Are cyclists using dangerous bike lights?

Whilst your typical bike light is outputting around 20 Lumens of light it’s easily possible to get hold of lights that emit 1,200 Lumens or more. Needless to say this is often overkill for London’s roads but can be useful down country lanes with no other light sources.

Have you ever been dazzled by bright bike lights? Do you find blinking bike lights to be tougher to cycle behind?

Discuss…

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129 Responses to Are cyclists using dangerous bike lights?

  1. Paul (BikeLightsReview) 01/12/2011 at 1:33 pm #

    I posted my thoughts on this subject on my web site about a month ago having come across some increasingly bright lights on the roads:
    http://www.bikelightsreview.com/guide/bright-bike-light-best/

    I do think we need to be sensible about how we use the brighter lights otherwise they will ultimately be seen as a danger and regulated accordingly.
    In my opinion bright lights are fine for road use – but the user must be prepared to point them downwards, dip them when necessary, or better still as others have pointed out use lights with optimised beam patterns for the road.

    • Amoeba 01/12/2011 at 1:40 pm #

      Paul (BikeLightsReview)
      ‘I do think we need to be sensible about how we use the brighter lights otherwise they will ultimately be seen as a danger and regulated accordingly.’

      IIRC, lights that dazzle are already illegal. What is needed is some stiff talking-to by the Police to irresponsible cyclists using them on the road.

      —-

      Off-road lights are meant for off-road use to enable cyclists to see overhead obstacles, this beam design is not compatible with road use.

    • Simon (Blinded By The Light) 20/01/2014 at 3:59 pm #

      I am really glad that this topic is now being discussed as I think it is fast becoming a major problem.

      I live in the Richmond/Kingston area and it has got to the stage now where pedestrians and drivers cover their eyes and rear view mirrors to escape the frenetic flashing light show that happens when you get even three or four cyclists with head lights, bike lights all shining straight into peoples eyes.
      Cyclists like myself who have some consideration for pedestrians and, yes, drivers too! refuse to use flashing front lights as we believe they create a major road hazard.
      I believe that drivers are not considerate enough of cyclists but do not think that forcefully shining a bright light in their eyes is a sensible approach to rectifying the situation.

  2. Phil 01/12/2011 at 3:17 pm #

    I often cycle home along an unlit canal towpath, and I have to keep my light on constant beam. Why? Because the fecking crusties living on the floating skips along the canal don’t use lights or any remotely visible clothing ( let alone soap ), and tend to become pissy about being blinded and then reminded that had they been visible for more than three metres there wouldn’t have been any problem. I often hold the same light flashing in my hand at bus stops, to remind motorists that they don’t actually need to drive along well-lit roads with full beams blinding pedestrians!

    • Cycling Boater 02/03/2012 at 9:27 pm #

      Phil: towpaths are for boaters. Cycle paths are for cyclists.
      The speed limit on British canals, & thus also on towpaths, is 4 mph. If you can’t see a boater in time to avoid them, then you’re going TOO FAST.
      If you hate boaters so much, why not keep away from them & keep off the towpaths?

      • Deely 13/10/2013 at 10:07 pm #

        Canals are for boaters. Towpaths were designed for horses and there is are speed limits on Towpaths. Pedestrians, cyclists, horseriders and boaters need to share the space – we just need to be civil to each other.

        • Deely 13/10/2013 at 10:10 pm #

          I mean there are no speed limits on the towpath (though it would have been obvious that horses need to stick to the same limit as the boat they towed) – just responsibilities

    • mark 02/03/2012 at 10:50 pm #

      Phil.
      U shine a flashing light into motorists eyes when you stand at a bus stop and you tear down tow paths which are effectively the alleyway to someone’s house!?!!!!!!
      Sounds like you need to act a bit more responsibly, smile a bit more and enjoy yourself rather than being angry at people

    • pm 16/02/2015 at 9:07 pm #

      It’s always someone elses fault isn’t it.

  3. Gentlegreen 09/12/2011 at 1:50 pm #

    I find most modern bike lights highly unpleasant – small LEDS, cheap plastic optics – mounted high on the handlebars – unpleasant in the way some car headlights are.
    I hate the flashing rear ones too, but there’s little I can do about that.

    My main gripe is with strobing front lights on shared paths.

    Anything over a watt and aimed horizontally and I hit them back with the 10 watts of DIY LEDs I reserve for unlit parkland and country roads – though I doubt it penetrates their thick skulls.

    I switch to my approximation of a dipped beam and even have a gentler rear light when I move from the high street to the path, so I don’t think it unreasonable to expect others to at least make an effort.

