The Worst Day of the Year Ride is February 11th

Opinion: Helmet debate saps energy we need to increase light use

Posted by on November 4th, 2010 at 11:40 am

Bike Light Parade

Whether or not people should wear — or be mandated to wear — helmets is the bike world’s pro-choice/pro-life debate. From Europe to Australia and definitely here in the U.S., people are passionate about the topic and they cling adamantly to their positions. Personal anecdotes about a life saved due to a helmet are on one side and on the other side people simply don’t feel it’s neccessary and want to make their own choice.

Here in bike-centric Portland, it’s not unheard of to get called out by others in traffic for not wearing one. We have programs at local hospitals and events that give helmets out for free. Bike rodeos put on by police and fire stations always include helmet giveaways and our Bureau of Transportation measures helmet use in annual bike counts (but not light use).

Up in Vancouver (WA), former Mayor Royce Pollard helped push through an all-ages, mandatory helmet law. Back in 2008, an Oregon State Senator floated a similar idea, but backed down after massive push back.

I won’t be surprised if the issue comes up again in future legislative sessions.

With the dark season upon us here in Portland, I’ve been thinking… would it do more for safety if all (or more of) the pro-helmet energy was poured into bike light use? People riding bikes at night without lights is insane. It goes way beyond the whole, “don’t-tell-me-to-wear-bright-clothing” thing. Being a vehicle in traffic without lights other vehicles can see just makes no sense.

When I posed this thought to friends on Twitter, a lot of people seemed to agree. One of the folks who liked the idea was well-known advocate and author Kent Peterson from Seattle. He shared an informal study by bike safety expert David Smith that backs up my hunch.

Smith analyzed six fatal bike crashes in Seattle as well as data from the Washington State Traffic Safety Commission.

His findings were clear. Of the 10 adult fatalities, eight were at night, all involved a rider without a front light and in the four rear-end collisions (all at night) the rider did not have a rear reflector or light. Whether or not a helmet was worn did not factor as large as light use in the fatalities. Here’s an excerpt from Smith:

Only one adult cyclist out of five reported killed had a helmet. My observations are that helmet use is much more popular than consistently following traffic procedures or using lights at night. Perhaps 70 to 80% of cyclists use helmets. In this case the 20 to 30% of cyclists without helmets had 80% of the cycling deaths. Helmets have received much more attention than the utility of following the rules of the road and I often see cyclists being advised to “always wear a helmet” without any mention of traffic safety.

For me, the light issue isn’t just about community activism and doing more free bike light events, it’s about the bike industry. Here in the U.S., there are far too few bike companies that take real bike lights seriously. Walk into a shop and count how many bikes made for commuting and urban riding come with integrated front and rear lights. I bet in most shops you won’t find any at all.

Here in Portland, we’re lucky to have high awareness of bike light use. We’ve got the successful Get Lit program now run by the Community Cycling Center and tomorrow we’ve got a bike safety event by our regional transit agency that will include a “Most well lit” bike contest.

But despite these efforts, their are still many people riding “ninja” in the dark without lights. If we make this as big of an issue as we’ve made helmet use, I think we could have a significant impact on safety. It’s about a switch from crash mitigation to crash prevention.

Here are some questions to consider…

  • Would we prevent more crashes and save more lives if the pro-helmet camp shifted some of that passion and energy to being pro-bike lights?
  • Why has helmet use spurred so much debate and controversy, when bike lights barely get mentioned?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you — Jonathan

  • are November 4, 2010 at 11:44 am

    footnote: the reason PBoT does not count lights is that they are counting during daylight rush hours on clear days.

    Good point are. Didn’t think of that! — Jonathan

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  • Matthew November 4, 2010 at 11:45 am

    Not really sure why anyone would go without helmet OR light, but is a campaign really going to convince anyone? If someone doesn’t have the common sense to light up in the first place, being told to by cops or politicians or whoever probably isn’t going to make much difference.

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  • Duncan Idaho-Stop November 4, 2010 at 11:49 am

    it’s not unheard of to get called out by others in traffic for not wearing one

    I love it when people riding the wrong way on a bridge or in a bike lane come out with “Where’s your helmet?”

    I also would like to see more mirror use — it’s a crucial safety device.

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  • Michael November 4, 2010 at 11:53 am

    I believe this is an awareness issue. The Seattle statistic is strongly suggestive that bike lighting can increase the life expectancy of a cyclist. This is worth knowing and sharing.
    As to whether or not people who learn about bike lighting take action is another question, but based on how many people have taken up helmet or seat belt usage, I’d guess the results would be similar: more commuter bikes lit!

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  • Matthew November 4, 2010 at 11:54 am

    @ Michael (#4)

    Fair point!

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  • tonyt
    tonyt November 4, 2010 at 12:06 pm


    I wear a helmet, the vast majority of the time. If I choose not to, it is really none of your business, and frankly as has been said, I think it’s a distraction from greater safety issues.

    Lights? Now that it’s winter, I’m encountering dozens of sans-lights riders everyday whose invisibility DOES impact me, perhaps literally. If I can’t see you, I can get hurt; it’s now my busines.

    Get them. Use them.

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  • Rob November 4, 2010 at 12:06 pm

    Actually… Groupon and the Active Transportation Alliance are working together to equip 200 bikes with lights. (click here)

    Maybe Groupon in Oregon and BikePortland can do something similar?

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  • J November 4, 2010 at 12:08 pm

    I have a question.

    Seat belts increase safety in cars. But first, the feds required that cars came with them, and then local places followed with laws requiring their use.

    Why is the light issue with bikes backwards?

    Why arent new bikes required to come with essential safety gear like front and rear lights?

    All new bikes in Germany and France must be sold with lights, thus encouraging their use. Why isnt that the case here?

    Can you imagine if cars were sold without lights and you had to buy them yourself? Or airbags?

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    • Marcus Griffith December 20, 2010 at 12:14 pm

      New bikes are required to come with reflectors but that is about as much safety equipment a new bike needs to come with (hey, even brakes are optional)

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  • daisy November 4, 2010 at 12:10 pm

    Okay here comes two salvos.

    Keep your laws off my bicycle.

    Keep your laws off my body.

    And a third one.

    Don’t ever, ever, never tell someone you don’t know what to do or how to do it.

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  • Alex Reed November 4, 2010 at 12:11 pm

    I think that Jonathan is right to put some emphasis on bike shops. People being exhorted to wear seatbelts already have functional seatbelts in their car.

    People being exhorted to use lights probably do NOT have functional lights on their bikes. That makes it a more difficult behavior to change just through social pressure. We need to get lights on these bikes in the first place.

