Friday, January 28, 2011

Blinking versus steady lights

Lights on your bicycle perform two functions.

  1. Making it easier for people to see you
  2. Making it easier for you to see where you are going
Most people seem to use LED lights on flash for being seen. LED lights work well on flash. Some other technologies really shorten the bulb life when you run them on flash. LEDs do not have this problem and actually use less power while in flash mode. To help cars and others notice me on my commute I use a Planet Bike 1 Blaze Watt in flash mode on the front of my bike and a rear facing Planet Bike Superflash on my seat post. But I have read that a flashing light makes it hard to judge how close you are, so I also run a steady red light on the back of my rack, a Trek Flare 7. Along with various reflective clothing and reflective sidewall tires, this makes me stand out pretty well.

My route often requires enough light for me to see where I am going. I am using a MagicShine 900. It is not as bright as a car headlight but it is close. A charge lasts about 3 hours. At this time of year I need it about 2 hours a day, so I charge it every night. When the days are longer I can get by several days or even all week.

Speaking of batteries, I use rechargeable AA or AAA as appropriate in the Planet Bike lights. The Trek light puts out good light with rechargeable  AAAs but the electronics don't work right. So I am having to use alkalines in it. Still they last for months, so that is not too bad.

So I have two lights on the front and two on the back. That also gives me redundancy, so that if I have a battery issue, I at least have something to finish the ride.

What are your favorite lights and how do you use them?


  1. I use a Plant Bike blinky tail light on both of my bikes, but my main bike also has a wired, steady, generator tail light. If I don't remember my blinky, I don't sweat it.
    I've never used a blinking headlight. Even though most of my headlights qualify more as "be seen" then "to see" lights, they still shed a little light in the occasional dark area, which is better than none, and I figure a solid light going down the road looks like a vehicle to on-coming traffic. They don't need to identify me as a bicycle to know that they need to stay on their side of the road and not run me over. I hope.

  2. I use LED blinking front and tail lights. I'd like to run a steady red on the tail but can't find a way to connect it to my bike rack...the seat stem post is out of the question because I have a commuter bag attached to the bike rack and there's no clearance. My commute is predawn to predusk in a small town with street lamps so I don't really need a steady front light. I'm seeing more commuters run blinking lights during the day - anyone else doing this?

  3. I too use the Blaze on the front. For the back, I've got a Cateye Reflex Auto mounted to my rack.

    One thing to consider about the blinky lights though - it can make it difficult for other riders to judge your speed and distance in areas that are really dark. The strobe effect interferes with accurate assessments of distance.

    Because of this, I choose to leave my front light on steady, and utilize the "pulse" feature of my Cateye taillight. With pulse, it oscillates between dim and bright, but never goes off. This should mitigate the strobe effect.

  4. Ugh. Terribly sorry. Now that I read your post with my contacts in I see that you already made the observation about blinking potentially making it difficult to judge distance. Missed that in my initial, blurry-eyed skimming.

  5. When I have them all going -- I have two red flashers 2 rear posts of my Xtracycle rack, a solid white in the front, and a flashing white on my helmet. And when they're not all working (like right now), I'm OK because of the redundancy. :-)

  6. Nice and bright, different flash settings, great visibility, mounting needs a little improvement. If there's one piece of advice I can give is check your seat-post before using this light. The seat-post is the ideal spot for placing this since you want the flashing to be as high as possible. Unfortunately my Raleigh SC40 has a seat shock post which is far too wide to use the mounting :( The rear forks also do not accomodate the mounting so there are precious few places this can be done. Unfurtunately, this means my flashing light is relegated to operate from a plastic bag dangling from my seat

  7. I prefer steady light rear, steady light front on my bicycle.
    I have a car also, and driving at night with bicycles who use blinky lights I find as a driver is more distracting and adds drama than helpful, I cannot judge as well how far away they are, and how fast they are moving, as well as I can with steady light. I know people swear that blinky is better for getting noticed, but my opinion is the opposite, as both driver and biker.