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Grafitti in northwest Portland rages against blinking bike lights

Posted by on July 8th, 2014 at 11:32 am

At NW Raleigh and 20th via @abaraff on Twitter.

The blinking bike lights debate has taken a new turn in Portland.

Two readers have contacted us this week about a message painted in large red letters across roads in northwest Portland that reads: “Fuck you and your epileptic bike lights.”

At NW Quimby and 16th via @tedder41 on Twitter.

We don’t know who painted them, but we do know that this issue is real and that there are strong opinions on both sides. It boils down to this: Many people believe that when bike lights blink they are more visible to other road users and are therefore safer. However, there’s another school of thought that maintains blinking lights are actually less safe for the same reason: Because, like a moth attracted to light, other road users (especially people operating cars while drunk or otherwise impaired) notice them too much and can actually be drawn to them.

Then there’s the sentiment expressed in this graffiti where people with epilepsy are particularly at risk of having a reaction to lights that blink. And that’s not an opinion, it’s a fact. A small percentage of people with epilepsy can have a seizure triggered by flashing lights.


Our friend Halley Weaver (you might remember her as the biking harpist, the devoted advocate, the tall-bike rider, or the Naked Bike Ride volunteer) has a form of epilepsy and she has written at length about this topic on her “Bikeleptic” blog.

I agree with much of what Halley wrote. Even for people without epilepsy, having bright bike lights flash in your face as someone passes is annoying and doesn’t seem necessary. In fact, the mentality that one person’s perceived increase in personal safety trumps the needs of those around them seems downright selfish. It reminds me of when people bought (and still buy, although thankfully in lesser numbers) massively large SUVs because it made them feel safe, regardless of the increased risks they posed to others.

Keep it steady Portland. And save your flashing for the Naked Bike Ride.


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Comments
  • Nick July 8, 2014 at 11:40 am

    Like so many things, we lack good data, so we’re left with preferences. My own experience: Flashing bike lights outside of the bright daylight hours is very distracting. During the daytime, less of a problem.

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    • was carless July 8, 2014 at 2:18 pm

      Well, I don’t really think that photosensitive epilepsy is debatable – it is a real condition:

      “About one in 100 people in the U.S. have epilepsy. About 3% to 5% of those people have photosensitive epilepsy.”

      http://www.webmd.com/epilepsy/guide/photosensitive-epilepsy-symptoms-causes-treatment

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    • dbrunker July 8, 2014 at 10:02 pm

      I’ve been told the United States is the only country where flashing lights on a bike is legal. A little blinky light is fine with me but why does there have to be a light so bright I have to hold up my hand to shade my eyes at night while riding past someone with one of those lights on their bike. There’s a chance it’s making that rider safer but the temporary blindness I get is making my ride a lot more dangerous.

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      • Alan 1.0 July 8, 2014 at 11:33 pm

        dbrunker
        I’ve been told the United States is the only country where flashing lights on a bike is legal.

        Blinkies are legal in the UK, front and rear: http://www.ctc.org.uk/cyclists-library/regulations/lighting-regulations (“must emit at least 4 candela”).

        Wikipedia says, “in many countries, LED flashers are the norm for rear lights” and mentions Germany and Netherlands as prohibiting them (no citation for either claim), but an article cited here by was carless says Germany allows one optional rear light in addition to the dynamo-powered mandatory rear, and it doesn’t say that it can’t be a blinky, and this page says the rear can be a flasher in Germany: http://bicyclegermany.com/german_bicycle_laws.html

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  • Daisy July 8, 2014 at 11:41 am

    Yeah, it could have been other folks who bike writing these messages.

    I hate blinky lights in the dark winter with a passion, especially when they are the super bright, blinder blinky. It’s not just that they draw in your eyes; in my car, when I’m driving, I also note that it’s quite difficult to tell where the bike actually is because my eyes can’t track the blinking.

    My solution: less bright blinky catches people’s attention; brighter, steady light shows them where I am.

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    • Carl July 8, 2014 at 1:56 pm

      Do people ACTUALLY think this graffiti is about lights? Would “Fuck you and your tight shorts” written on a bike lane be about spandex? If this person actually hated blinky lights, they’d probably write “fuck blinky lights” or, using their bizarre terminology, “fuck epileptic lights.” I read this as “fuck bikes” with a funny little added jab about lights.

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      • pixelgate July 8, 2014 at 4:27 pm

        I think you and I read different things.

        I personally loathe two things about bicyclists: blinking lights and ridiculously bright lights. You don’t need to put a stage lamp on the front of your bike, nor do you need a strobe light to get attention. For all we know, the person who left this graffiti was a cyclist his/herself. The way you jump to conclusions that this person must hate bicyclists in general seems a stretch, though it’ll certainly find support amongst the average reader/commenter of this site since it stokes the us vs them mentality that (I thought?) we wanted to get rid of.

        Please, no more blinking lights, and no more blinding head lamps. Endangering others for your own safety is the epitome of selfishness and should be called out as such.

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        • Caleb July 8, 2014 at 4:44 pm

          Unlike Carl, I am inclined to believe the tagger certainly does dislike blinking and/or bright bicycle lights. However, given that the tag includes a phrase indicating intolerance for any cyclist who uses them, I can’t overlook the possibility the tagger has a deep and complicated bias against bicyclists in general. Were the tagger only concerned with safety implications created by blinking/bright lights, the tagger would have no need to include the “fuck you” part.

          Further, if we take Terra’s story for granted, then we have a story also suggesting the tagger is motivated by more than concern for blinking/bright lights.

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          • Terra July 9, 2014 at 7:16 am

            He *definitely* seemed far less concerned about safety than he did about scorning cyclists. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s had some kind of horrible interaction with a cyclist and is now taking it out on the entire community. That seems to be a pretty common reaction, unfortunately.

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        • Chagas July 24, 2014 at 11:53 am

          If automobiles have blinding lights, then cyclists on the road get them too.

          “…but why does there have to be a light so bright”

          Because they sell better! Overkill is the American way!

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      • My Magic Hat July 27, 2014 at 2:25 pm

        Yes. There is every chance that a blinding white light flashing you in the face, keeping you from seeing anything and putting every nearby road user at risk as a result could possibly be irritating even to people who don’t ride bikes.

        If only there was a way to be visible without screwing over everyone riding/driving/walking in the opposite direction. The world may never know . . .

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    • Dave July 10, 2014 at 7:52 am

      You have NOT ridden enough at night in your life yet.

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  • Alex July 8, 2014 at 11:50 am

    I’m surprised at how sensitive everyone is being toward one person’s anonymous, expletive-ridden road graffiti.

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    • Pete July 8, 2014 at 1:13 pm

      Come on, admit that you perpetrated this heinous transgression… ;-)

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    • Eric July 8, 2014 at 1:59 pm

      Are you new to Portland and specifically bikeportland?

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  • spare_wheel July 8, 2014 at 11:51 am

    “is annoying and doesn’t seem necessary.”

    some people think bike infrastructure is annoying and unnecessary.

    “safety trumps the needs”

    the desire to not be annoyed by a bright light is a *want*, not a need.

    “massively large SUVs because it made them feel safe”

    equating someone who chooses to contribute to environmental destruction with a cyclist who uses a blinking light is pure hyperbole. large SUVs harm us all while a blinking light could pose some harm to a very small portion of the population.

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    • Janet Lafleur July 8, 2014 at 3:49 pm

      Bright blinking lights on a dark night (particularly headlights) are dangerous for people that aren’t epileptic too. I’ve seen some so bright that I had trouble seeing the road ahead of me.

      Blinking during twilight or with mini-lights is fine, but if you’ve got serious lumens, keep it steady.

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      • spare_wheel July 8, 2014 at 6:09 pm

        i don’t use blinkies in the front and use a very slow repeat in the back. then again, i think the safety value of lights in an urban environment are dramatically overstated.

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        • gutterbunnybikes July 8, 2014 at 9:25 pm

          I tend to agree that they are over rated. My vintage 6 volt dyno with incandescent bulbs (likely nearly 40 years old too) system is more than enough to keep me legal. And really more than that really seems to be a bit of overkill.

          Of course I rode daily as tween/teen in the predawn hours delivering newspapers and never used lights for years. Only got backed into once, was no big deal…but boy did they tip me out well when I went collecting after that.

          As for the topic on a whole, I despise the way to bright blinky headlights. Bad enough on the roads, but even worse when people use them on the MUPs like the East prom or Springwater. I really hate it as they are going down the grades as I’m going up.

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    • q`Tzal July 8, 2014 at 5:13 pm

      There are some basic visual timing and neurological visual processing issues fundamental to the human brain that make blinking lights in the dark only slightly better than no light at all.

      To oversimplify: if you only see a single blinking light you visual cortex can’t identify where it is exactly, how fast it’s moving nor the size or shape. Making the on cycle of the strobe brighter just robs the viewer of their night vision.

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  • reader July 8, 2014 at 11:52 am

    I try to ensure that my blinking light is not pointed up and directly into the eyes of oncoming vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians, but more toward the ground just in front of me.

    BTW, given the FU in the message, I wonder if this graffiti has anything at all to do with genuine concern for people with epilepsy.

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    • BIKELEPTIC July 8, 2014 at 4:18 pm

      Unfortunately anyone with strobing lights regardless of their direction doesn’t have anyone’s best interest at heart. The best direction they can be is set to steady. If they can still be seen, they’re still a problem. Bike lights are just a small percentage, but a commonly seen percentage – emergency signals, marquees (disco lights at clubs) sometimes even benign tv shows like the news can be hazardous because of the clips they choose to show. If blinky lights were proven to be safer than cars would have them. Could you imagine what the freeway would loom like at rush hour?!

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      • 9watts July 8, 2014 at 4:29 pm

        One thing mentioned briefly by Spiffy below, but I think important to consider when we’re comparing a bike light system with a car system is battery life. A car has a magic tank of ancient sunlight to keep recharging the battery and the lights. We who bike don’t. Those tiny batteries powering our blinky or non-blinky lights will give more hours of illumination on the blinky setting. I agree with nearly all the criticisms of the over-bright forward blinkies, but think we should keep this other parameter in mind.

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        • Buzz July 8, 2014 at 5:07 pm

          There are both old-school bottle dyno/generator lights, hub dynos and the newer magnetic dynos – none of which require batteries – and there are also USB rechargeable battery lights, so it seems to me that arguing that running lights in blinking mode saves batteries is a pretty disingenuous argument.

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          • Caleb July 8, 2014 at 5:10 pm

            Not everyone uses those lights.

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            • Pete July 9, 2014 at 7:08 am

              The lights that cause annoyance/hazard in their flashing mode are almost universally of the USB rechargeable variety. Front lights running on AA or the watch-style batteries aren’t bright enough to create the blinding effect when run on flashing mode.

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        • BIKELEPTIC July 8, 2014 at 5:34 pm

          I wholeheartedly support the idea of getting dynamo lights. I hear people complain all the time about the cost of the systems. I am actually in the process of building a new bike right now which will run completely with generator front & rear lights. What I have to say about them and the 10+ months of research I have done on bike parts for this bike is: WORTH IT – I have spent probably 3x the amount on my old system in lights over the last 6 years, spare lights, new lights, AA batteries, AAA batteries, upgrade to USB rechargable, don’t trust them so keeping/buying more back-up lights and buying more batteries, etc. It’s ridiculous considering everywhere else in my life, my philosophy is to save & buy good quality products instead of waste on the cheap. I am going to love to be able to just get on my bike and go – not worry about charging or changing batteries.

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          • 9watts July 8, 2014 at 5:48 pm

            tell us more, please.

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            • BIKELEPTIC July 8, 2014 at 6:14 pm

              I am the worst person for light advice because I went swanky (you DON’T need a SON hub to power your bike) – you can however get both front & rear lights for about $50 each on the bottom end. Next step there’s a B&M for about $80 on the cheap and then it starts getting into the $100+, for lights, but when you were already looking at $40+ for battery powered that you have to then buy disposable batteries these are able to last for years. You can buy a dynamo hub by itself for less than $100 or a built up wheel for less than $200. Like I said, low-end, but you can get set-up for around $300 and never have to charge or buy batteries again.* (*relatively speaking. For a long, long time.)

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          • gutterbunnybikes July 8, 2014 at 9:37 pm

            You’re gunna love the dyno lights – hub mounted or the magnetic ones are the way to go. The modern bottles ain’t too bad either (though I haven’t tried one, I know people that like theirs).

            I still kick myself for not getting the magnet ones when they hit kickstarter not too long ago. They were fairly expensive, but they’re best of all worlds – easy to swap between bikes, but are in essence a dyno. Basically they treat your wheel as the rotor and the light itself is the stator. Pretty brilliant idea really one of them “why didn’t I think of that” kind.

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            • BIKELEPTIC July 9, 2014 at 8:17 am

              I’m super excited. My only experience was with an old wheel mounted one which was always too tight. I was constantly reminded of that old Simpsons episode where Bart had 4am detention to stargaze and had to kaguff kaguff his way there and a cheap hub dyno that had no capacitor so stopped working when the wheel went too slow – making it not so safe or useful for city riding. I’ve been saving my ducats for a top o’ the line (and pretty) hub to match a new touring bike build.

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    • Chagas July 24, 2014 at 11:56 am

      That positioning does not give you enough light far ahead to see objects with enough time to avoid them. So it’s pointless, really.

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  • davemess July 8, 2014 at 11:57 am

    I think there is a huge difference between a couple LED little blinky and a blinding 600 lumen flasher. For tiny bike lights they’re usually much easier to see in a blinking setting than the tiny light they give off in a steady setting.

    I agree that I get annoyed with people with incredibly bright lights, blinking or steady) when they’re not pointed at reasonable downward angle.

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    • Psyfalcon July 8, 2014 at 1:45 pm

      None of them meet a decent DOT standard anyway. There is no practical way to point them down enough to not blind others while not ruining your own night vision with a giant hot spot 3 feet from your wheel.

      At least some lights come packaged “for off road use only.”

