Like every kid my age, I lived for Saturday morning cartoons on television when I was growing up. Aquaman…Superman…Johnny Quest…Peabody and Sherman…Fractured Fairy Tales…Deputy Dawg…but most of all, The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner hour! I memorized the snappy comebacks, the classical tunes and received my first exposure in the world of opera from Bugs. But, most of all, I loved Foghorn Leghorn! Foghorn always had a way of pointing out the intellectual deficiencies of an individual without actually calling him stupid! Sayings like “That girl is like Paul Revere’s ride…a little light in the belfry!” Or “That boy is so bright he thinks a Mexican border pays rent!” I’m fairly certain, although I can’t find a direct reference to these, he also said “That boy is about as bright as the Tunnel of Love at midnight,” and “That boy is about as bright as a burned out light bulb.”
Our grandsons are getting to the age where they are now enjoying and can appreciate cartoons, and I have purchased a 24 DVD set “Looney Tunes: The Golden Collection” to enjoy with them. Indeed, they have reached the age where they now are beginning to experience true “schadenfreude,” the pleasure one derives of someone else’s misfortunes, and, while it is somewhat amusing to sit back and watch them become overwhelmed with paroxysms of laughter, as a grandparent, former educator, and human being, it is my responsibility to help them navigate their way from schadenfreude to empathy. I think Looney Tunes…and especially Foghorn Leghorn…can help me do this.
It is indeed the season of lights. As our days become increasingly shorter and nights become increasingly longer…and with the gloomy and overcast skies during the day becoming further complicated by the presence of rain, freezing rain, and snow, it is tremendously important as a cyclist that one is prepared for the season by having the right amount and type of equipment to insure a pleasurable and safe ride in the harsher elements of winter. As I pointed out last week, I feel that it is critical that cyclists focus on being NOTICED, rather than seen. While some may have looked at the pictures of my cockpit as well as the back of my bicycles as lighting overkill, I feel that safety dictates erring on the side of caution.
Let’s start out with a few definitions and legal expectations.
Stopping distance – What is most important here is that the cyclist is aware of a motor vehicle’s minimum stopping distance. At 55 mph, a motorist needs a minimum of 300 feet to react to and safely come to a complete stop in optimum road conditions. In winter, obviously, that distance is lengthened and may be almost doubled. At a slower speed, obviously, less distance is required. Three hundred feet…the distance of a football field. In the state of Michigan, county road signs warn road users of upcoming intersections and stop signs at a distance of a tenth of a mile…approximately 500-550 feet. For a cyclist, then, you need your lights to be able to be NOTICED at a minimum of a tenth of a mile, in my humble opinion. This allows oncoming and trailing motorists to notice you in front of them and adjust their speed, trajectory, and possible braking distance appropriately. A single light, especially if it is in flashing mode, is not sufficient for this purpose. A vehicle traveling at 35 mph covers 51 feet in a single second…at 55 mph, the distance increases to 81 feet. With the demands placed upon a motorists attention, it is imperative (again, IMHO) that a cyclist have enough lights to become the center of motorists’ attention as soon as possible. While you may have a very bright tail light or headlight, if it is just a single one, it is competing with other factors for that motorists’ attention…other traffic, road conditions, nature, other occupants of the vehicle, etc. As motorists, however, we do develop early on a natural sense of priority for multiple flashing lights (emergency vehicles), and so multiple bright lights are far more likely to demand notice of motorists sharing the road with you.
Lumens – A lumen is a unit of light measured by the distance illuminated in a given space. Lumens are not the same as watts, but can be compared to them. For cycling purposes, most head and tail lights are measured in lumens. It is important to recognize the need for each type of lighting – headlights are critical not just for recognition by oncoming traffic, but for clearly seeing the path your bike is traveling ahead. Your headlight must be strong enough to cast light far enough ahead that your bike speed does not exceed the distance illuminated. Believe it or not, this does happen. No, you are not traveling at light speed, but rather the light/lumens diminish in strength the further it travels from the source. Rear lights have the advantage of being a different color spectrum (red), and do not need to project light for the cyclist to see by, but rather the motorist who is constantly closing the gap between themselves and the cyclist. For equivalencies’ sake, think of a 700 lumen light as providing the same amount of light as a 55-60 watt light bulb. While an oncoming motorist is likely to spot you in the dark, think of how far you are likely to see ahead of you in a hallway illumined by a single 55 watt light bulb. Assuming that hallway is about 30 feet long, you have reached the limit of what you can realistically see ahead for one second if you are traveling at 25mph.
What do I use for lighting? I use several different brands and strengths of lights. Again, the purpose is to provide a wide spectrum of lights that will tend to have a motorist notice the variety and automatically enter emergency vehicle mode! (Thanks again, Don!)
