Sunday, February 12, 2017

2017: It's Time to Light Up

It is more important than ever for bicyclists to take steps to be seen. On a daily basis, society’s tacit acceptance of distracted driving needlessly put bicyclists, pedestrians and other motorists at risk. Some trends in cycling, like all black clothing, and minimalist gear on lightweight bikes have also tended to minimize our visibility on the road. However, the latest improvements in bicycle light technology now make daytime running lights readily available for all cyclists. I want to encourage every bicyclist who rides on streets and roads to consider using daylight running lights for the upcoming riding season.

One of my Bontrager Flare R taillights.
Daytime running lights for bikes, both taillights and headlights, are designed to be visible up to half mile or more, in bright sunlight. The daylight taillight I now ride with provides an intense, focused light with an intermittent flash pattern (dot-dot-dot-dash-dash), visible of almost 2/3 of mile in bright sunlight. What does the mean for a car and bike interaction? A car driving at 50 miles per hour travels the length of a football field (100 yards) in about 5 seconds. If you ride with a taillight visible for 2/3 of a mile, that is almost 12 football fields. That means a driver may be alerted to your presence up to a minute before they overtake you. And after almost a full season or road riding with the Bontrager Flare R, I believe it is changing driver behavior. And other cyclists I have talked to have seen similar changes.

While riding with a daylight tail-iight for my commuting and recreational road riding, I have seen overtaking drivers giving a full lane when passing, and waiting to pass when the view is obstructed or when there is oncoming traffic. We have not had a high speed close pass since using these lights. And I have seen the same change in driver behavior while riding in rural and urban situations.

I have almost always had an LED taillight on my bike since they were introduced over 20 years ago. I did this because I do a lot of early morning and late evening rides. I would also ride with my taillight on when riding on tree-shaded roads, in fog and rain, or if traffic seemed heavy. (I have also tried to stay as up-to-date with my lights for my early morning and evening bicycle commuting.)

One experience that was a revelation about daytime running lights came while bicycle touring across Illinois in 2014. Road availability left me with a 10-mile stretch on a shoulder-less, 2-lane state highway. I had a typical AA taillight on my bike, but before I started rolling, I decided to take my “emergency” headlight, which had a strobe mode, and strapped it on my panniers facing overtaking traffic. I was riding ready for that close-pass, expecting it not out of malice, but just because that is what happens on rural highways.

But in those 40-45 minutes, almost every single car and truck, probably over 50 vehicles, gave me a full lane, or well over 3 feet in passing. Yes, that is what motorists are supposed to do; and I never let my guard down, but it was just a relief that I never had a mirror off my shoulder, a blaring horn, or felt the need to dive for the shoulder. Anecdotal, yes, but making an effort to be more visible seemed to pay off.

I will admit, I did not change behavior immediately after this experience, but I did start using the lights I had more frequently, though none I had were daylight rated (most LED lights for night use are a between 15 1o 25 lumens), and I looked into some upgrades. In early 2015, Trek’s Bontrager brand introduced the Flare R Taillight, designed specifically with a daylight riding mode. I purchased my first one in the spring of 2016. We began using it on our tandem and we soon added a second for our household of bikes, so that I wasn’t juggling between my commuter, road bike and the tandem, and to have two fully charged for longer rides (including RAIN and a fall century). I will probably add a third, trying a different brand, this spring.

I have also decided to now use a daytime headlight, for forward visibility; however, I am not riding with a simple strobe. I have a Bontrager headlight, the Ion 700, which has a daylight mode with a dot-dot-dot-dash-dash pattern like their taillight. The impact on driver behavior is not as dramatic, but as we approach intersections, cars are giving us a second look. Living in Carmel, we ride a lot of roundabouts, and I believe the headlight helps us safely navigate our way through those.

While there is not yet an industry definition of a Daytime Running light for bikes, the characteristics to look for include:

· At least 50 lumens, with red for taillights
· An irregular or varying flash pattern
· A runtime of 3 hours or more in daylight mode

Expect to pay $40 or more; the Flare R is $60. Most are USB rechargeable, and in daylight mode, the Flare R will run over 5 hours on a full charge.

I mention the Bontrager line, because that is the light I currently have experience with. One other note is that John Burke, the president of Trek Bicycle, tasked his engineers to come with better daytime visibility solutions, and that is discussed on the Trek website ( Trek/Bontrager is offering both urban and rural/road daytime running lights.

Two other lights that receive good reviews for daytime taillights are the NiteRider Solas 150 Rear Bike Light, and the Cygolite Hotshot series.  The website Bicycle Light Database (  is a pretty good starting point if you are looking for more information on other lights that will work as daytime running light solutions..

I know that many will be skeptical, and not see the need, or want another complication to the joy of simple riding. However, alerting drivers that we are out there, and taking serious steps to be visible, will be good for all cycling. I was also reminded about another group that was skeptical about making changes for safety. In the late `60’s, just a few years before I started riding, I recall my Dad complaining about having to add the first Slow Moving Vehicles triangles to all his farm and construction equipment; but almost immediately, there were a fewer tragedies in the local news, and if anything, farm equipment uses even more safety lighting today.

Daytime running lights will not replace the need for vigilant, common sense riding skills, or the need for every driver to respect the rights of cyclists. But they certainly are a tool that helps. This is NOT to say we, as law abiding cyclists, are responsible for these incidents of careless or reckless driver behavior; however we need to take every step we can to protect ourselves, our family and friends. Please consider riding the roads and streets with daytime running lights this season.

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  1. Thank you for this informative article.

  2. I have started to notice these daylight running lights on bikes around our community. They made an impression on me.

  3. But please shut them off when riding on restricted ways like bike paths. Being blinded by a brilliant oncoming headlight for what seems like ages or being subjected to the flash of a bright taillight for many minutes while slowly overtaking is really tiresome and annoying.

  4. I like the concept of DRL (Day Time Running Lights) for bikes, but the I have two issues with the flashing mode:

    1. They are horrible for a cyclist drafting you. So only practical when riding alone.

    2. Studies have shown that drunk drivers are drawn to a flashing light more than a steady light, resulting in more drunk driver collisions.

    The constant power drain does call for a generator hub or solar cell. Or you have to recharge batteries every ride.

    I have found bright colored jerseys - yellow, lime green, orange, flash green, etc. - to be very useful in getting drivers attention.