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Bicycle Lights
As we come into the winter season I think it is time to pen a few words to make sure that we see less unlit idiots on the road this year.

Firstly, these are my understandings of the legal requirements (and their idiocies!). I am no expert in this field, so would advise that you undertake further research if you are concerned.

Bicycle lights must conform to British Standard 6102 Part 3. This now includes LED lights. However, the Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations 1989 which bicycle lights must conform to does not permit LEDs, and specifically refers to a filament bulb. Therefore a BS approved light may not be sufficient on its own to light your bicycle.

Neither of those technical documents permit flashing lights, but as from 1st October 2005 a new law (if approved) will allow lights to flash at least once and not more than four times per second with a brilliance of at least four candle-power

It is now possibly either very easy or very difficult to legally light your bicycle. You could argue that the basic flashing LED meets the requirements so you are legal, or you could argue that whilst legal, that LED does not meet the lighting regulations, so your bicycle is still illegally lit.

Even more confusingly, the majority of lights available in bike shops (last time I looked) did not actually conform with the legislation, although the light output was more sensible and safer. Therefore you can be legal with relatively dim or ineffective lights, or illegal with easily obtainable and bright lights!

The laws do however allow you to use non-approved lighting in conjunction with the legal requirements

Now here are my recommendations. Get a decent front light. It neednít be expensive, but it must work. If you are always riding in town then a basic battery light with long life may suffice. If you have a short commute on unlit roads and donít mind the inconvenience of chargers, then consider a serious powerful battery light. If you often ride at night, then consider a hub dynamo. Back this light up with a secondary battery one of better budgetary means (i.e. be sensible with the credit card). On the back get two decent LED lights, as a minimum (if one fails you will still be lit).

In view of the confusing and conflicting legal requirements, I consider it prudent to be sensible and considerate. Ensure that your lighting is of at least the minimum brightness of the legal requirement; that way you will be seen. However if you ride mostly around town there is no real need to use the maximum powered off road lighting system, all that does is blind oncoming drivers and cyclists whilst rapidly draining the batteries.

When you buy LED lights you need to understand that the output from an LED is very directional. Therefore you need to look for a light that has a good lens that gives the light a wider angled beam, so that you will be seen more. The same applies to front lights, so although LED lights are becoming very common and have good battery life, they may only be sufficient to see by and not be seen by. I have certainly noticed many cyclists who rely on a single LED front light, which when seen from an angle (as all drivers and cyclists will see it by) shows as nothing more than a small white pin prick of light. This becomes hidden very quickly amongst town lights. Many of the older fashioned filament bulb lights are much more easily seen, but have a lower battery life; hence the use of dynamos.

Although, according to my understanding, the UK law currently does not allow flashing LED lights on bicycles (although that may change from 1st October 2005), many people prefer to ride with them since they draw the attention of drivers. One problem with this is that many people find it hard to focus on a flashing light and judge its distance at night. Therefore, although they are aware there is a cyclist in front of their car, they cannot work out exactly where the cyclist is so may not give the cyclist the room they expect. For this reason I personally obey the current law and have a fixed light on my bicycle. I do however usually back this up with a flashing light to draw attention, although I ensure the light switches between LEDs in turn so that it always has a light source, rather than turning on and then off in turn.

Consider where your riding takes you, and decide whether you need additional lighting such as armbands or ankle bands, then also decide whether you need reflective clothing. Your bicycle should have front and rear reflectors (and pedal reflectors if manufactured after 1st October 1985).

Finally, when you think you are happy, lend your bike and clothing to a friend and get them to ride it on your normal commuting route while you drive past in a car. Are you really happy you can see them from the front or back? Do they stand out in traffic? Is that rear light hidden by the rack/saddle/other? Are the lights adjusted correctly?

This on road test is, in my mind, the most critical phase of the whole task of lighting up your bike.

If youíre interested on what I ride with, I have a Cateye AU100and LD600on the back, whilst on the front I have a Schmidt dynohub powering the Schmidt E6 and E6Z lamps. I sometimes also have either the Cateye EL300 or EL400 on the front (sometimes the EL400 is on my helmet if I am going on an overnight ride, as then I can see the roadsigns).
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