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Turn on your lights, Canberra

Anne Treasure 4 July 2017 27

It takes a special sort of rider to get on their bike in sub-zero temperatures, often in dark and frosty conditions. Typically, we call this type of bike rider a ‘Canberran’.

Those of us who bravely carry on riding our bikes through freezing ACT winters scoff at the idea that we’d change our habits because of a little bit of frost. Even in the cold, it’s far more pleasant to be riding a bike than sitting on a stuffy bus, breathing in the winter germs of fellow commuters, or trapped in traffic gridlock in a car.

Smug? Yes. Freezing? Maybe a little, at first. But a bit of cold weather isn’t going to stop a Canberran from riding her bike.

Yet there is one habit you need to adopt if you’re going to survive an ACT winter on your bike: turn on your lights.

Australian law requires bikes to be fitted with a white light at the front, and a red light and reflector at the back when you ride in the dark – and during winter there are far more hours of dark to contend with. Make sure your lights are fully charged, and most importantly, turn them on before you set off.

I’m not asking you to wear high-vis. In fact, road rules in the ACT do not oblige riders to wear fluorescent clothing, and research shows it does not improve visibility at night. There is absolutely no point wearing a bright yellow vest while riding a bike in dark conditions without bike lights fitted and turned on.

Reflective clothing shows more promise – particularly if it is moving, so try putting one of these IKEA reflective bands around your ankles while riding.

It’s not just the bike riders – in the recent foggy mornings we’ve had here in the ACT I’ve been surprised at the number of cars who don’t turn their lights on while driving in the low-visibility conditions.

In the ACT we often have fog, frost and darkness to contend with while riding in winter, and if you can’t be seen on the roads or paths, you’re putting yourself in danger.

Whether you are riding your bike, or driving your car in Canberra during winter, turn on your lights and make yourself visible.

How can we remind people who drive or ride in the ACT to turn on their lights during periods of low visibility on the roads in winter? 

Anne Treasure is the Communications Manager for Pedal Power ACT. She writes on bike riding in the ACT from the perspective of a Canberran who mostly rides for transport. 


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27 Responses to Turn on your lights, Canberra
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tim_c 5:16 pm 17 Jul 17

[quote comment="580168"]I ride the bike paths every day (38km per day) and in winter its at night. Yep, I agree than stating a lumen value is very simplistic, and I did mention that in Germany bike lights are legally required to not throw light upwards, only downwards. It is only recently that LED technology has become so good that bike lights are powerful enough to blind.

However, I stick by my point - many modern bike lights are too powerful at their highest settings to run safely on bike paths. Unlike cars (who's headlights are designed not to throw light upwards) bike lights throw a conical beam, including upwards. Further, bikes pass each other at a much closer distance than cars - often only 1m apart - the inverse square law of light comes into play here. These 2 factors make the oncoming beam much more blinding than a car light.

Bottom line is about half the oncoming cyclists who I encounter at night have their lights set at what looks like maximum, and they are blinding to other cyclists. There is really no need to do that on the bike paths. I can ride quite safely with my 650 lumen light set to 150.

I also mountain bike, sometimes at night. Here there is a real need both for high beam intensity as well as a broader beam. Mountain bike trails are much more difficult to negotiate, more bends, more hazards. Seeing further and wider is important to plan your route. Also, there is rarely any oncoming bike traffic on mountain bike trails at night, and when there is, the curves in the trail usually means that your light beam is directed tangentially rather than straight at the oncoming rider.[/quote]

I've mountain-biked at night too and I maintain commuting on cycleways is just as hazardous - with many pedestrians camouflaging themselves in clothing the same colour as the cycleway, unrestrained or inadequately-restrained dogs, tree roots, abandoned shopping trolleys, people sitting on the cycleway, debris, unlit cyclists and even the occasional kangaroo. Just how far ahead can your recommended maximum 150 lumens adequately illuminate the cycleway? And just how much distance do you need to be able to stop safely? I'd suggest you wouldn't have to be going very fast to be seriously out-driving 150 lumens (irrespective of how well it's focussed).

Unless you're the slowest cyclist on the paths, you're going to have to overtake someone at some point, and at that point you're taking an unacceptable gamble that there is no one coming the other way who considers their life (and yours) not even worth $20 (the cost of a basic front light) - I very nearly had a head-on with some impoverished woman about two weeks ago when I moved out to overtake someone and she came barrelling along the other way with no lights at all - you're not going to see creeps like that until it's far too late if all you've got is 150 lumens.

