Andy Goodell of Ithaca, a very experienced long-distance cyclist and a good friend, posted some excellent lighting and safety advice recently on the Finger Lakes Cycling Club listserv.
Andy started his post with a look at dynamo hubs — in case you didn’t know, an electric generator in a wheel hub usually used to power lights on the bicycle — and talks about lights that work, lights that confuse and blind drivers, and other safety pointers that all bicyclists should take to heart.
Andy knows what he’s talking about. When he says predictability is the key to safety, it seems too simple. But it isn’t. He’s right!
I recommend that all Twin Tiers riders take a minute and read Andy’s brief but potent post!
While a dynamo hub is a great option for those that need to ride through the night or that want to ditch the days of charging your batteries, it’s certainly not common and not required for being safe at night. Battery-powered LED lights have come a long way, and still double in power and duration every year or two. High-quality, USB-rechargeable 300 lumen lights are as cheap as $50 these days, and are more than enough to light your way at night. Low-quality Internet knockoffs can be as cheap as $10, but may not have long-term durability. Certainly aim for the best you are willing to afford, but just keep in mind that it doesn’t have to be a $300 to $500 dynamo system.
I’ve moved away from seizure-inducing strobing rear lights. Germany forbids them, and studies keep showing that drivers have a hard time tracking where you are when all they see is a flashing light. I have a wide solid taillight that is better than what I’ve seen on some motorcycles. Only when the conditions are very poor, and visibility is a concern due to snow or fog, then I consider adding a strobing taillight, but still leaving the solid light on so that it’s easy to follow where I am..
In front, strobing lights are the most annoying and least useful. You can’t see anything yourself from a strobing light, and all you do is blind oncoming drivers. Especially now that many are very high powered, aiming a 300 (or 1,500!) lumen strobing light at someone is actually rather dangerous. Imagine driving down the road with an oncoming car with strobing high beams aimed directly at you — good luck trying to see anything else.
And most importantly, while lights make you visible, they don’t make you safe. That is up to us, and riding predictably is what keeps us from harm.
Don’t ride in the gutter, weave around cars or make other sudden maneuvers. Seems like common sense, but even on Cayuga Street in Ithaca with sharrows (a lane marked for sharing vehicles and bikes), it’s rare to see someone riding a straight line and not weaving around cars.
Predictability is what allows drivers to safely pass in a predictable way. Weaving is what will cause them to accelerate hard to get past you and often with less room than we’d like.
Use lights, ride predictably and stay safe!
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