Time for lights to scare away the dark

With the end of daylight saving the time has arrived for riders to get the bike lights on the bike, with the batteries refreshed, ready to push back the creeping dark.

Today’s bike lights are vastly improved over their ancestors, and they are comparatively cheap, so there is no excuse to be taking risks with safety in low light conditions.

The number of crashes at night is well down over earlier years, so the benefits are obvious.

The law is clear: you need to have a red light on the rear and a clear light on the front, both visible at 200 metres. And there is also a requirement that you don’t dazzle oncoming traffic, whether bikes or cars.

Flashing lights are more conspicuous than steady, but there is no evidence that fancy flashing patterns are beneficial.

With powerful LED lights now available, extra care needs to be taken to ensure that riders coming toward you are not blinded.

In recent winters Bicycle Network has received large numbers of complaints from riders who have temporarily lost vision because of searing lights from other riders pointing in to their eyes.

Rider must ensure that their lights are point to the ground ahead of them and not directed above handlebar height where they can dazzle oncoming traffic.

And beware of using lights designed for use for night time MTB racing in forests. These lights are powerful, but they spill light in every direction as they lack beam-shaping reflectors and lenses.

Some riders claim that super powerful lights are safer, but this is false. Over the years in its light testing Bicycle Network has established that lights of relatively modest power are just as bright 200 metres away.

Lights on helmets are a bad idea. Not only are they at eye height for oncoming riders, research shows that for drivers they appear in the ambient light field and are not easily recognisable as bike lights.

There is one trick that has been shown to really help with your conspicuity at night: reflective bands around the ankles. Because these move up and down they are highly effective at helping drivers quickly recognise the presence of a bike rider on the road.

What about high vis vests? Despite many people swearing by them, research shows they don’t help at all. Worse than that, people who use them assume they are more visible than they actually are.

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