A Guide to Cycling at Night – Part 1: Lights

As the nights draw in and the days grow shorter regular or new commuters may find themselves cycling in the dark.

Don’t panic! There is no reason to stop cycling when its dark. Riding at night is safe if you can be seen and can see where you are going.

Studies have found that drivers at night-time give cyclists a wider berth when overtaking. Your white front and red rear cycle lights remind them that you too are sharing the space and are traffic.

There are a lot of options available with night-time visibility on a bike, for now we will look at the lighting options.

Firstly, the law…

The minimum legally required equipment for riding a bike at night in the UK

  • A front lamp showing a white light, positioned up to 150cm from the ground and facing forwards. If capable of emitting only a flashing light, it must emit at least four candela (a unit of light intensity, comfortably exceeded by modern lights). If capable of emitting a steady light, the light must comply to BS6102/3 standards
  • A rear lamp showing a red light, positioned between 35cm and 150cm from the ground, facing rearwards. If capable of emitting only a flashing light, it must emit at least four candela. If capable of emitting a steady light, it must comply to BS3648, or BS6102/3 standards
  • Rear reflector, coloured red, positioned between 25cm and 90cm from the ground, facing rearwards
  • Pedal reflectors, coloured amber, positioned so that one is plainly visible to the front and another to the rear of each pedal

There are different ways to measure light power, including Lumens and Candela; 

Lumens refers to the total amount of light a lighting apparatus emits whilst Candela refers to the amount of light emitted by a lighting device in a particular direction.

No reputable bike shop in Oxford will sell a bicycle light with less than the legal requirements for brightness. So, avoid cheap lights online, visit your local Oxford Bike Shop and buy legal bicycle lights.

Lights to be seen or to see with?

In my opinion when choosing your bicycle lights the brighter the better, however I understand budget is a factor, so consider if you need lights to see where you are going or to just to be seen with. If you are cycling just within Oxford city the chances are the streets and roads will be lit so you just need to ensure other road users can see you.

…when choosing your bicycle lights, the brighter the better…

If you are likely to ride in more rural areas, for example along the canal paths, parks or meadows you will need lights to see where you are going – you want to avoid any obstacles.

As a general rule the following lumens will be relevant for different types of riding; 

  • Urban commuting; lights whilst riding within city – 50 to 200 lumens
  • Rural riding conditions to see where you are going – 300 to 800 lumens/li>
  • Trail riding (totally off road) 600 lumens+ (the higher the better – personally I use a helmet and bar mounted light for trail riding)

You must also consider your rear lights, make sure they are visible and not covered by any clothing. You can get lights that fit to rear racks (which are normally always at the furthest point of the rear of the bike) as well as frame or seat post fitted lighting. 

Most lights are now LED and require only a small amount of power, lights are powered by three main methods.

  • Standard household batteries – normally cheapest and least bright option
  • USB rechargeable batteries – Very reasonably priced and offer the most options in brightness
  • Dynamo powered (powered as you pedal either from the hub or a bottle generating power against your tyre as it turns)

Pretty much all lights will be available with a constant or flashing light, the laws clear that flashing lights are legal and nowadays most road users associate flashing lights with cyclists. Having lights that flash also helps to conserve the battery life, personally I prefer a constant beam at the front of my bike and two flashing lights at the rear.

At Walton Street Cycles we stock lights for all types of riding and budget. If you need any advice, come in and see the range, we’re always happy to help.

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