  4. jack 23/02/2012 at 11:25 am #

    Well I ride with bright flashing lights – 2 front, one on the handlebars, the other on my helmet. And 2 to the rear, 1 on my helmet and 1 on the seat post.

    There is justification in riding with them as I don’t want to die on London’s roads, and therefore I must be seen.

    Pedestrians walking out on you, drivers/ taxis doing u turns and dangerous maneuvers , other cyclists who ride dangerously- they can all see me, and thats the way I want it!!!

    Its also the way my family wants it

    Enough said.

  5. ray allen 17/03/2012 at 8:45 pm #

    I’m searching for a headlight with a reflector that puts usable light on the road (like a car) instead of a spotlight that blinds oncoming dirvers.

    Any suggestion?

  6. http://www.ilektrofotistiki.gr/ 30/03/2012 at 5:10 pm #

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  7. Philip 10/06/2012 at 6:02 pm #

    I ride with dual lights they output about 300 Lumens on Low when ON ROAD and about 1200 Lumens on High as a Pair OFF Road. They are way to bright to run on High on the highway.

    A fellow cyclicist has 4800+ Lumen front light(s) and frequently gets flashed up by cars if using them on the Highway. If he is behind me when cycling OFF-ROAD I can see squat apart from my shadow.

    In my opionion you need enough light to be seen but not enough to dassle / blind (OFF-ROAD however you need all you can get but it needs to be similar to and take consideration for your fellow riders).

  8. Mike 11/11/2012 at 7:49 pm #

    I ride with 5 lights on in total(would be 6 but one of my rear lights broke tonight), 3 of which are headlights, 1 is a XML T6 outputting 1000lumens on high steady beam, pointing down at the ground in a way that doesn’t dazzle but allows me to see a good distance ahead, a topeak whitelite 2 on the peak of my helmet on a flashing beam and a cateye HL-EL120 on the top of my helmet with a steady beam, my rear lights consist of the brightest which came the 1000lumens light though it’s also the one that broke off, that one would be steady, a flashing cateye TL170 on one of the seat stays and a topeak redlite2 on the back of my helmet on steady and I plan on getting more and I am in the planning stages of making a DIY indicator system.

  9. John Gifford 12/12/2012 at 11:45 am #

    I been considering getting a Niterider Pro unit. It can put out 3600 Lumens on full power , it’s a dual lamp model, but it is programmable to lower lumen settings and different flash/steady patterns, full power makes the battery pack only last 1 hour.
    On the subject of lights though I currently use 4 front lights and 3 rears. I’m exclusively a road biker. I’ve just changed my main front for a Via Velo 1 Watt just recently, this is to see where I’m going and I point it at the road regardless. Most of my commute is rural so some of the minor roads are atrocious, not just potholes but inconsiderate farmers dumping clay and all sorts over the road. I also have a pair of cheap tesco mini knogg type lights that I tend to use on steady. Their light output is just enough to see by at dusk but are better to be seen by. And lastly I use a crown mounted front dynamo light setup from Reelight (the magnets are mounted to the wheel and the inductor coil is fixed so no worn tyres) I don’t think the light is enough to see by unless it is totally pitch dark. Rear lights are a red tesco mini knogg, a halfords ultra bright and a rear Reelight. I’ll also wear hi-vis armbands, wrist bracelets and a vest.
    Why? because in Nov 2009 approaching a junction on my trip home I was knocked from my bike by an on coming car that turned into the junction I assume I was blinded by the headlights. The car driver claimed they didn’t see me. I got 4 days in hospital as a result and my right thumb pinned for 4 weeks. I have no memory of the accident as I was KO’ed at the scene and if the car driver hadn’t pulled out to prevent me from being run over by other drivers I’d have been killed.

    So since then I have considered making myself as highly visible as possible. That doesn’t prevent the car drivers with full beam still leaving me unable to see ahead or temporarily night blinded.

    • Tom 12/12/2012 at 12:31 pm #

      I also use several lights and fluorescent clothing, having a partly rural commute.
      In addition to your advice, I would recommend a helmet light. I use Topeak Headlux (http://www.topeak.com/products/Lights/headlux), I’m sure there are other good alternatives too.
      The light is not exceptionally bright, but because it is mounted on top of my bike helmet, it gives me extra height, so I am visible from a great distance. I’ve found it makes a difference approaching junctions, where cars are now more likely to slow down and give me more space (i.e. they have time to prepare).