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      • Nom de Plume July 15, 2014 at 10:00 pm

        German lights are all TUV (German DOT) approved, and it is a very strict standard. The German lights are correspondingly expensive…

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  • Phil Kulak July 8, 2014 at 11:57 am

    They have a point. You should never have a flashing front light (it may even be illegal), but if you’re going to do it, you _certainly_ shouldn’t use one of those 1000-lumen nightriders and point the thing up 30 degrees like so many people do.

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  • this_little_light July 8, 2014 at 12:18 pm

    Daytime conspicuity, good. Nighttime disorientation, bad.

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  • Spiffy July 8, 2014 at 12:19 pm

    ironically the first picture taken at NW Raleigh and 20th is where I’ve reported cars parked on the sidewalk daily… a Parking Enforcement supervisor told me they won’t ticket those people unless they’re blocking at least half of the sidewalk…

    no reply back when I asked what the criteria was that allowed people to legally block 49% of sidewalks… thanks for nothing, Donald Hunter…

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    • TonyT July 8, 2014 at 12:36 pm

      That criteria probably springs from the same car-centric mindset that allows motor vehicle drivers to speed with impunity up to “11-14 mph over the limit.” That is a quote from someone at PBOT and was conspicuously not denied by Ileane at the 823-SAFE line when I asked her about its veracity.

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  • Brian July 8, 2014 at 12:26 pm

    My question-Are they really necessary on bike/ped paths too? At the very least, put it on steady when you aren’t on the road!

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    • was carless July 8, 2014 at 2:23 pm

      I normally run into them while on the Springwater Trail during the daytime. They are clearly battery-operated, not generator lights (which AFAIK don’t allow blinky operation modes)… what gives? Why would someone run daytime running lights while “time-trailing” on a busy MUP with goose families and little kids? Its kind of an irritant… I think it is extremely rude!

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  • TonyT July 8, 2014 at 12:32 pm

    We do need data, and I will say that there are some front lights out there that have a particular flash pattern/frequency that really mess with my head and I have no known seizure issues.

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  • GlowBoy July 8, 2014 at 12:33 pm

    Agree with the above comments that a small number of Portland cyclists are running really high-powered lights in blink mode – which no one should EVER do, except possibly on a highway in dense fog. I do think blinkies are approaching the limit of how bright they ought to be. Much more than the SuperFlash or RadBot is probably too much.

    Personally, while I do use blinkies, in darkness I also augment them with bright steady lights so people can actually see where I am.

    As for the concerns of those with epilepsy, I understand, but don’t emergency vehicles cause the same problems? Perhaps we can work on blink patterns that don’t cause seizures among those with sensitivity to flashing lights. Would zZz mode, instead of strobe, be less seizure-inducing?

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    • spare_wheel July 8, 2014 at 12:53 pm

      i’ve noticed that brightest new headlights have a daylight blink mode that is brighter than the brightest steady mode. i expect this is going to cause problems…

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    • BIKELEPTIC July 8, 2014 at 4:27 pm

      Unfortunately what’s good for the goose may not work for the gander… wait, what?! There are over 30 different types of epilepsy – then there are also people that have generalized seizure disorders, people with photosensitive disorders, migraine disorders, even going into the autism spectrum which can have light sensitivities… the list goes on. Trying to have a strobe or flicker pattern that appeases everyone is gonna be impossible. There are some lights on the market that do a gentle pulse. I personally think those are OK. But since we’re talking about batteries and all that, just go for a steady generator – it will pay off in the end.

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      • Dwaine Dibbly July 8, 2014 at 6:05 pm

        Thanks for pointing out that migraineurs can have problems with flashing lights, too. I hate those dang things and always use my lights (dynamo and battery-powered) in steady mode. I wish others would do the same.

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  • Spiffy July 8, 2014 at 12:33 pm

    we generally only have lights because it’s the law… we don’t need them around the city… we put them on blinking because batteries cost money…

    I try not to use the flashing feature… but I also understand that if they’re going to require us to use something that doesn’t come with our bikes and also requires regular monetary expenditure (batteries) that we’re going to go the cheapest route possible: Planet Bike blinking light…

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    • are July 8, 2014 at 1:12 pm

      plus one. also, the planet bike blinking light or its equivalent does not actually light the road, so its only real function is to alert other road users to your presence. low lumens and pointed down, i would be surprised to learn i am triggering anyone’s epilepsy. but i am willing to be corrected.

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      • Kirk July 8, 2014 at 1:48 pm

        I do not have epilepsy so I can’t speak to that, but I agree that the Planet Bike lights (which I used to use before upgrading to more powerful lights) do little to light the road so I understand their usefulness in blinking away and alerting others to the presence of someone biking. Plus, the blinky pattern is so slow as compared to the strobe patterns of more expensive lights, I’m now curious if that pattern is harmless to those with epilepsy.

        However, anything more powerful than the Planet Bike lights should NOT be operated in blinky mode. It is just so blinding to oncoming users (bicyclists/pedestrians/motorists), and dangerous to be disoriented for a few seconds after the person passes without knowing what is immediately coming up on the road. Please stop with the strobe lights!

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    • F.W. de Klerk July 8, 2014 at 2:14 pm

      Speak for yourself. Many of us commute year around in early morning and evening hours with no daylight. And believe it or not, many areas of the city have poor to no street lighting. I am not a ninja cyclist, so I need to see where I am going in the dark. That being said, I find the flashing lights to be only for the “I want to be seen” crowd. I don’t find those particularly useful so I run a solid bright beam.

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      • davemess July 8, 2014 at 5:23 pm

        Wait, there’s a “I DON’T want to be seen” crowd?

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        • are July 8, 2014 at 9:28 pm

          yeah, actually for a very long time i ran with only the tail light. it remains my philosophy that i can control what is in front of me, not so much what is behind. a motorist will usually behave differently if s/he knows you are there, and often the difference is not to my advantage. for the same reason i generally do not signal a left if the likely result is an oncoming car will surrender the right of way. or a right if the likely result is an overtaking car will cut me closer than if s/he thought i was continuing straight.

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          • El Biciclero July 9, 2014 at 4:19 pm

            I, too have recently discovered the benefit of not signaling left turns. I quit signaling right turns long ago, and now only signal lefts for the benefit of drivers behind me to prevent them from attempting to pass on the left (which they will do even when I’m riding the center line).

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        • was carless July 8, 2014 at 11:35 pm

          “Bike ninjas.” They were the predominant cyclist species in the Buckman neighborhood circa 2010.

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          • Alan 1.0 July 8, 2014 at 11:40 pm

            were? natural selection?

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          • spare_wheel July 9, 2014 at 4:31 pm

            i love ninjas.
            they freak motorists out of their stupors and make us all safer.

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        • jeff July 9, 2014 at 3:17 pm

          really? I would say about 10% of riders in the winter have no lights whatsoever.

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    • was carless July 8, 2014 at 2:27 pm

      I’m amazed by how terrible the bike light offerings by bike shops in the US are. Truly awful… I recently went shopping for new lights, and was continuously steered towards the overpriced, disposable junk blinky light section. Ugh. I think Western Europe has it figured out!

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      • Todd Boulanger July 8, 2014 at 5:14 pm

        Yes this is true…if the NTSA, US DOT, (and the State DOTs) really thought about this then they would adopt [for urban areas] the German bike lighting standards that avoid flashing LEDs and have headlamps with an upper cut off point to reduce blinding on coming traffic.

        I have done several informal equipment surveys at places like the Hawthorn Bridge, etc in the winter and have found most of the newer LED bike head light beams (Bike Planet, off road style lamps, etc. ) to be very blinding and ineffective. They are as bad as those blue aftermarket car headlamps on one’s eyes. Many other bike head lights are also poorly adjusted on handlebars…either rotated up or down to be pointless (or too polite).

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        • Dwaine Dibbly July 8, 2014 at 6:08 pm

          Do you have a link to the German standard? All I know about it is that my dynamo lights meet the standard and there is some sort of wattage requirement at low speeds.

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          • was carless July 8, 2014 at 6:40 pm

            Well, I found this summary:
            http://chicargobike.blogspot.com/2013/04/stvzo-german-bicycle-requirements-make.html

            (there is a bicycle diagram – translated from German)
            Quote:

            Lighting A white headlight and a red rear light are required and must be ready for use at any time. The headlight and rear light must be turned on with a single switch. They must be able to be powered by a dynamo backup, though they can use batteries in addition (as a standlight for example). One additional battery powered rear light may be added at the most; further battery powered lamps are not permitted, including blinking ones or ones on the helmet or body. Racing bikes (in Switzerland 700c x 23 or thinner) up to 11 kg weight (24.25 lbs or 12 kg/26.45 lbs in Austria and Switzerland) are not required to have the dynamo lighting, but may use removable battery powered lights. These lights must be carried at all times. All lighting needs an approval stamp from the German department of transportation in Flensburg – see the image at top or your own B&M LED lamps. Incidentally, the lights that are permitted don’t have a setting for blinking. All lights stay on when switched on so that other traffic participants can judge distances well, something that is harder with a blinking light.

            Reflectors…(it goes on, many other sections)

            According to wikipedia, in July 2013 they legalized battery-powered lights.

            According to another site, the German regulations are titled:
            The most important parts of StVZO and TA for bicycles:

            StVZO §22a (Bauartgenehmigung für Fahrzeugteile)
            StVZO §66a (Lichttechnische Einrichtungen)
            StVZO §67 (Lichttechnische Einrichtungen an Fahrrädern)
            TA 4 part (8) lists 14 bicycle lightsystem/headlamp requirements.
            TA 14 lists requirements for rear lamps and bicycle rear lamps. Note that TA 14 a,b,c (from 2004) are still included in the regulations I have which are the latest (Sept. 2010) but these 3 for the most part duplicate what’s in the newer (2007) regulations of TA 14.
            TA 18 lists requirements for retro-reflectors.
            TA 23 lists requirements for bicycle headlamps (measurements of the beam).
            TA 24 lists requirements for a bicycle ‘light machine’ (i.e. generator/dynamo/dynamo hub).

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      • Robert Burchett July 9, 2014 at 9:36 am

        I have a Planet Bike light on my work bike right now. I turn it on for the parts of my commute with lots of cross traffic and lane merging. They’re relatively cheap and pretty useful, and they make you legal if you happen to take the long way home. However the switches are so fragile, leave it out in one day of rain or even a hard shower and it’s toast. Probably fixable if you can find a switch but labor cost = price of a new light.

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  • jeff July 8, 2014 at 12:35 pm

    I tend to agree with the graffiti artist…I hate flashing front lights, no matter how bright or at what angle. Never understood the point…

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    • Caleb July 8, 2014 at 1:39 pm

      I believe there is more than one reason that people choose blink mode, so which point is it that you don’t understand?

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      • BIKELEPTIC July 8, 2014 at 4:39 pm

        Hi Caleb! As someone who agrees with the graffiti artist as well fervently (so much so I’m surprised I haven’t gotten a visit by our friends in blue) – I can’t speak for this commentor above, but I understand that people believe they are more safe with blinky lights for one. Which is why it’s important to get more data on that subject, because it could very well be a dirty, dirty myth. There is a lot of contentious data regarding the “moth effect” which says they’re actually less safe with rear blinkies for instance (prefaced it with contentious!!) As well as killing your vision at night therefore slowing your reflexes if used in the front. More data then education. Until then I’m more into accessibility for everyone.

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  • Dave July 8, 2014 at 12:45 pm

    I’ll stop using blinkers under two unlikely conditions: I qualify for and ride Paris-Brest-Paris, or American drivers once again become human. They were in the era before cell phones and SUV’s.

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    • spencer July 8, 2014 at 1:03 pm

      I use the 600 lumen blinky pointed down during dusk hours. I’ve had numerous instances where my light alerted the ‘rolling stop’ person in car to actually “see” me and yield to me as required by law. No blinking = near accident every time. That said, I do use steady when its darker than dusk.

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      • Adam July 9, 2014 at 9:40 am

        I am glad you said this. I have had exactly the same experience. I ride down Killingsworth every day to and from work. Since I put the big blinky lights on my bike I have actually seen people notice me before they even get out the drive way they are pulling out of. I have no had a close call since. There are almost never any other bikes on the road with me and the difference it has made for my biking experience is amazing.

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    • Bike Everywhere July 9, 2014 at 5:13 pm

      I will stop running blinkies during the day when drivers stop being more concerned with their LOLs and OMGs than they are with my safety. If only I had a nickel for every time I’ve been nearly killed by someone texting. My hope is that my lights just might be seen in their peripheral vision right before they hit me. Maybe I am fooling myself–I’d love to see hard data concerning this? Out of consideration for everyone on the road, however, I only use steady mode on both front and rear lights at dusk and later.

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      • Bike Everywhere July 9, 2014 at 7:36 pm

        By the way, I doubt that the graffiti artist actually has epilepsy as well–sounds like he is in need of a behavioral health intervention.

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  • Pat Franz July 8, 2014 at 12:46 pm

    I have to agree that some of the crazy lights out there aren’t doing anyone any good. And I agree with Daisy about blinking and steady. So many light manfacturers go for the wildest flashing they can, but it’s counterproductive.

    I’d like to see a real study of 1.) what it actually takes to get a driver’s attention, 2.) what actually helps drivers figure out where a cyclist is and where they are going, 3.) what things to avoid so as to not trigger seizures, and 4.) what people find really annoying. I’ll bet there is a solution out there that will work better all around, but no one has bothered to look for it.

    I also agree the graffiti probably wasn’t done by anyone actually concerned about seizures. I’ll bet it was done by a pissed off driver upset that cyclists are fighting back. Fighting back in a way that may not be helping them, in my opinion, but fighting back in a way that has to be noticed- *that* just can’t be allowed.

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    • Pete July 8, 2014 at 1:10 pm

      I don’t have a real study but learned through experience that there was one pinch-point on my commute where turning to blink mode made a significant difference: where drivers had to queue up for a right turn for nearly a mile so they often strayed onto the shoulder far beyond the 100′ allowed. I use the 650-lumen MiNewt primarily to see the road I’m riding, but for this stretch I learned that the flashing in their side-view mirror caught their attention quite well. Nobody oncoming was affected due to the width of the highway (and crowded traffic).

