The dazzling bike light epidemic

Cyclist zooms past

Have you ever been cycling merrily along and suddenly an ultra bright bike light blinds you?

According to a recent spate of emails I’ve been receiving this is becoming a “hot issue” for London’s cyclists.

Cyclists tend to love their accessories. From our waterproof jackets, to our bike locks and our bike lights. It seems in the later category, people are choosing ultra bright lights, to both see the road ahead and to be seen.

There’s a stark difference between a bike light such as the Magicshine MJ-872 and your typical front bike light. The Magicshine was original designed for mountain bikers. It’s incredibly useful for late night cycling, down off road trails or even down country lanes.

The power of a bike light is typically measured in Lumens. The Magicshine provides 1600 Lumens of light. In comparison, a typical bike light will provide around 20 Lumens.

The result of any cyclists unfortunate enough to be caught in the beam is that they’ll be dazzled or even temporarily blinded.

In response, you have to slow down and avoid looking at the beam of the light. Even then, the effects can be at best irritating and at worst dangerous.

As a driver you tend to reserve your full beam lights for dark country lanes. The moment you notice another car, you are meant to turn them off.

Unfortunately, it’s not as easy for a cyclist to do the same things as bike lights tend to be located further along the handlebars. This would mean removing your hands from your handlebars to adjust them, every time you saw another cyclist.

The common sense practise would be to reserve full power bike lights for quiet country lanes or locations where you are not likely to dazzle a fellow cyclist.

The problem tends to be focused on front bike lights that are either on the handlebars or on a helmet. However, I’ve also heard reports of issues with ultra bright rear bike lights.

I personally tend to cycle with two small bike lights of around 20 Lumens. This is enough to be seen, but won’t cause a problem for a cyclist coming towards me. I have found myself on the receiving end of ultra bright lights. While it’s a little frustrating, there’s not much I can do.

So what should be done about this “epidemic”?

There’s obviously no harm in calmly approaching a cyclist with ultra bright lights and letting them know why that might be an issue. Although, you may well be told to mind your own business!

I’m interesting in hearing your opinions in this one. Leave a comment below and I look forward to reading your thoughts.

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88 Responses to The dazzling bike light epidemic

  1. Mark 22/02/2013 at 3:12 pm #

    I have had this a few times in the local park in the dark mornings with lights so bright it makes it awkward for me to see where I am going.

  2. Andrew Russell 22/02/2013 at 3:24 pm #

    Over bright lights are a menace, at best irritating to the oncoming pedestrian or cyclist , and occasionally dangerous.
    Why is a 1600 lumen a must have on a bike?, simple answer it’s not.
    Your lights should be good enough to warn other that you are there i.e. 20 / 50 lumen. If you need more than that be prepared to turn it off / down to oncoming traffic.
    I have used really powerful lights when I know there is likely to be nothing on the track in front of me, I would not use that light in town or on a towpath or country lane, no matter how dark it is.
    I think some bikers get kitted up in the best of stuff, just because they have been convinced by salespeople / advertising that they need to, and they have the money to buy it, sort of ‘big is best’

    • dw 11/06/2013 at 1:45 am #

      I’m not a cyclist, nor am I anti-cycling whatsoever. However, things of late have been getting out of control with cyclist strobe lights. Tonight, I was walking down the street and from a distance of 300 yards, I noticed a cyclist’s strobe light coming towards me. Even from that distance, I had to shield my eyes and as he got closer, I actually had to stop walking; it was so disorientating and ultimately, temporarily blinded me. I hasten to add, that a cop car using an insane number of strobe lights from a distance in my rear mirror, had the same effect. I was literally hiding out of the range of the mirror to be able to drive; had I not, I would have crashed. I have also had issues with roadwork strobes on motorways. There needs to be strict regulation regarding strobe lights. Strobe lights are goddamned dangerous.

  3. Phil Hamilton 22/02/2013 at 4:42 pm #

    Over bright and ill adjusted lights are a menace – be they on bikes or motor vehicles. My B&M front lamp got a few ‘flashes’ from motorists until I adjusted it downwards a degree or so. It still gives me plenty of light on unlit roads for traveling at reasonable speeds (c.16-20mph), despite its diminutive 2.4 watt power (which produces 40 Lux according to the blurb).

  4. tim 22/02/2013 at 6:01 pm #

    I think it’s a bit tricky – 20 lumens might be nive, but given the general level of observation in the traffic i’m in, i might as well be using a match.

    In London, I have a bright light to be seen. I do try and be considerate and angle it down so as not to blind oncoming traffic, but after being knocked off and having multiple SMIDSY’s over the last 20 years (commuting in London since ’92) – I really struggle to have any sympathy with drivers complaining about my bright lights,

    If you used the eyes god gave you, i wouldn’t feel the urge to light up like a xmas tree. I have one (bright) flashing light & one steady on the front, plus a flashing cherry bomb & steady rear light. Plus a couple of lights on my helmet. Plus hi-viz jacket. Plus an ankle reflector. :)

    I’m still invisible!

    therefore I don’t feel the slightest pang of guilt by using the brightest front light I can afford so that morons in cars actually register that there is something else on the road.

    rant over :) and breathe …….