      • John 13/12/2012 at 8:13 pm #

        Thanks for the tip I’ll have a look into those lamps….
        I used to strap those cheap head lamps you can get for DIY onto the front of the helmet it worked brilliantly but getting it positioned correctly was a major pain! A slight bump and it would slip so it was pointing straight down or into my face. I ended up getting rid of the elastic straps and using zip ties, held the lamp more firmly but potentially damaged the helmet. the only thing is ir looked wierd like some sort of miners helmet. I’ve got to admit it made everyone aware of where my head was.

  10. Mat 31/08/2013 at 2:22 pm #

    I have a night-nemesis and a nightfire-pro. I got them for singletrack riding. Nemesis on the bar and pro on my helmet. On full power there is close to 5000 Lumens between them. They are both wide beams. I’m yet to give them a crack on every day road use. It’s safe to say I would probably blind some poor people and get booked. Even the lower market LED lights are really bright when I drive around. I’m from Australia. I think having the power handy could save you if you don’t think a car can see you. A quick flash on full power should make them aware.

  11. Raul 28/11/2013 at 3:31 pm #

    Just wanted to share my thoughts with you all for consideration.

    If you have these really bright lights on your bike with 5000 lumens please check how appropriate you think they are. Turn the on flash and then stand 5 feet in front of the bike. If you have trouble seeing either side of the bright flashing light then try and envisage this in fast moving traffic with lit streets with other cyclists about.

    Then perhaps consider having that follow you during your morning or night ride home.

    Also check to see if this light is in fact brighter than a cars lights on as normal and then compare them on full beam. If it is brighter then maybe this isn’t appropriate for normal commuting.

    Just to put things into context as where I sit on lights – I have a pair of Revolights on my wheels a small red light on my bag which I have on slow flash and a cateye light which I bought for £15 on the front just for safe measure. I ride the CS7 from Sutton to Cannon Street and back and come across some really nice riders and some really inconsiderate riders.

    I have advised a few riders who have sat on my back wheel about their lights and they have been a little surprised I mentioned it. Why wouldn’t you mention it if it was a risk to you and other riders?!

    Maybe we help change behaviour by talking to each other and addressing it at the time.

    Just my thoughts.

    • John 28/11/2013 at 8:34 pm #

      I agree completely, people are too insular by far.
      Just look at some van drivers, they are so important in themselves that they think they have the right to drive how they like. One box van recently did just that, 5m up he could have stopped for a max of 5 seconds at a passing place but instead kept coming. I went into the verge to avoid his wing mirror, bike went sideways in the mud and I came down on the road with my head inches from his rear wheels…and he just kept on truckin’.
      I read somewhere that a light over 400 lumens has no place on the road so 5000 is way too much overkill. There is a guy I saw on youtube with a bar light he made that puts out 6000 but the 19V Li/ion battery only lasts 20 minutes or so on a full charge, makes me wonder if he carries a spare? …But then he does extreme mountain biking at night.
      I’m currently using a cateye nanoshot which can put out 250 and that enough for me at the moment. Link it with some tacx handlebar lights so they can see where my drop handlebars are, ergo where my hands are likely to be, a helmet light on flash to identify my head and it’s plenty of light for road riding. I can even see roadsigns light up at about 0.25 miles with that cateye on the low setting, 125 lumens.

      Check out the magnic lights though they look really interesting, 150 lumens mounted on the brake caliper…and no batteries, they work by magnetic induction through the wheel rim, so forget carbon rims.

  12. Ben 19/08/2014 at 9:56 am #

    I use two front and two rear lights usually; I have one strobing and the other on constant. I do, however, live in the countryside and the lighting is especially poor around town and for some reason, no-one looks before they cross the road round here (hence the front strobe). The front strobe isn’t particularly powerful, and whenever there are cars oncoming I switch it to steady beam.

    I’d suggest that strobing lights are perfectly safe as long as they aren’t too bright, in fact, strobing lights are safer in certain situation because of the increased vis. There are some road race cyclists who have strobing lights that are nothing but dazzling in half light/dark. My main problem with a constant beam is, unless you have a very powerful constant beam, the light is easily washed out by surrounding low level light.

    • John 16/02/2015 at 11:25 pm #

      Not been doing a lot of cycling for a while now. Mostly that’s due to an accident in 2013 that ruptured a disc in my neck, I hit a hedge at 26mph during a time trial and was back flipped out of the saddle landing flat on my back. I’m now described as having Central Cord Syndrome from the fact the disc spent a year rubbing on my spinal cord. Overall makes my upper arms screamingly painful, curiously the only lasting pain relief is after a good ride so I should be cycling more shouldn’t I?