      On the rear I use two Radbots – one blinking and one steady (batteries be damned!). Having done my own informal studies to answer this question myself, I definitely notice other cyclists’ blinking rear lights easier than I do steady ones. Your own mileage may vary!

      Now on a bike path, that’s a different story…

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    • was carless July 8, 2014 at 2:29 pm

      Already been done years ago.

      http://www.peterwhitecycles.com/lightingsystems.htm

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  • Greg July 8, 2014 at 12:46 pm

    Deal with it.

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  • Jamie July 8, 2014 at 12:47 pm

    I see their point, but for my sample size of one, I had three people pull out in front of me on my first week of bike commuting with a steady light. Added a flashing front light and have had zero incidents in the 5 months since then. Your mileage may vary.

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  • Champs July 8, 2014 at 12:57 pm

    I agree with the sentiment but have kept such statements to myself, with one (verbal) exception.

    It’s great that LEDs have made bike lights cheaper, brighter, and longer lasting. Things could be better, and I could pontificate about their lousy optics, the stupidity of the lumen wars, and improperly aimed light, but I’m trying to have a life here. Just remember that with great candlepower comes great responsibility.

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  • dave July 8, 2014 at 1:02 pm

    Apparently I’m in the minority, but as a rider or driver encountering them on other’s bikes, they’ve never bothered me. Compared to all the other annoyances on the road, especially at night or in foul weather, it just doesn’t even rate. It seems a little silly when I see somebody in broad daylight, with multiple blinkies, dayglo vest, etc, but whatever makes you feel safe.

    As a user, I can’t help but think, “If they’re annoying you, at least that means you noticed me.” I’ll take your annoyance over my potential crushed-ness any day.

    And if flashing lights are an epileptic risk for you, sorry – you don’t belong on the road. You cannot get a drivers license with a disorder like that, and cycling is probably never going to be safe for you either. Even if you banned blinkies, there will always be ambulances and police cars and other emergency vehicles that will put the most well-lit and strobe-tastic cyclist to shame.

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    • BIKELEPTIC July 8, 2014 at 5:12 pm

      In fact you CAN get a driver’s license with epilepsy. Depending on the intensity of your seizure disorder (and other factors), if you are seizure free for a certain period of time you are able to have a license, or if it had been revoked due to seizures, have it reinstated after doctor approval.

      It’s also really a shame that you feel that people with a medical condition have less right to the road. Do people with diabetes also not belong on the road because they may suffer a low blood sugar crash and their cognitive judgment may be slower at that time? Your statement is very similar to GOP candidate Scott Esk who believes that it’s ok to give homosexuals the death penalty. You know, because they’re less of a people.

      As someone with epilespy, cycling gives me the ability to have the freedom of getting myself to/from where I need to go, not rely on car rides from other people or Trimet’s stellar schedule. Sometimes I don’t feel so great and I take the bus. I walk quite a bit. But when I ride my bike, I love it – and NO ONE – especially someone that thinks that because of someone’s medical condition they have less right to the road will tell me otherwise. Only my doctors and I will decide that.

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      • Caleb July 8, 2014 at 5:18 pm

        dave’s comment included nothing about people with any disorder being less of a people, so saying his comment is very similar to Scott Esk’s is inaccurate.

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        • BIKELEPTIC July 8, 2014 at 6:20 pm

          Dave’s 3rd paragraph: “And if flashing lights are an epileptic risk for you, sorry – you don’t belong on the road.”

          If this were a discussion about curb cuts for wheelchair users and I said; “If you can’t get up and down from the curb, sucks to be you.” I would hope there would be a lot of backlash against me – my point being that it is about equal usage to the road – I did use a very exaggerated example, but saying that someone doesn’t belong on the road because of their disability is unacceptable. (I also made a separate example in my original comment similar)

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          • Caleb July 8, 2014 at 7:59 pm

            I had assumed you were talking about that specific statement he made, but I never believed he was implying folks with epileptic risks are less of a people by saying they don’t belong on the road, thus I pointed out what I believed was the inaccuracy in your comparison. To believe he was implying epileptic people are less of a people is to assume more than logic allows.

            I also don’t believe the “sucks to be you”/wheelchair person example is analogous to dave’s comment. He reinforced his statement by saying, “You cannot get a drivers license with a disorder like that, and cycling is probably never going to be safe for you either.” Going by that, I’ve interpreted “you don’t belong on the road” as a comment motivated by concern for legality and safety more than by any inconsideration (like in the wheelchair example) or denial of the most basic “right” we call “life” (like in Scott Esk’s comment).

            Also, I saw your diabetic person example, but didn’t comment on it, because I thought the question was directed at dave and you wanted his answer. But because you mentioned it in response to my comment, I’ll share my rather uninformed opinion on the matter.

            As I understand diabetes, diabetic people have control over their blood sugar levels through monitoring and dieting that doesn’t compare with a person’s epileptic susceptibility to factors more outside his/her/its control, so I don’t think this comparison is analogous, either. Nevertheless, if diabetic people’s low blood sugar does pose a risk for collisions and is largely outside their control, and we do indeed put safety above all else on our roads, then it follows that they “don’t belong on the road”, but to be more specific, that they should not operate motor vehicles. What are your thoughts on diabetic people and driving?

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            • BIKELEPTIC July 8, 2014 at 10:55 pm

              My thoughts on people with diabetes and driving are the same as people with epilepsy and driving or someone with MS, or any disorder that could impair judgement temporarily. As long as they have their medications or treatment and condition under control and they feel safe and comfortable doing so; to each their own. (My personal opinions about driving in general aside)

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              • Spiffy July 9, 2014 at 10:06 am

                if you’re treating it and it’s under control then flashing lights are NOT an epileptic risk for you and the comment does not relate…

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              • Caleb July 9, 2014 at 4:35 pm

                I agree that anyone who can completely prevent their temporary judgment loss need not be barred, for safety’s sake, from driving. That said, I’d like to know your thoughts in response to Spiffy’s comment immediately above.

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          • davemess July 9, 2014 at 8:16 am

            I’m kind of surprised that on a bike blog of all places someone would equate “not being allowed to drive/ride” with being less of a person.

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      • Paul Johnson July 8, 2014 at 11:18 pm

        Nobody’s saying they have less of a right to the road. Your right to the road extends to riding a bicycle or walking within the legal bounds of a pedestrian. Operating even an amatuer motor vehicle (which, I should remind you, in Oregon, includes up to and including volunteer fire equipment that goes into a weight class or characteristics that would normally require a Class A or B commercial license, as well as motorhomes and busses that would require an endorsement to drive if they were for hire; Oregon doesn’t require any special endorsements for a 10-ton combination with a towed car, air-brake equipped, diesel powered motorhome that can sleep 12, that’s as wide and long as, and probably heavier than, an 18-wheeler running empty!) requires a license, ie, a privilege that can be revoked. And Oregon is incredibly lax about this. A Class C license in Oregon is equivalent to a class D in most other states (in which, class C would be for those heavy combinations used for residential or recrational purposes, such as above mentioned big-ass motorhome).

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    • a July 12, 2014 at 11:47 am

      I am autistic and the flashing lights make me absolutely have to close my eyes. There is not another option if I see them. I can get a license if I want to as there are no legal restrictions but I won’t because it wouldn’t be pleasant to get in an accident with some asshole with blinking lights on their bike.

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      • Caleb July 12, 2014 at 6:00 pm

        I appreciate your choice to refrain from driving out of concern for potential risks.

        But I take issue with your diction, specifically how you used the word “asshole”. Are “assholes” the only people who use blinking lights? If not, how do you ever know when a person using a blinking light is an “asshole” or not?

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  • whyat July 8, 2014 at 1:05 pm

    This is anecdotal, but when I use my NiteRyder front light on flash mode I can’t remember a car trying to pull right in front of me. As soon as I put it on solid or turn it off I have multiple times a week where someone will try to pull out right in front of me. I am always conflicted inside when I turn my light to flash mode, but as soon as I turn it off I’m going to have a close call. With so many distracted drivers out there it’s hard to rely on everyone else’s good judgement. I use my NR Solas2 rear light on flash during the day. Is that considered bad manners? I’ve figured if someone notices you and says ‘that light is way too bright’ it’s still better than the person who doesn’t notice you at all. This is making me think I need a less bright tail light?

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    • Dave July 8, 2014 at 1:39 pm

      Bike lights in the US really need to be offensive weapons that use light as their ammunition. Worrying about wether your lights are too bright seems to me very counterproductive.

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  • SE PDX Rider July 8, 2014 at 1:07 pm

    I think if you are solo, use the blinky. Be conscientious about where it’s pointed. And yeah ok maybe just shield it or go solid if you think you are affecting someone negatively… like passing on the Springwater… could probably do that for solid lights too please. Kinda just cup your hand on the left side there as you pass… it’s really appreciated and I’ve gotten thank you’s. People want to see you coming, and they appreciate a conscientious attempt to protect their eyes (and preserve the night vision that takes us old farts a long time to adjust too) as you pass.

    Once you cue up behind someone, kill your blinky. Only the lead rider should be blinking if at all.

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    • Spiffy July 8, 2014 at 3:25 pm

      my light isn’t mounted where I can easily reach it… if I really stretch I can get one finger to hit the switch…

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  • Pat July 8, 2014 at 1:11 pm

    My bike lights are not, in fact, epileptic, but thanks for your concern.

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  • Brad July 8, 2014 at 1:25 pm

    This should make for some good Bike Snob material in the next day or two.

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  • Terra July 8, 2014 at 1:31 pm

    I was riding to work this morning on Raleigh (at about 5:20 am) and the dude was out there tagging still. I use a blinky light on my bike since it’s usually a teensy bit dark out during that time, and cars are less likely to be looking for cyclists that early. He jumped out from between a few cars and started yelling at me, asking if I could read what he had just tagged. “Do you see that?! CAN YOU READ?! HA HA HA everybody hates you! Fuck your bike lights. FUCK YOU!” He yelled a bunch more as I rode away. I was pretty confused to say the least. I was also genuinely terrified that he might jump in a car and run me down.

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    • Chris I July 8, 2014 at 2:53 pm

      Sounds like this guy might need to be reported before he hurts someone.

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  • Dave July 8, 2014 at 1:38 pm

    I’ve been a “serious cyclist” about since Mick Taylor was the newest guy in the Rolling Stones, and have come to believe that in all that time LED lighting is the best new cycling technology to come along. I remember tire-side generators that made it feel you were dragging a brick behind your bike whilst powering a light that barely put a light patch on the road.

    spencer
    I use the 600 lumen blinky pointed down during dusk hours. I’ve had numerous instances where my light alerted the ‘rolling stop’ person in car to actually “see” me and yield to me as required by law. No blinking = near accident every time. That said, I do use steady when its darker than dusk.
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  • Dave July 8, 2014 at 1:40 pm

    spare_wheel
    i’ve noticed that brightest new headlights have a daylight blink mode that is brighter than the brightest steady mode. i expect this is going to cause problems…
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    I like that idea–who makes ‘em?

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  • Psyfalcon July 8, 2014 at 1:41 pm

    ~1W blinkies are not too bad. Even 5 years ago, most bike lights were rather dim, blinking helped people notice the dim lights.

    Newer lights though are very bright, and many of them still blink. They still lack a top cut off like the German lights. They are getting to be pretty hazardous, especially on dim paths.

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  • Dave July 8, 2014 at 1:41 pm

    And besides–if someone is epileptic, what the hell are they doing driving anyway?

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    • Alan 1.0 July 8, 2014 at 3:51 pm

      What about people biking, walking or sitting at a bus stop?

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  • John Liu July 8, 2014 at 1:51 pm

    Low powered steady bike lights are easily overlooked against a background of car lights, building lights, streetlights, reflections, rain splashing and streaming on windshields, dash and LCD panel lights, headlights glaring in the rearview mirror, etc. Low power blinking lights are harder to overlook.

    When we get to higher powered bike lights, they make themselves noticed quite well, even when steady. They don’t need to blink, and are unnecessarily distracting when they do.

    “Low” and “high” power are relative to the environment. In a crowded, confusing situation with lots of cars and other lights, I’d say 400 lumen is “high power”. On a dark MUP, 200 lumen is “high power”.

    Ideally, cyclists would switch between low and high power, steady and blinking, as appropriate. On the MUP, use low power on steady. Riding through downtown at rush hour on a rainy winter night, use low power on blinking or high power on steady. Lights should always be aimed down, just like your car’s low beams.

    I ride with a headlight on the bars and another on the helmet, both about 300-400 lumens, and a couple of little (coin cell, 5 lumens?) marker lights. I never have these lights in blinking mode. I seldom have all of them turned on. My tailights are the 2 AA type, I think about 35 lumens each. Usually one is blinking, the other steady.

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    • Ian July 8, 2014 at 2:23 pm

      Ideally, bicycle headlights would have shaped beams like car headlights, and then none of this would be an issue. Right now you only see that in German dynamo headlights, as far as I know, but there’s no reason it can’t be done with battery powered lights too.

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      • wsbob July 8, 2014 at 4:10 pm

        Interesting information exchanged in comments here, about blinking bike lights. One situation I could see blinky lights being possibly a big headache, is during times when many people together are riding bikes. Maybe that situation already exists during rush hour on some of Portland’s more heavily traveled bike routes.

        Getting off topic, but bike lights designed with a shaped beam could be very beneficial. From reading in the ‘Electronics, Lighting, & Gadgets’ category of bikeforums, I know in recent past, maybe a few companies have designed and produced such lights. Serfas had such a light, but it may have been discontinued. One criticism was that the light unit was bigger than some of the self contained LED lights that are kind of common today. People thought well of the focused beam though.

        Manufacturers likely don’t have a clear idea about whether a good market for those kind of bike lights exist. If there was money in it, they’d probably produce them.

