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Turn on your lights, Canberra

By Anne Treasure - 6 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. 

What’s Your opinion?


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27 Responses to
Turn on your lights, Canberra
carnardly 10:07 pm 07 Jul 17

Anne Treasure said :

Holden Caulfield said :

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.

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).

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

Leon Arundell said :

dungfungus said :

… The dynamo lights were very reliable but didn’t generate spark when the wheel wasn’t turning, a-la wind turbines of today.

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

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

Leon Arundell 11:33 am 07 Jul 17

dungfungus said :

… The dynamo lights were very reliable but didn’t generate spark when the wheel wasn’t turning, a-la wind turbines of today.

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

Tjilpi1 said :

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.

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.

Kim F 4:43 pm 06 Jul 17

Another related issue is with modern cars that have illuminated dashboards. Back in the olden days, a (bad) driver was reminded to put on their lights when they couldn’t see their instrument panel. Modern cars don’t give their drivers this simple cue to put on their lights – Auto lights-on gets around this if the driver knows how this setting works

dungfungus 4:00 pm 06 Jul 17

Leon Arundell said :

My standard response is to flash my headlights at the unlit vehicle, in the hope that when the driver/rider flashes back at me they will realise their headlights are not on.

That only works if they actually have headlights.

In countries where lots of people cycle, the standard bicycle comes equipped with headlights – usually dynamo-driven headlights that don’t need constant battery replacement or charging.

If we follow suit, we can get more people cycling.

What can Pedal Power do to persuade the local bicycle industry to brighten its bicycles?

Indeed, dynamo powered lights were the standard in the 1950s and 1960s. I had a Miller on my Speedwell with 4speed Sturmey-Archer hub gears. Chain gears (now called some wanky French name) were only on racing bikes. The dynamo lights were very reliable but didn’t generate spark when the wheel wasn’t turning, a-la wind turbines of today.

Anne Treasure 3:47 pm 06 Jul 17

Holden Caulfield said :

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.

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).

Maya123 2:41 pm 06 Jul 17

Holden Caulfield said :

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.

Anyone riding with a flashing front light at night (not dusk conditions) must be riding along very well lit streets. I found it impossible to ride in the black of night with only a flashing front light, as I couldn’t see where I was going and made cycling difficult. Sections of my cycle route had no street lights. I would though set my red tail light to flashing, to make me easier to spot.

Leon Arundell 1:21 pm 06 Jul 17

The conclusion in the linked article, that “The presence of a bicycle light, whether static or flashing, did not enhance the conspicuity of the bicyclist,” implies that bicycle lights are useless as a visibility aid. It seems more likely to me that the researchers used inadequate lights, or conducted their experiment in an area that was so brightly lit that there was no need for lights.

Holden Caulfield 11:04 am 06 Jul 17

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.

Leon Arundell 10:56 am 06 Jul 17

My standard response is to flash my headlights at the unlit vehicle, in the hope that when the driver/rider flashes back at me they will realise their headlights are not on.

That only works if they actually have headlights.

In countries where lots of people cycle, the standard bicycle comes equipped with headlights – usually dynamo-driven headlights that don’t need constant battery replacement or charging.

If we follow suit, we can get more people cycling.

What can Pedal Power do to persuade the local bicycle industry to brighten its bicycles?

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