What your cyclist doesn’t want for Christmas

December 4, 2014 § 45 Comments

He’s already angling. “Honey, we’ll take a family ski trip again this year!”

“Oh, great! The kids will love it and we’ll have some time together,” you say.

“I’m really excited about it! Also, there’s a really cool wheelset I’ve had my eye on for Christmas.”

Or maybe it’s a new frame, or a new electro drivetrain, or whatever. But it’s not something that will save your cyclist’s life every single day: It’s not a full-bore head and rear taillight.

“Oh, Pooky doesn’t need lights!” you say. “I don’t let him ride at night.”

Well, I’m not talking about riding at night. A powerful headlamp with a 4-hour blink mode and a powerful taillight with an equivalent blink time is the single biggest safety upgrade your wanker will never make. If I had to choose between riding without a helmet and riding without my daytime lights, I’d forego the helmet ten out of ten times.

Why? Because in the daytime we are constantly dealing with cagers in front who are exiting driveways, exiting parking lots, pulling away from the curb, turning into traffic, and merging into traffic. The flashing headlamp invariably gets the attention of the few drivers who never even see us and arrests their development.

More importantly, the front flashing headbeam gets the attention of the cagers who already see us, which is the vast majority. The problem is that although they see us, the average cager has terrible depth perception and an even worse ability to judge our speed. That’s why so many drivers look us square in the eye even as they haul out in front of us. We’re on bikes. How fast can we really be?

The flashing headlight has a hypnotic effect on the cager contemplating a quickie pull-out. It pierces the multiple levels of dumb, the thickened callus of maroon, and spears deep into the tiny, pealike structure that devolved from its hominid-like brain. Once the neuron-like signal of “bright flashing light” strikes the tiny, shrunken, dessicated cager brain, it causes a chain reaction. The next thought is “Duh … ” followed by “Flashing light mean danger maybe,” followed by “Keep concrete foot on brake pedal thingy until blinky go bye-bye.”

In the six or seven seconds it takes the cager to process this complex thought, your cyclist honey has zipped on past. I’ve experienced this countless times. The flashing headlamp in daylight works.

The flashing taillight has an even stronger effect on cagers approaching from your honey’s cute and compact rear. The red light screams “DUI checkpoint!” and automatically causes cagers to slow. By drawing their attention to your cyclist’s hunky bottom, the cagers then give a wide berth, or at least the light focuses them long enough not to clip you when they pass.

Do your honey a favor and make sure that he/she gets a pair in his/her stocking.

“But Wanky!” you say. “What kind should I get?”

Glad you asked.

The power of a bike light is measured in lumens. More lumens means more light means more money means fewer purchases of neck braces and Tegaderm. For the headlamp you want a minimum of 500 lumens, but given the low cost you can easily go to 750.

Serfas has an awesome 750 headlamp that clips to the handlebar, recharges with a USB connection, and will stun the average cager for long enough to sneak past his bumper. There’s no reason to get the excellent and $20 cheaper 550. For $160, which is less than a pair of nice bib shorts, less than half a good pair of shoes, and roughly the price of two decent tires, you can equip your wanker with something that will keep him alive.

For your fanny, a great choice is the retina-searing Serfas 80-lumen taillight. This is like a lighthouse beacon combined with a fire engine light and neon strip club sign. It has a blinky mode that will run for hours and keep all manner of bad drivers alert to your existence.

Now, I can hear the objections. “My wanker already has a light!”

I know. I’ve seen it. It’s a puny little blinky thing that you can only see when you’re ten feet away. Please toss these inferior, false-sense-of-security things in the trash. Even if your biker has a good light, say 350 lumens, now is the time to upgrade. Remember, this is the person who thinks nothing of tossing $2k on a pair of wheels that will be toast in a season and that won’t even get him on a podium. When it comes to lights, think “upgrade.” The power goes up every year as the cost goes down. If you’re going to cheapass your bike stuff, cheapass the arm warmers. Don’t skimp on the lights.

The final objection will of course come from the rider himself. “I ain’t riding that during the day. It weighs too much/It looks stupid/I ride with a group/It’s too much of a pain to charge it.”

You can deal with all of these objections by pointing out that your cyclist is a bleeding maroon and telling him that the only time weight and cool matter is on race day. The rest of the time it’s his job to come home alive and in one piece. If you have to, withhold. Girls will know what I mean.

So, there you have it. Merry Christmas!


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§ 45 Responses to What your cyclist doesn’t want for Christmas

  • AA says:

    Check, check, and check. I’ve been on the holy crusade of using a flashing rear light in the day time for ages now. I had been falling in love with Hotshot Cygolite up till last night. That thing has about as much waterproofness as my tablet! I contacted the company on getting something like they advertise. Waiting for an answer. In the mean time, I’m shopping for a replacement and will be looking at your suggestion.