    • Ges 01/12/2013 at 4:39 pm #

      Most drivers are not morons. The fact is these lights do blind everybody. So many cyclists use them these days, mostly illegally as one should have the ability to dip. There are just as many cycling morons as others. Cyclists continually pass me on the inside, even when I’m turning left. Often I see cyclists standing on sharp bends looking at a map or whatever, and when I beep to say here I am, I get a finger or V sign. I drive cars and motorcycles, and walk and bike, but I find that a lot of the Lycra clad brigade ( just to differentiate from the ordinary person cyclist ) seem to have a huge chip on their shoulders regarding motorists. I’m sure a lot of these cyclists are car drivers too, but surely they don’t treat cyclists in similar fashion ? I was along a country lane recently when 3 came along abreast, I stopped and waited, nothing, so I beeped here I am, whereupon one of them switched his 2 million lumen flashing light on to deliberately blind me. Ha, morons ? look at the Cycling community

    • Irvine McBee 16/01/2014 at 9:10 pm #

      In reply to Tim and his over-zealous use of bike lights – no, you not still invisible, you are now a target. People now see you, but hate you.
      Because you have gone over the top, you are a danger to other road users and pedestrians (I speak as a pedestrian who has fallen off the edge of a kerb whilst blinded by a bike light; a motorist who has had to dangerously slam on the brakes in traffic because I could no longer see where I was going; and as a cyclist who ended up in a hedge because of an oncoming cyclist who appeared to be shining a damned laser light right into my brain).
      Enough is enough! Hi-viz and normal lighting please!

      • tim 28/01/2014 at 4:42 pm #

        My mail was slightly tongue in cheek – but I’m not sure why you would think that a bright light now makes me a target. I’ve been commuting for over 20 years, so most of my experience has been with the comparatively weak (polite :) ) lights.

        I agree they probably didn’t make me stand out (or annoy drivers), but they definitely made me a target.

        The sort of target that you are when you get knocked off by drivers who look straight at you and then pull out into you. The sort of target that means a driver performs a right turn straight into your path because the BS certified light didn’t register (BTW – I wear a hi vis jacket, plus ankle reflectors. spoke reflector thingies. and a helmet).

        So, you’re point about my light making me a target unfortunately reads like a threat to me. Apologies if it wasn’t intended that way, but in order to be seen I’ve found the brighter light has actually worked.

        Your comment that “now they hate you” says more about you than me. If your reaction to someone who does something you don’t like is to make them an object of hate, you’re not in a very pleasant place personally.
        It’s not a helpful statement. Playing that game leads to a completely counter productive “us-vs-them” scenario. Do you suggest that it would be acceptable to write that we should “hate HGV drivers” because of the incidents where HGV drivers have killed/injured cyclists – or maybe we should hate drivers who use mobile phones whilst driving (also both dangerous and illegal). I can’t imagine anyone I know who cycles advocating that.

        As I said, I mount the light angled down (to shine on the road about 10 ft in front of me), so it is not shining directly into the eyes of oncoming drivers – they are seeing the edge of the beam. The light itself is about 25% as bright as a car light (though I take the point that the beam is more concentrated because of the size of the light)

        I’d be interested to know how you would suggest I prevent becoming a target. If I have a bright light I’m a target because it annoys someone. If I have a light they don’t see, I’m a target.

        Maybe I should just get a car. ;)

  5. Tom 22/02/2013 at 6:40 pm #

    It’s just common sense, I have a bright light for the dark country roads where I need to be able to see. In street lit areas I can just put it on the lower setting. The lower setting is still bright but if you angle it correctly there’s no problem. I would say the problem is not dazzling other cyclists but dazzling drivers – after all a car can do a lot more damage than a bike!

  6. Jim 23/02/2013 at 7:09 pm #

    Apparently even 3 flashing headlights in a built-up area are not enough: I still got doored.

  7. Claire 26/02/2013 at 1:25 pm #

    Its just not necessary in central London (or any town / city) with street lights…..super bright lights are annoyingly on the increase….save them for your night rides in the countryside!

  8. kevin 29/03/2013 at 8:06 pm #

    I am not a regular cyclist – I am commenting on this issue from the point of view of a car driver. I find flashing lights on bikes (and rear fog lights on cars when the fog is not thick enough to legally warrant it) very distracting – I am not sure how the case was argued for the legal introduction of said bike flashing lights but I would doubt that they have improved the situation for cyclist. Am I a lone voice?