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      • Psyfalcon July 8, 2014 at 4:14 pm

        There are some German headlights with batteries now. Not common because of the required dynamo on their bikes, but there are a few out there.

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      • Dinotte fan July 9, 2014 at 8:03 am

        The Trelock LS 950 is a battery-powered light and meets the German standard. You can read a review here:
        http://road.cc/content/review/47688-trelock-ls-950-ecopower-control-front-light

        and here: http://gravelgrindernews.com/trelock-ls-950-control-ion-bike-light-final-review/

        You can purchase the light here: http://www.cantitoeroad.com/Trelock-LS-950-Control-Ion-Bike-Light_p_256.html

        It’s not cheap at $230 though!

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  • Terra July 8, 2014 at 2:02 pm

    Alex
    I’m surprised at how sensitive everyone is being toward one person’s anonymous, expletive-ridden road graffiti.
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    I honestly wouldn’t have cared at all if the guy hadn’t jumped out and screamed at me. I was so scared that I almost fell. If this guy is actually concerned about safety, he should be considering *everyone’s* safety. Jumping out and yelling at cyclists is just as bad as someone using a light that could cause seizures.

    Honestly, the blinking light debate is completely new to me today. I appreciate the information that everyone is presenting, and I’m sure this guy has some very legit reasoning behind wanting to get his opinion out there, but there are far more constructive ways to go about it. Going around tagging the city is destructive and disrespectful.

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    • q`Tzal July 8, 2014 at 5:33 pm

      Location, time, description of perp?

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      • Terra July 9, 2014 at 5:39 am

        On NW Raleigh, just before the intersection of 17th, at about 5:20 am. The dude was probably about 5’7″/5’8″, buzz cut, wearing shorts and a tshirt. He still had his spray can in hand.

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  • CaptainKarma July 8, 2014 at 2:04 pm

    More important is not shining the light in everyone’s eyes. It is very annoying to rider and driver both. BTW, I have a niece who periodically crashes into a tree and loses her license due to seizures. If you are blinking your light at someone like this, they may crash into YOU!

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    • Robert Burchett July 8, 2014 at 2:36 pm

      Hope those trees are wearing helmets

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    • Randall S July 8, 2014 at 6:03 pm

      You have a niece who willfully disregards the lives of people on the road, her own included?

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  • was carless July 8, 2014 at 2:08 pm

    I kind of agree with the idea that blinky lights are somewhat annoying, but never thought of the effect it could have on epileptics.

    I have already decided to upgrade the lighting on all of our household bikes to bottle-dynamo based generator lighting, none of which blinks. Blinking lights are, from what I have read, banned in Germany, which has the most stringent lighting requirements for bicycles anywhere in the world.

    That, and I’m tired of spending upwards of $160/year in batteries.

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    • Chris I July 8, 2014 at 2:55 pm

      Rechargeable batteries are a good investment…

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      • was carless July 8, 2014 at 6:48 pm

        Not really. Just more stuff to get lost or have stolen, and I have to charge it daily or weekly. I can’t even count the number of times I have had to stay late at work and then… oops, left my bike lights at home! Hope the moon is out so I can see the springwater trail enough to get home!

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        • Chagas July 24, 2014 at 12:35 pm

          Guess you need to work on improving your habits. Leave reminders, etc.
          Or get a dynohub and headlamp if you cannot handle the responsibility of riding within legal requirements. Is it really THAT hard?

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    • Todd Boulanger July 8, 2014 at 5:20 pm

      I would suggest avoiding the bottle type generator and just go for the hub generator. You will be much happier. and well lit..assuming you have the extra $60. If not then the Reelights, AXA bottle generator or the Sanyo bottom bracket generators would be the fall back options.

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      • was carless July 8, 2014 at 6:49 pm

        I have 8 bikes, including 6 vintage. You going to pay for new/rebuilt hubs for them all?

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        • Was Bikeless July 8, 2014 at 9:07 pm

          I have 10 bikes and swap a couple dynamo wheels between them. Works great.

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        • dr2chase July 10, 2014 at 11:23 am

          I put hub dynamos on 9 bikes — 4 of mine, all 3 of my kids, and then one kid had his bike stolen, twice. The lights are cheap and DIY.

          Cheapest source of dyno wheels appears to be the Netherlands, but I built one around a Sturmey-Archer X-FDD for my own vintage (about WW2) bike.

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  • Justin July 8, 2014 at 2:56 pm

    Walking up Moody to work, I’m always amazed by how many lights aren’t aimed at anything at all. In the gray months, I often end up putting up my hand to shield my eyes. This is a solvable problem (car headlights are aimed so they don’t do this) but many of the bike lights, including my own, are removable and it’s hard to tell where they’re pointing. Or they get bumped and move.

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    • davemess July 8, 2014 at 5:49 pm

      Car headlights are also focused almost exclusively on illuminating the road for the driver. Bike lights are only sometimes used for this purpose. They also have important job of alerting cars or a bike’s presence. So I don’t know if the directions automatically should be the same.

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  • dan July 8, 2014 at 2:56 pm

    First World problems

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  • Drew July 8, 2014 at 2:59 pm

    Imagine being sold a car and having the option to walk down the accessory aisle to choose lights for it…

    The technology for reliable bright steady always-on lights is here! But it costs a couple hundred bucks or more and takes time to install. Unless they are mandatory for all bikes sold which are intended for street use, clamping on unreliable and annoying lights will continue.

    I think all the TDF riders should sport dynamo hubs and LED lights.

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  • Joe July 8, 2014 at 3:22 pm

    someone hit me with white lights on super dark fanno creek one night totally screwed with my vision from the front.. scary I lost my line after getting beamed like that.. ugh

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  • Editz July 8, 2014 at 3:26 pm

    CaptainKarma
    BTW, I have a niece who periodically crashes into a tree and loses her license due to seizures.
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    Can you elaborate on this? Your niece crashed into trees on more than one occasion due to a medical condition and hasn’t had her license (presumably motor) permanently revoked?

    And while we’re on the subject of epileptic drivers (didn’t know they could drive without a medical waiver anyway) how about the effects of emergency vehicle lights/strobes on these individuals? Those things must be several times brighter than even the brightest bike equipment.

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    • BIKELEPTIC July 8, 2014 at 5:53 pm

      I can’t answer for this person directly, but I can talk generically about it. If a person goes a period of time without a seizure, if they had their license suspended or revoked they can get it reinstated with a doctor’s note. Sometimes they don’t get their license suspended at all, but just have doctor’s advise to not driver for a period of time – it all depends on how severe their seizure disorder is and other factors.

      If they were riding their bike when this happened that period could be much shorter. Whereas driving could be 6 months – 2 years, riding bikes could be 1 week – 1 month or longer depending on their safety and seizure frequency.

      For some people with photosensitivity issues, emergency vehicles can be quite an issue. They are for me due not only to the strobe but also to the red lights – I often wear my Zeiss ZI blue lenses when out which filters out some of that. Here’s a study on them: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1528-1167.2006.00463.x/abstract;jsessionid=A03A2762F4566CB900A32CBDAA8C8BB4.f01t01

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  • Spiffy July 8, 2014 at 3:42 pm

    I had multiple compliments when I had lots of bright lights… the most memorable from a trucker who said he saw me for at least a mile…

    the only complaints I’ve had were from people camping on the Springwater…

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    • q`Tzal July 8, 2014 at 5:19 pm

      The funniest/coolest is when PPD pulls up alongside and ask what brand your bike light is, how much it costs and where to buy it.

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      • El Biciclero July 10, 2014 at 5:06 pm

        …or when drivers pull over because they think you’re PPD, what with your yellow shirt and flashing light and all—it’s happened to me twice.

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  • BIKELEPTIC July 8, 2014 at 3:50 pm

    WASN’T ME! O_o I’ll be happy to talk about photosensitive neurological conditions such as epilepsy, migraines etc. Feel free to email me at bikeleptic@outlook.com or through my website. (I will also comment more as I read this article more thoroughly)

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  • Joe July 8, 2014 at 3:55 pm

    Use a solid front light.. LOL why the hell blink on a bike path or coming at someone head on. just blows my eye sockets.. haha

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  • K'Tesh July 8, 2014 at 3:59 pm

    Despite having thousands of lumens output from my lights, I have stuck to using the bright flash for daytime riding, and the Cygolite (Epsilon 800 lumen light) pulsing/steady light after dark for some time now. My handlebar light (Niterider MiNewt 600 cordless) is set to low steady. That changes if I’m in a sketchy area, or doing something to show off, but those cases are few and far between.

    Car headlights are still much brighter than anything I’ve ever fielded.

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  • Ty July 8, 2014 at 4:00 pm

    Been commuting a long time now, and blinking is simply the best setting I have to get noticed. If there was a setting to modulate rather than blink, I think that would be just as effective without the disorienting effect of being off and on repetitively, but I’m not aware of any lights that feature that.

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  • El Biciclero July 8, 2014 at 4:01 pm

    I do think about this quite a bit, as I get very self-conscious if I think I am needlessly annoying or inconveniencing someone else. My strategy is to run in blinky mode during the day (I have one of those 650-or-so lumen LED front lights) to save battery power and to grab just that little bit of extra attention if I’m riding in shadows or whatnot. I’ve always figured that the low contrast between daylight and my light doesn’t create that big of a problem. At night, I can’t run in blink mode or I won’t be able to see where I’m going on my route.

    Another problem with the design of many bike lights is that there isn’t a good way to switch between just two modes on some of the higher-end (i.e., “useful”) lights (maybe I mean “middle end”; I’ll bet if went super-high-end, there would be something pretty slick). If I want to switch between any two modes on my light it’s 4 button-pushes on a squishy (for waterproofity) button that doesn’t always respond to every push attempt on a bumpy road when I’m riding with one hand so I can push the button. This leads me to follow a strategy whereby I start out on a dimmer setting as I leave town, then use just a button-push at a time to gradually increase the brightness as needed. I’m loath to try to dim it again, because I have to go from bright to blinky to dimmest, then brighter, and back to brightest for riding along some of the unlit roads I use in the Winter. All that button-pushing creates quite a distraction, and by the time I get it where I’d want it, the occasion for dimming is probably over.

    I have been known to use my hand for shielding when stopped behind a driver (so I’m not blasting it in their rear-view), or when encountering other riders on a bike path.

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    • El Biciclero July 8, 2014 at 4:10 pm

      Ah, one other thing: I have wondered when using my light in steady mode whether motorists get confused trying to tell whether I’m a motorcycle a long way off or a bicycle very close…

      I have toyed with the idea of getting a second light (or two) that I would aim at me, if I could find a way of doing it without blinding myself.

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      • Robert Burchett July 9, 2014 at 9:52 am

        This is a great idea and I’m wondering how long it be before somebody markets it– a single LED aimed back at the rider with a lens to spread the light. The person who buys this light probably has high visibility clothing so you have a glowing human being coming down the street–the light would be well below the riders line of sight so it wouldn’t be blinding.

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      • Ted Buehler July 10, 2014 at 12:26 pm

        “that I would aim at me, ”

        I put some lights on my bike trailer, sometimes I aim them up at my torso. I’d be curious to see this from a car sometime to see if its actually bright enough to be noticed.

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  • J_R July 8, 2014 at 4:17 pm

    I run a solid light and a blinky up front and two different strobes on the back. I’ll continue to use my blinky light on roadways to minimize the chance for a motorist to claim “I didn’t see you.” Based on the discussion here, I’ll try to be more attentive about the aiming, but I’m NOT turning it off.

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    • Rob Chapman July 9, 2014 at 11:42 am

      Thats my theory too J_R. Eliminate the “I didn’t see him” and the “He came out of nowhere” excuses from the get go. I’ll go solid in the back as soon as I’m convinced that the average driver is more than marginally attentive and competent behind the wheel (I use a solid light in the front and I’m mindful of not aiming it into eyes).

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  • Moe Szyslak July 8, 2014 at 4:33 pm

    someone said it upthread, but a lot of it probably has to do with blinking mode lasting a couple months and steady mode lasting one ride.

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  • Craig Harlow July 8, 2014 at 4:35 pm

    There’s more to it than just being more or less noticeable.

    A very bright strobe has the effect of extremely contracting the pupils of one’s eyes, letting in much less light and severly reducing vision; whereas in relative darkenss pupils are otherwise greatly dilated, allowing in more light and increasing visibility, which makes them especially vulnerable to a bright strobe.

    When I’m driving or bicycling and a bike with a very bright strobe is approaching, I lose the ability to judge their distance or even my own position on the roadway, so I quickly pull over and come to a complete stop until they’ve passed, hoping nobody rear-ends me.

    Maybe I’m more sensitive than most, but for me it’s a very serious issue.

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    • was carless July 8, 2014 at 7:05 pm

      Yeah, I’ve had similar experience with passing cyclists head-on with them using extremely bright blinky lights on the springwater. I don’t know what they were running, but they illuminated just about everything. Was like staring into the sun; I couldn’t even tell if I was moving or not (was biking around 20 mph in pitch black). Spatial awareness just went to nothing in an instant.

      People who insist on running extremely bright lighting setups need to be *extremely cautious* and responsible with how you use them. You can easily blind people and cause them to crash! Passing on a MUP is far far closer and totally different than passing while driving a car on a road – headlight aiming being a major factor.

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  • Terry D July 8, 2014 at 4:55 pm

    I use 2 watt blinkers. My night vision is terrible, so if I have to ride where there are no street lights I have to go slow with a solid brighter light and then I am blind outside the light’s view. On city streets a solid white light in front is just enough to mess with MY vision enough so I can not see. Hence, I used a not so bright blinker so My night vision remains.

    More dangerous are the auto drivers who seem to think that they need to use their BRIGHTS in the oncoming lane. Then I go blind.

