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LED Bicycle Light Etiquette on Canberra’s bike paths

By gasman - 24 June 2013 22

Aren’t those new high-power LED bike lights amazing? For under $100, you can now get a 300 or 600 lumen bike light. A few bucks more gets you 1200 lumens! That’s brighter than most car headlights. All powered by a couple of AA batteries or equivalent.

Car headlights have a design standard that makes sure the beam of light is directed down to the ground and little of the light is spilled upwards to blind oncoming drivers. The high-beam doesn’t, which is why it is routine practice to dip your high-beam when there is on-coming traffic. Unless you have bought an expensive European bike light (which follow car headlight standards), your bike light shines in a conical beam, with much of those lumens going straight ahead and upwards, straight into the eyes of oncoming cyclists.

As I ride home every evening I am constantly blinded by oncoming cyclists with their whizz-bang high power bike lights. Its so blinding that often I can’t see where I am going, and it is quite dangerous to both parties.

Here are a few points of LED bike light etiquette that may be helpful for all of us that ride at night.

    1. Just because you have 1200 lumens does not mean you have to use all 1200 of them all the time. Dip it to the low setting when passing another cyclist.

    2. Point the light more towards the ground

    3. If your light is on your helmet, look straight down or off to the left when passing oncoming cyclists

    4. Make a little plastic hood for you light to block the upper beam. It has the bonus advantage that you get an illuminated hood visible from the sides. Here is mine I made from the lid of my favourite marmalade:

    bike light

    5. As you pass oncoming cyclists, place your hand flat over the top of the light to shield the upper beam, just like the hood above.

    6. Dip your 1200 lumen light to its low setting. Oh, I already said that. Worth repeating. Like 4 wheel drives, having a super-bright bike light does not prove your manhood.

A little bit of courtesy make all of our commutes safer and more pleasant.

What’s Your opinion?


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22 Responses to
LED Bicycle Light Etiquette on Canberra’s bike paths
Aeek 12:00 am 25 Jun 13

CraigT said :

But once I turn *my* high beams on, the impact of their stupid lights recedes somewhat. Now that I know what the &^$% is going on (just idiots on bikes), I’m quick to flood them with my own high beams.

C#$%s that they are.

Clearly you are one too. Last time I thought someone did that to me I chose not to escalate with megaflash weapon mode.

Grrrr 11:45 pm 24 Jun 13

“1000 lumens” bike lights are typically less – they’re “marketing” numbers. Car headlights with quality, legal globes in them are 1700 lumens – per globe. IE, 3400 lumens on low beam versus, say, 700 from a bike.

Even worse is the whinging about flashing red rear bike lights: We’re talking more like 7 lumens here. REALLY bright ones maybe 70. If they’re solid, they’re really not that visible .. especially as their batteries start to flatten, which happens way faster if left on solid.

There might be a bunch of dorks flashing “1000 lumens” but I doubt they’re common. It would make navigating very hard – you’d need as much solid light again so you weren’t living in strobe-land. Perhaps it’s required though? I know that a couple of hundred lumens of solid white light isn’t enough to stop some idiots from pulling out in front of a bike.

That said, within years bike lights will genuinely equal car lights and it’s hard to imagine legislation not being drafted to control how they’re used.

bd84 11:37 pm 24 Jun 13

I’ve seen some very bright led lights on cyclists, they’re as bad as fog lights on cars and are more likely to blind you and confuse you as to the direction of their travel. Use of fog lights on cars is illegal when not in fog, but I’m sure the same rule isn’t afforded to bike lights, but people actually being polite and thinking of others is just as likely in either situation.

Having said that, the bigger problem is the vast majority of cyclists use lights so dull they may as well have not have bothered. The LED lights are much more visible. I would like to see them legislated, including their position. I see way too many cyclists who have their light only on their helmet, which is is useless every time they look to the side because they immediately disappear into the darkness to all in front of them.

CraigT 9:44 pm 24 Jun 13

gungsuperstar said :

I think most of the cycling community are pretty friendly and amenable to each other.

The evidence suggests otherwise.

I often encounter these idiots with ultra-bright lights riding in pairs in the morning. It is impossible to watch out for Kangaroos when some lycra-clad moron is shining a light in your eye.

