How Bright Is Too Bright
For about two full seasons now, I’ve been using a headlight rated at 250 Lumens. I ride with this light all the time, usually in the flasher mode during the day. I want to be seen! Compared to other lights available, I consider this low power and really minimal for commuting.
If I’m riding in the city, I’ve yet to have a problem, but if I’m on one of my favorite bike trails, especially for an evening ride, I see people (usually non-bicyclists) shielding their eyes and I’ve actually had one person yell at me I’m blinding them.
I’ve checked this light for where it is aimed. I have it grounding some 25 – 30 feet in front of my bike. By grounding, I mean that the main cone is aimed there. I still get adequate side lighting and forward view so that when full dark comes, and I switch out of flashing mode, I have what I consider safe visibility for full speed cycling.
Who is at fault here? Am I finding a number of people overly photophobic or is my light really aimed wrong? Personally, I feel my safety is paramount, but I do want everyone to just get along here.
Well, if people are complaining and shielding their eyes, shouldn’t you try pointing the light down? And if you can’t ride as fast as you like with the light pointed down, perhaps you should consider slowing down at night.
I usually cover the light when approaching oncoming joggers and walkers. If you can temporarily shield or aim it lower, that helps and is appreciated.
Others will disagree, but I don’t think there’s any such thing as too bright. This opinion may or may not be informed by an incident that I had with a car back in February where I was apparently not seen despite having about 6 different lights on and despite it still being light out… I want it to be inconceivable that a driver would not see me. Some still won’t, because they aren’t looking, but I want all the lumens I can get.
But — I do really hate getting blinded by people’s insane helmet lights and stuff in places like Panther Hollow, so I try not to do that to people. My solution is that I turn my bright light down to a lower setting (in the 100-lumens-or-less ballpark, and definitely off of flashy mode), and since it is on my handlebars, I tilt it down so that it’s not shining directly into anyone’s eyes. Sometimes, if the trail is really empty, I’ll leave it tilted normally and just tilt it down when I see someone else coming.
I can understand the concern about safety, but I find that just tilting it down and turning the brightness down is a good compromise — and I feel bad that I might be compromising the safety of other cyclists if I’m blinding them so that they can’t see anything. I probably wouldn’t want to engage in a full-out sprint with my light like that, but for reasonable trail speeds, it’s plenty of visibility. Then when I get back on the road, anything is fair game (since car headlights will always be more obnoxious than my bike light)
I find an oncoming flashing light more disruptive to my vision than a steady one…are people complaining while you’re in flashing mode, steady, or both?
Do these same people yell at every on coming car too?
Cars have cutoffs as required by federal DOT standards.
Of course that doesn’t preclude people from aiming them improperly.
Edit: Here’s what a good projector can do:
I’ve thought about building a proper projector for cycling, but I honestly only see one person a month with a light bright enough that would require it.
Anonymous 11/05/2012 at 4:05pm #
I have never given anyone a hard time about it, but when I am riding in the city at night on the trails I am frequently momentarily blinded by approaching bicycling lights. I do not think most of the riders are aware of how bright the lights are and that they are causing an issue. I do not know if they are correct, but I have read online blogs that maintain even basic lights can momentarily blind approaching riders. These lights give off far less light then the 100 lumens cited or other lights currently for sale. Etiquette and awareness may be what is needed in the future because the lights sure aren’t going to get less bright. I don’t think you can expect it not to happen. A considerate bicyclist may just not have time or be delirious after a tough ride and not have time to adjust the light to keep it from blinding approaching riders.
Anonymous 11/05/2012 at 4:43pm #
With a 250 lumen light they’re complaining that loudly? I have a 900 lumen I love and use without hesitation on maximal brightness on the trails.
It’s a steady beam (nothing flashing). When there’s someone facing me I do drop the light level to about half, and point the cone down a bit if I can do so conveniently (I’m a klutz, so not always). I also always slow down quite a bit passing people to avoid giving a scare.
But still, that’s a ton more light and nobody has complained to me. Is it just absolutely pitch dark out there? If so, maybe that explains the pupil dilation and discomfort, but if it’s that dark I also have to wonder what someone is doing out there without a flashlight.
@Freakflag A considerate bicyclist may just not have time or be delirious after a tough ride and not have time to adjust the light to keep it from blinding approaching riders.
A lot depends on how the light is pointed and whether it is flashing. I dont’ think you can have a light too bright – but you can have one pointed into people’s eyes.
If people on trails are yelling at you and shielding their eyes, then it is also a problem for drivers.
Think about it – you don’t want to have motorists averting their eyes, if there is some reason they have to pass closely.
