Effectiveness of flashing bike lights?

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  • Effectiveness of flashing bike lights?
  • frank4short
    Member

    For the last few years or so I can’t help but notice that the vast majority of people commuting at night/in the dark nowadays, at least where I live, mostly appear to have LED based lights that are set on flashing mode. That is as opposed to just permanently on.

    I’ve also noticed (especially whilst driving), or at least it’s my perception, that they are in my mind less visible than the ones that have the light on full.

    So with that in mind I was wondering is it just my perception or are the flashing LEDs less visible than the permanently on ones?

    And if this is the case why isn’t this fact more widely reported as other than increased battery life I can’t see any reason to set one’s lights on flashing yet it appears to me it seems to be most peoples defaults when it comes to lights.

    Anyone able to enlighten me more on this? (pun intended)

    clubber
    Member

    Flashing lights get attention (eg drivers notice that you’re actually there, particularly against a backdrop of city lights, etc) but are hard to judge distance from. I tend to use two rear lights – one flashing, one constant for that reason.

    I agree, as a driver I’m much more concious of where a fixed light is than a flashing one. I’m not sure but subconciously I think I ignore a flashing light as it’s difficult to look at so I focus on something else.

    On the bike I usualy run one of each close together (on the back of the pannier rack). And a fixed front light.

    Wot Clubber sed. Innit.

    Attention/perception is the balance to strike.

    Flashing lights get attention (eg drivers notice that you’re actually there, particularly against a backdrop of city lights, etc) but are hard to judge distance from. I tend to use two rear lights – one flashing, one constant for that reason.

    +1 on this,

    FunkyDunc
    Member

    I drive on country B roads to work, and there are a few hardy cyclists.

    By far the best rear light I have seen is one that does one long on say 3 seconds, then off for 2 seconds then 2 short flashes.

    kind of like this —— — — —— — —

    The fact that it actually goes dark for more than a fraction of a second, actually makes you notice it more.

    slugwash
    Member

    Whilst driving I’ve noticed some cyclists with fixed rear lights that periodically emit a pulse of much brighter light. These seem particularly effective. Does anyone have a link to them?

    Premier Icon Mr Agreeable
    Subscriber

    slugwash, this one has a similar pattern to what you’re talking about.

    http://road.cc/content/review/1995-niterider-cherry-bomb-rear-led

    Flashing rear lights, yay, Flashing front lights, very annoying to other cycle commuters and a bit dodge at junctions.

    The combination of a flashing light and a constant light, or a light that’s always on but gets brighter periodically seems most visible. However, adding reflective hi-vis clothing makes a vast difference, I always try to remember to wear one of those deeply uncool vest things in town.

    allthegear
    Member

    A combination is good. Also, I’ve found it is useful to have something ‘unusual’ about your lighting as it attracts the attention of the drivers.

    I have some battery powered Christmas tree lights, with blue LEDs, wrapped around the frame of my commuter. It’s odd but that’s kinda the point…

    Rachel

    Premier Icon pictonroad
    Subscriber

    I turned one of my front lights round a while ago so it’s pointing at me and lighting up my torso/face. It’s not scientific (control in every scenario etc)but I think drivers have reacted far more to me now they can make out a human.

    A woman actually pulled her car over to stop me and ask where I got the light, she was confused when I showed it was just a torch pointing a me in a yellow coat.

    In town with multitude of lights around I think a very bright flashing light can be a bit confusing, especially now you can get lights too bright to look at for a tenner.

    I think solid lights work well in town but out on a country road I’m keeping my death bright flasher as I just want to alert people to my presence above all else.

    lemonysam
    Member

    I quite like lights that “twinkle” i.e. they have multiple LEDs that flash in sequences that the light is constant but ever changing. I use a Bontrager Flare 3 which has a mode like that and from my tests it seems to provide something of the best of both worlds.

    FunkyDunc
    Member

    You do see more and more people with their bikes lit up like Christmas trees.

    I personaly think multiple lights on the front all flashing at different rates its dangerous.

    Best front IMO is flashing on the bar and fixed on the head. As has been mentioned here before, the gap between the lights, actually allows your eyes to get some distance perspective and work out how far away the person is.

    Does any one know the rear light I mention above ie on for 2-3 secs then off, then 2 short bursts.

    I would stop the guy and ask, but I think that may make him a bit nervous!

    organic355
    Member

    Whilst driving I’ve noticed some cyclists with fixed rear lights that periodically emit a pulse of much brighter light. These seem particularly effective. Does anyone have a link to them?

    exposure flare

    I turned one of my front lights round a while ago so it’s pointing at me and lighting up my torso/face. It’s not scientific (control in every scenario etc)but I think drivers have reacted far more to me now they can make out a human

    Ive done this on occasion too, seems pretty effective

    You do see more and more people with their bikes lit up like Christmas trees.

    I personaly think multiple lights on the front all flashing at different rates its dangerous.

    Ive got an exposure flash on the bars, next to a Maxx-d, have both on flash, have a joystick on my head, sometimes on flash, sometimes on constant, exposure flare on the rear.

