All About Bike Lights
Lights - If you're riding in the dark or rain, you need lights so drivers can see you. 60% of adult bicyclist accidents come from riding in the dark without lights [citation]. A red blinker on the back and a white LED headlight on the front are plenty.
Safety Lights - Low-output lights are called "safety lights" - even a white light on your handlebars is a "safety light" unless it puts out enough light to be called a "headlight". You can usually tell the difference by the batteries. A light with disposable batteries is probably a safety light, not a headlight. These are suitable for making you visible to motorists and other road users, but do not illuminate the road like a true headlight. You can get safety lights in the range of $8-$30. This includes white lights for the front of your bike, and red lights for the rear.
Headlights - A high-output light that illuminates the road in the same way as a car does is a headlight. These typically consume enough wattage to warrant a built-in rechargable battery that will last from 1-5 hours before requiring a recharge. Headlights not only illuminate the road, they increase a cyclist's visibility to the level of a motor vehicle, which is priceless in safety rewards, but costly in the pocketbook: anywhere from about $75- $300. A good basic headlight can be purchased for about $100 (See photo below, this is my blazing NiteRider Minewt, about $85).
Quick Bike Light Tips
- A light on your helmet in addition to your bike adds to your visibility.
- Keep a couple spare batteries in your pack.
- If you have a super bright LED or HID headlight, dim it with your hand as you pass other cyclists head-on.
Commuter Light Bulb Technology
LED - LED stands for Light Emitting Diode. Most bicycle lights are LEDs. They are small, light in weight, bright, energy efficient, and virtually unbreakable. LEDs come in red for tail lights and white for headlights. LED is your best option for performance and price.
Halogen - Most bicycle headlights were halogen 10 years ago. Halogen bulbs are small incandescent light bulbs with a glass bulb and a filament. They are fragile, dim, and bulky compared to LEDs. They are better than they used to be, but still not as good as LED in my opinon. However I'm open to comments.
HID - HID stands for High Intensity Discharge. These could also be called "plasma" or "arc" lights. They are the big daddy headlights that will make people think an airplane is landing on the path. They are light, very energy efficient and very expensive. Expect to pay $300 or more, and expect angry words from motorists and other cyclists alike when you blind them. HID are illegal in many countries because they are so damn bright.
Disposable - Virtually all safety lights run on disposable / alkaline batteries (usually AA or AAA). Most "real headlights" use too much energy to run on alkaline batteries and use rechargable batteries.
Nickle Metal Hydride (NiMH) - Nickle Metal Hydride batteries have mostly replaced Nickle Cadmium (NiCd) as the standard off-the-shelf rechargable battery. They are cost effective, and sufficiently powerful for most typical applications. They are not as light, small, or powerful as Lithium Ion, but they are much cheaper.
Lithuim Ion (Li-ion) - Lithium Ion batteries have the best power-to-weight ratio available at this time. They take up little space on your bike but they are expensive. Some lights are available with a Lithium Ion battery as an upgrade, which is well worth it, if you can afford it.
Reflectors are like lights that don't require any batteries! I admit, I really hate they way they look on a bike during the daylight - especially those ones they put in the spokes - but at night they are priceless. A cyclist with some well-placed reflectors lights up like a spaceship at night and that's exactly what you want. I'd suggest a cheap roll of black or silver reflective tape (way cooler than yellow!). You can cut and stick the stuff anywhere on your bike, backpack and helmet. Wrap it around the seat post and stem. Stick some on your helmet and fenders. You won't look like a nerd, because you won't even notice the stuff in the daylight. Perfect. Reflector photos here.
Here's me at night with all my safety gear on. Most of what you see are reflectors, even though I have spent a few hundred dollars on lights. How much of me would you see if I didn't have reflectors? Not much. Most of these are silver tape or built into my clothing by the manufacturer, both of which blend right into the background during daylight, but lights up nicely in the dark.
Recommended Products - I've used all of these.
Coming soon: Safety Stats, car presence, USAGE TIPS, hand cover, spares, on the helmet, reflectors. PHOTOS of refelctors, PHOTOS of lights.