5 Reasons You Should Always Ride With a Bike Light

Always turn on your bike light day or night

Opinion

Flashing tail lights and head lights are absolutely crucial when riding on the roads day or night.

Whether it’s getting to the trailhead, bike commuting, gravel or road riding, we often find ourselves biking on the road. But there is one thing that cyclists do not do enough to significantly increase their safety. We strongly urge that you ride with a light, day or night whenever biking on the road because of the following five reasons.

1. To be seen

More than any other reason, the #1 takeaway from this list is to ride with a bright light to be seen, and not get hit by a vehicle, and to live and ride another day. More than any other reason, cyclists are harmed as they are struck by drivers who do not see them. It’s often treated as ‘just an accident’ and the penalties for killing a cyclist in the US are not strong enough to deter drivers to pay enough attention to the many unprotected lives on the road on two wheels.

In daylight, bike lights will increase your visibility to drivers by significantly and they will often give the cyclist more room. Drivers are less likely to hit a cyclist from behind or make a left turn and ram a cyclist traveling in the other direction head-on.

Often, cyclist are struck by vehicles because the drivers do not see them, for one reason or another.

The common thread in nearly every one of these incidents is that the car driver was not aware of the cyclist until impact. Some even claim they didn’t know they hit a cyclist and no assistance is given to the cyclist in the greatest time of need as the driver doesn’t stop.

Some drivers are incompetent, distracted, or even too old to have the vision and motor skills required to pilot a 4000 lb. vehicle. Texting is definitely an issue as the driver’s eyes are not focused on road details and events. Even voice calls are a huge distraction as many drivers on the phone experience ‘tunnel vision’ and lose the peripheral vision needed to spot cyclists that are sharing the road. Elderly drivers are an issue too as they are not required to retake a driving test in the US even as their sight, hearing, and reflexes fail them as you’ll see even 90+ year-old drivers who can barely walk and see take the wheel of a powerful 2-ton vehicle.

In all these cases, a flashing tail light and headlight will definitely improve the cyclist’s ability to be seen.

Changing light conditions can occur quickly and LED and lithium battery technology can illuminate the road or trail now with a massive array of bike options.

2. To see

Usually, this is #1 but the odds of getting severely harmed by vehicles are much greater these days. But potholes, debris, cracks on the road can send one flying in an instant. And an unexpected crash can be extremely harmful when the rider’s guard is down. There’s no chance to correct, brace oneself, or roll out of an impact. The cyclist can instantly be slammed or slapped to the ground with no warning.

A good light can enable one to see as the amount of available light decreases. Many riders often get caught out in the dark during the fall as they fail to judge how quickly visibility degrades after sunset.

A tunnel, harsh shadows from buildings, bridges and trees can quickly change the visibility of a bike so it’s essential to have consistent, obvious light to ensure a cyclist can see and be seen.

3. Conditions change quickly

Darkness and limited visibility can come without warning very quickly. Some areas quickly get dark, foggy or rainy, limiting visibility. Other areas have a ton of trees and harsh shadows. This can sometimes make a cyclist disappear in the harsh shadows as they get camouflaged while at speed. City traffic, tunnels, and city lights too can be a nightmare for cyclists and they can be just around any corner.

Bright colored clothing and reflectors are often the norm for road riding but lights work so much better during the variable conditions in most environments.

The rechargeable options for lights under $100 have grown dramatically over the last decade.

4. Bike lights now are so compact and affordable

Technology is very relevant and compelling these days. Gone are the days of having to lug a 4-lb headlight with a wire and waterbottle battery. Now almost all bike lights use efficient LEDs and a lithium battery with a USB charger.

A bike headlight can weigh as little as 90 grams, have 700 lumens of brightness, and last 8 hours in flashing bright mode. Taillights can weigh even less and be visible from a mile away.

Bike lights have gotten better and better, allowing riders to choose lights that are as bright as car headlights or lights that are so small and unobtrusive that they don’t affect the look and the weight of even the lightest bikes.

Technology is pervasive too as some lights can brighten automatically depending on ambient light. Some lights turn themselves on and off when the bike is moved. Other bikes even have a camera or radar to record and react to vehicles.

Bike lights now can be very bright, cheap or compact.

