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It’s that time of year again. The autumnal equinox and daylight-savings are behind us. Winter solstice will be here soon. Night-time is officially longer than day-time and before 5pm I’m not the only geek with lights on my bike.
I’m actually impressed with a lot of the bike-lights I’ve been seeing on the road, at least on the bikes with lights. On the other hand, here’s a compilation of Wellington bicyclists who don’t quite get the “lights thing” -
As it says in those video descriptions: You’re looking for a cyclist. Motorists aren’t.
One of the problems with choosing a good bike light is that they ALL look bright when you’re standing in the bike-shop, holding the light at arm’s length and pointing it at your face. This doesn’t really mean much when you’re on the road, in a dark and rainy night, and the driver behind you is doing “important” things, like eating a burger and sending a txt.
We all like to think that the lights on our bike are conspicuous and “make drivers see us” but you have to do the experiment: Have a friend ride your bike a few hundred metres up and down a busy street, after dark, while you watch. Does the bike get lost in visual noise? Is it noticeable if you’re looking for it? Or is it conspicuous?
Simon and the gang at GWRC have tested a big pile of lights that are available locally for less than $100. Better yet, you can pick up a discount voucher for lights at the GWRC offices (142 Wakefield St – Ask for some free reflective tape while you’re there).
NZTA’s official road code for cyclists lists the requirements for lights. The important thing is that front and rear lights that are visible from 100m is a minimum requirement. Bicycle lights, even on a modest budget, can now easily put that “visible from 100m” requirement to shame.
On a related note, police in Wellington have, over the last few weeks, been doing bicycle light checkpoints (they may also check your helmet). More of these check-points are scheduled, so make sure you qualify for a chocolate, not a ticket.
A note on battery maintenance: Avoid lights that use “button” or “coin cell” batteries; it’s often cheaper to replace the light than the battery and they’re the weakest lights you can buy. For lights that use AA or AAA batteries, invest in ni-mh rechargeable batteries and a charger. When the batteries go flat it’ll cost a few cents to recharge them and you’re not filling a landfill with dead batteries. Many of the newer lights have built-in li-ion batteries and USB charging.