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WillStewart
10-25-2011, 01:46 PM
We've had a thread on tail lights, now let's tackle the front light.

For those who commute partly on the trail and partly on the road (or over crosswalks), what should the front light protocol be?

My planned approach has been to use the modest 70-80 lumen front light on the trail in flash mode (to account for the times I also hit the frequent crosswalks), and to use the helmet mounted 600 lumen NiteRider Minewt when on the road itself. Also have reflective strips (on tires, too), bright orange vest, and rear red 5 LED blinker.

A problem arose this morning when I was crossing a crosswalk in Falls Church (along with a pedestrian with dog), and a car went from full stop to accelerating, hitting me.

One way to mitigate the issue of cars seeing me entering and in crosswalks would be to turn on the bright 600 lumen light. That would be detrimental to the vision of others coming up the other direction of the trail, however. And reaching up to cycle the light switch (3 modes) at each little crosswalk might be a safety issue, by taking a hand off the handlebars and diverting attention.

Thoughts?

Dirt
10-25-2011, 01:53 PM
Front lights on the trail have much less to do with being seen than seeing. For that reason, I personally think the people who ride with a 900 lumen light in blink mode are either exceedingly rude or unaware of how offensive their lights are.

There are a few camps out there. I know lots of people who I respect that use high powered lights on the trail and keep them on high even with approaching traffic. It helps promote safety, though it does blind other trail users.

I'm a little different. I turn my light down to its lowest setting when I hit the trail (125 Lumen is low). That is enough for me to see by, but minimizes the blinding effect. I also will cover the light if I can when I see someone approaching with reflective gear or lights on. I tend to be "holier than thou" about people who take no part in their own safety. If they can't be bothered to be seen, I don't feel like I need to cover my light. I know that achieves nothing.

Generally I find with the light set on low, I take advantage of what ambient light is there and actually have better night vision further down the trail. It helps that I'm usually riding into the sunrise and sunset on both of my commutes. I can see very well even with minimal light.

When I hit the street, the light goes onto high beam. When I cross the Lynn Street Death Zone, I put it on 900 Lumen Blink mode. It upsets some drivers, but at least they see me.

Hope that helps a little.

Pete

Overtone
10-25-2011, 02:46 PM
I ride with a 350 lumen handlebar-mounted niterider on steady, even on the trail. I'm pretty new to trail commuting - looking forward to having forum members tell me "you're doing it wrong!"

The worst part of my commute home is the W&OD trail eastward along South Four Mile Run drive (Columbia Pike to Shirlington). The headlights of the oncoming cars just feet to the right are strong enough that I really can't see unlit unreflective cyclists and pedestrians until I'm almost on them. Don't know if my light helps at all with that or if it just blinds others on the trail - thoughts?

John

pfunkallstar
10-25-2011, 03:31 PM
My personal pet peeve is when it is 8am and someone is cresting a hill with their GIGAWHAT? light on, unnecessary and unsafe.

For those of you who actually bike in the middle of the night there are some pseudo-depressing numbers to take into account that I have, unfortunately, found to hold pretty true.

First, let's talk about reaction time. In an ideal world, free of distractions and perfectly awake, the average human needs 250ms or so to respond to a visual stimulus with some sort of muscle response (i.e. "look ninja! - 250 ms - shit!"). This goes WAY up when you take into account tiredness, awareness issues, and distractions. Second, let's look at how fast we actually travel in those "early morning - burning the midnight candle" hours. For the sake of simplicity let's say we are traveling at 15 mph or 22 ft/sec. Finally, the average 900 lumen bike light is going to throw a decent beam about 75 feet - giving us about 3.4 seconds to respond to the approaching ninja. Bringing in some Phun Physics we get:

d = v^2/(30*(u*b+G)) u=coefficient of friction, b=braking efficiency, g=grade, v=speed - blah blah

In a best case scenario, traveling at 15mph, with dry asphalt below us (.5), on no grade, with a wonderful braking efficiency of 80%, we are going to need a paltry 18.75 feet to stop - this is wildly unrealistic but that is okay. Add on an additional 5.5 feet for our perfectly rested super human, and we have a solid 50 feet between us and the Ninja of death.

BUT

We live in the real world. So now we are going down a hill (5%), at 20 mph, in the rain (.3), and our rims are wet (braking efficiency = crap 50%). Now we need 66 ft to stop and an additional 11 feet for reaction time (500ms tired and cranky - get it? cranky) - MEET the NINJA!

So there is a time and place for the Mega Watt headlights, just maybe not all the time. Going back to my personal experience, lights are there to make others aware of you, not the other way around. I depend on my memory of the trail to avoid most obstacles and when I'm riding off-road at night I usually keep things slow and pretty much assume that I'm going to hit something funky.

