By Matt Walthour
It seems now-a-days with so many new products for bicycles, like Go-Pro cameras and Garmin computers, you seem to run out of space on your handlebars pretty quickly, thus leaving out room for one of the most important accessories needed for this time of year: lights. Light sets are especially useful for early morning riding and late evening riding. Not only do they make you visible and feel somewhat safe, they are required by Florida law.
(Section 316.2065, F.S.): A bicycle operated between sunset and sunrise must be equipped with a lamp on the front exhibiting a white light visible from 500 feet to the front and both a red reflector and a lamp on the rear exhibiting a red light visible from 600 feet to the rear. Additional lighting is permitted and recommended.
So, with that out of the way, let me explain to you a few things about lights and actually how important they are and their designs and functions.
Headlights come in many different varieties mostly in levels of brightness. Headlights can be as simple as a low wattage bulb all the way to a high-end HID (high intensity discharge) light that use more light/lumens than most lamps, are what you would you find on a lot of high-end automobiles, and can cost quite a few hundred dollars. This choice really depends on what type of riding you are doing.
Some of the low wattage lights are fair enough so that you can be seen at night, but you really won’t be able to see much at all in front of you. The HID lamps on the other hand are super bright and really light up the roadway significantly, so much that I have had oncoming cars flip their lights at me thinking I was a passing car with my high beams on. I like the HID lights mainly because I do a lot of commuting and night riding and I want to be able to see all the way around me and more. The HID lamps run on rechargeable lithium ion batteries and last anywhere from about 2-10 hours on a charge depending on the level of intensity you choose — low, medium or high. Low wattage lights run on either AA or AAA batteries.
The most common light is LED (light emitting diode). These lights are quite bright depending on the intensity and the amount of LED’s being used in the lamp itself. I find these are a great mid- tohigh-range lamp that can be used for a good amount of night riding. The higher range LED lamps also come with rechargeable lithium ion batteries as well. Most of the mid-range lamps come with AA or AAA batteries. The price level on theses lamps can range from $20 to well over $100, again depending on your need for night vision.
With the front lamps, you also by law need a rear taillight. These are pretty basic in the fact that most are using LED’s and operate on batteries. Some higher end light sets run off a rechargeable battery pack, but I feel are really unnecessary due to the amount of run-time you get off of the battery type.
Rear taillights also have multi functions where the light can be on constantly or also can have a different variety of flashing modes. I like to have two, three or more on the back of my bike, my helmet and my seat bag. That way I feel safe, and I know I have really made it so anyone can see me at night. I have even gone as far as to put reflective tape on the back of my bike. I like it to look like Studio 54.
There are many other lights you can also put on your bike to really be seen. There are valve cap lights, lights that attach to your spokes, long tubes of neon-style lights to attach to the rear of your bike. Some companies like Bell Helmets have incorporated lights into the back of their helmets and even have mounts to attach your headlight to the front of your helmet.
There are some companies that are still making the old generator-style lights that are wired with a circular mount that attaches to the hub of your front wheel. As you pedal, your front and rear lights engage, but you really have to be pedaling fast in order to get any sort of brightness. Until they really perfect the generator system, and some companies are getting close, I will stick to way of the battery.
So, next time you feel like a nice evening or early morning ride or insomnia has kicked in and you want to burn some energy at 2 AM — oh it happens — be sure you are equipped with the proper lights.
Matt Walthour, a Marco Island resident since 1985 is a graduate from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, and is the owner of Island Bike Shop and Scootertown on Marco Island and Naples. He is also a member of the Marco Island bike path ad-hoc committee.