      On the subject of strobing lights though, strobe lights draw the attention of the viewer because they are flashing. So a steady beam for you to see by and a strobe for others to see you. Additionally strobes are hard to judge distance to so a steady beam will allow the viewer to estimate where you are more accurately than strobes. So a combination of steady and strobe is good.
      On that idea my latest front lamp is a cateye nano plus, 600 lumen max with what cateye call ‘hyperflash’, both lights are on constant lower level light but it flashes up to the max brightness. Not a bad little light and USB rechargeable. I cycled to Brighton one day and came back late at night with my front lamp cutting out so I try now to only buy rechargeable lights…fingers crossed I haven’t needed the extra battery power as yet.

      • Amoeba 17/02/2015 at 5:02 am #

        Many rechargeable lights use Lithium batteries, these are often not intended to be replaced. These batteries have a finite life and depending upon technology and user treatment, lose capacity over time / use. Once the batteries are no good, that’s the end of the light. It’s built-in obsolescence. Far better to buy lights that can use rechargeable AA batteries. When the batteries cease to be usable, just replace them, the light will continue to function for a much longer time.
        Nickel metal hydride cells have a long service life (often 500-1000 charge-discharge cycles) a low environmental impact and are much cheaper than primary cells (Zinc-Chloride or Alkaline technologies). Dead batteries are easily recycled, whereas a dead bicycle light, like all e-waste is much more complex to recycle.
        Please always recycle batteries and dead electronic equipment.

        http://batteryuniversity.com/learn/article/how_to_prolong_lithium_based_batteries

  13. NOD 27/02/2015 at 12:41 pm #

    I just wish some of the cyclists wouldn’t use their road light when cycling along canals when it’s dark, some of them are so bright that lowly pedestrians would literally have to come to a standstill until the bike has gone past… considering 80% of the cyclists get by just fine without needing these mini white dwarfs bolted to their bikes, I don’t see why it’s necessary for the canal… the fact that our eyes have just adjusted to the dark by going on foot, it makes the journey quite unbearable.

    • Amoeba 27/02/2015 at 4:29 pm #

      “I just wish some of the cyclists wouldn’t use their road light when cycling along canals when it’s dark, some of them are so bright that lowly pedestrians would literally have to come to a standstill until the bike has gone past” I empathise with your situation, but I’m afraid you’re mistaken, those very-bright lights aren’t road-legal. A road-legal light won’t dazzle, assuming it’s correctly adjusted. These lights are almost certainly off-road lights and are not road-legal. BTW, I rarely see bright lights that are road-legal. A bright road-legal light directs its beam onto the road-surface ahead, and has enough spill-light for other road users to make-out the bike from the front and sides. An off-road light has a conical beam and if it is adjusted to illuminate the road ahead, it will dazzle oncoming traffic, therefore such lights are illegal. In order to not dazzle, an off-road light will have to be directed steeply downwards, which is useless.
      http://swhs.home.xs4all.nl/fiets/tests/verlichting/index_en.html#licht-bundel-verlies

  14. John 27/02/2015 at 1:23 pm #

    Agreed after all for most urban settings I think the 250 lumen cateye nano I have is just fine, it’s even good for more rural locations. Battery charge is good for about 90 minutes. I read that 400 lumen should be about the max for regular use. The 1000 lumen+ lights are for more extreme circumstances. As I posted before there was a guy built his own bar light capable of 6000 lumens, for about 20 minutes, but he does things like extreme mountain biking i.e. hurling himself down a wooded mountain/steep hill at the dead of night so he has to see everything around him. But since I’m not into dead of night mountain biking I don’t need 6000 lumens and my 250 is just fine.

    BTW, I know this is not on topic but, I’ve been trying to develop a helmet mounted rearview camera setup, following an accident in 2013 my head movements are a little restricted so turning to look over my shoulder is painful. Well I’ve got something that seems to work, runs off 5V, it looks Heath-Robinson atm but call it the prototype. I just wondered if there were any rearview cams for cyclists out there already that anyone knows of? seen them for cars and even motorcycles but they were 12V jobs and needed a display screen. Mine’s entirely head mounted; weight isn’t too bad with a hefty battery pack in a jacket pocket to power the whole lot.