    Personally, I think dynamo lights should be standard issue for any non-mountain non-cyclocross bike. Nobody ever says “Whoops, my seatbelt’s batteries are dead.” When the same is true for lights, THEN bike light use will approach 100%.

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  • jeff November 4, 2010 at 12:13 pm

    Lights are already required by law, are they not, for every road user after dusk?
    There is zero excuse to not use them. Do these same people drive around at night in their car without their lights on?

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  • Dan November 4, 2010 at 12:15 pm

    I think going out without a helmet or lights is dumb, but here in ‘murica, being dumb is our god-given right, isn’t it?

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  • Dave November 4, 2010 at 12:23 pm

    Promoting lights makes way more sense to me – helmets only help you if you crash, and even then there are no guarantees.

    Lights help prevent crashes, both by allowing you to see better, and by allowing other people to see you better.

    It’s like preventative health care (exercise, eating well, etc) versus blood pressure medication or stints or open heart surgery. Sure, it’s fine to have those other things just in case, but if you eat well, exercise, relax, enjoy yourself, it’s much less likely that you’ll need them.

    This is also a great argument for improved education, law and infrastructure. Prevent crashes and the need for protective gear will go way down. Bog down on the protective gear, and the education, law and infrastructure will never improve.

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  • Tomas Quinones November 4, 2010 at 12:26 pm

    Sad observation: I see more homeless than hipsters using bike lights.

    Unscientific, perhaps but it’s a notable trends worth watching.

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  • wsbob November 4, 2010 at 12:28 pm

    Better, standardized, consistently used lighting on bikes would certainly help them become more visible, and help reduce road user stress in general.

    I think at least some of the animosity that occurs between motor vehicle drivers and people riding bikes is due to the fact that bikes not equipped with lights are so very much harder to detect against the congested backdrop of a busy road than are bikes with lights.

    Except for the expense, if they were more regularly equipped with them, bikes with hub dyno lighting could help a lot to have more bikes on the road be consistently illuminated.

    I think people commonly have got so much more worked up about bike helmets compared to their reaction towards the question of bike lighting, due to the fact that a helmet is so much more a personal item than bike lighting is.

    A bike helmet is in part, clothing and fashion. Helmets directly effect a person’s image. People naturally resent when efforts are made that result in that part of themselves possibly being altered on a level they have no personal control over.

    I’d say definitely put efforts towards better lighting for bikes over efforts to encourage people to wear bike helmets. I hope that adults not required by law to wear one, seriously consider wearing bike helmets for fast and inherently more risky kinds of riding, but it’s likely that more safety gains are to be made by bikes on the road being better illuminated.

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  • neighbor November 4, 2010 at 12:29 pm

    @ J #8

    Bicycle shops (at least in Oregon) are required to equip all sold bikes with front and rear reflectors. I think that’s as close as you’ll get to a requirement since battery and motion-powered lights are prone to failure & wearing out.

    Jonathan- I think this a great point and a great effort. Well put and I’d love to see some momentum behind your ideas here.

    I’d rather see bike ninjas invest in lights than a helmet- if you’re going to get them to spend money on anything but PBR and ironic clothing, it should be lights before helmets.

    For inexperienced recreational bikers- Sunday drive-to-the-trail bikers- helmets are still key. They rarely ride after dark and typically don’t have the skill and wherewithal to keep themselves out of dangerous situations.

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  • Brock Howell November 4, 2010 at 12:33 pm

    The statistics you cite are exactly the same for no-helmet fatalities v. no-light night fatalities: 80%

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  • buglas November 4, 2010 at 12:35 pm

    Helmets, by themselves, don’t prevent accidents. Effective lights do.
    The first word about riding in traffic, the one that makes it possible for other other roadway users to respond to and accommodate your presence, is, “Visibility”.
    Helmets don’t help until things have already gone south. Lights can help every day, including those overcast days when they’re not legally required.
    [For the record, I ride with both. Always]

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  • mello yello November 4, 2010 at 12:43 pm

    Doesn’t take but 1 dollar to buy an led light at dollar store and tape it to the next light-less rider you encounter. If we cared.

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  • Ian Stude November 4, 2010 at 12:47 pm

    Thanks for posting this Jonathan. I think you bring up some very compelling arguments and I mostly agree with you. I would add that there is another distinct difference between light use and helmet use:

    Lights help prevent collisions.
    Helmets help prevent damage in a collision.

    While I am strongly committed to using (and promoting) both of these “safety devices”, the future I advocate for is filled with millions of bike lights, and far fewer helmets. The reason we need helmets (and seatbelts) is because too much of our personal safety in traffic is predicated on individual responsibility. If we designed our streets and set our speed limits with a true priority of safety BEFORE convenience or “efficiency”, then we wouldn’t need to protect ourselves so much from those ‘inevitable’ collisions…

    For more info about safety-oriented transportation systems, please check out the Vision Zero project. (Oct 15th presentation from this list)

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  • Sonia Connolly November 4, 2010 at 12:49 pm

    Agreed, visibility is crucial to safe riding, especially at night and in the rain. And also agreed, retail policies and perceptions are part of the problem.

    I went to REI recently to buy a bright, waterproof bike jacket. They had plently of red, orange, and yellow men’s waterproof jackets. Women’s waterproof jackets came in blue and purple. Apparently REI believes that men need to be visible, but women need to make a fashion statement.

    I wrote them an email and got back an excuse about running out of stock. In early Fall. In Portland.

    I bought a visible women’s waterproof jacket at River City Bicycles and I’m delighted with it. Support the retailers who support our safety!

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  • David November 4, 2010 at 12:51 pm

    No shout out to the forum thread I posted 3 days ago on this exact topic? Where’s the love!?

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  • Lisa November 4, 2010 at 12:52 pm

    Timely article.

    I was driving uphill on NW Cornell Rd approaching the intersection with Skyline at 7:25 yesterday morning. It was dark and I was going below the posted speed limit. Up ahead, I could barely see a cyclist pedaling uphill. He had one measly red blinking tail light.

    I was tempted to stop and wait for him up at the four way intersection to tell him how inadequate his rear lighting was. The posted speed limit there is either 40 or 45 and I was going just barely 30. There is no shoulder and he was really tough to see. It’s easy to imagine a cyclist getting taken out by someone going 45 and not being super alert to the potential presence of commuting cyclists.

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  • Dave November 4, 2010 at 12:54 pm

    If we designed our streets and set our speed limits with a true priority of safety BEFORE convenience or “efficiency”, then we wouldn’t need to protect ourselves so much from those ‘inevitable’ collisions…

    Exactly. Even some of the need for super bright lights would be alleviated by better street design, law and education.

