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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.