  9. dbs 01/04/2013 at 9:12 am #

    The brightest lights are a bit antisocial but only if they are angled poorly in my view. Lots of drivers used to flash me but none now that I have the spots pointed about 15ft in front on the road. Having them mounted low is a better option and even running them under the bars rather than over makes a difference. I am probably one of the worst offenders: I have 2 x 1800 lumens on the front which is exceptionally bright but I frequently go out training at night in the countryside. Changing to half power in urban areas is a gesture but doesn’t reduce the dazzling problem much I think.

    I’m afraid it is a bit of a war out there. Motorists are routinely utterly inconsiderate and they don’t understand how much injury they can cause. I got knocked off a couple of years back and nearly killed, only saved by emergency sugery. And that was in broad daylight. Even with my bright lights many drivers still have no thought for cyclists.

  10. Chris Juden 02/04/2013 at 3:40 pm #

    It’s not so much the total number of lumens as how they’re distributed. Most of the really bright battery bike lamps now on the market, for all that they claim to have collimated lenses or whatnot, are hardly more sophisticated optically than a torch. In most cases the beam is a simple symmetrical spot, in some cases with a little bit of shaping, i.e. an ovalised spot, and in a very few cases that oval is biased downwards a bit. But only a bit. There’s still far too much light going upwards.

    Aiming the thing downwards will help of course, but with nearly all of the lights we tested (in conjunction with the Sunday Times) it’ll still be more dazzling than a car headlamp until you’ve aimed it downwards so far as to light the road only a few feet in front. A handy dimmer switch would be good, but all of the lights that have this feature, if mounted to light the road a useful distance in front, will still dazzle on their minimum setting – albeit not as badly.

    German dynamo lights are, as one person has pointed out, made to conform with strict German standards. Their optical designs are much more sophisticated, with an intensity that cuts off very sharply just two or three degrees above the central hotspot. This means the light can be aimed a useful distance up the road without the upward throw causing undue dazzle. As our tester said when he lined one these up with the measuring screen: “Ah now this designer knows what he’s doing”.

    What’s needed is a more responsible attitude from the completely unregulated battery bikelamp market. These manufacturers need to put a lot more work into the optical part of the design process and/or fit much easier-to-use dimmer switches, that simply toggle between max and dim, just like a car dip-switch.

    A ban on flashing lights or head-mounted lights brighter than a certain level should also be considered IMHO.

  11. GMBasix 02/04/2013 at 4:06 pm #

    Hi Chris,
    Unless and until a corresponding set of restrictions applies to:
    - the profligate (and mostly unlawful) use of fog lamps,
    - the ever-increasing apparent brightness, flicker and diffraction of car headlamps,
    - the removal of DRLs (they’re safer coz we say so – SMMT) and
    - adaptive headlamps (if you can’t see into the road you’re turning into… slow down!)

    … I don’t think I’m going to be too concerned about counting lumens on my lid.

    As daytime use of car lights increases, an effective daytime bike light becomes more sensible. Would a different limit apply during the day?

    I think the increase in bike lumens is partly fuelled by technology and off-road demand leading to a ‘because we can’ attitude, but partly it’s a legitimate response to a lighting arms escalation. Car manufacturers have been allowed to get away with sophism in place of science to justify HIDs, DRLs, etc.

    Limit cars’ lights and you limit the need to compete to be seen.

    That is where the focus needs to be before we agree to specific limitations on cycle lighting.

  12. Chris Juden 03/04/2013 at 2:03 pm #

    To GMBasix: two wrongs don’t make a right. And quite a few posters report that they still get run into in spite of winning (or at least competing hard) in the vehiclular lighting arms race, so does it even help?

    Sure you need a bright enough light on the bike, and it probably helps if its just as bright to be mistaken for a dipped motorcycle headlamp, but beyond that? Could it be that drivers see a helmet-mounted light, immediately recognise that “its just a cyclist” (since no other road users put lights on their heads) and pull out anyway?

    I think we’re talking about the night-time situation here. Use of lights in the day, on motors and cycles, is another thing altogether that I’d rather not get into here, except to note that glare is highly dependent on the ambient light level and agree that your helmet-mounted light is unlikely to dazzle in daylight.

  13. GMBasix 03/04/2013 at 4:40 pm #

    Hi Chris
    I agree in part. I’m not sporting the brightest thing around, but it’s reasonably punchy; I also think its counter-productive being able to burn paint at 100 paces.
    But I’m not sure that arguing that drivers think its only a cyclist is pertinent to the lamp debate. If they think that, then it’s done it’s job, however zealously. The result is down to the driver’s other failings.
    I’m concerned that seasoned cyclists would be advocating limits for the relatively occasional problem (cycling search lamps) whereas a more pervasive problem is growing on a broader scale, and based on claims of safety from flimsy studies.
    Since the ED boat has sailed on car lighting, how can we then expect cyclists to roll over?
    How would you place a limit, since dazzle is a subjective consequence of a combination of lamp power, light frequency, beam spread and external environmental factors?