I've got a little over your recommended maximum 150 lumens though I'll always turn off the hi-beam if I see someone coming the other way (assuming they're not trying to NOT be seen, or they're not dazzling me with a light pointed straight into my eyes) - then I've got this hopeless lo-beam that meets German requirements but is certainly not enough to see by.

gasman 9:25 pm 16 Jul 17

[quote comment="580121"][quote comment="580106"]On a slightly different, but related, note - maybe you don't need to ride with 1200 lumen lights around the bike paths. In Germany, by law, bike lights must be designed to have limited spread upward to avoid dazzling/blinding oncoming cyclists. There is no such requirement in Australia. The latest LED bike lights are very, very bright, rivalling the high beams of cars. I find when I ride at night, an oncoming bike running their lights at the highest setting is very blinding.

You don't really need high power on roads or bike paths. They are vey useful when mountain biking at night.

Please, if you are using high-powered bike lights (anything over 300 lumen), dim them to a lower setting when approaching on-coming cyclists.[/quote]

Firstly, I don't understand why you think you don't need high-powered lights to ride on cyclepaths, but you do for mountain biking... an unlit cyclepath is just as dark as an unlit mountain bike track, and you're likely to be averaging a higher speed on a cyclepath if you're riding to get anywhere (ie. not just enjoying the scenery).

Secondly, to quote the maximum number of lumens you need or should have is simplistic - how glary it is to others has far more to do with how that light is focussed, and where it is pointed - hence for motorists driving on a clear night, the use of foglights (typically 55W each) is illegal while the use of headlights (typically 60W each) is mandatory. A typical car headlight globe is 60W lo-beam and 55W hi-beam, and it's not uncommon to get headlight globes with lo-beams of 80-90W - it's not simply about the amount of power, it's how and where it's directed.[/quote]

I ride the bike paths every day (38km per day) and in winter its at night. Yep, I agree than stating a lumen value is very simplistic, and I did mention that in Germany bike lights are legally required to not throw light upwards, only downwards. It is only recently that LED technology has become so good that bike lights are powerful enough to blind.

However, I stick by my point - many modern bike lights are too powerful at their highest settings to run safely on bike paths. Unlike cars (who's headlights are designed not to throw light upwards) bike lights throw a conical beam, including upwards. Further, bikes pass each other at a much closer distance than cars - often only 1m apart - the inverse square law of light comes into play here. These 2 factors make the oncoming beam much more blinding than a car light.

Bottom line is about half the oncoming cyclists who I encounter at night have their lights set at what looks like maximum, and they are blinding to other cyclists. There is really no need to do that on the bike paths. I can ride quite safely with my 650 lumen light set to 150.

I also mountain bike, sometimes at night. Here there is a real need both for high beam intensity as well as a broader beam. Mountain bike trails are much more difficult to negotiate, more bends, more hazards. Seeing further and wider is important to plan your route. Also, there is rarely any oncoming bike traffic on mountain bike trails at night, and when there is, the curves in the trail usually means that your light beam is directed tangentially rather than straight at the oncoming rider.

Maya123 11:13 am 14 Jul 17

[quote comment="580121"][quote comment="580106"]On a slightly different, but related, note - maybe you don't need to ride with 1200 lumen lights around the bike paths. In Germany, by law, bike lights must be designed to have limited spread upward to avoid dazzling/blinding oncoming cyclists. There is no such requirement in Australia. The latest LED bike lights are very, very bright, rivalling the high beams of cars. I find when I ride at night, an oncoming bike running their lights at the highest setting is very blinding.

You don't really need high power on roads or bike paths. They are vey useful when mountain biking at night.

Please, if you are using high-powered bike lights (anything over 300 lumen), dim them to a lower setting when approaching on-coming cyclists.[/quote]

Firstly, I don't understand why you think you don't need high-powered lights to ride on cyclepaths, but you do for mountain biking... an unlit cyclepath is just as dark as an unlit mountain bike track, and you're likely to be averaging a higher speed on a cyclepath if you're riding to get anywhere (ie. not just enjoying the scenery).

Secondly, to quote the maximum number of lumens you need or should have is simplistic - how glary it is to others has far more to do with how that light is focussed, and where it is pointed - hence for motorists driving on a clear night, the use of foglights (typically 55W each) is illegal while the use of headlights (typically 60W each) is mandatory. A typical car headlight globe is 60W lo-beam and 55W hi-beam, and it's not uncommon to get headlight globes with lo-beams of 80-90W - it's not simply about the amount of power, it's how and where it's directed.[/quote]

Exactly :)

tim_c 9:35 am 14 Jul 17

[quote comment="580106"]On a slightly different, but related, note - maybe you don't need to ride with 1200 lumen lights around the bike paths. In Germany, by law, bike lights must be designed to have limited spread upward to avoid dazzling/blinding oncoming cyclists. There is no such requirement in Australia. The latest LED bike lights are very, very bright, rivalling the high beams of cars. I find when I ride at night, an oncoming bike running their lights at the highest setting is very blinding.

You don't really need high power on roads or bike paths. They are vey useful when mountain biking at night.

