Sunday, November 7, 2010

Standard Time is back with us

...So please, PLEASE make sure your bike is actively lit up if you are commuting home after work. It should be pretty dark by shortly after five p.m. tomorrow. Be ready and be visible. Reflectors alone are not enough, says John Schubert. I can't say that emphatically enough and don't have to because John Allen says so too.

For lights, the sky is the limit as far as the market goes; dollars generally correlate with light output. But prices per lumen are definitely coming down. You can save some money buying a headlamp at a local hardware or home appliance store or an LED flashlight pair at Costco or Sam's and lash together a mount with a buck's worth of zipties. Or consider this. Some of the new high output tactical flashlights can pump out up to 900 lumens for a tenth the price of a comparable spec bike light (perhaps with a less optimal beam pattern) and with innovation, can be mounted in a trick fashion.
One way to kludge together a handlebar mount.

Bottom line is you want to see and be seen. Being seen might be a lower standard. Seeing ahead requires that you analyze your route, your speed, and your willingness to risk hitting something. Pick a light that illuminates the road far enough ahead and well enough for you to avoid a hazard. Anyone wanting a quick discussion of that is welcome to contact me and we can arrange a little tutorial.

Ankle reflectors, some shown here, are good choices because they move and when illuminated, catch motorist attention. I put a pair on my wrists as well to use when signaling a turn.

For winter use, I have the Black Diamond Icon, available at REI, ziptied to my helmet. Works great; I can point it to where I want to see something (or at a side street with a motorist waiting at a stop sign). The main beam on the handlebar is a slightly dated but quite powerful (a claimed 675/550 lumen but the light pattern is iffy) Light and Motion Arc-HID headlamp.

And don't forget your back! Both John Allen and John Schubert discuss the limitations of rear reflectors, including that they may be dirty (hence fenders can keep them free of road grime) and only work well under optimal conditions of following traffic. On the bike right now is a five LED Cateye rear light (an older version of this). I augment that with a belt beacon. In addition, I have a 3" reflector from the local hardware store and a bunch of stick-on reflective dots.

Lights are so much better than in the old days. Enjoy the advantages of technology. If it seems I'm overdoing this, perhaps I am. But I've been commuting in the dark for 31 years. There is something to be said for taking safety into your own hands.


Steve A said...

Great timing. I just ordered a P7-C headlight to replace the lousy Cateye.

bikeolounger said...

I'm a big fan of Glo-Gloves instead of wrist bands for signaling my intentions to turn or stop.

The yellow reflective patches on the back of my hand are VERY hard to not see when hit with light, and the red patch in the palm is good for the typical stop signal we use. They are stretchy enough to fit over my cool-weather gloves as well, so I have visible signals down to 30F or so.

I have seen, but don't yet have, fiber-optic-style arm bands that have a light source that makes a glow along the band. There are, of course, also electroluminescent strips to be had if one is handy with a soldering iron.

My evening commute has already been half- or more dark, so I've been keeping track of my headlight battery time again.

Jon said...

I have sewn reflective tape onto the back of my gloves, makes signalling pretty easy.

The LED armbands are nice, but not terribly bright. You can set them to flashing which attracts more attention, I guess, but 90% of the time the reflection will probably be brighter. (The Planet Bike ones have the LED strip behind a corner cube reflector, a very nice combination.)

Side note: flashing lights can be very noticable but make it hard to track distance. Alcohol-impaired drivers in particular tend to get "drawn in"; police I've talked to have confirmed the stories of drunk drivers smashing into the back of stopped police cars with the lights on. Given the DUI stats around here, it's worth having some solid lights. (My Christmas tree would take forever to describe; I have enough lights to have a few solid *and* flashing.)

While getting the zipties, a few 3" round reflectors are dirt-cheap (often in the garden section) and bright!

Lots of strategies for spending little or lots of money and being safe.