5555624
10-25-2011, 04:48 PM
Although my NiteRider TriNewt is rated at 486 Lumen, I tend to set it on low and keep it there. It's enough light for even the non-lighted parts of my commute, both road and trail.

My opinion has always been that if you are going to ride at night -- whether it's on the trail or on the road -- you need a real light, not some blinking white light on the front. Maybe a flashing light is okay on well lit streets, but what happens if you come across a section where the power is out? (I saw this happen to someone a few days ago.)

In the morning, I normally don't worry about blinding anyone on the trails. (Although I see a ninja or two, in the morning, I've only seen one bike on the trail in the last year.) The number of cyclists I see with a real light, in a year, can be counted on one hand. The number with any lights can probably be counted on two hands (and maybe a foot). Even though it's dark 365 days at 3:00 a.m., good reflective gear and lights is rare.

In addition, I think the light should be mounted on the bike. A helmet light can be a secondary light, but I want my primary light to point in the direction I am going, not moving where I look. (This is especially true in traffic, but there's not much traffic at 3:00 a.m., either.)

mstone
10-25-2011, 06:15 PM
I consider the helmet light to be the primary--the front mount light doesn't have the predictive turn feature. I could get one with a wider pattern, but then people would really complain. ;-) I usually switch from solid to blinky when it's too bright to see the light on the ground. Blinky saves battery, but helps with visibility when you're caught in sun rise/set glare. Oh, and look down and right when approaching another light. (Keeps from blinding people with the helmet light and also keeps you from staring into their light and blinding yourself.)

jcpetrson
10-25-2011, 06:51 PM
I use minimal lights myself. I find that the darkest of mornings on the trail don't need require mt Mtn Bike lights. For those oncoming riders, please, please, please simply cover your light when you pass. Some of those lights are brighter than a car.

Sorry to whomever I yelled HIGHBEAMS!! last week

Greenbelt
10-25-2011, 08:34 PM
Tonight I counted 8 deer -- including a 6 pointer right by the trail -- a raccoon, a fox, 3 cats, and a bunny. With all the critters out, I've got my lights on pretty bright, but have been getting better at covering up the bar-mounted light and pointing the helmet light to the side when meeting another rider (rare) or passing nighttime walkers (not too common).

WillStewart
10-26-2011, 04:26 AM
pointing the helmet light to the side when meeting another rider (rare) or passing nighttime walkers (not too common).


I consider the helmet light to be the primary--the front mount light doesn't have the predictive turn feature. ... look down and right when approaching another light.

This sounds like an approach that may work for me in the Falls Church area (with 600 lumen helmet mounted light on 'medium'), where there are frequent street crossings. For more lengthy sections of the trail without crossings, I'll set the helmet light on low. For street use, helmet light on high (or on blink during daylight hours). I'll keep the fixed weak front light (80 lumens) on blink in all situations as an added measure (looking for comments if this might be detrimental on the trail).

One light that provides excellent visibility without blinding other riders is the Phillips SafeRide (http://reviews.mtbr.com/philips-saferide-led-bike-light-2012-mtbr-lights-shootout), which creates a flattened rectangle beam, instead of the usual round beam pattern. It's 'only' 400 lumens, but doesnt' waste lumens in areas were you don't want/need light;

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It's unique pattern becomes starkly evident when compared to the rest, as in this 2011 MTB Bike Light Shootout;

http://reviews.mtbr.com/2012-bike-lights-shootout-backyard-beam-pattern-photos

The results of the 2012 Bike Light Shootout are at http://reviews.mtbr.com/2012-bike-lights-shootout

It should be noted, of course, that mountain bike riding and commuter trail riding don't have the exact same lighting requirements. The amount of helpful information at the Shootout sites is significant, however.

JimF22003
10-26-2011, 05:44 AM
I think it's OK to use blinky mode when the sun is setting low, and maybe just a bit after dusk. With the ambient light I don't see how this could hurt any oncoming riders.

Once it's more dark than not I switch to the lowest steady setting. Even with that I need to cover the light when approaching another rider.

americancyclo
10-26-2011, 09:14 AM
I run my front light on 250 lumens SOLID for the W&OD west of Banneker Park, since there are no trail lights and it's pretty dark at 6am these days. Once I pass East Falls Church Metro, I switch to low setting, even though there are still quite a few spots with all the trail lights out. I never use the blink setting on a trail or path. I get really irritated by an approaching blinking front light, it's distracting and I find it makes it more difficult to judge distance for passing. Rarely, I'll switch to blink in DC, but only in traffic. I mostly use blink to get the attention of the security officers at my office to lower the gate.