5. It’s the law

While no federal regulations exist regarding the use of bike lights in the US. Many European countries require the use of bike lights and they’re bike fatality record is significantly better than the US.

The US requires that all new bicycles must be sold with “passive lighting,” or reflectors. But most states require that bikes employ at least one light for use in dim and dark conditions. States are evolving their laws too as bike usage increases and technology evolves. Requiring bike reflectors indicates the need but it is such an extinct law that really needs to be updated as many bike fatalities occur during the daytime well before reflectors make a difference.

Light Recommendations

If you want to learn about the best light options to purchase, check here for our Best lights for mountain biking list. The best options are:

Bontrager Ion Pro RT – $125 buy now

Niterider Lumina Boost – $100 buy now

Bontrager Flare RT Tail Light – $59 buy now

Author’s note:

Be visible but be discrete as your safety depends on it. If you have very powerful bike headlights, ensure that you aim it low and away from the eyes of drivers and pedestrians. Be considerate as it can be very uncomfortable when a bright light is pointed at one’s eyes. Oncoming drivers too can get temporarily blinded by very bright lights and can impair driving and cyclist’s safety as well.


About the author: Mtbr

Mtbr.com is a site by mountain bikers for mountain bikers. We are the best online resource for information for mountain bikers of all abilities, ages and interests.


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Comments:

  • Frank K Daugherty says:

    NewsFlash… the number of idiotic cell phone obsessed and infotainment stack fiddlers in their 20s and 30’s so far outnumber the older drivers with eroded skills you seem to harp about it makes your argument laughable. This is in SoCal so maybe your mileage varies.

  • Taroroot says:

    Dude, ditch the tri-bars, get a helmet that fits, and get her #!

  • TylerVernon says:

    Always be sure to select an eye-searing light and aim it up into the eyes of approaching motorists. They love that. It endears them to you.

  • Sunray says:

    I just wish those who use a front bike light will aim the darn thing more towards the ground instead of in the eyes of an oncoming pedestrian, biker or car.

    • Francis Cebedo says:

      >>I just wish those who use a front bike light will aim the darn thing more towards the ground instead of in the eyes of an oncoming pedestrian, biker or car.

      Absolutely!!! Aim is everything as you have to lower the aim so it actually points at the road in front of you and at the eyes of pedestrians and drivers.

      In Germany, bike lights are required to have a cut-off on the beam pattern so it’s flat on top and not round, much like car headlights. This allows the biker to aim the beam optimally on the road without shining it on the eyes of drivers. They have hundreds of thousands of cyclists on the roads with lights so they’ve addressed this issue.

  • Glen says:

    Even with a light it is still no guarantee that a driver will see you, mainly, because they don’t look for a bicycle but other vehicles. I was very nearly cleaned up on a roundabout, AT NIGHT, because the driver clearly wasn’t looking for a bicycle. Yes, I did have quite a bright headlight switched on at the time ( 400 lumens).

  • Alec Fotsch says:

    Yep, I was riding with the lights you recommend and an orange vest. I was standing at a stop sign when a driver turned and it me head on fracturing my femur and scraping a good portion of my hair off as I slid across the pavement at 20 mph. I’d recommend riding with a tank in front of you to deflect idiots.

  • Steve says:

    Could not agree with you more! Would also advocate for reflective tires and hi viz kit. Stayin Alive is on each of us, regardless of what the legions of naysayers may say. Always remember: here in America, distracted driving is the national passtime:)

  • a says:

    Newb here,

    Can anyone recommend a compact rear light that has high lumens, good visibility from the sides, is USB rechargeable, and is rocksolid bombproof. Price is not a real consideration, I’d rather buy once and make it last…

    Thanks

  • NotdeadStu says:

    Wow! The many of comments seem to be anti-light. Carry on then you future Darwin awarenesses recipients.
    You still have to assume that you’re invisible light or not but it does help.
    Personally I’d rather be alive than “cool”.

    As far as distractions go. You missed a big one. Fast food. I find it insane that you are still allowed to eat your double double animal style behind the wheel…..

  • Dan Carnesciali says:

    Cygolite is my go-to light and a lot cheaper than the ones you recommended. Been using them for years without issue. Made in USA too.

  • David says:

    Stick to mountain biking. Even down hill seems safer to me than a quick pedal to the shops.

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