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  • drew November 4, 2010 at 12:55 pm

    You are spot on, Jonathan for highlighting this issue. I see it as a failure of the bicycle industry to equip bikes with dynamo lights by default.
    The technology is finally here to have lights on all the time. LED lights and dynamo hubs work great together. You don’t think about having to turn on the lights; you just ride. I have mine on much of the summer, and leave them on permanently during the winter, day and night. I consider the lights and my visibility vest to be more useful than the helmet I frequently wear. Cars just give me more space, and they see me.
    Go in any bike shop and what you see are mostly toys, without a light system, sold to people who are trained by magazines to ask about bike weight. They turn into death traps when the sun goes down. Why do some motorists think bikes are toys? because that is what most of them are as they exit the bike shop.
    Professional racers don’t need them during a race. The rest of us do.

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  • Al from PA November 4, 2010 at 12:55 pm

    Bikes used to come with lights. When I was 10 (1962) I got my first “real” bike, a 26″ metallic blue 3 speed Schwinn “Racer,” complete with fenders and a light/tail-light set, bottle-dynamo powered. The set came with the bike. Total cost (for the bike plus lights): $52. Solid, metal, unlike today’s little plastic thingies that break the first time you try to take them off (to change a battery). Made by Miller (?), plenty bright most of the time. And (dare I mention?) made in the US (the lights, but most of the rest of the bike, too).

    We didn’t appreciate those old Schwinns–how was it possible to give so much quality, practicality, and solidity at such a low price? And this at a time when “no one rode.”

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  • Jesse November 4, 2010 at 12:58 pm

    I wholeheartedly agree that lights are essential, but I think putting the onus on manufacturers is misplaced. Manufacturers are already required to equip new bikes with reflectors and people just take them off. If required by law manufacturers would be likely to install the cheapest lights possible. As an aside, I am also not a big fan of dynamo lights. It seems like the good ones are prohibitively expensive for most cyclists. My wife’s bike has dynamo front light. My battery powered unit is cheaper, lighter, brighter and stays lit when I stop pedalling.

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  • mello yello November 4, 2010 at 1:02 pm

    They sell spoke lights at wal mart for five bux. They’re neat since it looks like your whole wheel is lit when spinning. I’ve had compliments.

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  • mello yello November 4, 2010 at 1:07 pm

    I like full face helmets since it hurt like hell the last time I dislocated my jaw. A regular helmet keeps your brain awake to feel the pain of the rest of your body after a crash or collision. Facial injuries hurt the most.

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  • El Biciclero November 4, 2010 at 1:10 pm

    +1 to the prevention vs. mitigation idea. An ounce of one is worth a pound of the other…

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  • jv November 4, 2010 at 1:12 pm

    This article is right on point. Real safety is about situation awareness, communication, and preventing accidents, all of which properly used lighting (or any at all!) does very well. Ninja riding is dangerous for all road users. Think about the corollary – what if cars routinely drove at night without lights? Having lights and being seen is much more important than helmet use. For the record: I am always reasonably lit, but selective about when I do or don’t wear a helmet. My response to people who yell “wear a helmet” is: “ride safely and pay attention”.

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  • AP November 4, 2010 at 1:18 pm

    I agree lights are critical, I am all in favor of even some extreme measures to raise light usage, like regulations requiring lights on every new bike.

    But that’s not going to happen anytime soon.

    I think it’s important to acknowledge other obstacles to bike light use this discussion is lacking –

    – Theft – Yes, it happens, and it especially seems to happen to those people out there who are less inclined to use lights in the first place: bar-hopping twenty-somethings who are a bit too absent minded to take their shiny blinking light off their handlebars downtown at 11pm. A few layers of duct tape is usually enough of a deterrent, so let’s include bike light RETENTION in any education piece regarding lights.

    – Cost – Seriously, a lot of people ride bikes because they can’t afford to drive or take the bus. These are people who won’t buy a pair of pants at goodwill because they are 6.99 instead of 5.99. You can have all the discount bike light events you like but until some company or co-op steps forward, contacts some slave-employing factory in china – and starts producing lights available for $3 in any bike store at any time, you won’t see usage increase. A previous poster alluded to the dollar-store LED lights. I tell you from experience that those things are actually decent, especially for $1!

    Batteries – I have three lights on my bike (Headlamp + 2 Blinkies). As with most every light without regulated current, after the batteries are at 50% or so, the light output is terribly reduced. And batteries are NOT cheap to replace, especially if your and eco-conscious consumer (hmm I tend to think of many cyclists that way) and you have to swallow your pride when you buy and dispose of such toxic things. A low battery light is almost no-dangerous than none at all, as it gives the bike user a false sense of security. There should be just as many free battery events as free lights.

    Use – lastly, please educate on proper light use. For example, getting your 5 LED rear light looking all pretty in a dancing pattern might make you feel cute, but it’s pointless. If you are going to put your light on a pattern where only 1 LED is illuminated at a time, well them, just buy a 1 LED light. All LEDs on, all blinking in unison is the proper method – only then is your light producing the most amount of light it can produce at any given moment. Common sense but I even see obviously well-educated and successful business commuters not following this principle.

    Disclaimer, yes there are huge generalizations in this post – I hate generalizing too much but this is a big problem, and if you want to talk about solving big problems you have to talk in big scales and target groups.

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  • Charles Procner November 4, 2010 at 1:20 pm

    You can rectify ignorance but you can do nothing about stupid. It’s a Darwinian thing. Eventually we will not have to worry about the dumbbells riding without lights. I saw a man with a 6 or 7 year old boy (father/son?)out the other night on unlit bikes after dark riding the wrong way crossing an intersection. Too bad about the kid.

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  • Oliver Smith November 4, 2010 at 1:22 pm

    Inexpensive lights are available that can be bolted to a fender, seatpost or rack and are convenient and thief-resistant.

    The generator hubs and lights have also improved so much, with very low resistance and “stay-on-while stopped” features. These are so convenient and bright. Prices are dropping too.

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  • Mindful Cyclist November 4, 2010 at 1:22 pm

    Helmets to me have always been a personal choice. I chose to wear one, but will never call out another cyclist for not wearing one. I have worked with people with head injuries and the idea of having to potentially having to be re-potty trained at the age of 37 does not sound like a good time to me.

    Lights are a whole different ball of wax. I see way too many people riding without them and it is too bad small battery powered ones are not included in the sale of a new bicycle. It is a clear safety issue.