JorgeGortex
10-26-2011, 11:31 AM
As a long time biking enthusiast but rookie bike commuter I thought pretty hard about my lighting and how I'd implement it. This morning was the test. I follow what Dirt was describing:

I have my Niterider Mininewt USB 600 up front on the bars, and a PrincetonTec Swervelight in back. I am commuting from the intersection of WO&D and Custis to near the King Street Metro. On the trail I set the front light to its lowest constant setting on the trail. I figured this alerted others on the trail to me coming, and gave me a heads up if there was debris or something. Once I hit Commonwealth and was on the street I switched the light to flashing mode. I want my light to catch drivers, and pedestrian's attention. I need this more than light to see the road. The PrincetonTec was set to flash the entire time.

With the front light I am also making sure to tilt it so its not aimed straight into people's eyes, but aimed down so the center of light hits about 25 yards ahead of me. If the street signs are any indicator it is still visible pretty far away... but I am not blinding anyone. I've had super bright flashing lights hit me square in the face from on coming cyclists. The stroboscopic effect is very disorienting, and the light intensity blinding. It kills off you night vision and then you are seeing spots instead of the road like you should be. Its rude and dangerous. Also a great way to piss off drivers who we want to be supportive of sharing the road with us.

For night riding on streets I also have a electroluminecent belt that flashes that I sling over my shoulder or around my pack for side visibility. Add in bright yellow jackets and I am doing the best I can I think.

Cheers,

JG


Front lights on the trail have much less to do with being seen than seeing. For that reason, I personally think the people who ride with a 900 lumen light in blink mode are either exceedingly rude or unaware of how offensive their lights are.

There are a few camps out there. I know lots of people who I respect that use high powered lights on the trail and keep them on high even with approaching traffic. It helps promote safety, though it does blind other trail users.

I'm a little different. I turn my light down to its lowest setting when I hit the trail (125 Lumen is low). That is enough for me to see by, but minimizes the blinding effect. I also will cover the light if I can when I see someone approaching with reflective gear or lights on. I tend to be "holier than thou" about people who take no part in their own safety. If they can't be bothered to be seen, I don't feel like I need to cover my light. I know that achieves nothing.

Generally I find with the light set on low, I take advantage of what ambient light is there and actually have better night vision further down the trail. It helps that I'm usually riding into the sunrise and sunset on both of my commutes. I can see very well even with minimal light.

When I hit the street, the light goes onto high beam. When I cross the Lynn Street Death Zone, I put it on 900 Lumen Blink mode. It upsets some drivers, but at least they see me.

Hope that helps a little.

Pete

Dirt
10-26-2011, 12:00 PM
One more thing for people who are really distracted by approaching cyclists lights... Wearing a cycling cap with a little visor under your helmet can allow you some protection. You can tip it down enough so that you still have good view of the road in front of you, but you're not having to look directly into the approaching headlight. Works for runners too, though I tend to use something with a bigger visor. Chicks dig guys in CAT diesel hats. ;)

MCL1981
10-26-2011, 12:06 PM
IMO, there are two levels of two levels of lighting for all directions.

Trails: Low intensity be-seen mode. This is just a matter of standing out to those who are in a trance not paying attention. I have some small cheap LED's on the front and back that I turn on at all times. They are no obnoxious to those paying attention and they're just enough to make the zoned-out joggers see me coming. This applies day or night. I don't think fusion reactor powered high intensity flashing is required on the trails day or night at all ever. You're wasting battery power and retinal life for nothing. Trust me, we can each other with our cheap $20 LED at night on the trail just fine and it is not necessary to blind people in the process.

Roads: High intensity be-seen mode. My brightest front and rear flashing LED's are on at all times. I turn them off when entering a trail for the obviously stated reasons of being annoying. We're not trying to make sure we see each other like on the trail. We're trying to make sure the morons in cars see us. They're bigger, faster, and have a lot more going on. Raise the control rods baby.

Night: High intensity see-where-you're-going mode in addition to the applicable road/trail flashers listed above. I need to see where I'm going whether I'm on the road or the trail so the headlight shouldn't be any different either way. Its important to be courteous to other trail users. Just like you dim your glaring high beams in a car, you need to dim or lower your headlight if it is glaring and blinding other people on the trail. Either aim lower permanently or be able to move or dim it. There is NO viable excuse for blinding other trail users so you can see a 1/2 mile behind them. Bright is great. Control rods up. Light that bitch up. But be in control of it and don't be a jerk with it.