Up front, I always utilize a minimum of two headlights. One on steady, and one on flashing. I also have lights embedded in my helmet, which I will get to later. After a great deal of experimentation and experience with different brands…Serfas, Cygolite, Bontrager, and NiteRider, I now exclusively utilize NiteRider lights. These lights are compact, light, easily transferrable, charge rapidly, impervious to the elements, strong battery capacity, charge easily, and NiteRider backs up the best warranty in the business (again, IMHO). They have several different price points as well as lumen ranges. I have a NiteRider 220, 450, 600, 750, and 3200 Pro that I use every day. I only ever use the 220 as a flasher for daytime riding, and then only during the summer. On flashing mode, it is likely to last for an entire ride of less than six hours. The 450 is used for riding at dusk on steady at the brightest setting, or in flashing mode at night during most of the year. The 600 and 700 models are used mostly as steady sources of light and the setting depends upon the time of year. Lower settings are used during daylight hours, while the brighter settings are used at night. The 3200 Pro is used for extended rides during the day and I put it on flashing mode because the battery will last 14-16 hours easily. During longer night rides, I will keep it on as a steady source of light. Bear in mind that a vehicles headlight varies in power from 700 on dim to 3200 on bright beam. My 3200 Pro will only last two hours on bright, but the amount of light it generates creates an almost daytime effect in the gloomiest of nights! I once completed a 400K ride around Michigan’s Thumb, with the final two hours after dark and in a driving rain storm. About four miles from the finish line my front tube blew. While I wasn’t thrilled about having to dismount and change the tube in the rain, the light enabled me to see clearly enough that it was though I were doing it in daylight and thus completed the task in just a minute or two!
In back – I have a variety of lights that I utilize here. Each light produces a minimum of 50 lumens, with my most powerful generating 260 lumens. Remember, the purpose of the tail light is for the cyclist to be noticed by those approaching from behind. The tail light does not need to generate light on the roadway, so lumen capacity does not need to be as bright. That said, a single 50 lumen tail light only generates about the same output as a single 10 watt light bulb. How likely is THAT to be noticed by a vehicle coming up behind you at 55 mph in time enough to brake safely? On the other hand, if you have multiple 50 lumen lights, each flashing at different speeds, or on steady, the display itself is likely to grab a motorist’s attention!
I use two Cygolight Hotshots in the back…a Hotshot Pro, and a regular Hotshot. The Pro generates 150 lumens, the other 50. The Pro, however, has a less secure covering for the charge port, and thus I fear is more likely to incur water damage. Be careful when using this light in inclement weather. I always have my HS Pro mounted at the top of my rear rack, and, preferably, charge port located above the mud guard. I also use two NiteRider tail lights… Sabre that generates 80 lumens and is very cost effective, and a Sentry Aero that generates 260 lumens with an incredible surface area for the light itself! Each of these lights have a very secure charge port covering, unlike their NiteRider Solas counterparts. I did have two Solas tail lights, but these lights died after three days of touring in constant rainy weather last summer and would not recharge. If you are going to purchase NiteRider tail lights, I highly recommend the Sabre and the Sentry, although the Sentry does take up a good amount of space! I also use a Lezyne Strip Light that generates 150 lumens and has a wide variety of flashing options. Unfortunately, the battery life is the most limited of all of my tail lights, and thus I will not use if going on any ride of three hours or longer. Additionally, I have an embedded tail light in my helmet, along with turn signals (yes, you read that correctly), that generates 150 lumens and will flash for over five and a half hours, and I have flashing lights on my rear facing Cycliq camera. The camera can be charged while in use, so theoretically, the battery life on this is as limited as your source of portable power.
Most bicycles, of course, lack the space on the seat post and handlebars to place so many lights. My friend and mentor Don utilizes his seat post and chain stays for his tail light display, and employs bar extenders/accessory bars up front for his cockpit. I tried that configuration. The roads in MI are so decrepit that the bar extenders began to fail after just a few months usage and I would lose lights, or they extenders would fall off the bike completely! I now use the Kaddy Rack system both front and back. These were patented by a friend in Iowa and are the most secure form I know of to keep my lights and accessories secure and me safe. Let’s face it, that tail light (and camera) collection you see above would cost over $450 to replace. Up front, between Garmin, camera, and lights, replacement costs are closer to $1000! Andy’s Kaddy Racks will keep this all safe and secure so you can enjoy the ride without undue fear, and come back to laugh along with your grandkids while Foghorn goes after the dog, Sylvester goes after Tweety, or Elmer serenades Bugs as Brunnhilde!
Finally, a word about my helmet. I first began seeing advertisements for the kickstarter Lumos project as I was recovering from surgery in 2016. In February of 2017, as my wife and I were leaving the Mayo Clinic, we saw one of these at dusk on a cyclist battling a snowstorm. It was stunning. Two months later, as we prepared for our 34th anniversary in a hospital, she ordered two of these helmets…one for me and one for her. She told me when she surprised me with it that she needed to know I would be safe for our girls and grandsons. This helmet has a strip of white lights up front, and a triangle of red lights in the back. These lights can be set to steady, or rapid or slow flash. Additionally, it comes with turn signals that are remotely activated by the push of a button on the handlebars. Every time I signal a turn…every time I put the helmet on, I feel her presence. It was her last anniversary gift to me. And consequently, the most precious.
I am including links for the various companies discussed today. You, of course, can go any way you choose. Just remember, like anything else in life, there is strength in numbers! Dee, bededee, bededeee…That’s all folks!