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Thursday, November 17, 2011

My Bicycle Headlight Choices and Experience

A brief article on my bicycle headlight choices, because there's a lot of different options and technologies out there and in the end, there's a choice and an experience with the choice.

We have these statistics on night bike accidents:
  • Motorist exiting from side street 47.2%
  • Motorist turning left 22.3%
  • Motorist overtaking 21.0%
  • Wrong-way cyclist head-on 9.5%

When I first read this, the most surprising thing to me is that most night car-on-bike collisions do not involve a car overtaking from behind; only 21% are overtaking cars, and so rear lights can only hope to mitigate one-fifth of night bike accidents.

A full 70% of night accidents involve a car that is exiting from a side street or turning left. These cars are in front of the bike, ±20° — or, in pilot-clock-position terms, from 11:00 to 1:00. These accidents can hope to be mitigated by front lights that are intended to make the bike visible and identifiable to drivers.

In these 70% of night accidents, the driver doesn't see/perceive/identify the bicycle. It may be that the driver's scan doesn't fully extend, or that an intermediate vehicle interferes with recognition. This is where the blinky "see-me" light comes in; it's not there to illuminate the road, it's there to call attention to the bicycle. Its job is to shout: "I am here! Don't Kill Me!"

On the front of the bike I use a Planet Bike 2Watt LED headlight (two AA's) as a "see-me" blinky. I'm very pleased with it, I get a lot of comments on it, and I see cars maneuvering to give me a wider berth when I have the blinky on.

I use a Planet Bike Alias HID (big heavy battery with a proprietary charger) to light my path. When this thing warms up it's like a light saber, and the bike looks like an oncoming locomotive in traffic. I love this light; the negatives are (1) weight, (2) a bulky recharger base, and (3) the usable burn time is only about two hours. My experience with the Alias HID is quite positive.

As I've written recently, I lost my Alias HID about a month ago, and after going through the stages of Bicycle Grieving (Anger, Forum-Surfing, Vacillation, Selection and Purpose), I finally chose to replace it with a Light-and-Motion Urban 500.

The L&M Urban 500 is a new product with an internal battery with a USB charger. Although I'm seeking to standardize around AA/AAA batteries, and don't want to carry another recharger I am already carrying a USB recharger around for my phone, so I'm good with that.

The concern about a light with an internal battery is that if/when the battery goes bad, then the light is useless — so I resolved to purchase the light through REI because (1) I really do like to buy equipment at REI and (2) their superb return policy makes me comfortable buying something.

Inevitably, the day after I ordered the L&M Urban 500 I received an email that some good souls had found my HID light, and a few days later they returned it to me. Unfortunately I had already ordered and paid for the Urban500. I went to my local REI and took delivery of the Urban 500, and as I sat there cradling the puppy in my hands I was tempted to take it home and love it but better judgement prevailed - the cost of this thing was half a set of Ortlieb panniers - and I gave it back to the green-vested REI staffer and immediately returned it.

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