But once I turn *my* high beams on, the impact of their stupid lights recedes somewhat. Now that I know what the &^$% is going on (just idiots on bikes), I’m quick to flood them with my own high beams.

C#$%s that they are.

gungsuperstar 6:52 pm 24 Jun 13

I think most of the cycling community are pretty friendly and amenable to each other.

But people need to realise that this isn’t common sense. Unless you frequent a cycling forum or happen upon an article like this, you might not necessarily realise the impact you’re having on others. I know when I started riding I didn’t know – it was a friendly cyclist who pulled up beside me at a set of lights and explained the need to point my light down and slightly to the left.

That would me my suggestion. Rather than assume that the person blinding others is a deliberately ignorant twit, take a minute to politely explain to them how to set up their light.

Benaresq 6:44 pm 24 Jun 13

watto23 said :

Seriously, i’d love to know why some people seem to be able to get blinded all the time. I can’t remember the last time I was blinded by overly bright lights, or when I saw fog lights that were brighter than the headlights. Yes i agree in principle that overly bright lights are not good, but at the same time the hysteria regarding the bright lights makes me think some people are overly sensitive. I know i’ve put a light meter to my fog lights and head lights on my car and the fog lights are dimmer and thats with the ambient light from the head lights.

I agree 100% with you on fog lights, but modern cheap bike lights are in a whole other league of blinding. For a comparison, grab the biggest maglite you can find and shine it in your eyes. That is a lot what it is like being hit with a bike light.

dtc 5:29 pm 24 Jun 13

Here is a tip. For cyclists and drivers. If there is a bright light coming toward you, dont look directly at it…

Actually, look to the side of the path/road (on roads you have a white line, usually. On cycle paths its a bit harder but not impossible).

watto23 4:54 pm 24 Jun 13

Seriously, i’d love to know why some people seem to be able to get blinded all the time. I can’t remember the last time I was blinded by overly bright lights, or when I saw fog lights that were brighter than the headlights. Yes i agree in principle that overly bright lights are not good, but at the same time the hysteria regarding the bright lights makes me think some people are overly sensitive. I know i’ve put a light meter to my fog lights and head lights on my car and the fog lights are dimmer and thats with the ambient light from the head lights.

I know several police officers and they use common sense with regards to bright lights for all vehicles and bikes on the road. They agree its not a huge problem on the road and occasionally see it. Cyclists get done for DUI often, but not so much for anything involving bright lights.

agree that it could be a problem, and i’d rather have lights on than not be able to see someone. trust me on a motorbike, despite the light being on all the time, people still manage to not see you. I’d also argue many driver fail to turn lights on in dim conditions in cars. Contrary to popular belief, white is not an easy colour to see in dim light and neither are these fancy shades of beige and silver that SUV’s come in these days.

borizuka 4:46 pm 24 Jun 13

Maybe a better use of time would have been to focus on still the ~50% of riders with either dim or non existant lights that I see every day.

I use lights so I don’t get hit by cars, other cyslists behind me are not on the priority list and anything to make cars more aware of me is better then blending in and being side swipped or T boned by a car. But yes, be curtoues to other path users and dont blind them.

Postalgeek 12:01 pm 24 Jun 13

Barcham said :

borizuka said :

I completely disagree with magiccar’s post re:the red read light blinking. The flashing red light, is what actually makes motorists pay attention and take their eyes off their mobile phones and pay attention outside pf the general autonomy of driving a vehicle in traffic.

Honestly as another cyclist I hate strobing lights, particularly rear ones. When I ride behind someone using them I find it distracting and disorienting. It makes it much more difficult to keep track of anything (other bikes, the path, cars, trees) that isn’t that blinking little light. I imagine many drivers have the same issues when confronted with them.

I think they’re quite dangerous myself, and I imagine if I driver is distracted enough to ignore a bright red light on the back of a bike, a bright blinking red light isn’t going to make a difference so I see little point in them.

I don’t set mine to blink, just out of courtesy to whomever is riding behind me.

Well, you’re just going to have to ride faster or stop leeching off the draft 😉

But seriously, I ride Monaro Hwy at night, I light myself up like a frikkin Christmas tree, and I make no apologies for that. I will continue to differentiate myself from road-side reflectors.
If motorists think ‘WTF?’ when they see me, good. I’ve seen too many fkwits in cars drifting all over the place. Approaching me at 100 kph I’m not prepared to rely on the perceptive capabilities of drivers or the batteries of one pissy blinker. Two minimum, three’s even better. If I had the option to go super nova, I would.

