You can observe a lot just by watching

Reposted from Just Another Pedaler.

Yogi Berra is credited with saying You can observe a lot just by watching. But now that we over a month into fall and the days are growing shorter, I am reminded you can’t observe much of anything without light. 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
Planet Bike Blaze 1 Watt

Most people like 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 facingPlanet Bike Superflash on my seat post. But I have read that a flashing light makes it hard for cars to judge how close you are, so I also run a steady red light on the back of my rack, aTrek Flare 7. The Flare 7 has a mode that detects motion so that it automatically turns off when you stop for long enough. It also has various interesting flashing patterns. But I use it in steady mode without the fancy motion detection which sometimes thinks I peda so smoothly (yeah right) it turns off. I really like the Fash 7’s secure attachment to the rear of the rack.

Trek Flare 7
My route includes three different greenways which are unlit and often deep in tree cover. That means it is stinking dark and you have the normal obstacles to watch for plus ninja dog walkers. There was one woman who liked to walk her black dog with a black leash while wearing her black sweatsuit with the hood up. The only thing you could see was the dog’s blue eyes if the light caught them. The small LED headlight is just not enough for these conditions. I remember a morning the first fall I was riding when that was a definite problem. It had rained the night before and the last greenway I take in the morning is called the Black Creek Greenway. There are various small wooden bridges where the greenway crosses back and forth over Black Creek. When it rains hard enough the creek rises and quicky recedes leaving debris, mostly leaves, against the rails. This morning I had riden around some of this debris on the first few bridges as I followed the greenway downstream and picked up speed on the gradual downhill. I came to a bridge with a larger pile of leaves which with the small light I only spotted at the last moment. In an instant I decided to aim for the low side and accelerate to power through. Turns out this pile of leaves has covering a large limb. I smacked right into the large end and suddenly found myself on my side with a sore hip. Fortunately I wasn’t hurt except for my ego. I felt pretty stupid for not taking it slower. I knew my light wasn’t bright enough for the conditions. In fact a brighter light was already on order and come in the two days later.

My bright headlight is a MagicShine 900 I got from GeoManGear. This sucker is nice and bright. It is not as bright as a car headlight but it is close. It has a separate battery pack and a charge only lasts about 3 hours at full brightness, but there are two levels that are not as bright (but still brighter than the Blaze) that give you longer battery life . 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 on a charge.

MagicShine 900
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. Once it was cold enough that the battery for the Magic Shine started giving out. I figured being strapped to the steel frame wasn’t helping, so during an on road section I just used the Blaze and street lights to see and I put the big battery in the waist of my pants. It warmed up enough to work when I hit the greenway again and needed the extra light.

CatEye Loop Light
CatEye Orbit Light
I also added some CatEye Loop and Orbit lights. I have a white Loop on the front of my helmet and a red Loop on the back. I have an amber Orbit light in the spokes of each wheel. The helmet light puts some attention up high which I hope makes me more noticeable to cars. The spoke lights give me better visibility from the side and along with the reflective sidewalls make me look more like a bike. I run these on flash except for the front of the helment one. I only turn the front one on if the visibility is poor (rain or fog).
Petzl Tikka
Wow! That takes me up to 8 lights. But actually I often also wear a Petzl Tikka headlamp. I use this so I can see the bike computer and gears in the dark.
So that is a lot of lights, but it does make me visible. It gives me lots of options if something goes wrong. I had a friend who was trouble riding in the hot summer weather, so he rides at night a lot. He has various lights many of them flashing. When he was leaving his neighborhood one evening, a neighbor said “You look ridiculous.” My friend said “Thanks. Ridiculous is good as long as you notice me.” You have probably figure out I agree.
Now this is my normal light setup. When the days are long I don’t turn them all on and the headlamp stays in the pannier. But at this time of year, they are all on. You could say I am lit up like a Christmas tree, but actually I save that for December when I wrap my frame in a string of battery powered LED Christmas lights. It might be a little safer because it does draw attention, but I do it just to be festive.
By the way, I bought all these lights with my own money and have no association with the manufacturers or sellers. I sort of feel like a real blogger adding a disclaimer.