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  • Andy K July 8, 2014 at 5:06 pm

    It’s much worse on an MUP. I ride the Sunset Bike Path adjacent to US26 2mi each way daily. Since its a straight route, in wintertime you can see those “epileptic lights” a quarter mile away, even in the rain. The moment just before you pass the other rider it’s almost unbearable, especially if they have both bike- and helmet-mounted lights going. Thankfully, the number of westside commuters is about 90% lower by then so it doesn’t happen too often. I have pulled over a number of times to stop and regain my vision, exactly like one of the previous commenters described.

    I feel that these lights are a danger to other MUP users but I doubt anything can be done about it since it’s your right to protect yourself on your bike.

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  • Paul Johnson July 8, 2014 at 5:43 pm

    So we’re ignoring the fact that the Portland Police Bureau uses LED light bars that are a zillion times worse for epileptics (and are actually obnoxious for those who aren’t, often appearing as solid purple from a distance)? If your epilepsy is _that_ bad, maybe you shouldn’t be driving…

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  • Gumby July 8, 2014 at 5:45 pm

    I have an older version of the PDW Danger Zone light. They have a mode that I really like at night. Instead of flashing, it fades up and down about once every two seconds. That gets peoples attention without being obnoxious. During the day, though I prefer a mode that alternates between flashing an fades.

    I’ve been driving at night and have seen riders with some of those tiny blinky lights and I have a hard time noticing them.

    Seems like it’s time to have some standards for bike lights like they do for car lights with min and Max brightness and what is acceptable flashing. My idea is to have yellow and green lights that have light sensors to make them blink during the day and fade in and out during the evening. Once this became standard, people would learn to instantly recognize the light signature of a bike just like people instantly recognize the ring-ring of a classic bike bell.

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    • BIKELEPTIC July 8, 2014 at 5:58 pm

      K-LOG! DANGER ZONE! I was trying to remember which light that was! I love that light and was actually just describing that one to someone earlier today before I had noticed this article! I love this light for a cheap battery-powered light. I don’t know if the new one does, but it was a slow pulse – I had chased someone down a couple summers ago one night to ask them what the light was, I loved it so much!

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    • GlowBoy July 8, 2014 at 10:06 pm

      That was the “zZz” mode I mentioned above. I suspect the “chase” patterns on some lights might also be less effective for people with sensitivity to flashing lights.

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      • GlowBoy July 8, 2014 at 10:06 pm

        Sorry, I meant to say “less offensive”, not “less effective”.

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    • Paul Johnson July 8, 2014 at 10:51 pm

      I gotta say, more than flashing, I appreciate a larger light. Yeah, I know, bigger light, more resistance. But hear me out: Which would you rather have on you: A steady but bright taillight when you’re riding home from work at 4AM having to share the road with tired truckers, bleary on-call MAX operators and drunk drivers, or a single LED blinky?

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  • The ethics of this issue are obviously up for debate, and there’s not nearly as much hard data as I’d like, but there is a little bit of research to support both sides.

    There are some great answers on this Bikes Stack Exchange Q&A post, including some good citations, debating flashing vs. steady. A key quote:

    Flashing lights will be perceived as having higher brightness than steady-burning lights, up to a flash frequency of about 15 flashes per second. While conspicuity may be greater with such configurations, an observer’s ability to make accurate judgements of relative speed or distance may be compromised when flashing or strobing lights are used. The judgments required in tracking an object are difficult to make under strobing conditions, yet very easy in steady-lighting conditions.

    So, a flashing light does draw more attention, but makes it harder to judge how far away something is.

    The frequency of the flash also makes a big difference. This NASA Color Usage Research Lab page states that 4 to 8 Hz (flashes per second) results in the maximum perceived brightness. Most bike lights are approximately in this range, those that flash faster or slower may not be as attention-grabbing, but are also therefore less annoying.

    I’ve tested several dozens of bike lights for my bike light website, and found that the most effective setup for not annoying people but also being seen is to use lights that pulse, instead of flashing. Because pulsing lights change, they still trigger our peripheral vision and are attention-grabbing, but because the change is continuous, not discrete, it’s not nearly as distracting. I generally suggest using regularly flashing lights during broad daylight because you both need to stand out more against the ambient light, and are likewise less likely to blind or distract somebody because again, there’s so much less contrast with the surrounding light level. At night, I don’t use any flashing or pulsing light to the front – a well-shaped bright beam is plenty enough to be seen. On the rear, I usually have two lights, put the brighter one in steady burn mode, and put the less bright in pulsing mode. The pulsing helps attract attention without blinding, and the steady provides that superior point of reference to judge speed and distance by.

    Unfortunately, pulsing modes aren’t as common as they should be, but here’s a list of some lights that do have them. I’ve reviewed all of these lights; you can find the reviews on my website for more info about each light.

    Headlights:

    Light & Motion Taz series (all lights) and Urban series (350, 500, 650, 700, and 800 models)
    Knog Blinder 4 (“Organic Slow” flash mode)

    Taillights:

    Portland Design Works Danger Zone and Aether Demon
    Cygolite Hotshot (only the 2W version, not the SL version)
    Light and Motion Vis 180, Vis 180 Micro, and Vis 360(+)
    Knog Blinder 4 and Blinder 4V
    Cateye Rapid X

    Some commenters have pointed out that they use flashing mode on their lights to conserve batteries. Many lights are available now with conveniently rechargeable batteries, and those same lights tend to be a lot brighter than standard AAA-powered lights. That makes using steady burn mode a lot more practical, since it’s still bright enough to be seen, and the light can be charged up quickly when you’re done riding.

    Now that I’ve basically written a whole article on the subject… feel free to ask any questions!

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    • Spiffy July 9, 2014 at 10:33 am

      “conveniently rechargeable batteries”

      no such thing for me… charging batteries is a pain… they’re usually not charged when I need them… and I can’t just buy another set if the light goes dead in the middle of a midnight ride…

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      • spare_wheel July 9, 2014 at 1:23 pm

        my rechargeable lights have bright indicators that change to red when charge get low.

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      • GlowBoy July 10, 2014 at 10:43 pm

        I agree, charging is a pain, and the freedom from charging is one of the key selling points for generator-light systems. I’m willing to charge my high-output headlight daily, but I run multiple accessory lights in addition to that, and I’m not willing to juggle different ones on different nights over the course of a week. Many of the rechargeable lights have insufficient runtime on a single charge to be worthy of my consideration. If they won’t go at least 10-12 hours, forget it.

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        • colton July 11, 2014 at 9:52 am

          Of course most blinkies don’t need charging very often…groan.

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  • John Liu July 8, 2014 at 7:14 pm

    Here is an alternative way to get noticed. Wear a spot light (light with a narrow beam) on your helmet, aimed down (when you’re in normal riding position, it illuminates the road pretty close in front of you).

    When you approach a car that is a threat – e.g. it is edging out from a cross street and might be about to pull out in front of you – raise your head and point the light right at the driver, just briefly.

    The effect to the driver is like a flashing light, but just for him. Your light hasn’t bothered everyone else in the vicinity, like a high power flashing head light would.

    This really works. You do have to be paying attention to identify what cars are threats.

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    • Spiffy July 9, 2014 at 10:35 am

      that assumes you see the threat coming…

      most people are using lights to be noticed by the threats they don’t see…

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  • BFo July 8, 2014 at 9:40 pm

    A few thoughts with some evidence based reasoning:

    1. There is a reason that emergency vehicles use flashing lights – to be noticed. Our bike lights are a fraction of the power, but flashing = noticed. Similarly some motorcyclists use headlight modulators that don’t produce an on-off flash but a dim-bright cycle. That being said, DOT requires no nighttime modulation supporting other comments above for steady front light at night.

    2. A search of pubmed shows no case reports of a seizure induced by bike lights. It does show a study where 30 epileptic patients were exposed to a specific brand of police light and none had clinical or EEG seizure activity. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11795211

    3. Finally, in a review article of photosensitive epilepsy (DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-1331.2005.01085.x) Seizures typically occur with “…lower and upper limits being usually between 10 and 30 Hz (Leijten et al., 1998). Most patients are sensitive at 16 flashes/s, but whereas 49% are sensitive at 50 Hz only 15% are sensitive to 60 Hz, which are also the frequencies of TV in Europe and North America, respectively (Jeavons and Harding, 1975; Harding, 1998). Only about 3% of the photosensitive population with some degenerative disorders is sensitive to IPS at 1–3 flashes/s (Zifkin and Kasteleijn-Nolst Trenité, 2000).”

    My conclusion is that photosensitivity would be extremely rare from a blinky light where the flashes/s are well below the common frequency of seizure induction. Cyclists are not using strobe lights which is the frequency where induction occures.

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    • Jessie July 8, 2014 at 10:28 pm

      Thank you! It’s almost as if you had a background in journalism, getting all that facts before posting. Back in the day I think it was called journalistic integrity. Jonathon Maas, please take notes.

      Facts > opinions – especially when it comes to journalism. I respect that you have to sell ad space and keep context fresh here at BikePortland.org, but don’t be like the Oregonian and just spew out unchecked opinions as fact. As I said in my other comment, we have much bigger bike and pedestrian safety issues here in Portland. Let’s talk about those before we start dividing ourselves over personal preference of bike light modes.

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      • Paul Johnson July 8, 2014 at 10:45 pm

        Bigger? Or smaller? Before you answer, let’s make comparable trips: Walk from the Rose Garden to Brooklyn after TriMet stops running but before traffic dies down. OK, now walk from BOK Center to 61st and Memorial after Tulsa Transit stops running but before traffic dies down.

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      • Caleb July 9, 2014 at 4:47 pm

        I generally find that any opinions Jonathan posts are presented as opinions rather than claimed as facts. Perhaps I’ve just not been reading the same articles and comments you have?

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    • BIKELEPTIC July 8, 2014 at 10:41 pm

      So will you put your money where your mouth is? As one of the 3% of epileptics with photosensitive epilepsy, I have had seizures caused by bike lights, emergency lights and surrounding building stimuli (marquees, signs, etc.) – I have over 20k of hospital bills that I’d LOVE to have someone take care of with their proof that it never happened, what with my numerous FDGBs.

      Your article regarding police lights: I’d really wonder what the entire thing says because just because a person has epilepsy or seizure disorders, doesn’t mean that they have photosensitive issues. I have many acquaintances with seizure disorders that aren’t affected by lights, for instance.

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      • F.W. de Klerk July 9, 2014 at 10:14 am

        People cannot stand blinking lights, eat peanut butter, or are not tall enough for an amusment ride. Yeah the world sucks in so many ways, but it is not a cushioned bubble. You will just have to deal with that.

        Like I said before I don’t find the flashers useful, but I understand others do and that’s okay with me. It’s nothing compared to the annoying motor vehicles lighting systems these days.

        With all the other far more important issues impacting cycling in this city, I can’t believe Mr.Maus actually thought this cry me a river post was even worth the pixels its printed on.

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  • Jess July 8, 2014 at 10:01 pm

    Wow BikePortland, this is about the most idiotic article yet. The comments here really reflect a lot about Portland bike riders. My chronic migraines get on set by car head lights, damn all you selfish drivers trying to see in the dark on your way home. I guess all cars should drive with no headlights to please me and other migraine suffers. (My migraines have caused seizures before, so yes I would compare this to epilepsy)

    I luckily have 20/20 vision, but my girlfriend is near sighted and has night blindness like a lot of people. She can barely see with her serfas headlamp and I have been contemplating getting her something much brighter so she can ride home safely.

    My blinking serfas headlamp (mounted on my helmet) has saved my life twice because I was able to get the attention of a driver looking at their cell phone running a stop sign. There is a reason emergency vehicle lights flash, it’s gets attention. Plus it saves battery, so I don’t have to worry about it dying on me in the middle of my commute home. My headlamp blinks once a second and a television or computer display blinks anywhere between 24 and 60 times per second. Seriously, bike lights bothering epileptics? There are thousands worse environmental stimuli that affect epileptics over bike lights.

    Get over yourself Portland. I love this city, but seriously – we have bigger problems than this.

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    • Paul Johnson July 8, 2014 at 11:00 pm

      In all honesty, you might want to try small town Oklahoma. Lights aren’t required at all on streets posted under 25, and in small towns, after the street lights go off for the night, it’s pretty common for people on side streets to go to only parking lights, if you encounter anyone at all. I suffer similar light sensitivity (and thus use blankets with cool patterns I picked up at pow wows as blackout curtains inside my blinds to keep the bedroom dark) when my cluster headaches kick in, and I’ve found even big-city Tulsa to be far less conducive to triggering or exaggerating my cluster headaches. Despite the fact that we have no real lighting code.

      About the only thing better I could suggest would be Lake City, CO, where I was for the July 1 weekend with the Byron T. Bear Foundation, which is the only town in Hinsdale County, CO, and very clearly has a strict lighting code (all building and street lighting is aimed very much downward at a tight pattern and relatively dim), but in Lake City, you deal with being isolated for months at a time (it’s seriously about 100 miles in either direction and into the next county or more to a larger town and 6-16 hours to the closest major cities by car). But, advantage is, you’re only about 60 miles (by gravel, 4×4-or-mountain-bike accessible) county road to Telluride, which has both medicinal and recreational weed shops, so if that helps your light sensitivity any…there’s that).

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    • Champs July 9, 2014 at 12:25 am

      The “bigger problem” is just a flimsy excuse to be dismissive. There is always a More Important Thing you can conjure up to that end.

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  • GlowBoy July 8, 2014 at 10:04 pm

    We may not have good studies on the effectiveness of blinkies, but I’ve been commuting for quite a few years now, and my own experience is that a $30 front blinky is dozens of times better for getting noticed than a $30 steady light. That’s the main reason they’re so popular — especially this time of year, when the need for see-the-road light is minimal for most people. (Another observation based on my own experience is that the so-called “moth effect” appears to be about as real as Weasleys’ Wildfire Whiz-bangs).

    I think a higher-powered (400-1000 lumen) steady headlight approaches the effectiveness of a $30 blinky in terms of being seen, especially if it has dual beams, but that costs more money and adds considerably more bulk, weight and theft risk. I personally prefer having steady lights at night (I have a generator system on my folding bike, and a 500-lumen battery system on my big-wheel commuter which is about to get augmented with a steady rear light), but I understand why not everyone does – and I’m not about to impose my preferences on everyone else.