When I ride on teh sidewalk, if a pedestrial is coming towards me, I point my light down.
I went on a group ride with someone who had a bright flashing light pointed way to high. On Carson St. you could see it on the retroreflective signs above intersections two or even three blocks away. Sooner or later there will be (and should be) laws against that.
The first time s0omeone suggested a bright helmet light to me, I was utterly appalled. WTF? Some of the reasons I ride are based on community responsibility. As in not supporting oil companies and despotic governments that run on oil money, not runininbg the environment jsut to get places a little faster, tec. Part of community I like is interactiing with people as I travel.
In the last year or so, more and more bikers make it obvious that a wave, a nod, or a bell ring is not completely welcome. I guess it’s one consequence of the growing success of biking in the city.
The first time s0omeone suggested a bright helmet light to me, I was utterly appalled.
Sounds utterly appalling for sure.
Anonymous 11/05/2012 at 6:42pm #
I really see it on the dark city trails. It happens on the jail trail, over on the north side, and the section on the southside going to the Glenwood bridge, so it can be very dark. There is a surprising number of people riding out there at night. There is a homeless guy on a bike who frequents the Glenwwod Bridge section and even he has a light!! Come to think of it, I can’t really remember it happening on city streets with some kind of lighting.
Look online for thousands of observations on lights, some silly and some not so silly. One idea is to mount a light closer down to the front wheel.
I just think most people do not think of it, any problem is momentary and I just kinda grumble and then shrug it off without confronting anyone or yelling at them. Also, it never seems to be a helmet light-always a handlebar mounted light.
The other thing about bright lights is that THAY ARE GREAT!!! Really. It is just amazing how much they help. I had a light die on me at South Park last summer and as a result, took a bad fall. Wow that hurt. Damn light.
Yeah, I really like my dynamo lights. When I got them I stopped worrying about riding at night. It’s not just that they’re bright enough, it’s that I never have to worry about them not working, buying or recharging batteries, etc. They are just always there. So whether it’s dark out or not makes no difference.
^What Jon said.
I usually buy dynamo headlights that adhere to the German standards for road use, so they have a nice asymmetric beam with a cut-off specifically designed to avoid blinding oncoming road users.
With comtemporary dynamo systems, do they still go out as soon as you stop? (Say to make a left turn at a busy intersection)?
There’s a capacitor-driven standlight in the ones I have (Supernova). But it’s not very bright.
@jonawebb – does your supernova have a way to control the maximum brightness or is it always on max brightness?
It’s not adjustable. But like Dan says, there’s a version that cuts off the light to be compatible with the German rules on light pattern so that it doesn’t blind drivers. That’s the one I have, too.
Peter White has some decent beam pattern photos on his website, for both battery-powered and dynamo-powered lights. You’ll be able to see the difference between the symmetric and asymmetric beam patterns pretty easily, especially near the bottom of the page with the E3 shots.
Also, note that some of the headlights with the asymmetric pattern are available in battery versions, not just dynamo.
Thanks for all the replies!
I’m still sticking with my opinion that 250 Lumens is minimal. It is also strange that up until about two moonths ago, no one complained. The vocal complaints are confined to maybe two people and the shielders are also few and far between.
For the record, I’ve tried duplicating the oncoming view by parking my bike with the ligfht on and walking into the beam at various angles. I do not find it glaring or blinding, even looking directly into the light. Lets consider my forward speed plus the forward speed of another cyclist and you get a closing of maybe few seconds. A momentary glace to the side, at worst, should take care of it.
900 Lumens?! Wow! If I did a lot of night riding on serious single track, or was as fast as I used to be, I’d be all over that, but for what I do, I’ve found 250 is fine. I support you if you got more light, though!
I use the flash mode primarily for daylight hours or very early twilight. I’ve read, and unscientifically found, that flashing lights attract more attention than a static light. Come full dark, I switch over as I want to SEE as well as bee SEEN. That’s were the extra brightness come into play.
I used to have various generator lights. I liked them until I had to comp to a full stop. That was before the capacitor aided system someone mentioned were around, so I never tried one of those. I’ve tried the cheaper ones, but they make better flashlights for walking than riding.
Be bright and stay safe!
@jon/dan, where’d you get your dynamo stuff? Peter White? I suspect I am going to want a dynamo setup one day, although I’m trying to keep myself from spending money on it anytime soon. I wish that stuff was more readily available in the U.S.
I ordered mine through QBP. I have a friend who has a friend who can get QBP’s wholesale prices.
