them to judge where you are and how fast you are approaching.

It is generally RED or rear lights that have a few different types of flashing modes so others can see you from behind. The drawback of the flashing mode is that flashing makes it difficult for drivers to judge exactly where you are and how fast you are traveling. Though it is great to use a flashing light as a secondary safety light when riding in the dark (using vertical stacking).

Beam of steady light: Why would you use a steady light?

A steady beam is good at night when other lighting (street lights) are helping you be seen. They help drivers judge how far away you are and how fast are you traveling because they are steady.

Bike Lights to help you see by, help you to see where you are going?

Your WHITE front light will be the light that allows you to see by. What type of strength do you need to see by and what mode should you set that light to? This will depend on the environments you ride in. 

Strength: If you are riding on roads and cycleways at night you will need a light of 250 lumens or more.  If there are times where there is no additional lighting – when there is complete darkness – then the higher the lumen above 250, the better. If you are riding off road on mountain trails at night then you will need a light of 1200 lumens or more.

Modes: To help you ‘see’ when you ride you will want a steady beam of light.

What does a Wide or Narrow beam of light do? Why would you use it?

This is about where do you need to see. Just need to see what is in front of you then a narrow beam will provide intense light in the direction you are going. Don’t require that intensity of light but need to see a wider area then a wide beam will provide a more diverse light over a wider area.

The right bike light mode – different modes provide different lengths of run time, so being thoughtful about your selection based on where you are riding and what type of light you need and how long you are riding for will help you get the best from your lights.

Note: Bike lights are one method of making you visible but there are other ways that will support the ultimate goal of being as visible as you can be. For example; reflective bands on moving parts e.g. your leg, or high vis vests & bright eye-catching helmet colours also help with the overall effect of helping you be seen.

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Riding Environment

Front Light

Rear Light

Riding in Traffic

5-200lumens, flashing mode

5 plus lumens, Flashing

Riding in poor weather conditions

5-200lumens, flashing mode

5 plus lumens, Flashing

Riding on narrow windy roads

5-200lumens, flashing mode

5 plus lumens, Flashing

Riding at dawn or dusk

5-200lumens, flashing mode

5 plus lumens, Flashing

Riding at night in well lit areas

5-200lumens, flashing mode

5 plus lumens, Flashing

Riding on the road and cycleways through darkness

250 lumens plus. Consider stacking 1 light constant 1 light flashing mode

Rear light drivers can see from 500m+. Consider vertical stacking one flashing, one on constant beam

Riding at night off-road mountain bike trail riding

1200 lumens plus steady beam

Kids riding during the day or scootering on the footpath

5 plus lumens, flashing mode

Flashing light , high so in the line of drivers

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Thanks for reading. Used together our stories, resources & products support you to achieve and develop as a rider.

Related Resources:

Attaching Bike Lights

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