    One little hint about cycling at night. Always carry a spare bus ticket with you. There have been times I have gone by bike some place and stayed much longer than expected and it was already too dark to ride. Plus, lights are an easy thing to steal.

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  • night-blind November 4, 2010 at 1:27 pm

    On the other side lights are good but can be taken too far, I met some riders going the other way on a neighborhood greenway last week. I had a light on my bike but stopped because I couldn’t see a thing as these people had brighter than high beam lights on their bike turned onto strobe. We need a high and a low limit on brightness, or at least point them down at the ground a little. You are blinding other cyclists.

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  • Joe November 4, 2010 at 1:30 pm

    Here in Murfreesboro, TN the casual cyclists all wear helmets, the commuter cyclists (mostly college students) almost never do. I’ve noticed some blinkies at night but not nearly the brightness necessary to be really visible.

    I wear the helmet any time I will be on a road with a speed limit over 30, or when we go on family rides. I am doubtful as to the effectiveness of a helmet if you get hit by a car going 45-50 and it would certainly be useless if a bus runs over your head. So I tend to side with the folks emphasizing care while riding over bodily protection.

    I’m always well lit at night with various reflective items, bright lights and blinkies. I agree more emphasis should be placed on visibility. We have quite a few lower income riders without lights and I think a light giveaway could save lives.

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  • mello yello November 4, 2010 at 1:38 pm

    Another alternative to buying expensive bike lighting systems(I’m talking about ones that light the road) is to go to harborfreight or costco to buy their multi LED(the ones with 30 or more bright whites) and tape it to your handlebar. Then charge from an outlet overnight for the next day’s use. They’re about 10 bux or so, but heavier than compact lighting systems. These are used to light the entire road so aiming is crucial. Sometimes I like to go on night excursions through the woods on my mtb.

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  • buglas November 4, 2010 at 1:38 pm

    With my last bike purchase, the shop had a “commuter package” of rack, fenders, and kickstand at a flat rate. It would be nice to see shops offering a lighting package in a similar fashion for new bikes going out the door.

    @AP #32 – on the subject of batteries, I prefer rechargeables. The front end cost has more than paid for itself.

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  • mello yello November 4, 2010 at 1:48 pm

    What are they doing on the wildwood at night anyway? Probably up to no good if they’re not on a bike.

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  • Ron November 4, 2010 at 1:51 pm

    I ride most of the time, and nothing aggravates me more (or undermines the cycling community) than an idiot wearing black and/or riding at night without lights. It’s hard to feel sorry for them, and in many ways maybe it strenghens the gene pool. But I feel bad for a motorist who hits and kills one of these cyclists and has to carry that burden around with them for the rest of their lives.

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  • spare_wheel November 4, 2010 at 1:56 pm

    “And batteries are NOT cheap to replace, especially if your and eco-conscious consumer”

    rechargeable batteries — virtually all the major brands sell “eneloop-like” batteries that hold a stable charge for months. and if you buy online you can get them for a buck a piece.

    “Sad observation: I see more homeless than hipsters using bike lights.”

    i don’t think its at all sad that homeless people use bike lights.

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  • mello yello November 4, 2010 at 2:10 pm

    Bike lights are necessary at night, but sometimes drivers are simply blinded by their own stupidity. Last night I was on Cornell approaching Skyline and this crazy lady had the nerve to shout at me for not having a bike light. I had three rear facing planet bike superbrites and a forward facing headlight by supermegabrite. She was wearing sunglasses and had her fog lights on in addition to her driving lights. There was no fog, none at all.

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  • Alan November 4, 2010 at 2:13 pm

    I won’t should on you if you don’t should on me. Deal?

    I think helmets and lights are good safety devices and I use them accordingly. I don’t need to be told to use them again, thanks very much.

    Getting in my face, whether personally or by media onslaught, with Nanny-inspired messages that I’ve heard over and over for decades just turns me off to all such hype. I’ll do my best to avoid that noise, maybe even rebel against it a bit. That said, low-hype, voluntary programs like “Be Safe and Be Seen” seem like a good way to go.

    The time to teach bike safety habits are when kids learn to ride…3, 4, 5 years. Once we’re adults, please back off the Nanny Sez lectures.

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  • Ed November 4, 2010 at 2:13 pm

    In Vancouver BC the city recently passed a law that all cyclists must ride with front and rear light on, a bell, and helmet. At first I thought it is ridiculous to put so much pressure on cyclist, especially people that are homeless or low income with bikes. But, I always ride with lights and helmet (without a bell though), and I can’t imagine myself or my boyfriend riding without helmet or lights. I had too many close calls with car accidents that I can’t imagine what would happen without my helmet on or my lights beaming at night. I think the CCC lit program is great for educating the locals about bike safety. The city should provide more educational programs to children and adult. I don’t know if a law like Vancouver BC will force people to wear their helmet or put lights on their frame. It might work better if you educate people instead of sending out police giving traffic tickets to cyclists. But maybe that will work too.

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  • Dave November 4, 2010 at 2:17 pm

    Totally agree with nightblind #36. I’m often blinded by people with super-bright LED lights mounted on their helmets or on their handlebars tilted upwards – not to mention that while you are then clear about where that person is, you can’t see anything else around them (and I’m guessing, neither could a driver going towards them), so they are making other cyclists riding the same direction as them less safe by making them less visible.

    Everything in moderation – be visible, but don’t harm other people’s visibility/vision to do it.

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  • jim November 4, 2010 at 2:20 pm

    All you have to do is talk to a trauma nurse at Emanual to realize just how stupid it is not to wear a helmet.
    I do however feal it should be an adults choice if they want to be brain dead and fed with a tube. children under 18 don’t have the choice to make that decision, they do need to wear helmets

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  • jim November 4, 2010 at 2:27 pm

    I almost ran a guy over one night at an intersection where I was pulling out because he had no headlight, I saw him at the last second and stopped. Ironically he did have a back light.
    Headlights do affect me as a driver, I don’t want to be involved with an accident that wasn’t my fault.
    I was 1 car back from a bike that got trounced because he had no light. He argued that in Portland bikes don’t have to have lights. that may be true because the police don’t enforce the headlight laws. The guy over the police chief says “let them go”

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  • murph November 4, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    When I managed a bike shop in San Diego the bikes require light law was used to harass the homeless. Every fall the police ticketed them for not having a light. And every fall the incidents of shoplifting in my store went up.

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  • h November 4, 2010 at 2:46 pm

    I have seen cyclists without helmets but it does not really bother me. I have had close calls with cyclists without lights in dark. Same with runners and walkers. One thing bothering me is some lights too bright or flashing too strong for me to see well on my side.