WillStewart makes a good point about intersections. In my previous life before moving here when I was a firefighter/EMT, I was the O&M guy for the warning lights and sirens on the trucks so I know a thing or two about this concept. Front facing warning lights won't do jack at an intersection. You need lights that face sideways. So either the light is on your helmet and you look left and right to make it happen, or you install side facing lights on the front of the bike. I'll be doing the latter just for giggles, it is going to be ridiculous. And regardless of what you do, you still need to slow being prepared and able to stop at the intersection to positively acknowledge that there is no cross traffic or that traffic sees you and has granted you the right of way. If you blow through an intersection (cross walk or not) without slowing/stopping to confirm it is clear and someone runs your ass over, I have no sympathy for you.

In this case, he did everything right. Slowed, stopped, waited, traffic was confirmed stopped. Other people also did the same. Began crossing. Car abruptly moved forward from a stop while in the middle of crossing because she wasn't paying attention. Other than attaching side facing warning lights, some things will always be unavoidable hazards.

JeffC
10-27-2011, 08:48 AM
I have a Planet Bike helmet light that I either set to flash or constant. It is not strong, only about 70 lumens I imagine but does shine on exactly what I am looking at. I know it will not blind other riders. At dawn/dusk I keep it flashing just so I can be seen.

On my handlebars I have a Deal Extreme P7 flashlight with 5 settings. The highest is 900 lumens but that blinds people so I only use it rarely plus it wears out the rechargeable in under an hour. I find that the medium setting at 450 lumens is just right with the helmet light providing some extra power for precisely what I am looking at.

People need to be aware of how bright their lights are. On my high setting, I quickly get drivers flashing their high beams at me and bikers complaining, justifiably so, so I hardly use it. I have complained to other bikers about their lights being too bright and possibly causing an accident thereby negating the very safety they are seeking, seems like most are too ignorant to understand that by the responses I get.

One very easy thing you can do if you think your light is too bright (or even if it is not too bright) is to cover your handlbar light with your hand a few seconds before you approach an oncoming biker/walker. At that point, they know you are there but will not get blinded. I do this almost everytime but sadly only see a few others do it in return. Thanks to all those that do this, I think it should be a rule of trail.

Joe Chapline
10-27-2011, 09:03 AM
This might be obvious, but I haven't seen it mentioned. I keep the handlebar-mount adjusted so that I can change the angle of the light, and I point it down when that's appropriate. That seems easier than covering the light with my hand. I've never had a problem with the mount getting looser with any of the lights I've used.

JimF22003
10-27-2011, 09:34 AM
the new Serfas light I bought is designed to pivot left and right, so it's easy to aim off to the side. It's fixed vertically however. One nice thing about the magicshine light with the o-ring mount was how easy it was to shift up and down.

JeffC
10-27-2011, 10:02 AM
This might be obvious, but I haven't seen it mentioned. I keep the handlebar-mount adjusted so that I can change the angle of the light, and I point it down when that's appropriate. That seems easier than covering the light with my hand. I've never had a problem with the mount getting looser with any of the lights I've used.

I do that as well. It stays reasonably well adjusted but sometimes bumps can jar it a bit, better to be pointed a bit low than high. However, unless you adjust it constantly, I still think it is better to cover with your hand because subtle elevation changes can be the difference between blinding somebody (especially when you are going slightly downhill and somebody is approaching you coming uphill) or not. Think about it when you are driving a car as well, a car approaching you from a higher elevation will appear to have its high beams even though it does not. The same principle can occur on a bike.

rcannon100
10-27-2011, 02:17 PM
I would simply say Tip of the Hat to all y'all thinking about this and taking consideration. It's a good thing to be thinking about how our biking, even when we are trying to be safe, impacts others.

WillStewart
10-29-2011, 03:10 PM
For visibility from the side, does anyone use Monkey lights (http://www.monkeylectric.com/) or the equivalent?

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StopMeansStop
10-29-2011, 09:05 PM
Vis 360 on the helmet, which has front, side and rear lights. I use blinky mode on trails and roads at dusk. At darkness I use high or low on trails only and blinky on roads.

Handlebar has a minewt. Blinky on roads, high/low on trails after dusk. I try and aim all lights away from trail users.

Drivers that might threaten my safety or right of way get the helmet lights RIGHT IN THEIR EYES.

WillStewart
10-30-2011, 07:43 AM
One more thing for people who are really distracted by approaching cyclists lights... Wearing a cycling cap with a little visor under your helmet can allow you some protection. You can tip it down enough so that you still have good view of the road in front of you, but you're not having to look directly into the approaching headlight.

This also helps to keep the morning/evening low angle sun out of a person's eyes, especially on a recumbent.