  14. Chris Juden 05/04/2013 at 10:19 am #

    My argument is for neither more nor less than parity with motor vehicle lighting.

    Motor vehicle lights ARE subject to limits on intensity. Because glare is a subjective matter, those lamps will nevertheless dazzle some people in some situations (when the background is very dark, if it’s a relatively small car lamp, when it’s nearer the observer and more central in their field of view and if the viewer is especially sensitive to glare) but it will not dazzle them as badly, or as many other people in other situations, as it could do if there were no limits.

    Equivalent limits for cycle lamps exist in the traffic regulations of other countries, e.g. Germany, and lamps made to conform with those regulations are perfectly useful for cycling – in the opinion of those, like me, who use them. Your opinion may differ, but that doesn’t have to be problem. An appetite for even brighter lights is easily accommodated by equipping such lamps with a sufficiently handy means of dimming to the non-dazzling level.

    Sure it’s all a bit arbitrary, but it’s not difficult to write standards that apply equivalent limits to cycle lamps.

    • Nj 06/09/2013 at 1:20 pm #

      I have to disappoint you about Germany .. the regulation for dynamo lamps was recently dropped here, which was hailed as being supportive of cycling traffic. I just ordered one of those “dazzling” lights, and they do have STVZO approval.
      My bike weighs less than 11 kg (racing model), and for these, battery powered lamps have been legal for a long time. The only thing regulated is the maximum power output of 3W.

    • ian 23/12/2013 at 1:58 pm #

      Ah, it’s Chris ‘I hate cyclists’ CTC Juden again. How bloody hard is it for you to accept that the only way to get some drivers’ attention IS to annoy the heck out of them?

  15. Simon Bigg 16/04/2013 at 6:13 pm #

    Here’s an idea that might help people be better seen by other road users and pedestrians: add some extra lights that illuminate yourself.

    If you light yourself up, you will appear as a much bigger, illuminated (or flashing) object rather than just some tiny pin-pricks of flashing light.

    What do people think? I’m actually considering trying this.

    • Ges 01/12/2013 at 4:51 pm #

      I wouldn’t bother. It will probably distract a driver who then runs someone else down. Imagine your kid crossing the road, and an approaching driver sees a lit up something, he’s going to look at it isn’t he/she, not at your kid in the road.
      Try thinking of everybody using the roads rather than just yourself.

  16. JR 22/08/2013 at 2:58 am #

    Iwant to be seen. Too many cyclists have died..becasue drivers say ” I didnt see them” or
    I thought I(the car) has priority on roads becasue I am bigger and moving faster.
    I’ll use lights and if it annoys drivers, yet gets me home without broken bones…then the car drivers get home safe with their families…..and I get home to mine. A little inconvenience for saving life? yes.

    • Ges 01/12/2013 at 4:46 pm #

      Not really, No. Blinding a car driver who then ploughs into someone else is probably not saving a life . Maybe yours ,yes. Your attitude is pretty standard these days for some Cyclists. We need to educate Drivers not blind them. On a road at night its pretty nigh impossible to see what’s ahead once someone has passed with a blinding light. And don’t forget you are also blinding pedestrians and other cyclists too. Cycle lanes are what’s needed , not this stupid aggression which only makes some stupid drivers more likely to run you down.

      • ian 23/12/2013 at 1:56 pm #

        You know, they could just slow down or even (horrors) stop if it is really that bad. Which it rarely actually is.

        As for educating them, good luck with that – the goal is more like distracting them from texting, sandwich munching, fiddling with the MP3 player, arguing with the kids …

  17. Matthew 28/01/2014 at 3:51 pm #

    Richmond Park. This is where the problem is at its worst, for me. You only need an bog-standard pair of £20 Cats Eyes in there at night – and only then so that others know you’re there.

    Some of the kit folk use in this park is incredible. It’s a wonder that the pilots coming in to Heathrow overhead don’t find it distracting. Maybe they do. It’s only really become a problem in the last 2-3 years, as the number of cyclists reaches this much-touted “critical mass”. I’ve tried being light-hearted… “Eat more carrots, mate!… but it’s now become a genuine hazard. You’re blinded for the 5-10 seconds before they pass you and then the after-image skews your vision so you’re more or less cycling blind for 5-10 seconds more once they pass.

    Riding through the park at night is a joy. The starry winter skies wheeling above, the smell of the damp soil and the sense of profound peace that is so rare in our city — and all the more so after the 10-mile commute out from the heart of London. These ridiculous lights are an unnecessary blight on a simple pleasure. Anyone who needs that kind of illumination in the park at night shouldn’t be riding in the park at night in the first place.

    What can we do make them understand?

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