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October 2, 2012 No comments

Bright Lights, Big City...

Bicycles Urban Cycling
Bright Lights, Big City...

Owner reckons he could flash a Morse message to the International Space station and get a reply.

As more and more people take to two human powered wheels for their commute, the question of getting home in one piece has possibly never been so relevant for so many. So with autumn drawing in and night gradually falling sooner, at Boultbee Towers we recently turned our attention to the matter of keeping one's bike lit up in the dark.

Portioning out blame and/or levels of responsibility among the totality of a city's road users (its pedestrians, commute cyclists, messengers, motorcyclists, car drivers, taxi drivers, bus drivers and van/truck drivers, say) is normally of little physical benefit to anyone in hindsight of an accident.

Was this a bright idea? Globars have apparently gone into production.

And while many cyclists like to see themselves near the top of the Moral Food Chain when it comes to ways of getting around town, it's an undeniable fact that they are fairly low down the pecking order of Things That Can Damage A Juggernaut, regardless of how bright or dark the streets are.

Of course, the counterintuitive, parallel-universe argument that goes something like "If cyclists weren't allowed use lights at all, then motorists would have to drive that much more carefully" may have something going for it, but we suspect it's not going to become enforceable any time soon.

Most countries, furthermore, are still some distance from the magical Scandinavian (where else?) Tipping Point.

These guys can reasonably be allowed to go overboard with the lumens in their lights, can't they?

The MSTP is a state of affairs which comes about when almost everyone driving a car in a given area is intimately acquainted with someone who rides to work or school there each day. This connexion somehow causes the number of accidents between bicycle and motor vehicle to dramatically diminish.

To this end let's just agree to agree that a bike which can be seen from some way off by other road users in the dark, is probably a better bike to be riding on than one... less immediately visible?

The "lumen" is our unit of brightness, and we calculate lumens by measuring a light source's "candelas". A candela is (rather quaintly) measured as the amount of light emitted by a candle, so when we factor in the scope of the light thrown by multiplying our candelas by the angle of emission we get a lumens total for a light source.

Over at Rivendell, no less a Voice Of Reason than Grant Petersen reckons 75 lumens is sufficient brightness for a light on a bike in the city. This is something worth bearing in mind in a world where a 3000 lumens bike light is no longer considered something extraordinary.

Admittedly it's also down the far end of the scale, and such equipment is intended primarily for riding trails at night, but there's no law against selling it to commuters. And judging by first hand and anecdotal evidence, many city riders seem sure that brighter is better. Higher, too.We couldn't figure out how to intelligently phrase a question about lunar luminosity.

We mention "higher", because the increasingly popular practice of strapping a headlamp to your, um, head has divided opinion rather strongly.

Advocates maintain that they feel very safe while riding, able, as they are, to ride straight lines, yet illuminate in all directions, much like a prison guard throwing a searchlight along the fence.

Opponents say the unpredictability of an individual rider's head movements (as well as its initially confusing height in complete darkness) means this feeling of safety comes at the expense of anybody who happens to get caught suddenly by his beam (3000 lumens, perhaps), be it a motorist, oncoming cyclist, or someone crossing on foot.

Even the tiniest Lights from Knog running on half-empty batteries give everyone who's paying even a little attention enough advance warning of your arrival, or more passively, of your mere existence.

Thirty quid will get you Grant-Petersen-approved street luminosity in nearly any bike shop, analog or digital. Jeeves it if you don't believe us.

A little over a ton will put you safely taking blind corners any moonless midnight on the trail. Jeeves it...

Of course, if batteries are repugnant to your environmental or organizational sensibilities, for a few dollars more you can get one of these. Not cheap by any standard, but universally admired. And still considerably less expensive than the one at the top of the page...

Not to be confused with the Schmidt Industries SON...