Sunday, November 07, 2010

Lighten Up!

In most of the U.S. we set the clocks back an hour last night. I've never been a fan of this biannual assault on circadian rhythms but I figure I'll use the extra pseudo hour I've been given (by the same chrono-criminals who stole it from me last spring!) to once more urge, suggest, cajole and recommend that those of you reading this who have occasion to be out on darkened streets could take a few moments to reflect (pun intended!) on how visible you are to the other creatures of the night.

My wife will tell you that I'm somewhat obsessed with lighting. Over the years, I've collected lots of various lights, some that run on batteries, some that generate light via the rotation of the wheel. I'm not going to get into a discussion of Light A vs Light B, Generators vs Batteries or Reflectors vs Lights here. I am going to say that lights serve two main purposes, allowing you to see and allowing you to be seen. That second purpose allowing you to be seen is extremely important and while reflectors don't do a damn thing in terms of lighting your way they can (sometimes) aid in making others see you.

Bike lights and blinkies keep getting better. LED efficiencies go up every year and today's $10 blinkie is brighter and lasts longer than the blinkie you bought two years ago. When I rode Paris-Brest-Paris in 1999, most of us had lighting systems we home-brewed with big battery packs and spare batteries we sent ahead in drop bags. Today I have a brighter, better light that can run all night on 2 AA batteries. A blinkie like the Planet Bike Super Flash or the PDW RadBot is visible even in daylight and sips power from a pair of AAA cells. Rechargeable batteries are a lot better these days, and I recharge my light batteries with little solar chargers.

While reflectors themselves are not enough, reflective tape on your bike or clothing is an inexpensive way to increase your odds of being seen. Reflective bits on your ankles, pedals and wheels are especially eye-catching because motion increases the odds that they'll intersect and reflect a light source. A reflective sash (see photo above) adds a broad stripe of visibility to any outfit.

Even if you think you are well-lit, please take a moment to revisit your visibility. It gets dark every night and if you have a friend with a car, have them point their headlights at you some night as you ride. What do they see? If no lights are shining on you as you ride through the night, what do people see? Ask yourself these questions now and then. The life you save may be your own.

If you have old lights that you're not using, pass them on to someone who can use them. Every bit can help. If your local community doesn't have a program like Get Lit, you can start one, even if it's just you giving away one light. The dark times are the best times to let your light shine.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA


Gunnar Berg said...

"...biannual assault on circadian rhythms". The division of our day into hour increments is pretty arbitrary anyway, it's not like you're going to get jet lag from daylight savings time.

Kent Peterson said...

Actually Gunnar, check with your local police and highway patrol. Traffic accidents spike on the days after the time changes.

Peter Wang said...

It's important that people check the status of their batteries year 'round. Look at your lights just before you turn them off at your destination; if they're weak, replace them!

Gunnar Berg said...

Daylight saving lag! I'll take your word for it. My daughter lives 12 time zones away. When she visits home it takes about 4 days before she's even moderately synchronized. Which of course has very little to do with your bicycle lighting schemes.

hector said...

These are great to have lights during night and you must check always the battery.

Anonymous said...

Death to chrono criminals! Val

kfg said...

If you ride in real cold country it's worth putting Energizer L92 Lithiums in your blinkie. Not only will they run enough longer to nearly justify the added cost, but they wont crap out on you just because it's 20 or 30 below.