Pro Tips for Using Bike Lights in Daytime
Once upon a time, road cycling at night required a real relish for risk. You had to brave the darkness with your reflective jersey alone, hoping you could find your way and shine brightly enough for drivers to see you. Thankfully, cycling lights came along and changed that. But those early bike lights still weren’t quite enough to enhance your safety during the daytime.
Thankfully, lighting technology for cycling has come a long way in a short time. Nowadays, it’s easy to ride in full view of other drivers — not only at night but at all hours of the day.
That said, there are still a few ways you can maximize the effectiveness of your cycling lights for daytime riding. Longtime cycling coach Darryl MacKenzie has ridden countless daytime rides where he’s needed to be seen — and he’s got some pro tips for you below.
The Evolution of Cycling Lights
To say that cycling lights have improved is an understatement. Yesterday’s lights were bulky and heavy. They didn’t provide much light. They required adding another cord to your bike to connect the battery to the light. And they were expensive.
Just 20 years ago, Darryl recalls carrying lights with huge, heavy, wallet-sized batteries that would barely illuminate the road in front of him. Further back, he even remembers a time when lights were only made to see at night, not to be seen by others at all hours of the day.
How times have changed. Today’s lights add visibility for the rider and those with whom they share the road. As Darryl says, “they’ve improved in many ways at once, sort of like computers.” They’re light, bright, compact and — most importantly — inexpensive. And not just the lights — the mounts are also cheap, making it easy to set up several bikes and transfer lights between them.
The 5 Levels of Lighting for Your Ride
These improvements have made it safer than ever to pedal not only at night but any time of day. The only question is how to do it most effectively.
When you use white front and red rear lights, you essentially have five options for maximum daytime lighting effectiveness. As Darryl calls them, these are the five levels of lighting for you and your bike:
- No lights: This is the old way, and there’s no reason for it anymore. Even during a daytime ride, today’s red lights help you to be seen on the road, maximizing your safety.
- Steady lights: Setting your lights to one continuous, steady beam is certainly noticeable to drivers. But it’s nowhere near your best option.
- Regular flashing lights: To make you more visible on the road, it’s helpful to change up your lighting pattern. A steady pulse of light on the front and back will grab someone’s attention — but it still leaves room for improvement.
- Irregular flashing lights: Now, you’re getting closer. Most lights today allow you to change the pattern of your light so that it shifts between long and short pulses. This introduces some unpredictability and makes you much more noticeable.
- Irregular flashing and moving lights: You can still take your lighting safety one step further, though. Instead of simply mounting your rear light on the seat post, introduce another element of motion and unpredictability in your lighting pattern. Attach the rear light to the calf on one of your legs so it rises and falls as you pedal. You can also try mounting it on your backpack if you have one, as this introduces motion without the risk of the light dropping so low that it goes out of a driver’s line of sight. You can also mount your front light (or an additional one) on your helmet to add movement in front.
To maximize your safety, always choose level four or five.
More Tips for Using Bike Lights
Beyond choosing the right level of lighting for cycling in the daytime, Darryl has a few more pro tips to help you use your lighting well. First off, consider how you mount the front light on your handlebars. If you opt for the standard top-mount configuration, you may find that the light mount rubs against your wrist and irritates you as you ride. For a simple fix, just turn the light upside-down and mount it below your handlebars instead.
Finally, it’s important to note that riding with lights — particularly rear ones — requires an element of consideration for other riders. When you’re riding in a group — whether by day or night — the rider behind you doesn’t want to spend the entire time mesmerized by your bright, flashing back light. To give them some relief, be sure you mount your saddlebag and light on your seat post with the bag above the light. That way, the bag shields the light from the view of the rider behind you while keeping it visible to cars from farther back.
In recent posts, we’ve covered a variety of tips to help you keep pedaling in the cold, cycling at night or riding in the rain. Now, we’ve covered riding safely in daylight. If you follow these tips, there’s almost no time you can’t ride.
Look for more insights from Coach Darryl over at his website.