Please, if you are using high-powered bike lights (anything over 300 lumen), dim them to a lower setting when approaching on-coming cyclists.[/quote]

Firstly, I don't understand why you think you don't need high-powered lights to ride on cyclepaths, but you do for mountain biking... an unlit cyclepath is just as dark as an unlit mountain bike track, and you're likely to be averaging a higher speed on a cyclepath if you're riding to get anywhere (ie. not just enjoying the scenery).

Secondly, to quote the maximum number of lumens you need or should have is simplistic - how glary it is to others has far more to do with how that light is focussed, and where it is pointed - hence for motorists driving on a clear night, the use of foglights (typically 55W each) is illegal while the use of headlights (typically 60W each) is mandatory. A typical car headlight globe is 60W lo-beam and 55W hi-beam, and it's not uncommon to get headlight globes with lo-beams of 80-90W - it's not simply about the amount of power, it's how and where it's directed.

tim_c 9:21 am 14 Jul 17

[quote comment="579984"][quote comment="579928"]...There's also a report that wearing a vest with 'POLICE' on the back is the best way to avoid close passes from drivers while riding on the roads, so watch out for that to become the new trend. (Kidding).[/quote]

It's not police. It's this.

http://www.ebay.com.au/itm/POLITE-NOTICE-THINK-BIKE-HI-VIZ-VEST-MOTORCYCLE-WAISTCOAT-REFLECTIVE-SAFETY-/272459557702?var=&hash=item3f6fdaeb46[/quote]

Ha ha, that's great!

tim_c 9:19 am 14 Jul 17

A few points:

Are cars in ACT no longer required to have two functioning headlights?

The law for cyclists is not simply to "have a front and rear light", but those lights must be visible from a distance 200m.

gasman 6:06 pm 13 Jul 17

On a slightly different, but related, note - maybe you don't need to ride with 1200 lumen lights around the bike paths. In Germany, by law, bike lights must be designed to have limited spread upward to avoid dazzling/blinding oncoming cyclists. There is no such requirement in Australia. The latest LED bike lights are very, very bright, rivalling the high beams of cars. I find when I ride at night, an oncoming bike running their lights at the highest setting is very blinding.

You don't really need high power on roads or bike paths. They are vey useful when mountain biking at night.

Please, if you are using high-powered bike lights (anything over 300 lumen), dim them to a lower setting when approaching on-coming cyclists.

carnardly 10:47 pm 11 Jul 17

legal and annoying??? wow.

You know what - i dress up like a christmas tree and still have drivers pull out of side streets in front of me. Their first response is SMIDSY.

That is usually codespeak for SMIDL...

It might be annoying to you, but a helmet light might just save my life.

I use a handlebar light and have reflective gear on my clothes, pack and bike. but if you're likely to pull out in front of me from either side, or left hook me, you will get a retina burner as well.

If some drivers LOOKED for cyclists, we might not NEED retina burners....

annoying??? boo bloody hoo...

bigred 8:43 am 09 Jul 17

[quote comment="579989"][quote comment="579944"]... torches some cyclists affix to their heads ... They are also illegal. [/quote]

Under what legislation are they illegal? There's nothing in the road rules, and I'm curious as to what other legislation would be relevant.[/quote]

You are quite right. thanks. I admit I haven't had a good look for quite a while. The current version of Regulation 219 appears to have been crafted to exempt bicycle riders from the general requirement to not dazzle. So it seems the only offence committed would now come under Crimes Act provisions about recklessness should one be blamed with causing an injury. And that is unlikely to ever be invoked. So there you have it, cyclists can use head torches and be both legal and annoying.

Leon Arundell 6:00 pm 08 Jul 17

[quote comment="579966"]

I remember the old dynamo-powered lights 'dragged' at the bike. How do modern ones compare?[/quote]

I still have an old bottle dynamo on one of my bikes. It slows me down by about 10%. A modern B&M or AXA is a bit less of a drag - probably closer to 5%. Hub dynamos are even more efficient, at the expense of very slightly increased drag when the lights are not being used.

Jono 7:01 am 08 Jul 17

[quote comment="579944"]... torches some cyclists affix to their heads ... They are also illegal. [/quote]

Under what legislation are they illegal? There's nothing in the road rules, and I'm curious as to what other legislation would be relevant.

dungfungus 10:42 pm 07 Jul 17

[quote comment="579965"][quote comment="579929"]... The dynamo lights were very reliable but didn't generate spark when the wheel wasn't turning, a-la wind turbines of today.[/quote]

Modern dynamo-powered lights have capacitors that keep them shining for several minutes after you stop - for example, while waiting at traffic lights.[/quote]

That is good design. It should also be used in wind turbines because they become net users of power from the grid (to keep their management systems going) when they stop turning.

carnardly 10:07 pm 07 Jul 17

[quote comment="579928"][quote comment="579914"]You'd like to think common sense would make it easy to determine when a road user (cyclist or motorist) should turn on their lights. Thank you for this article, I'm not sure it will help improve the common sense of the broader population, but hopefully it will increase the awareness of using lights to help improve one's visibility.