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  • mello yello November 4, 2010 at 2:50 pm

    Since we’re on the topic of safety equipment, they do sell “skin suits” that are equipped with spine, rib and shoulder protection, most commonly used in downhill, bmx, and motocross. I’ve contemplated wearing some for winter riding. I’d rather go with max protection(and warmth) than broken bones, though some might see it as overkill. I’d probably be more careless in fact, since falling and getting hit wouldn’t hurt as much if at all. A few more pounds on a bike wouldn’t bother me. It’s not like being on foot where the extra weight would slow me down a lot more. I bet we could get more people to pedal if there were fashionable full body protection.

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  • Mark November 4, 2010 at 2:57 pm

    There’s something wrong with our culture in general on this point. I bought a new road bike a few weeks ago, I’d been out of the saddle for a couple of years. My wife, instantly said “You’re not allowed to ride it without a helmet”. Then later after dark I was complaining about not getting out for a ride. She asked why I didn’t go then, and I replied that I didn’t have a light, and she asked me if that really mattered. For the record, I don’t think this was an attempt to get me killed, and collect the insurance money. There seems to be general misunderstanding of how much this basic piece of safety equipment matters.

    I ride with a helmet, but without a light, but I also only ride during daylight hours.

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  • Another Doug November 4, 2010 at 3:43 pm

    The question as to whether cyclists should wear helmets is a completely different one than whether a law should be passed mandating that cyclists wear helmets. As a cyclist who has taken a divet out of my helmet in a crash, I know that helmets can reduce injuries.

    If government is truly interested in safety, then there are any number of existing laws including those related to bicycle lights, wrong-way riding, careless driving, drunk driving, and a host of others that should be more effectively enforced. A mandatory helmet law would just be a distraction from these far more important issues.

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  • A.K. November 4, 2010 at 3:52 pm

    Neighbor (#16):

    “Bicycle shops (at least in Oregon) are required to equip all sold bikes with front and rear reflectors. I think that’s as close as you’ll get to a requirement since battery and motion-powered lights are prone to failure & wearing out.”

    Are you sure about that? I purchased a bike this year that came with NO reflectors. Granted it was a racing bike, but it didn’t come with any non-the-less.

    I run a front and rear light at all times, even during the day, and I also wear a helmet, not just in case I get hit, but in case I fall and smack my head on the ground. The force of your head hitting the concrete from standard standing height (so between 5 and 6 ft) can cause death upon impact.

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  • shirtsoff November 4, 2010 at 3:56 pm

    There appears to be a lot of class assumptions and privileged opinions floating about when people discuss bike lights. I’m amazed and encouraged when I see people without a stable residence riding bicycles around Portland. I feel that I don’t see it often elsewhere. On the same note, lacking a permanent residence makes it very difficult to secure employment and without an active income, lights and other bike accessories are some of the first items a homeless person will skip spending money on. From time to time, the BTA gives out free bicycle lights (front and back) to people and that is what is needed. Whether you’re a struggling student, an under employed resident, or a person without a stable home, programs that get lights out to the community for free or at reduced cost will help to change behavior. Shaking our heads and wondering aloud why people can’t just buy “cheap” lights while not realizing that some people don’t have a few bucks won’t help the situation.

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  • Todd Boulanger November 4, 2010 at 4:04 pm

    This is the same point I made within the City of Vancouver during the investigation of the helmet ordinance (mentioned in the article): lights before helmets for safer urban riding.

    This is a law already on the books in most if not all communities…enforce what we have before adding a new law, etc.

    Though now that we have this law in vancouver, has its enforcement and program been evaluated yet for effectiveness? Has its initial budget of $5000 for helmet distribution been allocated and how many helmets have been distributed?

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  • mello yello November 4, 2010 at 4:08 pm

    They also sell multi LED lights about the size of standard forward lights with batteries at harborfreight in packages of 2 for $2.99. Harbor Freight as at the corner of Interstate and near killingsworth. A free coupon for an LED light comes in the little coupon flyer sent every tuesday(at least in my neighborhood.) Want to do something to make a tiny difference? Go get them and give them away to poor people.

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  • Roland November 4, 2010 at 4:20 pm

    The helmet debate is similar to the abortion debate in another way: It’s totally pointless and distracts from much bigger, actual, real problems.

    Lighting is definitely a higher priority than helmets. By the time a helmet comes into play, someone has already screwed up. Focus further upstream, and prevent the screwup.

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  • Roland November 4, 2010 at 4:21 pm

    PS I also note that both pro-helmet and pro-life factions can’t seem to make their points without resorting to grotesque fear-mongering about crushed heads.

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  • random_rider November 4, 2010 at 4:28 pm

    I was driving my car home about a week and a half ago at around 10:30 p.m. on a rainy Friday night. I was on Alberta and, because of my familiarity with the street and many of the riders on it, was being extremely attentive to everything around me- e.g. looking down cross streets and sidewalks at every intersection. I was also driving around 20 m.p.h., which is what I consider a safe speed for that street under those circumstances.

    Around 21st Ave a cyclist suddenly appeared in front of me dressed in black pants with a black jacket, black boots and a black hat- no lights helmet or reflectors. I was going slowly enough and had the situational awareness that I was able to move across the center line and pass them, but it was closer than was comfortable to either of us.

    I honestly don’t know if they turned onto Alberta from the cross street, if they had been there all along or if they just hopped out from the sidewalk. The point is that it is only because of my extreme caution that I did not hit this person (or an oncoming vehicle if there had been one).

    I believe that if a collision had occured it would have been the fault of the cyclist, but would still have been tremendously traumatic to me. That makes it my business.

    You can argue that your decision not to wear a helmet doesn’t affect me, even though the guilt of killing someone or causing them brain damage would be worse than “just” hitting them. But if your choices result in me hitting you through no fault of my own, that is different.

    It’s not a “nanny-state” or personal liberties argument. We live in a society, which comes with certain rules and responsibilities. Being allowed to cause a collision with another person, regardless of your or their mode of transportation, is not a right.

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  • mello yello November 4, 2010 at 4:31 pm

    I think these highly published bike light giveaways are to generate publicity for the “mighty” efforts of the BTA and other goodwill organizations. It doesn’t take much to ride around with cheap free lights and duct tape in your backpack. Too bad I’m lazy bastard #1.

