Friday, December 5, 2014

"Cover your light!"

I mentioned a while ago that my company moved to the new building. It's only a mile away from the old location but now it's more convenient for me to ride on Minuteman Bikeway to work every morning. I usually avoid this popular bike path in winter months for two reasons: 1) lacking any street lights, it's very dark in places and 2) it doesn't get plowed often enough so once the first winter blizzard comes, the paths becomes unusable until spring.
But we still didn't get any major snow storm so I decided to continue biking on the Minuteman. This lets me experience something new this season. The first time it happened I didn't know what the fellow cyclist was talking about. If you pass someone at high speed and that person is talking to you, all you hear is some mumbling. Then I realized that he was telling me to cover my light, the same way some other cyclists were doing when they were passing me. "Cover my light?", I thought: "Why? Is my light really blinding everyone?" Just to be sure that wasn't the case, I pointed it a bit further down, even though it was already positioned that way. Yes, my headlight is mounted on the handlebars, the same way most cyclists lights were mounted. But what if I had a proper generator light installed just above the front fender? Would you expect me to reach over the handlebars to cover it as well every time I was passing someone?
My Planet Bike Blaze headlight. The 2-Watt version.
Now keep in mind that the headlight I'm using is not a 800 lumen death ray that would turn night into a day. It's just a very basic and inexpensive 2-Watt version of Planet Bike's Blaze lamp. I find it perfectly adequate for urban cycling and I noticed that it's far from being the brightest light on the Minuteman path. So when I heard another passing cyclist yell it again, I thought: "Dude, your light is brighter than mine anyway. What you want me to do? Point my headlight to shine on my front tire?".
That makes me wonder:
         a) Are bicycle lights too bright?
         b) Do cyclists know how to position their head lights properly?
         c) Are cyclists oversensitive about being blinded?
         d) Other (please specify): _______________
         e) All of the above.


  1. A

    I would say most are too bright, but solid light is really fine for the most part. What really gets me are the idiots that keep the flash setting on while on the Charles River Paths!! This is both front and rear! Dude, I can see you, I am not enclosed in 2tons of steel, I know you are a bike, no need to be flashing.

  2. I would say a) and b).
    It looks like your light is mounted upside down. If there is a type of hood in the light's design then that might be the problem. Some lights are designed to give a good throw on the road but to not shine up into the eyes of those oncoming to you. Even if you pointed this light down, it being mounted upside down would not help.

    Most of the new bike lights we can buy in North America are only looking at brightness and case shape instead of usability. I'm disappointed in the lack of choice we have.
    I would say though that if a light is designed well and pointing down then being too bright isn't a problem.
    I agree with John in NH about the blinking mode being used when not needed. Back when LEDs were dim, blinking to make it known that you are on the road to drivers was necessary but nowadays they're very bright and a steady light is enough. The blinking isn't needed at all when on a trail or separated bike lane. All it does is annoy and blind those oncoming. Another effect it has is mess with others' sense of your location and speed. It makes you seem unpredictable.

  3. @ Clark Nikolai
    Yes, my light is mounted upside-down. That's because I have the front basket bracket installed and I ran out of space on my handlebars to install the light in the proper position. I tested it both ways though - upside-down and standard, and I didn't notice much difference in the beam pattern. I would agree with you that most lights are designed for maximum brightness and not for e.g. beam shape.

    Still, I keep looking at other cyclists lights on the bike path and noticed that many of them like to ride with their lights a bit up, illuminating the path far ahead of them. Yes, you can see more this way and I would like to do the same (If I had a stronger light) but then comes the problem with blinding.

  4. Some of the more advanced designs of lights have a beam pattern where it's dimmer closer to the light and brighter farther away and then there's a sudden cut-off at the horizon. Basically what car lights do.
    Peter White Cycles has done some great testing of light beams. Also there's a guy in the Netherlands doing some testing. I've learned a lot about it all.

    I see that some people cover their light with their hand when approaching me. That's considerate but by then I've already been blinded.
    I wish we had more choice in bike lights in North America. It seems that knowledge of good lights is still kind of underground with only some people knowing that things could be so much better. I've checked out the Roxim lights and they seem good but only one distributor in NA. Busch & Müller are starting to be available in a few stores but the generator hubs are still pricey compared to what you could buy them for in Europe.
    But generator vs battery is another topic than beam pattern of course.

  5. @ Clark Nikolai
    Thanks for the links (although I've seen Peter White's one before). You're right that generator headlights are definitely better designed, while when it comes to most battery-powered, handlebar-mounted lights their designers seemed to focus on beam brightness exclusively and forgot that beam pattern is equally important.