    It’s a war zone on American streets. A lot of drivers still don’t see bicycles unless we go to extremes to be visible, especially with all the other visual noise out there. I do think we do need to outlaw the sale of lights that can blink much brighter than the $30 blinkies out there today, to maybe explore less offensive flash patterns, and maybe even consider German-style beam patterns for high-powered lights. But because of their cheap, lightweight effectiveness blinkies in general are NOT going away.

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  • Mike Gilliland July 8, 2014 at 10:10 pm

    I have long been very against the use of forward blinking lights at night due to a personal experience I had while pedaling south on bike path behind Ross Island. I have a small single beam light that softly announces my position and casts enough light to see my way ahead. Seeing an upcoming rider using three blinking lights randomly aimed, I was totally blinded as to what was coming at me and when we were going to pass each other. Thinking they needed that much illumination, the rider wiped out my light source and hid a jogger before me in the brilliance of the flashes. I quickly braked to a full stop and missed a collision. As they passed, I mentioned to the rider to cut the flash to eliminate what could have been a major wipe out for all of us. While she and I were pretty shaken, at least the flashing bike rider felt safe….

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    • Paul Johnson July 8, 2014 at 11:30 pm

      Yeah, at night, front lights should be steady, and properly aimed to the standard vehicle code. I wish Oregon was better about enforcing this like other states are. I’ve been blinded by high-beam blinkers on the Springwater and had words with said rider (3 miles at 15 MPH = 12 minutes getting blinded, after multiple flashing of my own high beams to DIM THEIR LIGHTS) means I was riding for nearly 12 minutes blinded by their lights) over this issue, though my Springwater case was rather extreme (seriously, only rider I’ve ever had screw me up badly enough for me to skid-stop in front of them to exchange words), so proper aim and legal courtesy to dim are still definitely factors for cyclists as they are motorists (ORS 816.050 applies; please check your aim, especially if your lights are similar to what PPB has on their bikes, or pretty much anything MountainTek makes).

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      • Jessie July 10, 2014 at 12:48 am

        If I was riding Springwater Trail at night and someone “skid stopped” in front of me, they would very quickly be meeting my .380 or my fixed blade. That area is no place to f*** around.

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        • Paul Johnson July 10, 2014 at 7:00 am

          Don’t piss people off by running high beams on the cycleway with oncoming traffic then.

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    • was carless July 8, 2014 at 11:54 pm

      It seems that blinkies can really be a problem on dark, car free paths. Otherwise, on lit streets, they can be lifesavers.

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    • davemess July 9, 2014 at 8:27 am

      How did you not see the runner before the pass? They would have been pretty lit up from all the flashers.

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      • Robert Burchett July 9, 2014 at 9:23 am

        The ‘lit up runner’ was illuminated on the other side–at best a silhouette for the writer, a moving shape that was hard to see because it was in front of multiple bright lights. It’s a side path, not a fun house. Riders who do that to other people aren’t very self aware.

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    • Robert Burchett July 9, 2014 at 8:38 am

      Hello, City of Portland? How about some advisory signs on the Springwater, the Esplanade, and other long sections of MUP? There’s no need for blinking lights, and really bright lights are not necessary. A 1000 lumen light is just–egregious? in that environment. In a dark stretch like the trail through Oak Bottom, even a moderate steady light makes it difficult to see anything outside the beam. You’re blinded by your own light.

      Sometimes I use blinking lights for commuting, but I still feel pretty safe with an old-school (halogen!) generator light. For anyone with a battery light, I suggest propping your bike upright in a riding position, or have someone hold it, and walk away 50 steps. Look at the light–that’s what a person sees as you approach. Does it hurt your eyes to look at it? This is harder with a generator light, you need to have someone else ride the bike to know what it’s like in the riding position.

      I understand the need to feel safe, but even a modest steady or blinking light is in fact visible from blocks away. Please, people, save the Solstice display for those dark rainy commutes!

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    • Colton July 9, 2014 at 8:40 am

      Actually, you just spoke to one use of a helmet mounted bright light. I run mine low until I see an approaching rider with a torch is going to blind me. Then I turn mine up. If the oncoming rider is particularly rude, I can always show them a bit of their own by looking up a bit.

      As to the generator fanboys, meh. A well aimed rechargable light is much more versatile in terms of using multiple bikes and avoiding theft. That and I won’t be giving up my helmet mounted light any time soon. It serves at least 4 purposes: 1) Paired with a handlebar mounted light it gives depth perception to oncoming vehicles as the two lights diverge, 2) It allows me to aim my light where I’m going, 3) it allows me to be seen over the tops of parked cars, 4) I can aim it directly at threatening cross traffic if they appear to not have noticed me.

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      • Robert Burchett July 9, 2014 at 9:17 am

        I’ve used a helmet mounted light (mostly in an earlier period of caranoia) and yes, it’s great for catching the attention of distracted drivers, or expressing one’s own (mild) sociopathy. Mine, not yours, understand. But there’s something to be said for having a bike that you can just get on and ride, it’s fully equipped all the time, the batteries are not dead because there are no batteries, and instead of dressing up like Dr. Gizmo you can just be a human being on a bike.

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        • Colton July 9, 2014 at 10:26 am

          I agree, but apparently thieves appreciated a get-on-and-ride bike too. I simply can’t believe that at least portions of these generator setups don’t routinely get swiped along with the various other crap people lift off bikes. Why should I expect them to be any different than bungee cords, bike seats and unlocked front wheels? I’m a believer that most generator setups aren’t on bikes being locked up outdoors.

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          • Robert Burchett July 9, 2014 at 11:01 am

            Bikes get stolen in Portland, and yes it would seem that there are bike chop shops running by the side of the road. I can’t prove it but there may be one on my street. However, here’s some anecdotal evidence from 15 years of parking bikes on Portland streets: the thing you are most likely to lose is your blinkie lights, if you are careless and leave them on the bike. Of course my wheels and seat are all bolted on.

            I’ve been lucky, never had a bike stolen, but still my take is that we live in a _relative_ paradise of bike security. Set that against the stories of the unfortunate people who whose U-locks have been defeated. You can tell when a person has spent time in a really bad town–they carry a big chain.

            Thieves targeting generator hubs? Not a thing.

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            • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) July 9, 2014 at 11:20 am

              Thieves targeting generator hubs? Not a thing.

              not true at all. I got my front generator light wire snipped and stolen downtown by the Ecotrust building so now I only use standard, USB powered lights. i would never recommend expensive dyno-lights on commuters now.

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              • Alan 1.0 July 10, 2014 at 12:40 pm

                The security bit is the quick-release mounts so you can take them with you, right? I mean, wouldn’t a dynamo powered light with or without USB-spec connections be OK as long as you could pocket it quickly when you parked? (secure skewers assumed)

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              • Robert Burchett July 11, 2014 at 9:05 am

                I’m sorry that happened, but it’s good to know. I just wonder what’s the secondary market for a generator _light_ with a cut connector wire? It’s totally fixable of course, but it seems strange that a person setting up generator lighting would buy a used light from a possibly shifty person. Oh, the internet, ok. Guess my next generator light will have to have a ‘hardened’ mount with funny screws.

                For me USB plug-in things are sort of annoying, I can’t always be plugging into walls and those extra battery packs are spendy. I guess you still have the generator hub, maybe your bike has a USB network on it? So far I’m trying to keep the bikes a bit simpler than that, but have already said I’m due for an E-bike.

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              • My Magic Hat July 27, 2014 at 10:11 am

                I wonder if the thief knew what he was stealing. A dynamo is often mistaken for a motor.

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      • Spiffy July 9, 2014 at 10:45 am

        I’m so happy to have a generator light and not have to carry my lights with me when I stop… the lights are screwed to my bike so theft takes a lot longer than when I forget to unclip a Planet Bike blinky… never have to worry about carrying four spare batteries (2 AA, and 2 AAA)…

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  • lila July 8, 2014 at 10:44 pm

    From the description of the actual encounter with the tagger, I’m guessing that some cyclist w/ blinking light ruined the tagger’s night vision mid-masterpiece.

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  • Q July 8, 2014 at 11:40 pm

    Most utility riders should use generator run German made lights front and back. They are the best, and do not blink.

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    • GlowBoy July 9, 2014 at 7:37 am

      “They are the best.”

      Yes, they are the best. For Germany.

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      • Granpa July 9, 2014 at 8:24 am

        They smoke Brazilian lights

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    • Spiffy July 9, 2014 at 10:46 am

      my newest bike has them and now I wonder how I went so long without them…

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  • Mabsf July 9, 2014 at 8:19 am

    I don’t like the blinkies, but I live with them… What I truely hate are those guys of the ‘bigger is better’ mentality who shine a 1000 lumen front light right into your eyes… Please remember: bikes lights don’t high/low beams yet…

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    • Paul Johnson July 9, 2014 at 9:31 am

      Actually, yeah, they do. Having the maximum power lowbeam and the maximum legal highbeam is kind of needed in Washington County with it’s crap highway lighting (it’s either in your eyes blinding you, or nonexistant, or a combination of in your eyes but too far away to do any good: The reason places like Paris, FR and Lake City, CO have lighting codes requiring housing that aims light at the ground).

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  • cyclist July 9, 2014 at 8:22 am

    Q
    Most utility riders should use generator run German made lights front and back. They are the best, and do not blink.
    Recommended 1

    I use non-blinking German lights, and they are the closest you can get to perfection. The headlights shine light down onto the ground where you need it, not up and into oncoming drivers’ eyes, or diffused into the air where it’s just wasted light energy. More like a car headlight. And the taillights are bright but don’t blink. Just like a car taillight.

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    • oliver July 9, 2014 at 11:51 am

      I don’t need to see the ground, I know where the road is. I need motor vehicle operators to see me. But yes, you know the Germans always make good stuff.

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      • Dave Thomson July 9, 2014 at 1:45 pm

        You will certainly know where the road is when you are lying on it after hitting something that you couldn’t see in the dark.

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        • oliver July 9, 2014 at 2:12 pm

          Apologies to the one person (that I don’t actually know, but read about on bp) who ran into a unmarked pile of barkdust on a dark city street. But in the 10-15 hours a week that I ride (year round thank you) I’ve never hit something laying in the street.

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          • GlowBoy July 9, 2014 at 10:11 pm

            A few years ago, when all I had was a 10 watt TurboCat light (what would that have been, like 40 lumens?) I ran over a big chunk of 2×4 amongst the leaves in the bike lane on Murray Blvd in Beaverton. Somehow I managed to stay upright, but it was a dark rainy night, and there is no way in hell I would have ever seen that piece of wood without a much higher powered light.

            Those who ride exclusively in the city, or mostly in the summer, may not need much in the way of see-the-road lighting (a point of view I believe is also put forth by Grant Petersen), but some of us ride year-round in suburbia and over the West Hills. Add up inconsistent street lighting, bike lanes filled with leaves in the fall, rain obscuring your view through the lenses, steep downhills, BIG potholes on some of those West Hills backstreets, and a steady stream of oncoming car headlights on the busier roads. In the winter conditions I consider 300-500 well-aimed lumens* to be an absolute minimum for genuinely safe riding between Portland and Beaverton.

            * for the record, my home-assembled light is shrouded on top to protect oncoming humans from glare. Also, I dim it to 5% power in places like the Springwater, so you won’t find any need to complain about my lighting on the path.

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          • dan July 10, 2014 at 2:43 pm

            Ha! That happened to me a few years back. I was headed uphill on Lincoln and managed to roll over a medium pile of barkdust (maybe 2 feet high) without seeing it until after I had hit it. If I had been heading downhill, it would have been a big wreck. As it was, I just left some deep tracks in the barkdust, stayed upright, and rolled on. The homeowners must have noticed the tracks: the next day they parked a car downhill of the barkdust, apparently in lieu of cones / sawhorses.

            The sawdust pile was really invisible — I was using a small Planet Bike LED headlight at the time. I would have needed a much brighter light to pick out the barkdust. Or, you know, I could just not ride in the door zone…

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    • spare_wheel July 9, 2014 at 1:39 pm

      perfection for you. for me they are a terrible option.

      expensive.
      thief bait.
      boat anchor heavy.
      a waste of my watts.
      hard to move around on bikes.

      my current set up weighs 150 gms puts out ~420 front (i run them at 300) and 60ish rear for $73 (sale). and it takes me seconds to move them from my A commuter to my B, C, or D commuters.

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  • cyclist July 9, 2014 at 8:22 am

    GlowBoy
    “They are the best.”
    Yes, they are the best. For Germany.
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    And I’m in the US, not Germany.

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  • Jeff July 9, 2014 at 8:26 am

    Thank you for this article! I have always thought solid was more elegant, but now I totally have a much more solid reason.

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  • scott July 9, 2014 at 10:06 am

    I am late to this thread, but I think it is important to note that this is located right around the area where there is an ever-shifting camp of house-less people. Furthermore, I would not consider this area a nighttime hotbed for bike commuting as there are only a few houses in the immediate area. The area is mostly industrial and there are very few bars that I think would draw in a nighttime cycling crowd.

    I work in the area, noticed these the first day they were up, and have also seen MANY, many incidents of people with mental health issues severe enough to manifest visibly. Also, in four years of bike commuting to my job, I can count the number of times I have used my lights to or from work on my hands.

    This graffiti might as well say, “Thanks Ronald Reagan”. I think this graffiti is unfocused anger that received a momentary focus and was put to paint.

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    • scott July 9, 2014 at 10:07 am

      …but yes, always use steady or a non-flashing option.

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  • Spiffy July 9, 2014 at 10:48 am

    now let’s start a new conversation by assuming the graffiti artist meant REAR blinking lights… (since most of this discussion is assuming they meant front blinking lights…)

    it’s really annoying to follow riders with bright rear blinkies… it’s one thing to quickly pass an oncoming rider with a front blinky, but when you’re following a blinking rear light you’re behind it for a while and your exposure is more…

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    • KristenT July 11, 2014 at 2:39 pm

      Sorry, but I want to make sure the cars coming up behind me see me in the bike lane, so they will have time to stop driving in the bike lane and swerve back over into their lane.

