With the number of daylight hours in a day beginning to rapidly diminish, towards the end of October is a good time of the year for cyclists to make sure their bicycle lights’ batteries are charged and lights are in good working order. It’s also a good time to remind cyclists about the importance and proper use of bicycle lights. The Light My Ride (LMR) campaign is an annual awareness drive of Cycle Kingston that sheds a light on the importance of and legal requirements of bicycle lighting, as well as other safety aspects of riding in low-light and nighttime conditions. This year, LMR starts October 25th (and lasts for a couple of weeks or so). Follow us on our social media channels and check this webpage for information and safety tips for lighting your ride!
The main objective of Light My Ride is to have more cyclists using bicycle lights while riding at night for their safety and the safety of other road users - see and be seen! Besides the information found on this page, we set up a "ride stop" a couple of hours in the evening, starting half-hour before sunset, somewhere in central Kingston, to share information about the use of bicycle lights and give some FREE BICYCLE LIGHTS to riders who do not have lights.
Thanks to support from the Rotary Club of Kingston this year, we have over 100 bicycle lights to distribute in the evenings, during our LMR campaign (weather permitting, dates may be extend). If you are cycle commuting or just out for a bike ride, look for us somewhere on the streets or paths.
The Basics ...
For your safety and by law, bicycle lights are needed when riding 30 mins. before sunset until 30 mins. after sunrise. The current fine in Ontario for riding during these hours with lights is $85!
Bicycles lights help you see and be seen by other road users. Lights in combination with reflectors and bright reflective clothing is recommended.
Ride with a white front light and a red rear light (mounted on the bicycle). Front lights are most important for being seen.
Make sure your lights are charged and working. Charge lights after they have been used for over an hour and carrying small "back-up" lights in your commuting bags is recommended.
Tips for Seeing and Being Seen ...
What to do to see:
Bright white front light.
Adjust to light at least 4-5 m of road or path in front.
Steady mode best for seeing.
What to do to be seen:
10+ lm white front light.
Red rear light on bicycle.
Bright & reflective clothing.
Ride predictably and with the flow of traffic.
A little more in-depth ...
Bicycle Lights: See and be Seen by Hal Cain
The importance of a front bicycle light. A white front light not only helps the cyclist see the road, but allows motorists and other road users to see that a bicycle is present. Lights from vehicles traveling the opposite direction primarily light up the road on their side of direction traveling; meaning, the drivers of those vehicles are less likely to see you without a front light. This is especially important when you or the other vehicle turns across the road and paths cross. What about other drivers and road users entering the road you are on? Bicycles with no front lights at night are even less likely to be seen by drivers of other vehicles when turning onto the same road from an intersecting street. A cyclist and bicycle in this scenario, even with most street lighting, is practically invisible. In addition, the lights from cars and other vehicles behind you when cycling at night without a front light will “mask” your presence – other drivers coming towards you or turning onto the road will only see the others’ lights.
Proper adjustment of a front bicycle light is key to seeing and being seen. Adjusting the angle of a front bicycle light for optimal illumination of the road and being seen is often a try and re-adjust process. Basically, the light needs to be forward facing and adjusted downward to where the brightest and centre of beam shines on a level road or path at about 3 to 4 meters in front of the bicycle. Front lights vary in brightness and beam width, so look for what appears to be the centre of the light beam. Most bicycle lights have a lens that focuses the beam somewhere between a spot and flood light. Better lights have a beam that is wide enough to light the way forward as well as wide enough to light a few meters either side of the direction traveled.
How bright the front light needs to be is dependent on where and how you ride. Brightness, measured in lumens, needed depends on where you will be riding and also how fast. In urban areas where there is more ambient light from street lighting, moon, etc., seeing the road you are on does not require a super bright light – 80 lumens to 150 lumens will likely be enough. Where it is darker or road surfaces are bad (e.g., potholes, cracks, unpaved) or if there is debris, a brighter light, 250 lumens or brighter, is best. Keep in mind that superbright lights of 800 lumens or more may be blinding to other road users and need to be adjusted so they are not a hazard. Many of the bike lights sold now have various mode/brightness settings. The other consideration of brightness, in addition to adjustment, is speed. The faster you ride, the more distance you need to see ahead. A light bright enough (somewhere around 250-600 lumens) to illuminate from the 3 or 4 meters up to 30 meters or so may be needed. Keep in mind that even a light that is 10 or so lumens will help you be visible to other road users, and make you street legal (visible at least 152 meters in many jurisdictions), but not idea for seeing the road.