  15. peta rose 28/03/2015 at 9:48 am #

    Driving home along Southend on Sea sea front last night 27/03/15 – at 5.30 when it was still daylight – husband and I noticed two cyclists who, although correctly using the cycle paths until they reached our own side where none are provided and then using the road, had extremely bright red flashing lights on the rear of their bikes at our driver and passenger eye level! These red lights were not only extremely bright but flashing so constantly that they dazzled. Luckily I was not driving. Had I been I could not pass any cyclist with these kind of lights without going into either them or the oncoming traffic and the flashing lights later caused me to have an extremely nasty migraine aura. Unfortunately I cannot cope with flashing lights in many cases (i.e. disco) because of this problem but I have never seen anything quite so scary! Can only hope that said cyclists were coming to Southend for its ‘Bikeability Level 2 Holiday Course’ commencing on 30th March 2015 and that someone will be teaching cyclists to point their rear lights (flashing or not) downwards, towards the road! Comments please.

    • Amoeba 28/03/2015 at 11:25 am #

      Lights that dazzle are illegal. Having said that, there are far too many incidents where motorists have simply failed to see cyclists, despite being properly-lit. I cite the case of Michael Mason. I am convinced that much of this ‘failure to see’ is due to motorists not paying proper attention, likely some of this is due to spending-time looking at phones while they are driving. I have recently invested in a very-bright rear light, although I only run it on full in daylight, I use it on much dimmer settings (still bright) at night.

      Flashing lights are now legal on bicycles (since 2005).
      From your comment it’s impossible to ascertain what kind of light was involved. Given that, It’s uncertain whether this was road-legal or not. However, if you cannot cope with legal lights, you shouldn’t be driving.

      Lighting regulations
      http://www.ctc.org.uk/cyclists-library/regulations/lighting-regulations
      Michael Mason
      http://lcc.org.uk/articles/no-prosecution-after-london-cyclist-is-run-down-from-behind

      • peta rose 02/04/2015 at 11:29 am #

        Thanks for being bothered to answer although you sound a little ‘upset’.
        Umm – I did make it clear that I wasn’t driving? Also our eldest son has
        now been doing U.K. Iron Man for the past 20 years as far afield as
        Hawaii (twice selected) and is cyclist mad for any racing!
        These particular cyclists may have been from abroad (where, of
        course laws are different) but please rest assured that the one
        thing we are very, very careful of is cyclists ;)

        • Jake 02/04/2015 at 1:20 pm #

          You did make a good point when you mentioned ‘Had I been I could not pass any cyclist with these kind of lights without going into either them or the oncoming traffic…’

          Many drivers lack the sense to assess if a move is safe, there is a reflex reaction of ‘Bike, Overtake!’.

          At least if you are annoyingly visible, a driver is forced to consider the option of hanging back.

          The LED arms race is just a measure of how desperate riders are to be seen and to get home alive in a hostile road environment.

          In the instance you report, it seemed they worked exactly as intended. I bet if we had Dutch levels of cycle infrastructure, lights would return to a mellow little glow.

  16. peta rose 03/04/2015 at 5:27 pm #

    Thanks Jake for replying to us. Such controversy! Just had a look at all the comments about ‘flashing bike lights’ re LED arms race. These flashing red lights seemed to work in unison with the cyclists’ ‘pedal power’ if that’s any help?

    Do any cyclists drive cars as well? Another thing we don’t like are the blue halogen car lights which came out some years ago. The comments – “Good for my view of the road” from car drivers – seemed totally selfish to us. Surprisingly (and thankfully) they didn’t take off in popularity as much as we feared. However ‘annoyingly visible’ could end up as being ‘dangerously visible’ and not just to car drivers it would seem.

    Happen to believe that what each person wishes to do should be respected – but from reading it would seem that some cyclists absolutely hate car drivers. Mind you, have to admit that a few cyclists using the pavements without any lights and thus bumping into us whilst we’re walking (or just using the road at night without lights) has us swearing too! ;)

    We might be a couple of ‘oldies’ but, with luck, some day you’ll get there yourselves :)
    Have a good Easter – and stay safe.

  17. Amoeba 04/04/2015 at 8:34 am #

    “Do any cyclists drive cars as well?” According to the DfT, 80% drive.

    As a cyclist I find a significant proportion of drivers probably around one in fifteen (it varies), will variously (roughly in order of decreasing occurrence): attempt to bully me out of the way (either oncoming or following); pass too close at speed; or MGIF overtake at pinch-points; or will follow me dangerously close (often accompanied impatient impatient revving); other MGIF dangerous overtake (e.g. across double white lines on the approach to a blind bend or blind summit etc.); abuse the horn; pull-out from a side-road and and stop – blocking my progress; shout abuse – normally incoherent, but sometimes obscenities, about the Road-Tax canard, or vague or irrelevant accusations (psychological projection); overtake and stop; right-hook; overtake and left-hook.

    Meanwhile as a motorist, I have had no unfortunate interactions with a cyclist.

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