Decisions, decisions. It’s time to decorate our Christmas tree, starting with the lights. But which color? Red like last year? Traditional clear? Or Mardi Gras colors to honor my Louisiana heritage: purple, green and gold?
At least there’s one decision we won’t have to make–whether the lights should blink or not. Dick and I both prefer steady Christmas lights over blinking, which is why I don’t miss that crazy set we once had with three different blinking patterns. Every year we’d run through all the different modes and then settle on steady.
With bike lights, though, Dick and I don’t agree. I’m all for keeping it steady, while Dick likes to flash. You could also say that I’m Paris while he’s London. Paris’ Velib bikes and the London’s Barclays bikes are both equipped with always-on front and rear lights. A great little feature not only for nighttime riding, but also for improving daytime visibility. And you don’t have to remember to turn them on, or remove them when you lock up the bike since they’re permanently attached and can’t be stolen. I wish my bikes were so well equipped.
But the difference is that the Velib lights burn steady while the Barclays flash, which to me reflects the two cities’ attitude toward urban cycling. Steady bright lights say to me: “I have lights like cars and motorcycles. I’m just another vehicle on the road.” In contrast, flashing lights shout out a strong warning message: “Be careful. Watch out. Don’t hit me.” The presumption is that drivers can’t be expected to see you.
Philosophical arguments aside, here’s my case for steady vs. flashing:
- With today’s bright lights, flashing ones can be very annoying to drivers, pedestrians and other cyclists. I refuse to ride behind Dick when he has his rear light flashing.
- A steady front light will help you see the road ahead better so you can avoid potholes and other obstacles.
- Steady lights help other road users gauge your distance from them better than flashing lights.
That said, there are times when I will set my lights to flashing:
- At dusk, when there’s little contrast between the bike lights and the ambient light, I’ll set both front and rear lights to flashing.
- After dark, when the route takes me through an area with a lot of lighting distractions, I’ll set the front to steady and have two red lights in the rear: one steady and one flashing.
- Ditto for when it’s raining at night, for the same reason.
Finally, be aware that technically speaking, the California vehicle code only allows flashing lights to be used on emergency vehicles, a rarely enforced law that at least one cop with an attitude has used to harass cyclists with before. I wonder what that cop would have said if he had seen me with my Down Low Glow lights.
So, do you like to flash or keep your lights steady? Do you use the same mode for both front and rear, and for all occasions?