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  • Another Doug November 4, 2010 at 4:32 pm

    Todd (#56):

    Oregon law that is applicable throughout the state (not just in most communities) requires a front white light visible from 500 feet and a rear red reflector or light visible from 600 feet during limited visibility conditions. It would be great if enforcement could be combined with providing lights to those who cannot otherwise afford them, although 2 for $2.99 (#57) seems pretty affordable.

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  • are November 4, 2010 at 4:55 pm

    re comments 16 and 54, actually this is a federal requirement, under regulations issued by the consumer product safety commission, codified at 16 cfr 1512.16. and weirdly, enforcement of these regulations has been suspended because there are no labs equipped to test whether a particular reflective material meets the CPSC’s technical requirements.

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  • RonC November 4, 2010 at 4:57 pm

    I don’t see helmets and lights as entirely independent issues. A helmet mounted flashing LED can be ‘aimed’ with a head turn to traffic coming from the side. That same traffic might not see a handlebar or fork mounted light due to the cutoff angle of a directed beam that illuminates only the road. On dark and stormy nights it’s essential gear for me. That along with a handlebar mounted light to illuminate the road in front, rear LED, a reflective vest and leg bands.

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  • beth h November 4, 2010 at 6:52 pm

    # 9:

    I will support mandatory helmet and lighting laws ONLY when the laws protecting bicyclists are strengthened and enforced.

    That said — reflectivity and lighting can go a long way in helping yourself be seen — but only by motorists that are trained to LOOK for you on a bike. Education works both ways.

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  • rider November 4, 2010 at 7:06 pm

    For those of you who mentioned dynamo lights being prohibitively expensive, Velo Orange has a dynamo hub for $35 right now. If you switch over the next time you’re rebuilding your front wheel you can have a full dynamo set-up for under $100, which if you compare this price to comparable quality battery lights is not much greater. Always on and always attached lights are one of the best things you can do for your city bike.

    I think there is so much more emphasis on helmets because of the push to get kids to wear them and the awareness that resulted. Kids don’t ride at night usually, and so lights aren’t pushed as much. Though I would say that lights during the day make you more visible and kids should also have always on lights.

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  • Chris November 4, 2010 at 7:22 pm

    This is pretty simple (for adults)..
    Not having a light at night could harm someone else – therefore it should be required.
    Not wearing a helmet only puts you in danger – it should be a personal choice.

    I wear a helmet every time i get on my bike. I could care less if you do. When you throw kids into it, it gets a little gray.

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  • Jack November 4, 2010 at 10:08 pm

    Re Daisy #9

    “Okay here comes two salvos.
    Keep your laws off my bicycle.
    Keep your laws off my body.
    And a third one.
    Don’t ever, ever, never tell someone you don’t know what to do or how to do it.”

    I have no problem with your demands…as long as you keep your bicycle off our streets. This country offers you rights, not immunity from the law. I don’t know you, but if you run a stop sign in front of me at night without lights on, I’m going to hope that I can ride faster than you so I can chase you down and tell you what not to do and why not to do it.

    Your body is all yours.

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  • CaptainKarma November 4, 2010 at 10:30 pm

    As long as the tax cutters and de-funders of govt keep it up, there will be very little enforcement of anything. When one person gets cited for no light every few months, no one will see that as a deterrent or as “encouragement” for having a light. Just as red-light runners do get tickets, but not enough for anybody to feel like there is a consistent policy. So don’t count on laws & enforcement.

    There should be about three full pages in the driver’s manual about the rights of bicyclists, and there should be at least 5 questions on the test, deal-breakers if you miss em.

    Btw Portland pedestrians should wear lights or reflectors, esp goths and hipsters who dress all black in the rainy portland dark night of my soul!

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  • cupcake November 5, 2010 at 1:32 am


    you got a helmet,

    you got lights,

    you got a neon green jacket,

    you stop at every last stop sign,

    but you still pass other bikes without making a sound.

    its a law that you have to make an audible signal when passing.

    its the only one thats free and wont slow you down.

    its the only one that would possibly make you less of a tool bag and keep your fellow bikers safe.

    what ever happened to “on your left”?

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  • Shozo November 5, 2010 at 5:43 am

    Portland. Bike lights. No brakes, but lights.

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  • Paul November 5, 2010 at 8:23 am

    Helmets and lights are both important (bells and clothing, too).

    I’ve never had a crash that led to my head striking the ground, but my helmet has still prevented injury when I’ve been swiped by low-hanging tree branches (esp. at night).

    On city streets, lights are an issue of public safety more than personal safety. Any cyclist who decries the urgency of bike lighting on public roads and trails needs to be consistent: those same folks ought to be campaigning to make lights optional on automobiles.

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  • Mike November 5, 2010 at 8:33 am

    I have a super bright light(400-600 lumens) because I want to be seen and like the fact that it lights up the road very nicely. Is there a point where it may be too bright? Again, if it annoys people but helps motorists see me is that a fair trade off?

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  • Dave November 5, 2010 at 8:40 am

    @Mike: I think it’s fine, as long as it’s pointed at the road, and not at other people. If it’s pointed up or on your helmet, it is actually impairing the vision of other people, but if it’s pointed down at the road, it’s not so bad.

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  • David Feldman November 5, 2010 at 8:44 am

    Hear hear! I have ridden at night with lights since the early 1970’s–a few years before an adequate bike helmet even existed. Lights today are both better and more available. I’m proud to say that when working at the Bike Gallery some years ago I was reprimanded by the owner for being too hard-sell on quality lighting systems vs. the cycling flashlights that are in use–to be fair, this was before LED’s.

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  • spare_wheel November 5, 2010 at 8:50 am

    200+ lumen flashing led lights are expensive but causing a motorist to pull over is priceless.

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  • Narf November 5, 2010 at 8:57 am

    Chris #67,

    “Not wearing a helmet only puts you in danger – it should be a personal choice.”

    Unless you are a parent. How much damage can you do to your child by not wearing a helmet and becoming a paraplegic or a corpse?

    Sometimes there’s more to think about than yourself.

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  • John Landolfe November 5, 2010 at 9:49 am

    Lights are really important but I’m not sure why this should be an either-or debate with helmets. Pushing safety belts doesn’t necessitate less emphasis on speeding.

    I spent a month working at a local Neuro ICU and in that time 2 bicyclists were on unit with major head injuries. Safety laws come into play when cost to society outweighs benefit to personal freedom. Head injuries come at enormous cost to a community in terms of limited resources for emergency care, limited trauma beds and to family and friends that must endure the emotional fall out.