Meanwhile, from one of the links you provided: "The presence of a bicycle light, whether static or flashing, did not enhance the conspicuity of the bicyclist; this may result in bicyclists who use a bicycle light being overconfident of their own conspicuity at night."

A front flashing bicycle light can often be incredibly distracting at night and some are so bright they're bordering on dangerous to onward facing road users (cyclists or motorists). During the day I can understand switching a front facing bicycle light to flashing mode, but at night, please turn it to static mode. For everyone's benefit.[/quote]

That finding jumped out for me too, and the associated result that reflective clothing on limbs that are moving could be better for visibility than bike lights. I'm sure it needs more research (or perhaps for people to be less complacent) but it definitely convinced me to get some reflective gear.

There's also a report that wearing a vest with 'POLICE' on the back is the best way to avoid close passes from drivers while riding on the roads, so watch out for that to become the new trend. (Kidding).[/quote]

It's not police. It's this. http://www.ebay.com.au/itm/POLITE-NOTICE-THINK-BIKE-HI-VIZ-VEST-MOTORCYCLE-WAISTCOAT-REFLECTIVE-SAFETY-/272459557702?var=&hash=item3f6fdaeb46

Maya123 12:06 pm 07 Jul 17

[quote comment="579965"][quote comment="579929"]... The dynamo lights were very reliable but didn't generate spark when the wheel wasn't turning, a-la wind turbines of today.[/quote]

Modern dynamo-powered lights have capacitors that keep them shining for several minutes after you stop - for example, while waiting at traffic lights.[/quote]

I remember the old dynamo-powered lights 'dragged' at the bike. How do modern ones compare?

Leon Arundell 11:33 am 07 Jul 17

[quote comment="579929"]... The dynamo lights were very reliable but didn't generate spark when the wheel wasn't turning, a-la wind turbines of today.[/quote]

Modern dynamo-powered lights have capacitors that keep them shining for several minutes after you stop - for example, while waiting at traffic lights.

Maya123 8:48 pm 06 Jul 17

[quote comment="579933"]I often walk around Lake Burley Griffin and am amazed at the number of cyclists and pedestrians who wear dark clothes. This must be a hazard for cyclists rising in low visibility in winter. As a walker, I favour wearing a red light on my clothes at night as this seems to reduce the number of near misses from two wheelers practising for Le Tour around LBG.[/quote]

I have seen a pedestrian wearing a red flashing light. Even with their dark clothes they were easy to spot. Such a good idea. Perhaps all users of shared paths should use them at night. It's compulsory to have a tail light for bikes o make them visible, so why not pedestrians when using the same paths to make them visible too? A torch held so that it is visible should work too.

bigred 8:26 pm 06 Jul 17

The author could have enhanced the piece with a discussion about two further matters: cyclists wearing head torches and fog lights on motor vehicles in clear weather.

I will expand. Firstly, those annoying torches some cyclists affix to their heads move in the direction of the cyclists head at a height that is around the same height as the cyclist. Blinding for cyclists coming the other way, irritating for motorists temporarily distracted and infuriating for pedestrians on dark paths. They are also illegal. Maybe Pedal Power could make some noise about this issue.

On fog lights, l became very concerned one night when an oncoming SUV type vehicle with fog lights illuminated totally camouflaged a cyclist traversing the Heysen St hill in Weston Creek one night. While the cyclist probably had a death wish being there, if a collision had occurred I would have been the poor mug facing the personal guilt of injuring or killing a fellow citizen as well as the legal system. Illuminating fog lights on a clear night is illegal, albeit unenforced. Maybe Pedal Power could look into this risk? Hint: Pedal Power might also like to advocate for improvements to Heysen St while it is at it.

JC 6:21 pm 06 Jul 17

Yeah headlights on, not just parking lights and turn the bloody fog lights off, unless it is really really foggy. It annoys me the number of people that get around with them on, especially European cars who also have rear fogs with their extra bright red tail light.

ChrisinTurner 5:29 pm 06 Jul 17

To make things much worse too many cyclists wear black clothing or cover their coloured top with a black backpack.

Tjilpi1 5:05 pm 06 Jul 17

I often walk around Lake Burley Griffin and am amazed at the number of cyclists and pedestrians who wear dark clothes. This must be a hazard for cyclists rising in low visibility in winter. As a walker, I favour wearing a red light on my clothes at night as this seems to reduce the number of near misses from two wheelers practising for Le Tour around LBG.

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