    I would rather drivers say “look at the Tw*t lit up like a christmas tree”, than not see me at all. I am also thinking about getting another rear light, maybe another flare for the helmet too.

    Premier Icon zilog6128
    Subscriber

    Personally I think it’s better to have a bright solid rear light than a dim flashing one (like 99% of cyclists I see). Of course combining the two might make you more visible but I find sitting behind a bright flashing light really pisses me off!

    ormondroyd
    Member

    The Niterider Cherry Bomb is really good and bright, but it’s made of self-destructing explodo-plastic.

    hjghg5
    Member

    It very much depends on the situation. If I’m in the car and a bike is filtering through traffic behind me I tend to spot it in my mirrors earlier if the light is flashing. Coming towards me on an open road I find a steady light easier to spot/identify. I’m often scared as a driver how easily bikes disappear, even with lights. Last week I turned left out of a junction at traffic lights onto a two lane road and as I turned I was aware that a bike was behind me. I checked my mirrors to see which lane he was in as I wanted to move over to the right hand lane and even though I knew he was there and was actively trying to spot him I struggled to find his light among the car lights.

    A variety of lights tends to work best, but as I only have one (at the moment) I tend to go for steady unless I’m filtering through traffic in which case I might temporarily switch to flashing. But given that I tend to avoid that sort of road on my commute it’s mainly steady 😉 On the back I’ve got one which has multiple bulbs – some stay lit steadily and others flash so that it’s more of a pulsing effect.

    I’m also often surprised at how dim some lights are – I’m often muttering away to myself about bikes without lights just as I realise that they do have lights, just not particularly visible ones…

    tomlevell
    Member

    Flashing front lights help get attention at junctions and roundabouts where someone may pull out on you.

    I run 2 rear flashing (in different sequences) and a solid one.
    1 flashing front and a powerful front. (I’d like to add a normal solid front at some point. I need the powerful one for the dark country roads and the offroad bit.

    Premier Icon Cougar
    Subscriber

    Speaking as a driver,

    I find flashing lights more noticeable than solid ones, but the ones that flash in erratic patterns are distracting. It grabs your attention too well, as you go “oh, what the hell is that?” (That said I’ve got used to them now, but might be an issue for new drivers.)

    The number of cyclists I see (just about) at night with no lights at all is frankly terrifying though. Anything is better than nothing.

    Love the idea of pointing one inwards onto hi-vis; that’s genius.

    bristolbiker
    Member

    self-destructing explodo-plastic

    Quote of the day contender right there. Right up there with ‘weapons-grade idiot’ 😆

    Premier Icon speaker2animals
    Subscriber

    Ah so now that a few more people are at least using some lights rather than none we can move on to slagging them off for being the wrong type. No pleasing some folk. Personally I have a flashing and continuous rear, continuous hi output front and 2 flashers on the fork legs and a front and back blinker on my helmet.

    Premier Icon pictonroad
    Subscriber

    This light from the bikemonger is flippin ridculously bright with a pleasing dubstep rhythm, too bright for town though and no option to dim it.

    http://www.charliethebikemonger.com/pdw-portland-design-works—danger-zone-rear-light-mental-1912-p.asp

    Premier Icon Mr Agreeable
    Subscriber

    The Niterider Cherry Bomb is really good and bright, but it’s made of self-destructing explodo-plastic.

    Mine didn’t even get a chance to explode before I lost it. Ditto loads of mates’ experience with the Holy Hand Grenade.

    TiRed
    Member

    Cateye Rapid 1 has an excellent constant on with pulsing mode. I use two, plus a light fitted to the mudguard as backup.

    The single most effective advert to motorists, however, is a pair of respro neoprene scotcbrite ankle bands. They really are superb.

    ndthornton
    Member

    Even bacteria can sense light – flashing or otherwise.
    Surely this should not be beyond the average motorist – or perhaps Im wrong???

    Premier Icon billyboy
    Subscriber

    I can’t offer you the perception from a driver’s point of view but from a cyclist’s side I can offer this…………..

    I started back cycle-commuting in London last year, and for the first few weeks I was being cut up by vans, cars, lorries, and fellow cyclists, turning across my front like I didn’t exist.
    This was regardless of the fact I was traveling in daylight, and was doing a passable impression of a human being on a bicycle. So I put one of my Joysticks on the front in pulse mode, a reasonably bright flashing LED light on the back, and London became a safer place for me. The difference was really very noticeable and instant.

    Now I always travel that way in town.

    duirdh
    Member

    A flashing rear light on its own isn’t legal

    Premier Icon Ben_mw
    Subscriber

    I use a flashing and a steady light, front and rear. I’ve actually got some lights that pulse dim to bright, don’t know if they are any better or worse than anything else though.
    The thing I like about a flashing light is that it identifies you as a cyclist, very little else on the road has lights like that. (This may make you a target rather than something to be avoided mind).