      Or, when I need to take the lane, that they see me in the lane and don’t run me over. Like, for instance, going from bright sunshine to dark shade going uphill on Fonner Rd in Tigard. Too many blind corners, deep shade, no shoulders, no bike lanes…. anything I can do to be seen by the people driving up that hill, I’m going to do.

      My advice to you is, pedal faster and pass me. Trust me, I’m not going that fast, especially uphill, you should be able to get past me with no problems.

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      • scott July 15, 2014 at 9:09 am

        Produce evidence that blinking does this better than a steady light or a slow undulating glow like Knog lights can produce.

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        • Darlene Hicks July 15, 2014 at 10:20 am

          This whole thread is evidence of it. Flashing lights aren’t easily ignored, hence they piss off people who have to look at them.

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  • stephen salter July 9, 2014 at 11:24 am

    one time i came upon an intersection perpendicular to an approaching vehicle. they had a stop sign, i did not. as they rolled through at 15-20 mph (running the sign) i yelled at them out of concern that they would hit me. the driver’s response was that i needed a brighter light. my takeaway was that bright lights were a necessity for drivers to obey the laws of the road. the driver didnt specify whether he preferred blinking or solid though so i cant help you there…either way if you dont have a bright light and you get hit by a car running a stop sign its YOUR FAULT!!!!

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  • Paul Wilkins July 9, 2014 at 12:36 pm

    I had no idea this was such an issue. I don’t think the coal rollers generated this much hate.

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  • abomb July 9, 2014 at 2:05 pm

    (The following sentence is a joke) I’m I going to get my ass kicked by some Portland hipster on my way home because I have my $20 front and rear flashers blinking on my evening commute tonight? I’ve been commuting on and off for the last 15yrs and I have way less cars pulling out in front of me when my flashers on and I’m going to leave them on when I’m on the street. I do agree that its stupid to run a flasher on a MUP.

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  • RayL July 9, 2014 at 3:12 pm

    Daytime-3 year old Cygolite headlight and Cygolite Hotshot, both flashing.
    Night – headlight on steady, two Hotshots flashing.
    Buses, garbage trucks, emergency vehicles, utility vehicles find flashing lights effective – I don’t recall any agencies being sued because their vehicles caused medical damages to an individual. The most common comments I get are “What is that light and where did you get it?” Several motorists have said that they wish more bicyclists made themselves as visible as I do.

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  • PennyFarthing July 10, 2014 at 9:19 am

    Hilarious tantrum…epic 1st world problem.

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  • Jason July 10, 2014 at 9:49 am

    pixelgateEndangering others for your own safety is the epitome of selfishness and should be called out as such.
    Recommended 10

    That’s kind of how I feel when I see driving carelessly. At least my bright light isn’t going to squash anyone.

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  • Ted Buehler July 10, 2014 at 12:14 pm

    If you want to be noticed and not overlooked, you need a blinking light. Day or night.

    “Seeing a blinking light” = “seeing a bicyclist”

    Want to be seen by cars, always? And not get right hooked, left hooked, turned in front of, or rear ended? Use a red blinky on the rear and a flashing headlight in front.

    That said, your blinking light doesn’t need to be super-bright at night. It just needs to blink.

    If you want to see where you’re going, you’ll need a steady headlight up front, not a blinky.

    If you want motorists to see you from a long way off, or in the rain, fog, or on a business street with lots of neon, a blinky is good and sometimes necessary, but in most cases it doesn’t need to be a mega-blinky.

    My recommendation — when you need to be seen, have blinkys on, day or night. But, just ordinary Plant Bike-type blinkys. If you need something bright, run two lights simultaneously — two in front and two in back. A moderate blinky, and a bright steady beam.

    Ted Buehler

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    • dr2chase July 10, 2014 at 3:27 pm

      I do hope you are taking the concerns of Ms. Bikeleptic seriously.

      I think we can do better than nasty blinking lights (“nasty”, if you have ever been photosensitive that way). I tinker with lighting circuits, it’s all dirt cheap nowadays, if we wanted to build a light that pulsed gently instead of blinking obnoxiously, we could do it. What I don’t know is the sweet spot for “attracts attention” and “doesn’t trigger susceptible people”.

      Some of the lights available now are just awful.

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  • Ted Buehler July 10, 2014 at 12:16 pm

    My pet peeve is people riding on bike paths, at night, with mega flashing headlights and blinkies. I fail to see any benefit of the flashing, except to save a tiny amount of battery juice. Blinding oncoming traffic, severely reducing the visibility for trailing traffic…

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  • GlowBoy July 10, 2014 at 10:54 pm

    While I agree that no one should be running “mega” flashing lights in the multi-hundred-lumen range under almost any circumstances, I’ve seen several comments expressing wonderment that someone would be running blinkies or a bright headlight on a bike path.

    Really? This is surprising? It’s not like most riders are just going from one end of a bike path to the other. Most cyclists enter the path from streets where they’re doing battle with cars, and they leave the path onto more streets where they’re doing battle with cars.

    Many people simply don’t think to dim their lights or turn off their front blinky when they hit the path (obviously, turning off the rear blinky is a bit too much to ask), especially if it’s a short part of their commute. For me, the US 26 bike path or the Springwater is only a mile or two out of a 12-14 mile commute, and no I haven’t always remembered to dim my lights when I entered the path. (Though fortunately, my lights are designed to be less dazzling than many).

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    • Robert Burchett July 11, 2014 at 8:47 am

      . . .Many people simply don’t think to dim their lights. . .
      In other words, they are thoughtless. People don’t moderate their speed around other people, and they don’t consider what effect their lights might have on those people. Universal hand sign for ‘your lights are too bright’: hand held up before face, blocking view of oncoming bike.

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      • colton July 11, 2014 at 10:00 am

        Or quickly flash your bright light up at them as a reminder. People do similar to me if I forget my highbeams while driving a car. I don’t mind it, I should have been paying better attention.

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      • GlowBoy July 11, 2014 at 1:34 pm

        I agree it’s thoughtless. I’m just expressing surprise that so many people find it surprising. The world is full of thoughtless people. Cyclists aren’t a different species exempt from thoughtlessness, that’s for damned sure. But while sometimes it’s genuine self-centeredness, sometimes it’s just something people haven’t thought of, and sometimes people on a long commute just forget. Last I checked, we’re all human and make mistakes. Maybe a little less righteous outrage would be more helpful in solving the problem.

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  • justapedestrian July 12, 2014 at 9:01 am

    For the commenters who think this person just hates cyclists and isn’t actualy concerned about seizures – do you think seizures are nothing to get upset about, or do you just think all disabled people are supernaturally nice ‘n sweet even when you just took the next day or s.o of their lives or even put their lives in danger? That certainly deserves a resounding “fuck you.” As for photosensitive people not being on the road, flashy bike lights are the number one factor limiting my ability to walk anywhere near or after dark, which in the winter is a great deal of the day. Walking my daughter to school in the mornings was hell last year. I used to bike everywhere in my hometown, but here it is too dangerous – not because of motorists, but because of other cyclists and their hellish flashing lights.

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    • Pete July 12, 2014 at 3:47 pm

      Frankly I’m inclined to believe anyone taking the effort to write “fuck you” near bicycle markings on a public road is directing general aggression at bicyclists. If they’re trying to educate me on their cause, they might want to choose a more effective opening dialog.

      So I’m truly curious, have you ever had a seizure induced by bike lights? If so, that’s contrary to the (informal) research that Bfo references above, and if it’s such a real problem for you, you might want to align with people doing research in this area. (I’m not being sarcastic).

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    • erschwinn July 13, 2014 at 1:02 am

      *That person* did jump out at a cyclist and yell at her. As it’s been expressed already, there are definitely more constructive ways to getting the message out there than tagging the roads with profanities and getting aggressive/yelling at someone commuting to work.

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    • Caleb July 14, 2014 at 9:38 am

      “That certainly deserves a resounding “fuck you.””

      What anyone “deserves” is never anything more than an opinion based entirely on abstraction. In this case, it’s your own opinion, and thus irrelevant to the mindset of the individual who tagged the street and harassed Terra, meaning it tells us nothing about whether the tagger has a general bias against people who ride bicycles.

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  • Jessie July 12, 2014 at 7:34 pm

    If I were severely allergic to dogs, should I suggest that no one is allowed to have them in a public space?!

    About 90% of you are talking out of your asses and haven’t the slightest clue about epilepsy or seizures. Facts talk and opinions are just that. I’m not going to almost certainly risk my life for the .000001% chance I may cross paths with an epileptic that is affected by extremely low frequency flashing light. Remove all public lighting then, because fluorescent lights have more of an effect on an epileptic or photosensitive people.

    Too many spandex weekend warriors with nothing else to do but bitch about crap on here. I bet 99% of your have never had or witnessed a seizure nor would know what to do if someone was having one. You sure do know how to tell the rest of us how to ride our bikes though…

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    • justapedestrian July 12, 2014 at 11:29 pm

      Uh, actually the chances are much higher when you factor in 1. movement patterns of people (where people tend to go, like grocery stores) and 2. how many people are in range of your light, which depending on your light and where you are could be a LOT of people. Take a flashy light downtown during the evening and you probably exposed at least one person to a seizure trigger and several to a migraine trigger.
      As for people who are allergic to dogs, that’s one of many reasons people need to keep an eye on their dogs and not let them go up to people who haven’t indicated they want to interact with a dog, *and* keep them out of places where they aren’t supposed to go (like public transit). Of course, service dogs and other service animals are an exception, and this would create a conflicting access need – which people with disabilities navigate all the time. Dogs and other animals have a fairly limited range of effect though, while flashy lights can be a problem even several blocks off (depending on how bright it is). It can take as little as two flashes to cause a problem so “just cover your eyes” can limit exposure, but not eliminate it.

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      • Jessie July 13, 2014 at 11:42 pm

        Uh, actually I could be around 1,000 people and the chances would be next to nil. You don’t understand what it is that sets off an epileptic seizure. Read the comment above where someone actually did research (since the author of this article didn’t care to) I have had over 20 seizures in my life, saved random strangers having a seizure (because I actually understand what one is) and have chronic migraines and am extremely light sensitive. I guess I should request that Last Thursday is shut down since blinking lights there caused my last really bad aural migraine that I can remember. The point is we live in a society and sometimes we gotta deal with sharing it with other humans, whether we like it or not.

        Last I checked car exhaust is still killing people around the world (not mention the environment) but for some reason I don’t see this group of “bicyclist” raising hell over that! That’s because 80% of the commenters here live in the burbs, are cage ragers 6 days of the week, but for one weekend day feel the need to put on $300 worth of spandex with brand names all over it (like clif bar actually sponsored you lol) and ride the Springwater or some other trail with no vehicle traffic and then get pissed that someone else is sharing the trail with you.

        Sorry you don’t approve of my lights, I’m trying to stay alive.

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        • justapedestrian July 14, 2014 at 2:54 am

          Actually I do understand what sets off a seizure and going by experience, yes, flashy bike lights are one of them (for me, for several family members, and for a couple of friends). I was afraid my five-year-old was photosensitive as well, but so far it’s not one of her seizure triggers. Her neurologist recommended I limit her exposure though because photosensitivity can develop later.
          You can avoid Last Thursday (I sure as hell do). But there are so many flashy bike lights that it is not possible to avoid them unless you don’t ever leave the house near dark, after dark, in the morning before the sun rises, or on cloudy days. Try that for awhile and see how it goes, especially if you go to school, have a job, or have kids that need to go to school.
          I appreciate that you are trying to stay alive and suggest you review the data on how safe flashy lights actually make you. A slowly flashing light (*quite* slowly compared to most I see on the road) seems to be the best to keep cyclists safe and are much much less likely to cause seizures or migraines.
          “The point is we live in a society and sometimes we gotta deal with sharing it with other humans, whether we like it or not.” My point exactly, thank you.

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          • Jessie July 14, 2014 at 7:42 pm

            If a low watt led that flashes a couple times per seconds can set off an episode for you, you have bigger problems than bike lights. Fluorescents, emergency vehicles, marquees, store front displays… All those flash at a much higher frequency and much brighter. In all my years of riding I might have encountered one or two high end light systems that flash bright enough and fast enough to cause issue to an epileptic. Certainly nothing to require legislation like many have suggested here. I have never encountered a bike light while riding that my light sensitivity was effected by. Driving at night, I have all sorts of issues with vehicle headlights. When riding I actually use a graduating blink on my rear light because it is that bright and I can’t really change that while riding. I focus my headlamp 6 – 15 feet in front of me as I ride. I would consider myself quite a courteous rider as well. I’m sure there are a few random assholes out there who are inconsiderate, but we do not need a ban or law to ban flashing lights; they save lives. Proven time after time, so again I will continue to ride with flashing lights to keep me safe.

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            • Proven time after time, so again I will continue to ride with flashing lights to keep me safe.

              Just curious, do you have published sources to cite for that? Specifically that flashing lights are better for rider safety than non-flashing lights? I ask because I’ve been looking for actual research on the subject, and found very little so far. I’ve also talked with a professor who’s conducting a study on bike light effectiveness, and he hasn’t found any conclusive prior research specifically relating to bike lights either.

              I know there’s a lot of anecdotal evidence from people who perceive themselves to be safer either with or without flashing lights, but I’m curious if your “proven time after time” is based on actual rigorous research that you might be able to share. If so, I’d be interested in reading it. Thanks!

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              • Jessie July 15, 2014 at 10:26 am

                I apologize if I didn’t say, that in my personal experience flashing lights have proven over and over to be life saving; speaking from many years of experience riding. As a young teenager I had been seriously hit by a vehicle while on bike. The offenders left me in the road (I believe they were underage drivers) and I had many months of recovery from that accident. Now I ride with a graduating red blinking serfas in the rear, a smaller blinking serfas on the helmet and Monkelectric Mini in my spokes for side visibility. Drivers see me, and that’s what is important. I have actually had drivers pull up next to me to thank me for how visible I am. That’s when you know you are doing something right.

