Bike lights and the Goldilocks principle

Cyclists know that we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t. Look at any of the How To Write Crap Copy About Cyclists articles or Cycling Bingo Cards and you’ll know that a key feature of criticising cyclists is that you don’t have to be consistent. In fact contradicting yourself seems to be de rigueur for anti-cyclists.

Cyclists must wear helmets, hi-viz and lycra. Cyclists look stupid in their silly hats, bright clothing and leggings. Cyclists go too slow you can’t get past them. Cyclists go too fast, they’re dangerous. And you can’t pass them without breaking the speed limit, dang cyclists. Cyclists should go on the pavement so I can drive on the road. Cyclists should go on the road so I can walk on the pavement. Cyclists should ring their bells. Who do cyclists think they are, ringing their damn bells and telling me to get out of their way. I saw a ninja cyclist with no lights, wearing dark clothing. How am I supposed to see him? Cyclists’ lights are too bright.

Actually that last one causes me a bit of a problem. There is a trend now amongst cyclists to have lights that are bright enough to cycle fast on unlit roads. These are not lights for you to be seen by, they are lights for you to avoid potholes at 30mph. I cycle on unlit, off-road paths at night. I have a light that enables people to see me and gives off a bit of light to see by. Add in light pollution and, depending a bit on the phase of the moon, I can comfortably go at 15mph on paths that I know. Comfortably that is until someone coming in the opposite direction sears my retinas with 3000 lumens. I’m starting to wonder if I’m the only person in Exeter with any degree of night vision and if so, for how long I’ll be able to retain it.

Now on the one hand, I’m all for cycling, people on bikes and anything they do to make the environment safer for them. I know we need  bright lights so that when some caveman dimwit bleats ‘I didn’t see you’ it’s quite clear to the insurance company that Troglodyte Boy wasn’t effing looking. On the other hand, I don’t want to be blinded by fellow cyclists travelling in the opposite direction and as pretty as the canal can look, I don’t really want to see it from the inside as I take an unscheduled dip because I can’t fucking see.

I’ve tried various tactics. I’ve tried the moth-to-a-flame thing of cycling at the pretty, bright shiny thing. I’ve tried yelling ‘if that’s got a dip function, use it!’ At the moment my favoured approach is the safest and most appropriate. I stop and cover my eyes. It’s making my evening commute a tad long. Fortunately my morning commute happens at 6.30am and there aren’t many people around.

I’ve decided now that I like my bike lights how Goldilocks liked her porridge. I want the lights to be bright enough to be safe, but not so bright that they distress other commuters. So if you are a person who commutes by bike and you are using unlit paths, just bear in mind that 3000 lumens directly at someone’s eye level can actually be quite distressing. Yes, I know car headlights are brighter. They’re also lower and more diffuse. And also, not on national cycle route 2 in the pitch black. And if you periodically encounter a woman sat in the middle of a bike path with her hands over her eyes, it’s me and I’m not happy.

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