The Cycle Life

You Have No Excuse Not to Bike with a Light, Day or Night

Specialized and Trek are trying to make daytime lights easy, affordable, and acceptable on the road

You Have No Excuse Not to Bike with a Light, Day or Night

A Danish study found that using bike lights during the day reduced bike crashes by up to 50 percent. Photo: Bontrager

It used to be that blinker lights on road bikes in the daylight were the domain of old men and the terminally nervous. But thanks to the efforts of two of the biggest players in the industry, Specialized and Bontrager (which is under the Trek umbrella), lights are becoming de rigueur for cyclists at any time of day.

Of course, lots of companies have been pushing excellent lights for a long time, including Knog with its rugged Blinder series and NiteRider with its innovate Sentinel taillight that projects laser lanes. But the interest, and resources, of big companies should get even more users on board. 

The thinking is simple: by improving a cyclist’s visibility, lights decrease the rider’s chances of getting hit by a car. This of course makes perfect sense at night—and lights on bicycles are required for dusk or nighttime riding in all 50 states. But the there’s no mandate for the use of daytime running lights (DRL) for cyclists, largely because there’s been little research on their effectiveness.

The evidence we do have, however, is persuasive. According to traffic statistics out of the United Kingdom, around 80 percent of cycling accidents occur during daylight hours—similarly high numbers are reported in research across Europe. And the League of American Bicyclists recently showed that 40 percent of fatal bike accidents are a result of rider being struck from behind. The peer-reviewed data to support the effectiveness of DRLs for bikes is scant, but one 2005 Danish study of 2,000 cyclists claimed that all-day lights reduced crashes by between 30 and 50 percent.

In motor vehicles, the effectiveness of daytime running lights has been demonstrated repeatedly, with the U.S. Department of Transportation showing that their use reduced opposite-direction, daytime collisions among cars by 7.9 percent. The decrease in motorcycle-car collisions was even more startling: 26 percent lower when motorcycles used lights. “If you take a look at motorcycles, they’ve got lights on all day long. Bicycles should be no different. People should be able to see you all the time,” says John Burke, president of Trek Bicycles.

Beyond visibility, DRLs could also protect you legally in case of an accident. If you have a collision after dark and you’re not using a light, it’s likely you’ll get the blame no matter the circumstances. So running lights demonstrate that you are taking precautions to avoid an accident. “Anytime a cyclist can say they were doing everything right, such as riding in a bike lane, wearing bright colored clothing, bright helmet, reflective gear, it decreases the chances of blame or fault being apportioned to the rider,” says Megan Hottman, a Golden, Colorado-based attorney specializing in cyclists’ rights through her company “So the addition of blinking lights in the daytime helps bolster the case for the cyclist.” Hottman cautions that daytime lights won’t determine the outcome of any case, but they could help. 

With so many distractions for drivers these days (think: built-in computer systems, in-vehicle TVs, and ubiquitous cell phones), even the possibility that a $60 or less investment could keep you safer should make full-time running lights a no-brainer for cyclists. “These days, I always ride with lights during the day, and I insist that all loved ones do the same,” says Michael Browne, brand manager for Bontrager. “A helmet is a great thing. But not getting hit by a car is even better.”

Bontrager Flare R ($60)

  Photo: Bontrager

The USB-rechargeable Flare R taillight is said to be visible from over a mile away during the day. The 65-lumen CREE LED provides 270-degree visibility and will last 4.5 hours on the flashing daytime mode, with run times up to 23 hours in the least powerful of the five settings. There’s also a battery-save mode that kicks in when the charge drops below five percent so that you can get home with at least a little bit of light out back. The light straps on with a stretchy, rubberized quick-connect bracket, which also makes it easy to pull it off and bring it inside to charge. It’s not the trimmest light out there, and we’ve had some durability issues with the mountain bracket coming loose. However, it’s definitely the brightest unit we’ve found.

Specialized Stix Sport Combo ($55)

  Photo: Specialized

Specialized has a very good taillight, the Flux, that competes with Bontrager’s Flare R, but it’s the company’s trim new Stix lights that we really love for their ease of use and low cost. The Stix Sport Combo includes a 70-lumen headlight that gets 1.5 hours on steady-burn full power and a 14-lumen taillight that runs for 2.8 hours on max. Both units have rubberized mounting bands and are so trim that they tuck inconspicuously on your handlebars or behind the seat post. Specialized also has a wide range of mounting accessories (bolt-on saddle, leg band, rack, headset spacer, and even aero seat post) for the USB-rechargeable lights. And though they may not be as bright as the Flux or the Flare R, the Stix eradicates any excuse for not using a light with their low cost and diminutive size. Down the road, we hope Specialized offers a front and rear combo pack of the brighter, Comp-level Stix.

Filed To: Bike, Bike Accessories

Subscribe to Outside

Outside Magazine Latest Issue

Save 66% and get All-Access: Print + iPad