Light Up the Night Bicycling Guide

October 27, 2021 • Transportation

Light Up the Night - A Guide to Making Your Bike Bright

All too often, bike lights are a gear afterthought—items haphazardly plucked from the rack or selected from scant options available on Amazon Prime. In reality, lights should be treated like mission critical parts of the bike, like the brakes or pedals.

According to California vehicle code, when riding in darkness, a bicyclist must have a white front light (visible for 300 feet), either attached to their bike or to themselves. A red rear reflector, a white or yellow reflector on each pedal, shoe, or ankle, and reflectors on the wheels are also required by law. Keep in mind that cyclists are subject to the same rules and regulations as drivers, and not having proper lighting while riding in the dark could result in a moving violation.

Having the legally required light provisioning for your bike is good, but most bike experts would recommend more lights than the law dictates. Some—including this guy—even argue there’s no such thing as too many lights on your bike.

So if you’re planning to bike after the sun goes down (reminder: Daylight Saving Time ends November 7, 2021), please consider additional lights. Very good, relatively inexpensive options are available, and make you visible to drivers who otherwise may not see you in the dark.

See and be seen

What does bike lighting have in common with celebrity charity galas? It’s all about seeing and being seen.

Lights used “to see” will illuminate your path. These lights are typically brighter, have larger batteries, and are used to see things in the distance. Lights that are used “to be seen”—by cars or others on the road—typically beam light from several angles via wider beams. These kinds of lights are usually dimmer, have smaller batteries, and are cheaper than lights used to see with.

So what kind of lights do you need? Both, so you can see where you’re going and be seen by other travelers. You’ll want to get a front light that will show you potholes and other hazards well in advance. If you’re going to be riding home along car-logged streets in the winter months, consider multiple “be seen” lights to make you highly visible to drivers.

Want more info?

For a good explainer, including diagrams, check out this light buying guide, compiled by Bike Exchange.

You can also contact SRPGO bike programming specialist Anna Walters at Anna@BikesMakeLifeBetter.com.

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