Red rear bicycle lights are much better than just a reflector. A red rear bicycle light at night makes the bicycle visible to motorists and other road users who are approaching from behind. While a good red reflector permanently mounted on the back of your bicycle is a good idea, and is considered satisfactory for night riding by law, reflectors need to have a light shining on them to work. On the other hand, a red light mounted on the back of a bicycle is visible to others from a longer distance, before their lights are close enough to shine on a reflector. The combination of a red rear light and reflector works well to be seen, but both need to be at approximately a right angle (90-degrees) to the ground, and facing directly back from the bike. Lights and reflectors that are mounted facing up, down, or to the side, and/or are obstructed from view by the bike frame, wheel, bag, etc., are much less likely to be effectively seen. Rear lights do not need to be as bright as front lights, since they are not intended to light up the road behind. In addition, rear bike lights that have reflective lens contribute a bit more visibility from behind. Somewhere around 50 lumens is bright enough for most situations, and even less will do for city cycling. Like front lights, rear bicycle lights typically have at least two modes (steady and blinking) and levels of brightness. Super bright rear lights, especially when flashing, can be a hazard distraction or disorienting for anyone on the road behind, not to mention just annoying. And, no one needs to be seen several kilometres from behind.
When are bicycle lights needed? As required by law and needed for safety, cyclists who ride between evening hours and early mornings need to have lights on their bicycles, white light in front and a red light or reflector on the rear – one-half hour before sunset until one-half hour after sunrise. However, bicycle lights used at times outside of the required hours is recommended in low-light low-visibility situations due to weather or other environmental conditions. In addition, use of bicycle lights in normal daylight may be appropriate in some situations, such as riding on heavy traffic faster roads. Most bike lights (front and rear) now have a flashing mode which can aide in being visible in sunlight. Using the flashing/blinking is sometimes referred to as daytime running mode. Some cyclists use the blinking mode at night; however, there is some debate as to the advantages and disadvantages of using a flashing mode at night. In addition, cyclists need to be aware that the use of flashing lights in some jurisdictions is technically prohibited except for emergency vehicles. Not only do lights help keep cyclists safe, but riding a bicycle without lights at night can also result in a fine for cyclists riding without proper lights. In Ontario that fine is $85! A good basic bicycle lights set for front and back can be purchased for around $40 – a small investment for safety and possibly save money in the long run!
Keep bicycle lights charged and have backups. Most bicycle lights now have built-in rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that recharges via a USB cable, and some come with a charger that plugs into an electrical outlet. A few lights are still powered by replaceable batteries (e.g., AA, AAA, coin-style). Depending on the type of battery used, lights may get weaker or may stop altogether as the level of charge gets low. How long a light will work after fully charged (run-time) depends mainly on brightens and mode. Generally, brighter lights use more power and the more power used, the less run-time. Knowing what your particular light looks like and does on a low charge can help you determine if it needs to be charged or not. Some lights have a charge indicator that is useful. Check the box or manual that comes with the light for run-times. Always check your bike lights before you start a ride, even if you are not going to use them at first – like starting off on a ride in daylight that will end after dark. If you use the lights on a regular bases, a good habit is to top up the battery charge every few days. Another suggestion for frequent bicycle light users is to have a back-up. Carry a front and rear set of inexpensive small lights (10 lumens or so each) in a bag you use with your bicycle, just in case something goes wrong with your primary lights. Of course, make sure those have good batteries.
In conclusion … Bicycle lights are essential equipment when riding at night, and can be useful accessories at other times. Lights are important for both being seen and for seeing, but the lights need to be properly mounted and adjusted. And, choose bicycle lights that best suit your needs based on where and what type of riding you do.