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IN THE BLINK OF AN EYE: UPDATED 

Michael Stenning's guide to safety lighting for cyclists.

Small, frugal but powerful-LED safety lights blew filament bulbs into the history books almost overnight. Whether complimenting the big guns on fast paced night rides, or hustling through town, there’s something to suit every taste and wallet. 

 

I always carry a set regardless of season - they’re small enough to toss in a jersey pocket or wedge pack but can prove a lifesaver should clear blue skies turn cobalt with torrential rain.

LEDs are extremely long-lived, typically burning for 3-5,000 hours - several years’ regular service. Back in 1992, the first generation were slab sided reflector patterns. Now there’s pretty much every shape and size you could wish for. Strictly speaking, even those pumping out 180/250 lumens are still classed as second/tertiary lighting and do not comply with the relevant British Standard. This may be academic for the most part, although a technicality likely to be exploited by a sharp-witted lawyer looking to get a careless driver off the hook. 

White front, red rear is the official guideline, although I sometimes run these in conjunction with something completely different to remain ultra-conspicuous.  Blue is technically reserved for emergency vehicles but it would have to be a really cruel (or bored) copper to pull you for it. Since we’re focusing on the law, trailers and tagalongs are also required to have their own, independent lighting. Running two, such as the Cat-Eye TL-LD600 or a single fibre flare, positioned either side works well on account of their large surface areas, though the Oxford UT Cube  also pumps out a good deal of light,

Fibre flare
Sigma Mono Ligh Set
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Diode Technology

 

LEDs continue to advance and one of the more recent advances in beam quality is COB (chips on board), where the diodes are placed directly on the circuit board. The main advantages are a smaller light producing a much purer beam pattern, free of glare, yet without losing anything in terms of longevity. Originally found on models commanding the upper end of £30, this tech is becoming increasingly common at £25.

 

Some top drawer designs automatically adjust their output according to light rather like a modern welder’s helmet, although this technology is still pretty niche. 

Housings

 

Resin was the most common; then along came Knog with medical grade silicone and thanks to their Gecko  (rumoured to be the most frequently copied design ever) it started a craze.

Cutesy looks aside, these monocoque bodies incorporate the mount, meaning they can be flipped on and off in seconds, little wonder they have such a strong following.   Resin composites of varying qualities remain widely used and at the other extreme aluminium shells displace heat better, extending diode life on fiercer models such as this  Sigma Buster 200 which punches above its weight.

Sigma Buster 200

Switches

 

Switches, should be easily operated with gloved hand and while riding along. However, not so sensitive as to engage in a jersey pocket or bike mounted luggage and depleting battery reserves. Often these incorporate “traffic-light” style charge indicators, which mean you can deploy reserves intelligently and avoid being plunged into darkness.    

Weather Resistance

 

Once upon a time, IPX4 (persistent rain) was something to aspire to. Now, most lights meet IPX4 and increasingly, at the mid-upper price points IPX6 and IPX7. Ravemen TR200 and Ravemen TR500 meet IPX6 and IPX4, while this BBB Signal Brake Rear Light (right) meets IPX7, meaning it can withstand full emersion in water for short periods. Even so, the Exposure Boost Reakt is a top road light with some very neat tech, and should be more than adequately protected by IP64 rating on the road.

Water esistant blinkie lights

Combined Concepts

Increasingly, we’re moving to smart concepts integrating other functions to good effect. Cycliq Fly 6 LED and camera (this model is now obsolete, but is new models are available) being a very good example. Not outlandishly expensive allowing for the specification, moreover both functions are equally impressive.

Given the ubiquity of smart phones, some including See Sense Icon 2 Rear Light , are incorporating motion sensor technology that will send an early warning alert should it register the sort movement suggesting someone might be tampering with, or trying to steal your bike.

At the other extreme, designs such as this ORP Smart Horn, which combines a 150 lumen LED and 76/96 decibel horn is unique and surprisingly effective pairing. It consumes surprisingly little handlebar space and works well in town, on the open road and shared use paths/trails too.

rear light see see nsee braking functio bicycle cycle

Smart Systems

Increasingly, manufacturers are incorporating smart technology into their lights, with varying success. Some, including the See Sense Icon 2 Rear Light and, at the other end of the price spectrum,  Sigma Blaze have “braking” functions. This sees the light default to a higher output when decelerating, which has some obvious benefits, especially in town.

Sigma Blaze daylight SDC FGG.JPG
ORP Smart Horn

Helmet Mounted Lights

It is worth remembering that some local laws - such as in the UK - specify that bicycle lights must be mounted on the frame; other lights are auxilliary. However, helmet mounted lights are very clear to other road-users. We've been really impressed by the Brightside Topside, especially with its recent refinements. Incidentally, Brightside also produce an amber light designed to give presence to the sides of the bike: the Brightside Bright, Amber, and Side to Side.

brightside top side helmet light cycle icycle ike
brightside amber side bright bicycle safety light

Batteries

 

Factory fit 'n’ forget, lithium/ion/Polymer cells charged by USB  “flip out 'n’ plug in” have become standard - much like other consumer electronics, although were originally geared at commuters wanting to fuel up from the convenience of their desks.  Charge times can be quite pedestrian when coupled to computer/similar third party items (5 hours zero to hero in some cases) which might not be ideal for everyone and depends, to some extent, on work-place culture. Mains charging is quicker.

