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LED Bicycle Light Etiquette on Canberra’s bike paths

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.


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22 Responses to LED Bicycle Light Etiquette on Canberra’s bike paths
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Pitchka Pitchka 1:02 pm 30 Aug 13

KB1971 said :

CraigT said :

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.

Evidence? Show us your evidence, what you have is actually hearsay………

They are definetly c&%*s. This is all the evidence you need, what i say goes…

blueterrestra blueterrestra 11:32 am 30 Aug 13

gungsuperstar said :

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.

Spot on. I haven’t had too many problems on the paths. Occasionally some handlbar-mounted beam is aimed a little high, but as I’m already pointing my helmet-mounted Ayups down and left I don’t tend to have as much of a problem.

magiccar9 said :

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.

Fair enough. I don’t tend to look directly at a driver unless they appear to be about to pull out in front of me, but I’ll take to turning my lights off whilst waiting at intersections (it’s easy enough). Thanks for the tip.

wildturkeycanoe said :

There is a solution to this issue. Mandatory bicycle inspection and registration so that they comply with a suitable standard. The lights could be aimed at an appropriate angle and checked to make sure they aren’t too bright. Everything else about cycling has to comply to an Australian standard, I wonder how many of these lights comply? Wearing them on your head leaves the aiming in the control of the rider, not a very consistent perch where it can be pointed anywhere at all.

For the complaining cyclists here, if registration and enforcement won’t fix this issue, or rubs you the wrong way big time, can you offer an alternative apart from hoping the culprits are reading this forum?

I think this is a simplistic point of view. My helmet mounts are are vastly superior option simply because they allow me to know more about my surroundings. Riding along unlit paths near Mt. Taylor, and even the zoo, you’ll often have kangaroos jump out at short notice. Scanning with my helmet minimises the risk. Someone else pointed out the ninja dog walkers who also like to pop into view at the last moment.

But as you say, helmet mounts are variable – I have to adjust mine each time I put them on my helmet, sometimes even after I’ve started riding. To answer your question, I think a bit of common sense on the part of cyclists will go a long way to helping alleviate any problems. Pedal power could do a bit by trying to educate as many cyclists as they can on potential problems they can cause with their lights. Regulating/licensing/etc just reduces the incentive to buy a bike and ride – do you really want all the cyclists off their bikes and in their cars competing for road space with you?

wildturkeycanoe wildturkeycanoe 6:53 am 30 Aug 13

There is a solution to this issue. Mandatory bicycle inspection and registration so that they comply with a suitable standard. The lights could be aimed at an appropriate angle and checked to make sure they aren’t too bright. Everything else about cycling has to comply to an Australian standard, I wonder how many of these lights comply? Wearing them on your head leaves the aiming in the control of the rider, not a very consistent perch where it can be pointed anywhere at all.
If I were to put a 150watt spotlight on the roof of my car and wobble it all over the road and into oncoming traffic I’m sure it would attract the interest of the police, if not cause an accident. Why then aren’t other vehicles that use our roads subject to the same laws? Double standards only add weight to the argument supporting a method of regulating our cycling pastime.
For the complaining cyclists here, if registration and enforcement won’t fix this issue, or rubs you the wrong way big time, can you offer an alternative apart from hoping the culprits are reading this forum?

Aeek Aeek 9:03 pm 29 Aug 13

Deckard said :

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

More than that, I can cope with a bright steady light, I may not like it but I can adjust; but bright white flashing is blinding – should only be used on lit roads.

Postalgeek Postalgeek 10:42 am 25 Jun 13

KB1971 said :

bd84 said :

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.
.

Really? White is to the front and red is to the rear………its not that hard……..it is universal to all vehicles that use a road (has been for a very long time)……..why is a bike any different?

Honestly it scares me how some people can’t cope.

How the hell do they handle looking at a HID car headlight coming the other way? Our license system is far too lax.

KB1971 KB1971 10:10 am 25 Jun 13

bd84 said :

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.
.

Really? White is to the front and red is to the rear………its not that hard……..it is universal to all vehicles that use a road (has been for a very long time)……..why is a bike any different?

KB1971 KB1971 7:52 am 25 Jun 13

CraigT said :

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.

Evidence? Show us your evidence, what you have is actually hearsay………

Aeek 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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.

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