    Goz
    Member

    duirdh…..wrong, since 2005 legal!

    alpin
    Member

    ndthornton – Member

    Even bacteria can sense light – flashing or otherwise.
    Surely this should not be beyond the average motorist – or perhaps Im wrong???

    😀

    A flashing rear light on its own isn’t legal

    but are the old bill really going to pull you for it? i’m sure they would rather see someone with a light of some description than no light at all…..

    although saying that a mate got pulled in Munich during a “allgemeine fahrradkontrolle”, or as we call it a “money making exercise”. they wanted to give him a ticket (and a 40€ fine) because despite the fact that he had a front and rear light niether of them had a display that told him when the battery was getting low. their argument being what would he do when the battery goes dead? in Schermany you “should”, according to the law, have a Dynamo light fitted. bit crap IMO, old skool Dynamo lights go out when you stop.

    although a hub Dynamo is a bloody good idea for a commuter, IMO, especially with the LEDs that require naff-all power….

    fasthaggis
    Member

    I want to attract their attention ,not blind them,so I go for moving reflectors and lights of an average brightness.
    I hang those cheap mini red and white LEDs (from Aldis/Tescos )on my backpack ( they bounce around )and I also use ankle reflectors .
    This winter I made up some reflectors (from old pedals inserts) to hang under the saddle on a bit of cord ( they also bounce around).
    Two seat post lights ,one constant ,one flashing.
    IMO I think some drivers zone out to static high viz when there is a lot of other traffic around.
    BTW Good idea about pointing a light on to the front of the rider
    Oh,and another reason for medium brightness,is that when I chain gang ,I hate sitting behind some of those retina burners for too long. 🙄

    Premier Icon garage-dweller
    Subscriber

    As a driver i particularly like anyone who has flashing AND steady state at both ends.

    Flashing marks you as a bike – I know then what you are and that you will have different movements and you dont get lost amongst cars

    Steady state – far better for judging speed and distance and with less off time it protects better as you pass through the blind spots of the car ie it doesnt go off in the non blind spot and on in the blind bit.

    Preferably have them on the bars as thats near window height. On your head is above my roof line and the beam is lost on the road amongst the other scatter. Van drivers will probably like them on your head though.

    Premier Icon GrahamS
    Subscriber

    I tend to use two rear lights – one flashing, one constant for that reason.

    +1

    On commutes I’m running a Fibre Flare and a Holy Handgrenade on flashing, plus a bright constant Lumi Tail Light. Plus geeky high-viz vest and reflective highlights on my bag, shoes, jacket, shoes and tyres.

    mrmo
    Member

    odd thing i noticed the other day, one of my rear lights failed and i was getting more room when the cars came past.

    The only thing that made sense was bright light car knows where you are so don’t bother giving room, dim light know your their but aren’t quite sure where, so give more room.

    ?????

    Premier Icon crazy-legs
    Subscriber

    Very effective – especially front flashing lights shining through car windows, they bounce around off the mirrors and really shout that there’s a bike coming up behind.

    But I always couple them with fixed lights front and rear as well.

    kcr
    Member

    Yes, flashing rear light on its own has indeed been legal since 2005.

    I agree that a combination approach is probably best. It has been suggested that it is more difficult for a closing motorist to judge the distance to a flashing light. I run 3 rear lights on my bike, one steady, two flashing, to provide more visibility and some redundancy.

    Interesting article here about hi-vis, including the question of whether it is actually the best solution in all conditions:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/bike-blog/2013/jan/10/cycling-high-visibility-safe-fluorescent

    shifter
    Member

    Any light is better than none but some are so weak it’s scary.

    I use two flashers on the back. As a driver I think flashers are visible from a long way away and I like that – gives me plenty of time to slow or manoeuvre round. The “can’t judge distance” line is odd – how do you manage with ambulances?

    Also as a driver, really don’t like head torches – it’s light where you don’t expect it to be.

    stevewhyte
    Member

    I have some battery powered Christmas tree lights, with blue LEDs, wrapped around the frame of my commuter. It’s odd but that’s kinda the point…

    Rachel

    Good point.

    billytinkle
    Member

    The “can’t judge distance” line is odd – how do you manage with ambulances?

    I think the rate of the flash is key here. I use a Moon Shield 60 as my sole rear light on its steady flash mode – nice and bright and grabs attention. It’s always angled slightly downwards though with a view to ensure no one is dazzled.

    I also use an Exposure Diablo up front mounted on my lid with a solid beam – gives good spot of light that I can aim wherever I want, whether that be for my vision or to catch a driver’s eye.

    Both lights have a ‘strobe’ setting – it’s these setting in my opinion that make judging distance difficult and can be disorientating for other road users.

    kcr
    Member

    can’t judge distance” line is odd – how do you manage with ambulances?

    An ambulance does not rely on one isolated flashing red light for visibility.
    I think the argument about judging distance is based on the gap between flashes, when the bike becomes invisible. You are giving an observer less time to get a fix on the target and work out where it is. I guess that the more lights you have, and the faster they flash, the less chance there is of missing the cues.

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