Give me a separated cycle lane along there and I’ll be happy to pay rego for my commuter bike.

Barcham 11:36 am 24 Jun 13

borizuka said :

I completely disagree with magiccar’s post re:the red read light blinking. The flashing red light, is what actually makes motorists pay attention and take their eyes off their mobile phones and pay attention outside pf the general autonomy of driving a vehicle in traffic.

Honestly as another cyclist I hate strobing lights, particularly rear ones. When I ride behind someone using them I find it distracting and disorienting. It makes it much more difficult to keep track of anything (other bikes, the path, cars, trees) that isn’t that blinking little light. I imagine many drivers have the same issues when confronted with them.

I think they’re quite dangerous myself, and I imagine if I driver is distracted enough to ignore a bright red light on the back of a bike, a bright blinking red light isn’t going to make a difference so I see little point in them.

I don’t set mine to blink, just out of courtesy to whomever is riding behind me.

Deckard 11:11 am 24 Jun 13

This is a pet hate of mine and I actually posted about this last winter.

Another couple of points:

When 1000 lumen lights approach from you from behind you’re rendered blind as all you can see in front of you is your own shadow.

1000 lumen strobe lights on a quiet bike path aren’t necessary. You’re likely to give someone an epileptic fit.

You don’t need your high beam at dusk. All you need is your light at its lowest setting so others can see you.

How many of these bright lights do you need? I’ve seen people with 2 lights on the handlebars (1 strobing) and 1 on the helmet, all turned up to full, riding along a bike path. Fair enough if you’re riding on the road and are worried about not being seen, but can’t you turn your lights down on the bike path? Surely these lights have an easy to access button that flicks it between strengths?

As for helmet lights, where you’re looking is where the light beam hits. If you look into the face of the cyclist passing cm to your right then don’t be surprised if you end up having a head on.

As a regular night riding cyclist I am aware of the black clad ninja dog walkers who appear out of nowhere, but seriously, you’re causing as much of a problem to others as they do.

borizuka 11:10 am 24 Jun 13

Yes, cyclist should be more curteous to fellow path users and cars and not have their lights shining straigh ahead. I always cover my light with my hand when approaching head on to another path use. But I can state that when i ride with my 300lumen vs to my 1200lumen light on busy roads i see a distinct difference in drivers behaviour, with being seen much more and given much more space.

I completely disagree with magiccar’s post re:the red read light blinking. The flashing red light, is what actually makes motorists pay attention and take their eyes off their mobile phones and pay attention outside pf the general autonomy of driving a vehicle in traffic.

this is such a pointless windge.

tim_c 10:59 am 24 Jun 13

Given that decent LED lights are so cheap, why are there still so many cyclists on the bike paths with no lights at all. This is a far greater danger than those with bright lights shining in my eyes for a moment – afterall, I don’t have to look directly at the light. Then there are those that think because LEDs are energy efficient, the batteries don’t need to be changed, EVER. And then there are still others who seem content with a single feeble key-ring LED which was only ever intended to illuminate a keyhole at point-blank range – sorry mate, the only thing I saw was your retinas reflecting my own headlights.

The other week I had some guy coming the other way with a reasonable LED headlight, I dipped my lights and pointed the helmet mounted light off to the left and then this guy disappeared! I directed all 5W and 480 lumens of my helmet mounted LED back to where I’d last seen him and there was the clown covering his light with his hand! How is anyone supposed to see a cyclist when they’ve got their hand over their light?! – he might as well have turned it off altogether!

magiccar9 10:25 am 24 Jun 13

I feel you missed a couple of points here….

7. There is absolutely no need to have your red rear light on strobe mode! Especially when riding on or near roads as it can be misleading to motorists indicating an emergency services vehicle. We can still see you when it’s on the solid light setting. In fact the same goes for your front lights too.

8. If you’re using one of the fancy helmet mounted lights and you stop at the traffic lights (like you should), don’t look into the persons car next to you. I don’t take kindly to being blinded at close range just before the light goes green.

9. If you insist on having a flashing light on the front of your bicycle, only use 1! Seeing someone riding along with 4-5 different flashing LED lights on the front of them doesn’t make them 4-5 times more visible.

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