If things work out the way I expect I’m going to be switching to Dirk Strothmann’s “Magnic” light system early next year (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/dynamodirk/magnic-light-get-new-energy). So then I’ll have a used dynamo system for sale.
Well, I might just know who you could sell that used dynamo system to when the time comes around. What kind of setup do you have now?
Supernova E3 headlight, E3 taillight, internally wired, Schmidt SON hub + a 700c rim, I think Mavic A719.
There is not too bright. Cars are around 1,500 lumens with normal bulbs, HID’s are 2-3 times that. Asymmetrical or properly aimed it key.
One things I might add, I had a co-worker who commuted by bike only in daylight because he was uncomfortable at night even after he bought a really nice front and rear light. After he purchased a helmet light he had the confidence to ride night or day. He felt much more at ease at night with it. After a few negative comments about it from other cyclist he stopped using it and stopped commuting at night then eventually stopped commuting by bike. I told him if the light gets him on the bike use it. Once he mounted it back on he never stopped commuting again.
@pearmask: I’ve bought two SON dynamo wheels from Peter White. Peter makes damn fine wheels.
That said, you can save a whole lotta money by going with a Shimano hub (slightly less efficient, less than half the price, nicer connectors) instead of the bling-tastic SON. I built one up based on a Shimano dynamo for my commuter, and I can’t tell the difference between that and the SON wheels.
@Mr Marv: I almost always ride with a good helmet light as well. I look for a model with a low-power be seen mode, to augment my dynamo headlight; but also a high-power mode good enough to see by, for use on narrow trails or if my primary light craps out for some reason.
I’m always checking out the vibe of the people around me when I ride. I’m looking for cool, friendly interaction. They mean a lot to me.
Taht also keeps me aware of bad things that might be about to happen, but I’m mainly interested in the positive.
I’m guessing a bright helmet light would preclude most of the good interactions – and prevent me from being aware of human hazards.
I think it’s 32. The rim will need replaced not too soon from now (why do rims wear out now? They never used to.)
But anyway, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I’ll contact you once I’m sure Dirk had delivered on the Magnic light promise.
Yeah, reddan, that’s what I hear. I hear ordering from him can also be a bit of a pain since he doesn’t really do interwebs very well, but if I decide to get one built up, I’ll still consider going through him. I guess I shouldn’t derail this thread too much further into dynamo talk, but next time I see you I might interrogate you further about your setups
@jon, yeah, I was just curious / no pressure / just let me know if you do indeed find yourself with a dynamo surplus sometime in the future
Also I have passed cyclist with super bright blinking lights on trails and streets. I have never been blinded, or crashed, or needed to pull over, they pass in seconds and move on. Even the brightest of lights really haven’t really been a problem. It’s the same thing I tell drivers your only behind me for seconds till you pass. The cyclist passes me then they are gone.
Anonymous 11/06/2012 at 2:49am #
@mm You have your own light, your pupils are not open that wide while walkers relay on their own eyes and no light. It’s much harder to adopt to darkness again after light. It takes minutes.
An article I wrote a year ago.
In StVZO compliant lights, I have used a B&M Cyo T and a B&M Ixon IQ. The latter being a reasonably priced battery light that takes AAs. Both work wonderfully without blinding anyone.
Mr marvelous The cyclist passes me then they are gone.
And the orange spots remain behind.
And possibly the consequences of a driver looking away when they should be tracking you.
Anonymous 11/06/2012 at 3:59am #
I use the Blaze 1W rated at 76 lumens. On the road, I typically use it in the flashing mode which tends to irritate motorists. I’ve been yelled at numerous times, and even caused people to run red lights to get away from it. I pretty quickly adopted a strategy of pointing it away from cars when I am stopped at a light. On trails, I will put it in a steady beam mode, and I’ve once been yelled out by a cyclist who said he was blinded. Once, riding on the jail trail, I was blinded by someone using a light a bit brighter than my own. All I could see was an ultra bright light in front of me until the rider passed. I was able to see in front of me enough to ride, but it was irritating nonetheless. Perhaps pointing the light downward instead of level is the best thing to do?
@brybot Perhaps pointing the light downward instead of level is the best thing to do?
There is no such thing as too bright.
But there is pointing in eyes and blinking.
Unfortunately I have had to do more driving lately than I have in a couple of years.(driving post-op family members around) When driving I notice blinking lights several blocks before steady lights. When coming to an intersection the reflection of the blinking light is noticeable before I can see the bike. I can see the blinking light even if the cyclist is obscured by a building or vehicle. I’ve noticed the steady light tends to blend in with other lights.
Fortunately my car is back in my garage where it belongs now and I’m back on the bike.
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