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Illustration by Douglas Scott
While being visible to cars is essential when riding on the road at night, choosing the right bike lights might not be as obvious
Most jurisdictions require by law that bike lights be used after dark: a white front light and a red rear light. The market is flush with different brands and types of lights. You can find inexpensive battery-powered brands for a few dollars, or go to the higher-end rechargeable or dynamo models, some of which have increased voltage for enhanced visibility.
Jeremy Axon of the Urbane Cyclist bike shop in Toronto, ON, recommended Knog lights because of their water-repellency, and said brighter is better. Look for something with multiple LED bulbs, suggested Axon, so that if one of the bulbs burns out you have a backup. Axon uses a Knog Gekko front light and a Blackburn Mars 4.0 bright blinking rear light that has a rubber gasket to keep out moisture.
Aaron Smith, a salesperson at Freewheel Minneapolis Midtown Bike Center, the bike commuter hub of Minneapolis’ Greenway, said “having something on your head and on your handlebars is a really good idea.” Helmet-mounted lights augment visibility and should generally be used in addition to, not instead of, front and rear bike-mounted lights.
Smith recommended spending between $50 to $100 on a decent front light that will help to illuminate your path, as well as warn cars about your presence. Look for red taillights with a flashing setting, as this will make you more visible to motorists. Try a few out in the store to see how bright they are, said Smith, and look for at least 150 lumens or one watt for winter night riding.
Dynamo lights are in the higher price range, but, once installed, are a convenient option that requires no batteries. The modern hub-generated dynamos won’t slow down your ride either, as did the older bottle versions, which rolled along the tire sidewall to generate electricity. Most dynamos today use electricity generated from a magnetic current to power your bike lights. The lights are attached to a dynamo hub with wires, so you won’t have to remove them between rides.
Expect to pay somewhere in the neighborhood of $100 for a hub-generated dynamo front light. Add to that the cost of a dynamo hub, which is often installed in your front wheel. The Schmidt Dynamo hub, for instance, which can produce six volts, costs upwards of $200 and will last 31,000 miles (50,000 kilometers) without servicing.
Dynamos and lights that come with rechargeable batteries will save you money on replacement batteries and reduce waste. But, as Yvonne Bambrick, the founding executive director of The Toronto Cyclist’s Union, said: any light is better than no light.
Bambrick, who is presently a cycling consultant and has been riding in Canadian winters since 2003, said: “I wish more cyclists could see how important it is to use lights at all times.” She added that cyclists riding in icy conditions should make themselves as visible as possible, even when it’s not snowing, because motorists’ windows are more likely to be iced up.
“In the winter, we are basically invisible if we are not lit up in some way.”
Bambrick rides a Batavus with a dynamo headlight,
but keeps a turtle light on the handlebars for when she stops and the pedal-powered light automatically shuts off (this is one downside to some dynamos, but others on the market do stay on for a minute or two after the cyclist stops pedaling). Bambrick also said, reflective vests shouldn’t be underestimated. For the very chic, check out options like Bobbin Bicycles’, “flattering and naughty” reflective sailor collar and the Miss Bobbin reflective sash (bobbinonline.co.uk).
Lights can be fun and flirty, too. Spoke lights, such as Monkeylectric Monkey Lights, which cost around $65, light up your spinning wheels.