Most will withstand 300 charge cycles plus - we’re talking at least two years’ service minimum before they’re scrap and won’t owe you anything.  As solar powered charging accessories become smaller and cheaper, these lights are also becoming realistic options for touring, although we’d prefer replaceable Cr2032 or AA/AAA cells for back of beyond stuff given their relatively long run times and ubiquity.  

 

Replacements can be found pretty much anywhere en route and run times can be 30 hours plus. Though plug-in models are seriously dependable, I always carry one AAA fuelled standby during winter - in case the worst should happen.

Lenses/Beam Patterns

 

Collimator technology (once employed to direct lasers) has been widely adopted since they produce a really intense, focused beam of light. More sophisticated examples are supposedly visible to 1,000metres - quite feasible in ideal conditions but 750 seem more realistic in our experience. Look for designs with at least 180 degree peripheral bleed which keep you on larger vehicles radars when tackling roundabouts or emerging from dark side streets. 

 

Suggestion that we and indeed, other road users could be dazzled by the humble blinkie used to induce hysterics but even those belting out a modest 40 lumens should employ a “German style” pattern - i.e. long, narrow with 95% of available power pointing down and outwards. 

Modes

test bicycle cycle lights

Arguably all you need is two- steady and flashing. Models such as this Topeak Redlite Aero USB are testimony to this. However, there is a good case for more in contexts such as towns and cities where a more distinctive pulsing or flashing mode can ensure you stay conspicuous against competing light sources. Similarly, a lower steady (sometimes called a “group”) mode can prevent dazzling at close quarters. Infini Sword Super Bright Light Set  is a five-mode model that’s been around a few years, but in my view very relevant in most riding contexts.  They’re available as a pair, or singularly, have a laughably frugal 200-hour flashing option and have a memory function, defaulting to the last mode. Other models such as the Lelumia The Beast  is another 5 mode model producing 150 lumens and well suited to long, steady miles along dark lanes and tag alongs/trailers too. 

Smart technology

Sensored technology of several types (not just “braking” functions) are also increasingly common and have become more precise, so don’t engage too readily or otherwise put a dent in run times. Again, The Ravemen TR200 are prime examples of this, ditto the Sigma Blaze if you were seeking something simpler. Ravemen CLO6 employs a braking and ambient light sensor, adjusting the output to denote braking, or when it senses another vehicle’s headlights. Likewise the very smart Exposure Boost ReAkt.

Others will also go into a standby mode, should they sense no movement for a fixed period, thus conserving battery life-handy at rest stops, or if you’re a little forgetful.  Auto kick down modes, which default to a low output so you don’t get plunged into darkness can also be a godsend, if you’re an endurance rider, or just a little forgetful.

Maintenance/Care

Rechargeable Lithium Ion and Li-Polymer cells appreciate regular charging. Placing them on charge before they dip below 70% will repay with a long and productive life. Similarly, if you’re not going to be using them for a few months, charge 50% before putting them away and charge fully before their first use.  A lick of silicone grease on port covers also goes a long way to protect lights with IPX4 (or lower) ratings. Synthetic maintenance sprays such as Motorex Joker 440 or WD40 will do a decent job of keeping moisture at bay or resuscitating a flooded unit. However, steer clear of PTFE infused sprays as PTFE can interfere with electrical connectivity.

Brackets/Mounts

 

Tool free fits are becoming increasingly universal but arguably one that is a sturdy, universal fit is more important. Look for a design that will hold the light steady and doesn’t rotate, or vibrate loose over poorly surfaced roads. I’m really fond of the elastic band and “watch strap” types that will tether quickly, easily and aesthetically pleasingly to posts, bars and other tubing.  

 

Spares can also come in handy for porting between bikes but make sure they’re easily operated in gloved hands and that you take everything with you when parking up outside the café’, or in the street for longer periods. 

 

Sometimes rubberised shims used in more traditional resin types can be a less than precise fit - so long as the bracket’s otherwise well designed, replacing this with a slither of cast-off butyl inner tube can prove the perfect solution. 

Drilling and bolting to mudguards or similar accessories is another means of ensuring you’ll never be without some form of lighting and will deter casual/opportunist theft.   

 

Generally speaking, we wouldn’t risk this in high crime areas - or bikes being left unattended for long periods. Clothing clips can be really handy, too - should you fancy slipping it aboard a jacket, rucksack or pannier instead. 

test review bike bicycle lights
Easily removable rear bicycle light
cygolite rear & bontrager fgg.jpg
Bontrager R100 hread tube mounted.jpg

Daytime Running Lights

 

The past few years has seen a trend for riders, (myself included) running their blinkies during the day. Divisive perhaps but theory goes, this is more captivating to other road users, thus improving rider safety.

More powerful units around the 70lumen mark were the most obvious. Then brands, including Moon, Lezyne and Bontrager began introducing/updating models, with daytime specific settings.

This Bontrager Flare R City rear light (photograph); is designed with concrete jungle in mind. Optimised optics ensure the 35lumens pack a very potent punch. Those that adjust the diode’s intensity to suit lighting are another definite plus, preventing unnecessary retina tingling.

As with main lighting, carefully configured settings, high quality optics and beam patterns, are more effective than big fire-power alone.

The Bontrager’s 5 hour run times are also very reasonable, given the battery capacity and diminutive dimensions. Larger, more powerful lights, such as these Moon Gemini front and rear (now obsolete, but with similar models around) can return 30hrs from a full charge, so these things aren’t an exact science. 

Moon gemini rear light blinkie test day time unning
Moon Gemini Front light blinkie day time running

UPDATED AND REPUBLISHED OCT)BER 2021

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