Biking for Transportation

Can you see me now?

I was on the road this morning at 5:45 a.m. It was cold, dark and rainy. As I heard the approaching car from behind me, I repeated my breathy  mantra while pumping up Wilson Blvd, ” Please see me, please see me”.

On days like this, the escape velocity to get out of the orbit of my warm bed inside my warm house is off the charts and feels nearly impossible.

Against all odds, I made it out and you know what? It sucked. Just a little but then once I made it to the gym,  I felt proud. It wasn’t really as bad as I thought it would be.

The irony of biking to a spin class is often hard for me to overcome but is it really any less ironic to drive a short distance to exercise at a gym?

Thankfully, the rain stopped while I was inside the darkened cycling studio that feels like a  post apocalyptic training center for those who are to compete in some kind of stationary TRON-like sporting event. Don’t get me wrong, I love these classes. Perhaps that is obvious to you based on what I am willing to do to attend one.

As I suited back up for the outside world, I put on all my reflective, hideously bright gear, turned on my lights and headed out for the trail. Back on the multi-use trail, I often notice or rather my vision is accosted by something.

Some people have insanely bright lights. Too bright. And they have them flashing. The rear light flashing, I get that. I do that. But why do they insist on turning my ride into a potentially seizure inducing, blinding rave from hell?

More is not always better. I know that you want to be seen and be able to see. Good idea! But if the other cyclists are blinded and the drivers annoyed, you may actually be more dangerous than the ninjas who like to go without lights and wear dark colors.

Virginia law requires that you have one headlamp that is visible at 500 ft. I am actually not sure how bright that needs to be. I intend to get scientific about it and investigate. Does anyone know if those cute little lights Bike Arlington & other organizations give out meet this requirement? I hope so because I love those lights!

I am fairly certain that the lights I have seen far exceed that requirement. I could be wrong.

But I stand firm in my assertion that a blinking front light is a terrible idea.

My final plea to my bright-lighted cycling compadres… Please consider the eyes of those that you will cross paths with and point those lights towards the ground and make them steady.

6 thoughts on “Can you see me now?”

  1. The super-bright lights that are sold in the US have a symmetrical beam (like a flashlight) that makes it easy to blind people coming the other way. Many of the european sourced lights have a shaped beam that has a vertical cutoff to prevent blinding oncoming riders. Busch & Müller are an example. My super cheap headlight also has this type of beam:

    My bike has a tire driven dynamo, a Busch & Müller Lyt headlamp with a solid taillight (Busch & Müller Toplight Line). I supplement with a binky in the back and a flashing or steady light on my helmet (headlamp). When the sun is low or it is raining I will just use the blinky lights and not the dynamo lights.

    1. Thank you for your comment and information about why some lights are blinding and others are not. It seems like this is the best of both worlds, bright enough to be seen without getting in the eyes of oncoming riders.

  2. There once was a woman and everything that she wrote came true. Did she have ESP? Or had she just discovered how to tap into the power of intentional thinking that is within all of us? I can’t wait to find out. Love, Jim

  3. A look at the science will say the more lights are better in the dark. I admit that I try never to ride in the dark, but I have lights that flash even in the day. Drivers tell me that they see me. As I have gotten brighter lights driver behavior has improved.

  4. Thanks for this post. When riding in the dark, I find bright flashing headlights blinding (tail lights less so, but some of those are absurdly bright). With a steady light I can at least look away from the bight light (or block it with my hand or my visor) and still see the trail. With the flashing lights my eyes are constantly trying to adjust.

    The sad fact is that a whole industry has been built on the idea that bicycles are more dangerous than they are (versus the car industry, which makes cars out to be safer than they are–and we wonder why everyone owns cars?). Combine that with the reality that products that market well sell better than products that work well and we get dangerous junk like flashing headlights.

    Please. Let’s all go with bright, or flashing, but not both.

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