    Lights are really important and other users should haven’t to put up with bicyclists without lights. But as you can guess, I don’t buy the argument that helmets only affect the user. It’s simply not true.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) November 5, 2010 at 9:53 am


      It’s not an either/or argument. We (activists, policymakers, the people) have limited time and resources to make a change in the world. All I’m saying is that perhaps the balance is tilted too far to the side of helmets and we need to shift some of those resources to encouraging light use.

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  • Steven Cahill November 5, 2010 at 9:53 am

    Riders at night = Dark Matter
    You know they’re out there but not sure where.

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  • El Biciclero November 5, 2010 at 10:02 am

    “200+ lumen flashing led lights are expensive but causing a motorist to pull over is priceless.”

    Heh. This has happened to me twice. It helps if you wear a solid yellow jersey and helmet with black shorts…

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  • Jim O'Horo November 5, 2010 at 10:10 am

    A very timely article Jonathan. I first read the article yesterday when there were only 16 comments and because of lack of time had to log off. I copied the article & comments, went to where I’m staying & later put together the following thoughts. Now there are 76 comments, so I’m probably repeating some of what others have said, but you asked for our input, so for whatever it’s worth, here’s my $0.02.

    I believe in both helmets and lights. While riding I wear a helmet at all times. Though I rarely ride at night any more, I carry both front & rear lights with me in case I’m unexpectedly caught out late. I understand that you’re in favor of helmet use also but would have preferred to see you frame the discussion, particularly the headline, in terms of advocating for both helmet AND light use instead of taking the position that we should advocate one at the expense of the other. Both are vitally important, and as you later pointed out we should “make this as big of an issue as we’ve made helmet use.”

    As jeff pointed out @ #10,”Lights are already required by law … for every road user after dusk … There is zero excuse to not use them” I believe the MINIMUM requirement is for a white light visible from 600 ft. in front of the bike and a rear reflector visible in the low beams of a car from 500 ft. to the rear. Or maybe it’s 500 ft. to the front & 600 to the rear. Anyway, as far as I know this is the case in all 50 states, DC and all US territories. Personally, I’d prefer a rear LIGHT requirement besides a reflector, and I think the front light should be steady or a steady light in addition to one of those little “blinkies”. Unless you’re riding in an area where there are streetlights, the “blinkie” simply doesn’t provide enough light to see hazards ahead.

    I’m a bit confused by one portion of your article Jonathan. In paragraph 8 you state: “Of the 10 adult fatalities, eight [80% by my calculation] were at night, all involved a rider without a front light and in the four rear-end collisions (all at night) the rider did not have a rear reflector or light. Whether or not a helmet was were [grammar] worn did not factor as large as light use in the fatalities.” In your 9th paragraph Smith? states: “Only one adult cyclist out of five reported killed [80% fatalities by my calculation] had a helmet.” What puzzles me is how 80% fatalities when riding at night without lights are significantly different from 80% fatalities when riding without a helmet. It sounds to me like the risk is about equal. This was, by the author’s own statement, an informal study on a very small sample. I don’t think one should make such broad statements without more substantial data.

    You maintain: “… the light issue … [is] … about the bike industry. … far too few bike companies … take real bike lights seriously. Walk into a shop and count how many bikes made for commuting and urban riding come with integrated front and rear lights. I bet in most shops you won’t find any at all.” I disagree with the notion of blaming the industry. Ours is a consumer-driven economy. I don’t think the root of the problem is the industry – it’s the consumer. As J points out @ #8 even in Europe (Germany and France) lights are LEGALLY required on all new bikes sold. I suspect that’s because they weren’t being demanded by European consumers either. Maybe I’m remembering incorrectly, but I seem to recall Shimano’s Coasting system comes with lights. How many of those bikes are being sold in the US? I think the reason we don’t see much attention to lighting is that there’s insufficient consumer demand. If people asked for it and were willing to pay, the market would respond. Otherwise, the only way we’d see improvement in availability is with a legal requirement that would include department store bikes – not likely here. Further, any legal requirement here should be at the Federal, not State or Local level.

    I’ve had a close call with a “ninja” rider in Portland myself – no lights & black or very dark clothing on a very rainy night. Even the bike was dark colored! Not only was I frightened by the close call, I was embarrassed. Here I am, a cyclist myself, and I was very nearly involved in a collision with a cyclist. Though in my example the potential for serious injury to the cyclist was low, thinking back about the incident I’ve often asked myself how I’d have responded had there been a collision with injury. I think this is one example of a case where the “I didn’t see him” defense by a motorist would be justified. In retrospect, had there been an injury, I could have suggested to my insurer that they deny any claim based on the fact that, in riding at night without lights, the cyclist was BREAKING THE LAW and thus guilty of CONTRIBUTORY NEGLIGENCE. Now there’s a concept that ought to get the car haters stirred up! Further, since the “ninja” cyclist is clearly violating a well-known law, should there be an injury he/she should be given a citation. Publicity, persuasion, legal requirement and free lights don’t seem to be working. Perhaps enforcement would help.


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  • Brian Johnson November 5, 2010 at 10:22 am

    I agree about helmets. I wear one and have taught my son that wearing one is important, primarily because of factors her can’t control– like other traffic on the roads. However, I have also told him that it’s a personal decision and that wearing a helmet is not a matter of “right or wrong”.

    THe important thing is not just lights, though.

    It’s education. Education. Education. Education

    It’s about knowing how to ride like TRAFFIC. AS cyclists on the road, we are also TRAFFIC and we need to operate our bicycles accordingly. Riding within the law and behaving predictably.

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  • sore butt November 5, 2010 at 12:20 pm

    I have also noticed that most people riding when it’s dark do not have reflectors either. Is this a weird Portland thing where people remove them or do people not appreciate how well they work.

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  • Pete November 5, 2010 at 1:20 pm

    J (#8): Seat belts and helmets are commonly compared, but the history behind their use is worlds apart. Automotive safety features have largely been driven by the insurance industry’s efforts to mitigate their personal injury costs, and this has gone on for decades. When I was young states were passing mandatory seatbelt laws, and they were getting repealed at ballot year after year. People simply did not want to have their choice taken away (my Mom at 75 still refuses to wear hers, even though she insists I never ride without a helmet!).

    Then the federal government stepped in – I’m guessing with pressure from insurance lobbies – and threatened reduced highway funding for states without mandatory seatbelt laws. Today you’ll see a “click it or ticket” sign in the majority of the union, except for “Live Free or Die” New Hampshire where motorcycle helmets are also optional. (I’m sure safety advocates would like that changed to “Live Free and you’ll Die!” 😉

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  • Pete November 5, 2010 at 1:34 pm

    cupcake (#70): an audible warning is only required when overtaking pedestrians, not other cyclists. Search for “audible”:

    What you’re suggesting is good practice though, as are front and back lights at night.

