Look, you need lights after dark when on the public roads. Its the law, and
rightly so. OK?
Well now I'd like to suggest
another (cheaper) technology.
Yup, cheap and always on the job. Reflectors are always with your bike even if
you forget your lights, or your battery packs it in. And reflectors do an amazingly
Now I'm not talking about those minimalist reflectors that came on your bike which
serve to satisfy the letter of the law, but rather a standard automotive reflector.
These usually bear the letters SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) and are usually
several times brighter than the toy reflectors that came on your bike.
The variety pictured at left is about 3 inches tall. It is mounted on the
reflector mount that came with the bike via a single screw. It cost 98 cents at an
automotive parts store, and comes in packages of two.
At right is a bicycle parked in the dark. Sorry
for that white blotch, it was snowing heavily at the time. This is, after all, the
On the back of the bike seat is the amber reflector pictured above.
Below it is the brightest tail light that I am aware of, the 9
Led NightSun 12 volt tail light. (Seven rear facing LEDs and one on each side,
mounted in a water tight tube). In the camera flash, the reflector wins hands down.
But wait, there's more. Directly between the two, (mounted vertically) is a
fairly bright blinkie - running on steady (not flashing). You can barely see it
because the reflector tripped the camera's auto exposure circuit before the blinkie even
registered. To the human eye the blinkie is far more noticeable than shown here.
Now, don't assume that the reflector will always be better than a tail light or even
adequate all by itself. The flash was aimed directly at the reflector in these
tests. Car headlights are aimed lower.
Further, that NightSun tail light can be seen half a mile away, long before the
headlights will hit your reflector, and it stays bright even when the headlights are not
directly pointing at you, such as on curves, or at dusk before all drivers have turned on
Still, automotive type reflectors do a very good job, and since reflectors are required
on bicycles in most jurisdictions, you might as well replace the whimpy ones with good
Mount your reflectors LOW. I mount mine just below the brake boss on the traffic
side as seen in the top photo. The rear of the fender is another good location.
Don't forget reflective striping on your jacket.
Those wheel reflectors (also visible in the top photo) really don't do much in normal
night riding situations. While they readily identify the vehicle as a bicycle (I
would just as soon the driver thought I was a 18 wheeler, thank you), they can only be
seen from the side. This is seldom helpful, because when you stop and think about
it, even a reckless cyclist will only be sideways to a car's headlight beam for a fraction
of a second. In that fraction of a second, the bicycle will flash into view, and
disappear, or be hit. There is no time for the driver to react. If the driver
didn't see the cyclist until it entered the headlight beam (the only place where
reflectors will work) then the accident or near miss is already pre-determined. This is why you need LIGHTS.