17th September 2015

Light up your life – and be seen by other road users


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While summer came late to Scotland this year, the first signs of autumn are already on show. This is especially evident if you are a cyclist – and twice in the last week I’ve had to switch on my bikes lights for an evening ride home.

The change in seasons means you’ll need to be seen on your bike. It makes sense for your own safety – and also shows consideration for other road users – to fix bright and modern lights to your bike.

Morning and evenings in autumn and winter will require bike lights (by law – see below) and even during the daytime on dull and overcast days. We experience a few of these at this time of year!

The first task is to discover where you stashed your front and rear bike lights after a winter of use last year. If you’re a cyclist who meticulously stores their bike kit, you’ll know exactly where all your lights can be found in your home.

It’s important to change bike light batteries or re-charge batteries and to make sure the lights have made it through a summer of not being used. Check that the lights do as they once promised on the packet and that they are bright and long-lasting. They should also comply with UK legal requirements (see below).

Then again, if you’re a cyclist, like me, who keeps bike gear in a dozen different places and you’re struggling to find last year’s lights, now is the perfect time to buy a few new and well-chosen items.

The wonders of modern bike lights

Bike lights have improved in so many ways in recent years. Without being excessively more expensive – and sometimes they are now cheaper than before – you’ll find that lights are generally lighter, brighter, longer-lasting and more compact.

Lezyne Hecto Drive 300 XL

Lezyne Hecto Drive 300 XL

For example, a new 300 lumen Lezyne USB rechargeable light has a price tag of £30. A few years ago it would have cost more than £100 for this kind of light output.

There is a dizzying array of lights for the front and back of your bike, from a wide range of brands, with CatEye, Lezyne and Moon Lights in particular offering exceptional ‘bang for your buck’. Additional lights can be attached to rucksacks, helmets, bike spokes, arms and legs.

Choosing your lights will depend on how much you want to spend, how keen you are to be seen by other road users and where you are cycling, for example on or off-road and according to different levels of ambient light.

Bike lights for all occasions

Easy to recharge: Some bike lights have batteries that are rechargeable but the biggest advance in easy-to-recharge bike lights comes in the form of a direct USB cable connected directly into the internal bike light battery.

USB recharging makes it very simply to keep lights fully charged and doesn’t require a separate battery charger or plugged cable.

See Moon Led Rear Light Crescent Cob and CatEye Led Rear Light Rapid X TL-700.

The Lezyne Hecto Front LED Light goes a step further and boasts a rechargeable USB stick that means you never have to carry a cable or wonder where you mislaid it.

Bright and bold: If street lights are limited or you want to ride off-road in the dark, a powerful front light is an essential item of kit. These lights were once huge and pricey but they are now far more compact and affordable.

Bright front lights make it possible to extend your mountain biking throughout the winter.

The CatEye Volt 800 Front USB RC Light and Lezyne Power Drive 900 XL Front Light are bright enough to light up the road or path ahead like a dipped car headlight.

CatEye Volt 800 Front USB RC Light

CatEye Volt 800 Front USB RC Light

Safer safety: Add an extra dimension to your bike lighting with a Blaze Laserlight. This innovative UK design combines a 300-lumen light with a laser beam projection that gives fellow road users advance warning of your approach by projecting a green direct-diode bike symbol six metres in front of you.

Back to the future: Back lights should be red and bright. See, for example, CatEye LED Rear Light Rapid 3, Moon Led Rear Light Lunar and Cat Eye Rapid Mini Rear RC Light.

Something new: Moon Pulsar Rear Light is a next generation COB LED rear bicycle light with an impressive 25 lumen for a price tag of just £14.99.

The Niterider Sentinel 40 Rear Light offers 40 lumen of light and creates “laser lanes” to encourage traffic to pass with care. Road.cc gave this innovative light a rating of 4/5.

Know the law on bike lights

In the UK, it’s illegal to cycle on a public road after dark without lights and reflectors. Exactly which lights and reflectors, where to fit them and when to light up, is defined by the Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations.

It’s not that easy to work out from the various regulations and amendments exactly what you are required by law to use for bike lights and the chances are that if you have a bright white light at the front and a bright red light at the rear you will not fall foul of the police.

This is also presumably the case with pedal reflectors. While the law requires front and rear reflectors on pedals most clipless pedals do not have these. Some bike shoes have reflectors in-built but not many.

However, if you are involved in an accident at night, any slight illegality with respect to your lights or reflectors may be regarded as contributory negligence so it’s worth knowing what the law requires.

RVLR: Nine salient points

  • Lights (and reflectors) are required on a pedal cycle only between sunset and sunrise.
  • Lights (and reflectors) are not required when the bike is stationary or being pushed along the roadside.
  • When they are required, the lights and reflectors must be clean and working properly.
  • Front lights must be white and positioned centrally or offside, up to 1500mm from the ground, aligned towards and visible from the front.
  • Front lights must be capable of emitting a steady light and they must be marked as conforming to BS6102/3 or an equivalent EC standard. If capable of emitting only a flashing light, it must emit at least 4 “candela”.
  • Rear lights must show a red light, be positioned centrally or offside, between 350mm and 1500mm from the ground, at or near the rear, aligned towards and visible from behind.
  • Rear lights must be capable of emitting a steady light and marked as conforming to BS3648, or BS6102/3, or an equivalent EC standard. If capable of emitting only a flashing light, it must emit at least 4 candela.
  • A rear reflector is required. It must be red and marked BS6102/2 (or equivalent), positioned centrally or offside, between 250mm and 900mm from the ground, at or near the rear, aligned towards and visible from behind.
  • Four pedal reflectors required, coloured amber and marked BS6102/2 (or equivalent), positioned so that one is plainly visible to the front and another to the rear of each pedal.

The exceptions

Moon Led Rear Light Crescent Cob

Moon Led Rear Light Crescent Cob

  • Bikes manufactured before October 1990 can have any kind of white front lamp that is visible from a reasonable distance.
  • Pre-October 1985 cycles don’t need pedal reflectors

The extras

  • Extra lamps and reflectors are legal so long as they are the right colour and in the right position. That is, white at the front and red at the rear.
  • These extra lights do not have to comply with any standards, but it’s illegal to use some designs of lamp or reflector that have specific other uses.

Flashing allowed?

The 2005 RVLR amendment finally allowed the legal use of a flashing light on a pedal cycle, provided it flashes between 60 and 240 times per minute (1 – 4Hz). Even better, a flashing light is above the law without any other static lights.

Go the extra mile

It’s not only lights that will help to keep you safe on darker mornings and nights. Wearing a hi-viz cycling jacket, adding a hi-viz vest, covering your rucksack in a hi-viz cover or attaching reflective arm and leg bands will add to your visibility and give other road users a better chance of spotting you.

Be safe, be seen.

Fiona Russell

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