    • fsethd says:

      I’ve had nothing but great results with these Serfas lights. I bought a much more powerful taillight that cost $125, but it didn’t fit my seatpost and fell off. So …

      Anyway, go bright, go big. Stun the cagers, even for a few seconds.

  • Cameron says:

    I am also a big fan of Cygolite HotShot 2 — very nice light, and the Metro 550 is a very bright light comparable to the Serfas. Both made by Cygolite, both on Amazon–together around $100. No excuses.


  • skinewmexico says:

    The Niterider Solas 2 watt tailight is pretty awesome in daytime. I have to hang it on a saddle bag, due to my non-cylindrical seatpost. You’d think they would figure that out. The Cygolite Hotshot2 is a good one too. Amazing how long they stay charged. And I don’t have one, but according to the extensive headlight review at mtbr.com, Bontrager makes a really good 750 lumen headlight for about $100.

  • Rob says:

    I am starting to see more lights on bikes during daylight hours. It’s about time. And I’m talking about the roadies. I’ve been running the day lights for over a year now and the young guns I ride with now have adopted this habit. The cygolite 500 in the front and the 2 watt hotshot in the back. Make sure those lights are aligned for maximum visibility. I have had cagers compliment me on this. It’s all about reducing risk when you ride and good quality lights help tremendously.
    That Serfas tl-80 and 60 kick ass. Dinotte is the brightest out there but it comes with a hefty price tag. Be safe.

    • fsethd says:

      Nice! There a huge difference between being seen and having someone react to seeing you. The lights work.

  • Sandy Hackney says:

    Dear Wanky,

    Great advice! My wife and I each have 2-3 rear blinkers on our bikes and one on the top of our helmet. We haven’t come to the front flashers yet in part because we ride in a very rural area with few intersections, but we’ll think about it.

    One other thing I would very, very strongly suggest is one of those little 1 inch square rear-view mirrors on your glasses or helmet. Some say it is nerdy, but they are dead wrong and I do mean they can be dead. I feel naked when I forget them. You don’t have to rely on your ears or try to constantly turn around. A mere flick of the eye just like the outside mirror on your car and you know what’s up.

    Do it!

    Finally, you gotta let up on the IPA scene and see where it is really at for bicycle fuel: wine! Do that, too!

    • fsethd says:

      Many people swear by mirrors, and if it works for you, great!

      For me, switching wine for beer at this particular moment is like switching potassium chloride injections for a firing squad.

      • Rob says:

        The Third Eye mirror that sticks on the inside of your sunglasses is a must. The key is to align it properly with your eye. It takes a few attempts but once you get it, it’s gold. I have been using it for two years now. It adds a huge safety benefit while on the bike by allowing you to monitor what’s behind you. I used to rely on my hearing for that but who was I kidding. It’s also fun when someone tries the sneak attack move. Later, they ask, “how did you know I was back there.”

    • Tom says:

      When I see cyclists with those helmet mirrors, I have visions of their eye being punctured by a broken mounting bracket, if the cyclist crashes or falls.
      I suppose riding with awls or screwdrivers taped to your helmet might be more risky, but not by much.

  • GT says:

    Notch up another Cygolite Hotshot 2 fan.

    I prefer mine on solid beam to avoid the Moth Effect, http://www.ccwlawyers.com/blog/2011/09/moth-effect-and-how-it-suggests-that-bicyclists-put-themselves-in-danger.shtml

  • 900aero says:

    I use these – they are very good and not expensive.


  • 900aero says:

    PS: Shield on the back, meteor on the front.

    Clothing with reflective details/highlights is always good for morning/evening too. You don’t need to look like a Guantanamo resident but primary colours and glow helps.

  • Les.B. says:

    Yup, yup, 101.05%

    Screaming down a descent southbound PCH, constant lookout for peds, dogs, doors, pullouts, surfboards etc.

    Out of nowhere: Prius passes me then stops ahead of me next to the line of parked cars, in what would be the bike lane. Hit the brakes too hard, rear wheel goes airborne. Regain control, have <1sec to decide; swerve into traffic lane, or try a squeeze between Prius and parked car, or more brakes. 3 bad choices.

    Allofa sudden the Prius pulls away; arse is saved for the day.

    Had a 220 lumen white blinker in front. Maybe that showed up in her rear-view mirror?

  • DangerStu says:

    Last time I was having my eye checked my doctor to of a scary fact, the typical healthy 70 year old brain on processes about 3 frames a second, basically making Cyclist invisible as they don’t Change there position in the field of view enough to trigger a reaction, blinky lights are about the only way you stand a chance of being seen by 70 > motorists in certain conditions.

  • RichM says:

    Hey, big spender. If you don’t mind ordering from China, there are some fantastically bright bike lights for less than 50 bucks at dx.com (and free shipping) . I’m quite happy with the one I bought there, and I often have to put it on low power to avoid blinding people.

