Riding Headlights/Taillights: Robert’s Picks

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Now that week night group rides are essentially over (till next year), there are actually a few group rides that still go on all year round.  That means they are now starting out in the dark and returning in the dark.  Yes, the majority of recreational cyclists tend to hang up their bikes during this time of year and mainly ride on the weekends; they just don’t like the thought of riding at night.  That’s OK.  But, as a cycling coach, I have found what seems to be a link between these cyclists and riding in the dark, especially after polling them for over 10 years to find out why.  The overwhelming link is their lack of confidence on the bike, coupled with not being able to easy see around them, just makes it worse.  Other responses include them not having a tolerance for colder temperatures and not knowing roads very well (and there are many others) but the biggest one is confidence.

There are a few ways to address a lack of confidence:  1.  learn balancing, handling and control skills for cycling (ck out my Riding Skills session), 2.  ride roads in the daytime to familiarize yourself with potholes, etc. before you ever attempt that road at night, and 3.  get a really good headlight that allows you to see everything you need to to safely ride at night.   Yes, you need a taillight but I’ll talk about that later.

With that said, there are 2 kinds of lights:  1.  those that allow you to ‘see’, and 2. those that allow you to be ‘seen’.  They are VERY different.  Let me explain.  If you are riding in total darkness, it doesn’t take much of a light for motorists to see you; you’re in the dark.  To be seen has the focus on the fact you want others to easily notice you.  As I always mention when talking about riding at night, I honestly believe it is easier for cyclists to be seen at night because our lights stand out so easily.  Put us riding along traffic in the middle of the day and the fact is they just don’t ‘see’ us quite as quickly.  Why?  Because we don’t stand out; we are a small object that they don’t expect to come in contact.  But, driving down the road and you see blinking (front and rear) lights, that’s going to catch their attention FAR quicker than in broad daylight.  OK, the 2nd kind of light is one that the focus is on you ‘seeing’ everything in front of you very easily.  The dual benefit of this kind of light is that they are far brighter and therefore, not only allow you greater visibility to ride but they obviously will catch motorists’ attention quicker than the 1st type.  The brighter a light the more attention.  Think of it like dim and high beam setting for your vehicle head lights.  In other words, if you focus on light that allow you to ‘see’, you are actually fulfilling both necessities at the same time.

In my (humble) opinion, I classify lights to ‘see’, as those having 800 lumens and higher.  Hey, there has to be some sort of breaking point, so the one I’ve always used is the 800 mark.  Yes, there are some bright lights that may not have 800 lumens but you have to decide what brightness makes you comfortable.  With technology changing so fast, my 1st headlight was 1000 lumens and that was the highest back when I purchased it.  Probably this time next year, the lumens could be reaching 2,000 or even higher; who knows.

Different lights come with different settings and modes; it all depends on how fancy you like a light and how much you are into theScreen Shot 2014-11-12 at 9.55.39 AM ‘bells and whistles’.  For me, it’s all about one thing: the burn time on the highest setting.  After spending (literally) months comparing lights, my biggest factor was the burn time.  On average, lights with 800 lumens and above, seemed to have a burn time of an hour and a half to two hours.  You could imagine when I ran across the CygoLite TridenX 1300 Xtra OSP  light system that boasted 3.5 hours burn time on their ‘boost’ mode (1300 lumen setting).  Because there were NO close competitors, I actually called the company and spoke to the technical department to personally verify their claim.  After that call, I ordered my light.

My previous light was a Light & Motion and I lost count how many folks thought I was a car coming around the turn.  With my CygoLite, its even moreso.  It has 3 bulbs, which gives you a much better spread of light in front of you and is just absolutely blinding.  Just ask those who I ride with at night and they will all tell you my light is by far the brightest.  They also say the same about my taillight (more on that in a minute).  Personally, I want to create as much safety for me as possible when riding at night.  The brighter a light, the easier it is to see what is in front of me and around to both sides.  Secondly, I want to make sure my light gets motorists attention as quickly as possible and this light absolutely fits the bill.  So, not only am I able to ‘see’ everything, but also I get the attention of motorists.  Like I mentioned above, this light fulfills both aspects of what you want in a headlight.  The other aspect I love about this light is that when the indicator starts blinking that the battery is becoming low, I still have about 1.5 hours of burn time in boost mode.  I love this because if I am in the middle of a ride and the indicator starts blinking, generally I can finish the ride and still have power.  If I know I’ll be riding longer than an hour, I’ll drop the brightest down to the 800 lumen setting and increase that burn time for 2+ hours.  Either way, I’m covered.

Just like my quest for winter gloves, my search for a really bright tail light had me spending lots of money buying what bike shops told me was the brightest light.  After a LOT of hassle buying and returning (some I couldn’t), I stumbled across a tail light that other Screen Shot 2014-11-12 at 10.06.23 AMcyclists tell me that they can’t stand to ride behind be because they are blinded.  One group ride I do year round is on Tuesdays and Thursdays out of Apalachee Cycle in Dacula.  After riding with so many folks and paying attention to the lights they had, by buddy Jim’s tail light was (to me) the brightest one of them all.  Right when I was about to go out and buy that one, is when I ran across the NiteRider Solas 2 watt USB.  I honestly can’t remember how I ran across this light but I was surprised at how small it was to pack such a powerful blast of light.  Also, I’m glad I don’t have to run to Home Depot and buy batteries all the time; just plug this baby into it’s USB charger and I’m ready to go again.  Even the mount allows you to swivel the light and is super easy to mount.  Now, wherever I go to ride at night, the comments are always sure to come about how stinking bright my tail light is.  That just means the motorists behind me will easily see this bad boy blasting light in their face…and ultimately getting their attention.  Actually, when I am pulling at the front, I’ll actually turn off my Solas, so the rider behind me is not constantly blinded.  When I rotate out, I’ll just push the power button and I’m covered.  

In closing, I’ll use my ice cream analogy.  There’s a reason Baskin Robins has 31 flavors; not everybody loves vanilla.  By the way, are they even still in business?  So to is it with head lights and tail lights.  There are countless brands out there and you may have your favorite…which may not be the two I’ve spotlighted as my Picks.  That’s OK, we all can’t expect to like all the same things.  

I’ve logged well over 40,000 miles in the dark and I LOVE it.  To me, it’s very peaceful and quiet.  To me, I can be seen SO much faster (and easier) by motorists but I also wisely pick the roads I ride at night.  During the summer, having the coolness at night after a hot day, is like icing on the cake.  IF you want to venture out, then my suggestion is (if you are in metro Atlanta) go ride inside Stone Mountain Park; it’s a perfect environment to get your (night) legs and confidence to really excel in the dark.

Do you have a cycling topic you would like to ask about or would like for me to write about?  Just send your topic request to robert@mycyclecoach.com and you might be reading about your request right here.

Coach Robert…


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