                As far as my blinking headlamp, I have twice prevented nearly being hit in a well lit area because the flashing stood out over the rest of the downtown lighting. They say the proof is in the pudding…

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            • justapedestrian July 15, 2014 at 2:49 am

              I’m glad for you that they do not bother *your* light issues and may it continue to be so. And no, I do not have “bigger” problems than bike lights because everything else is more predictable. I know where the stationary flashy lights are and can usually avoid them. Emergency vehicles are a problem, but they are not as ubiquitous as bike lights and often announce themselves. And fluourescent lights are the devil, but they tend to stay in one place and so can be planned for to some extent.
              Before moving to Portland, I lived in two major cities without flashy lights majorly limiting my ability to do stuff, and now – I wish to god I could move. But I can’t, and I know other people in the same boat, so the best option is attempting to inform people like you, who according to the actual research would only be safer yourselves in picking the neurologically safer option.

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  • Evergreen July 13, 2014 at 12:43 am

    As a former bike education safety volunteer in a SW Portland bike shop along with countless years commuting and velo racing, the selfish, self-righteous, “I’m going to do what I want without regard for the health and others, despite the fact we spent decades fighting for these things ourselves” attitudes that are held by a frighteningly large number of individuals in the Portland bike community, is the exact reason I sold my track bike, put my prized Columbus steel bike in my storage unit and walked away from biking entirely.

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    • 9watts July 13, 2014 at 9:27 pm

      Wait, you quit biking because of what you perceived other people to be doing? You didn’t like biking enough to continue it on your own terms?

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    • Paul Johnson July 14, 2014 at 5:18 am

      I realized it’s nowhere near limited to just cycling in Portland and left Portland.

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    • spare_wheel July 14, 2014 at 9:09 am

      one less passive aggressive cyclist.

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      • Middle of the road guy July 14, 2014 at 11:24 am

        Is there any other kind?

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        • Caleb July 14, 2014 at 3:52 pm

          Since “passive aggressive” is a generalizing term describing one who sometimes practices passive aggression, I’d say that there certainly are other “kinds”.

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  • Mike July 15, 2014 at 7:16 pm

    Is this kind of debate a portland thing or does it happen anywhere else? And to put a connection between blinking bike lights and seizures is interesting since a city is full of things that blink.

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    • Caleb July 15, 2014 at 7:28 pm

      A similar one just started here in South Dakota after a woman who “suffers from a seizure disorder” drove into a car show audience, killing a mother and injuring a child. The cause is undetermined, but people are already commenting, asking why she was driving if she has a seizure disorder, while others are responding about temporary licenses subsequent to a doctor’s approval. It’s no blinking light conversation, though, if that’s specifically what you were asking.

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  • PDXTom July 16, 2014 at 6:16 pm

    This has been a provocative discussion to say the least. It largely highlights (no pun intended) the lack of good scientific data that addresses the two principle areas of controversy: (1) the relative effect on cycling safety of different lighting systems; and (2) the adverse effect of flashing cycling lights on individuals with seizure disorders.

    We can agree that visibility is a key aspect of cycling safety (referred to as ‘conspicuity’ in the safety research literature). As this recent article in Accident Analysis and Prevention (Title: “Bicyclists overestimate their own night-time conspicuity..”) stated:

    “Bicyclists are among the most vulnerable of all road users, both in terms of their likelihood of being involved in a crash or near miss, and in the resulting severity of injuries resulting from crashes that involve bicyclists and vehicles (Kwan et al., 2002). Bicyclists have among the highest rates of self-reported near-miss crashes of any road users, significantly higher than that of motorists, and comparable to that of pedestrians, being as high as one incident every 5.59 miles (Joshi et al., 2001).”

    And further:

    “A number of studies have suggested that drivers do not detect bicyclists until it is too late to avoid a collision (Kwan and Mapstone, 2004; Räsänen and Summala, 1998). A significant proportion of crashes between vehicles and bicyclists have been identified as “looked-but-failed-to-see” crashes (Herslund and Jorgensen, 2003), where the driver of the vehicle fails to detect the bicyclist in time to prevent the crash, even though they report that they correctly looked in the direction of the bicyclist. Late detection of bicyclists suggests that their lack of conspicuity may be an important contributing factor to their crash involvement”

    Sadly, this is the state of our knowledge about what works best, meaning we don’t know, except some things make it a little better (types of reflective material and where it is worn on the body, for example). Lighting? Essentially no published research.

    The same is true for seizure disorders. The issue of bicycle lights was not mentioned in the authoritative publication Photic- and Pattern-induced Seizures: A Review for the Epilepsy Foundation of America Working Group in 2005, reflecting perhaps the more limited use and range of lighting at that time. A national physician expert on seizure disorders, when asked about flashing cycling lights, responded: “Interesting. I never thought about this one.” The medical literature on the effect of photic stimulation on seizures is quite complicated and shows marked inter-individual variation of what kind of stimulus will affect those who have any photosensitivity. Curiously, video games are THE worst but even television shows can do it as an animated show in Japan did to hundreds of people several years ago.

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    • 9watts July 16, 2014 at 6:25 pm

      Excellent post, PDXTom. Thanks.

      “Late detection of bicyclists suggests that their lack of conspicuity may be an important contributing factor to their crash involvement”

      wsbob often argues this here as well. I’m not so sure. I think that the peculiarities of driving a car, enclosed, cut off from the cues we who bike pick up with our five senses, combined with a predisposition for going faster than the conditions may warrant, leads to sensory mismatch: to avoid smashing into things, people driving need to see more than they are apparently capable of seeing. This is not, chiefly a problem of us who bike. We can see each other just fine; but a problem inherent to the car and to driving.

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      • dr2chase July 16, 2014 at 7:36 pm

        There’s another study on (lack of) conspicuity, a trial of daytime running lights (Reelights with wheel induction power, I think they flashed) with a notable reduction in multiparty crashes (0.53 relative risk, i.e., 47% reduction) even after correcting for self-report enthusiasm (i.e., solo and nighttime crashes ought to have RR of 1). And this was in Denmark, where everyone’s got lights for the dark already. Crashes resulting in ER visits or insurance claims were also down by about 50%, but those were much fewer and so more difficult to judge the statistical significance.

        paywalled, but http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.aap.2012.07.006

        My own experience is that I have far fewer near conflicts running daytime running lights — I think when people don’t see you, their natural inclination is to blame the cyclist, not their own inattention (fundamental attribution error right there) with the resulting conclusion that the cyclist must have darted into traffic. DRLs mean I don’t dart into traffic any more.

        However, I don’t think that our lights need to be so damn flashy. I don’t know what strikes the best compromise, except that I know that sharp on/off transitions are bad, and around 15Hz is very bad. I’ve done some experiments (*), we notice all sorts of things, so flashes really aren’t necessary.

        (*) yes, I have an LED power supply hooked up to a programmable microprocessor. Doesn’t everyone?

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    • mike July 16, 2014 at 7:37 pm

      Thanks for bringing up the lack of evidence that blinking bike lights lead to seizures as a few here seem to think. It boggles my mind that some here think less is more when it comes to lighting your way at night. Some even believe that being a “ninja” is the way to go. I prefer a brighter light when cycling in the dark. I like to see where I am going but if it offends people should I think twice? Is my safety more important than annoying a few people. Also, If it takes such a bright light to see when going relatively fast should I slow down which is what we often say to auto drivers.

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      • dr2chase July 16, 2014 at 8:16 pm

        We have evidence in this very comment stream — one of the posters is photosensitive epileptic and has been triggered by bicycle lights. She seems oddly convinced that it is possible.

        Think, for a moment, how we would go about gathering the proof you seem to think is necessary, except through anecdote. Do you propose a study where you flash slow-ish strobes in people’s faces and see how many of them have seizures? Good luck getting that past a human subjects review board. We know that strobes around 15Hz trigger seizures in some people. We know that slower strobes trigger seizures in a smaller but not zero number of people (including one here). It’s reasonable to assume that a strobing bike light is a risk.

        Furthermore, even if a strobe isn’t running at the pessimal rate, it’s still a dick move to run one near a photosensitive person. I was briefly a member of the has-a-neurologist club, I may have been photosensitive. Neurologist says “take these pills, don’t drive for a year, avoid strobes”. Would you be the least bit surprised to learn that I did not go around testing this issue? And if someone knows they’re sensitive at 15Hz, they’re not going to be happy at 4Hz, the associations are really not pleasant.

        And beyond epilepsy, there’s apparently photosensitive migraines, which I understand are not fun (happily, I have zero experience with migraines), and have the same issues with people having very unpleasant associations with strobes in general even if it is not at the exact (?) frequency that punches their button.

        If you need advice (you did ask a question) it is available in abundance in this comment stream. Get a light that doesn’t flash. That’s good enough. Handlebar motion will make it appear to vary in intensity in the front, if you have it under your seat and it is wide focussed it will spill onto your legs and that will cause variations in intensity. You don’t need flashing, mere movement is plenty.

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  • PDXTom July 17, 2014 at 8:14 am

    @dr2chase

    I don’t think you see anything that indicates I was specifically recommending flashing bicycle lights in people’s faces. On the other hand, Neurologists have been using photic stimulation for years when studying seizure disorders. That data should be used to create lighting systems that have minimal likelihood of adverse effects (seizures, migraines, etc).

    Example: “Photosensitive patients: symptoms and signs during
    intermittent photic stimulation and their relation to
    seizures in daily life”

    “After informed consent was obtained, they underwent, seated upright, a second EEG investigation with extensive IPS with a Grass PS-22 photic stimulator at a distance from the nasion of about 300mm and an intensity
    of 100 nit-sec/flash. IPS was performed for 4-6s at the frequencies 2, 6, 8, 10, 15, 18, 20, 25, 30, 40, 50, and 60Hz under the three different conditions: starting at the moment of eye-closure, with eyes closed and with eyes open. As soon as a generalised epileptiform discharge appeared in the EEG, the stimulation was terminated.”

    Regarding “Get a light that doesn’t flash. That’s good enough.” You are entitled to your own opinion but in truth, there is no good data that answers this question. Joanne Wood’s work in Australia shows that such studies are quite feasible.

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    • dr2chase July 17, 2014 at 9:00 am

      It was more a matter of replying to the disingenuous mike. I’m well aware from personal experience that neurologists flash lights in people’s eyes. I had thought that the topic was well-researched enough that we could say “public strobing faster than N times per second is a bad idea, and we should not do more of it”.

      Note also that there are other ways to address the visibility-to-drivers problems besides pushing the envelope on unfriendly-to-photosensitive people. Reduced speed limits help, truly stopping at stop signs helps, stopping where you’re supposed to helps. Riding a bike on a MUP in the dark I spot people in plenty of time by retroreflection from dog eyeballs, shoes, and backpack trim, all because I’m moving slowly enough that I have time to look.

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  • GlowBoy July 17, 2014 at 12:53 pm

    dr2chase, you mentioned the Reelights … I’m impressed by them after seeing them on the Nike share bikes, and one thing I’ve noticed is that while they do “flash”, the flashing isn’t quite as strobe-like as most blinkies. There’s a perceptible rise and fall to the intensity as they flash on and off that makes it seem more like an incandescent bulb such as traditional car turn signals.

    Any opinion from the experts as to how much less likely this might be to trigger seizures? I would think that it would still provide a far greater conspicuity benefit in daylight than steady lights, while possibly being “safer” for other sensitive road users. And also dispensing with batteries and on/off switches, which is the actual main reason I’m planning to put them on my kid’s bike and considering them for my own commuter (on which I’m planning to get rid of my SuperFlash).

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    • dr2chase July 20, 2014 at 8:12 pm

      For grins, just this evening I took a 5 second video of the back end of my bike with the light under the seat (single red-orange power LED, probably about 50 lumens), you can see the light hitting parts of my legs as they go around:
      https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/54487271/images/BikeStuff/TailLight.mov

      The lights not perfect — the bright point source causes some people discomfort. Putting some sort of a small diffuser in front of it (even 1×1 inch) would probably be a big win.

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  • Tom Petrie July 23, 2014 at 9:44 pm

    I wrote a guest editorial for Bicycle Retailer magazine on this issue in December 2013 and blogged about it here: http://www.cantitoeroad.com/Why-Flashing-Bicycle-Headlights-are-a-BAD-Idea_b_13.html . Please. No flashing lights.

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    • Bike Everywhere July 24, 2014 at 7:44 am

      I think most of us agree that flashing lights are a bad idea at night, but during the day and in bright sunlight, a steady beam just isn’t enough to be seen by already distracted drivers. After nearly being mowed down by a full-sized pickup truck entering an intersection from a side road (in which I had the right-of-way and there was nothing present to block his view of me), I decided to run my front and rear lights in blinking mode during daylight hours. I have had noticeably fewer incidents since I started doing so. The texting while driving problem has reached epidemic proportions, this is really the only defense I feel I have.

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  • Oregon Mamacita July 24, 2014 at 11:25 am

    Bike Everywhere- I have a car and I bike sometimes. Agreed that way too many people text while driving. The good thing about being in a car is that you can selectively prank drivers at stoplights who are texting behind you. I like to startle them with a huge honk sometimes, or sneak out slowly through the intersection as they sit motionless staring at a tiny screen, until the truck behind them gives them a good blast.
    I will also give another driver hell for driving in the bike lane or not allowing cyclists a little room so that they can go around something and then move over.
    When I am driving during the day, the cyclist who stand out are those in light/bright clothing. I myself like to bike in bright colors.
    You can look at drivers as a culture with some degree of self-policing. Most drivers value getting home safely without some dingbat running into them. That attitude spills over to pedestrians and cyclists. I will happily flip another drive the bird if they, for instance, do not yield to someone in a cross walk. Look at the cars with bike racks- maybe they are your friend.

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