  • Tobylima says:

    Excellent post Seth and very sound advice. Sandy’s suggestion regarding those little mirrors is also a good one and I think I’ve pestered you about them before. You would not believe how much you can see and how it improves your awareness of what is coming up behind you. The Bike Peddler “Take a Look” mirror is the best that I’ve found. I’ve got some extras if you ever want to give them a try.

    As for lighting, I run two Serfas Thunderbolts to the rear, one on the seatpost and the other on my helmet. I use a white flashing Thunderbolt to the front. For headlights at night I use a 1400 luman Lezyne Mega Drive self contained light on my handlebar and a Cygolite Expilion 700 on my helmet. The Lezyne offers sufficient light for fast decents and the headlight allows me to direct light into corners and briefly flash light into the eyes of traffic to get their attention.

    You might also check with Jim Pappe about what he is using for a rear tail light. He was on the 6:00 am ride today and that thing is crazy bright.

    If you are riding at night, its also important to remember the Vehicle Code requires specific reflector placement and color, which is not fulfilled by rear or side battery powered lights. The good news is that its not necessary to dig out those clunky plastic reflectors you ripped off your bike when it was new. All of the reflector requirements can be achieved by using stratigically placed Scotch Lite and reflective ankle bands.

    When it comes to being seen, more is better.

    • AA says:

      The mirror you mentioned states in the description of it, “Frameless acrylic mirror provides a wide, uninterrupted field of vision”. I’m guessing the mirror is mylar? I’m not crazy about the optics of plastic mirrors. There’s one similar to this setup that uses a glass mirror. I have it but I haven’t put it through the test yet, as I don’t really feel that strong about having a mirror yet. Just don’t have a burning desire to look that nerdy either. I always dress where I can blend into the walking public where ever I’m going. Don’t have a burning desire to look like a billboard either!

      Would be great to see a review on mirrors out there. And no, I haven’t searched for one yet.

    • fsethd says:

      The last time I saw Jim he was riding a motorcycle with two bicycle strapped to it.

    • Tom says:

      re “little mirrors’ on helmets … I’d like to know how many cyclists lose an eye from mirror brackets jamming into their eye, if they crash.

  • East Coast baby seal says:

    Even in rural/suburban New England, lights work. Since I put my Nite Rider Lumina 700 on the front I’ve gotten many a dirty look from motorists annoyed by 700 lumens flashing in their faces. I just smile. If they’re annoyed at me, they’re aware of me and are unlikely to run me over. I’ve had a couple of near misses clearly avoided because they saw me and stopped, usually when about to turn in front of me.
    I’ve also had a few (including a dead ringer for Santa Clause) stop and compliment the visibility of the light.

    I do need to upgrade the rear light though. I’ve got a Cherry Bomb which is plenty annoying at dusk/night, but I’m not sure It’s bright enough during the day. There have been a few too many (one is really to many) close passings for my comfort, especially now in the Fall when cyclists on the road are precious few, and easily forgotten by oft distracted drivers.

    • fsethd says:

      I used NiteRider for a couple of years before switching to Serfas because of the NiteRider battery pack.

  • JF says:

    Agreement! Been doing the blinky-blink up front (500 lumens) and flashy-flash (2w solas) in back during the day for some time now. Defi-nut-ly makes a difference in driver response. Think daytime running lights on cars = insurance discount.

    Niterider is my brand of choice. Made in China like most krap but they have an office in San Diego with humans that answer phones and provide great service (dropped mine and dislodged the battery).

  • Ewing Taylor says:

    I use a red taillight, five separate diodes right to left, which can be set to slow/one second flash rate, all diodes at the same time. Think this attracts attention best, as the light fades entirely and then blossoms again out of complete darkness. This is the same flash rate used by aircraft and the beacons on towers and other tall structures to warn aircraft. Also, if a light flashes so quickly that it is nearly continuous, it becomes more difficult to determine the position of the flashing object relative to your own vehicle. Again, more aircraft studies.
    Ewing Taylor, Rockville MD

  • skinewmexico says:

    All your great blogs, isn’t it amazing that this one gets the most comments?

  • egress91506 says:

    You should add Dinotte to your Santa list. I’ve ridden behind people with these lights during the day and their visibility was amazing.


  • East Coast baby seal says:

    A pretty good collection of light reviews: http://reviews.mtbr.com/category/lights-shootout

    Largely targeted at trail MTB riders, but some road/commuter candidates are there as well.

  • […] Within $100 you will be getting a brighter, USB rechargeable light set, or a pretty bright front light on its own. Rear lights don’t tend to get frightfully expensive as their main job is to catch the eye rather than light up the road 300m ahead. If the person already has a decent rear light, a better front light is always welcome. […]

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