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  • John Landolfe November 5, 2010 at 1:58 pm

    @Jon Maus
    I don’t think you, in particular, are proposing an either/or solution. But public debates being the headless monsters they are, and “either/or” being one of this debate’s tentacles–well, I feel compelled to lop it off.

    You make a very good point as to limited resources. And this is as good a time as any to make our focus staying well lit. But conversations, talking points, and opinions still come on the cheap. When we work on Haiti, we don’t say ‘tough luck, Sudan’.

    Just my cheap opinion.

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  • spare_wheel November 5, 2010 at 2:47 pm

    “most people riding when it’s dark do not have reflectors either.”

    Reflectors were not installed on my last two bike purchases. I think that for the most part they are included only on low end bikes.

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  • mello yello November 5, 2010 at 3:17 pm

    yeah because they’re so fred

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  • Kim November 6, 2010 at 8:17 am

    Great points brought up in article and comments . . .

    This is an issue around which ped and bike advocates might come together. Pedestrians in dark clothing at night are also at huge risk. I could predict the statistics of night-time fatalities for pedestrians is similar to the stats for the bike fatalities you quoted.

    Seems like a shared campaign for being lit at night might be in order. Maximize dollars, maximize reach.

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  • spare_wheel November 6, 2010 at 9:37 am

    ” Pedestrians in dark clothing at night are also at huge risk.”

    Disagree completely. If you have adequate lighting then the color of your clothing is completely irrelevant.

    I often wear black but also pack 300-1200 lumens (depends on my mood).

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  • are November 6, 2010 at 10:19 am

    “ours is a consumer-driven economy” only in the sense that the people who control everything make their money by selling stuff to (underpaid, docile) workers. demand is created by advertising.

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  • Jim O'Horo November 6, 2010 at 11:45 am

    Those above who are advocating lights vs. helmets because prevention is better than mitigation are living with some false logic. To continue with the medical analogies advanced by some, thinking that using lights at night reduces the need for a helmet is like saying “Since I’ve been vaccinated for polio, it’s no longer as important for me to take insulin for my diabetes.” Lights deal with only one risk factor, lack of visibility under poor visibility conditions. Helmets deal with one of the most damaging consequences of an entire host of causes. We need BOTH, particularly at night when the risk of a crash is higher. As Jonathan said, “… the dark season [is] upon us …” That means prudent cyclists will be using their lights more frequently. The dark season is also the wet leaves season, soon to be followed by the black ice season. Does anyone really think having blinking lights will prevent a slip & fall?

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  • Jim O'Horo November 6, 2010 at 12:00 pm

    One potential problem with legally requiring lights, particularly expensive & wear-prone hub dyno-powered systems, on all new bikes sold is that not all bikes are purchased for the purpose of riding at night, and those used for commuting are often a wide variety of bike types suitable for other purposes. Would lights also be required for skateboarders & skaters? They are, after all, wheeled vehicles being operated on public roadways. Scooters? Unicycles? Requiring manufacturers to include at least minimum-standard lights on all bikes sold would mean that the additional cost included in the bike would have to be paid by the purchasers who might or might not ride at night to use the lights, or if the manufacturer couldn’t raise the price, he’d have to cover the cost by cheapening other components. Rather than specifying a particular technology or system, I think it would be best for any legislation to specify a minimum performance level, leaving the means of achieving that performance up to the ingenuity of the manufacturer. That allows for development of superior technology/systems rather than locking us into whatever exists at the time of the legislation. Essentially that’s what the current law does – it states that when operated at night a bike needs to be equipped with a front white light visible from 600 ft. ahead. How that’s achieved is up to the bike owner. I think it might be useful to broaden the options a bit by changing the legal requirement so that the “equipment” weren’t specifically required to be installed on the vehicle so that helmet-mounted lights, etc. were specifically allowed.

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  • wsbob November 6, 2010 at 12:33 pm

    “…wear-prone hub dyno-powered systems…” Jim O’Horo #94

    I’ve not heard that hub dynos are wear prone. Just the opposite in fact, because there’s no physical contact between the power generating parts; it’s just magnets passing each other that generates the power. I’m no tech nerd though. Maybe you’ve heard something you should let everyone know about.

    If I commuted daily during times of the day I’d be in low light or darkness, I’d definitely have a bike set up with a hub dyno light system. I think that people having to mess with batteries is one of the biggest detriments to consistent, adequate use of bike lighting.

    More people’s bikes would be adequately lit if all people ever had to do was jump on the bike and go, without having to check the batteries, etc., etc, etc. Better design and marketing of bike lighting would also help to promote greater use of bike lighting.

    To deal with theft issues, and to make lights more aesthetically appealing, a design that incorporated lights into the bike itself, rather than having it look like an attachment, might be a solution. For example, design a hub dyno headlight that’s incorporated into the stem that holds the bikes handlebar.

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  • Jim O'Horo November 6, 2010 at 7:10 pm

    To All: I‘d stated above that I thought Shimano’s Coasting group included a light. I visited a Trek dealer today to check. I was mistaken, the group doesn’t include lights, and the salesperson I talked with told me I wouldn’t be able to wire a light into that hub dyno, so that route’s a dead end. I apologize if I misled anyone. I’m not aware of any other lighting possibilities direct from the bike manufacturer unless they were imported from Europe.

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  • Jim O'Horo November 6, 2010 at 7:15 pm

    Are @ #92:

    Perhaps I should have used the word “demand”. Whichever, we’re talking about the same mechanism. If the manufacturer doesn’t see demand, regardless of how the demand would be created, there wouldn’t be any sales to justify offering the product. In that case the only way to get the product to market would be by passing legislation requiring it.

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  • Jim O'Horo November 6, 2010 at 7:19 pm

    buglas @ #39:
    “With my last bike purchase, the shop had a “commuter package” of rack, fenders, and kickstand at a flat rate. It would be nice to see shops offering a lighting package in a similar fashion for new bikes going out the door.” That’s a great solution buglas and sounds like something that might meet Jonathan’s call for industry to step up to the plate. Would you care to share the name/location of the shop?

    I suspect that the only lighting option a shop could, by itself, offer would be a standard battery-operated headlight. For those who are sold on hub dynos (I’m one in spite of the expense and problems associated with them.), switching to a dyno-powered lighting system would mean the shop would have to build, probably by hand, a new front wheel with a hub dyno. That would be prohibitively expensive and probably leave the shop stuck with the unused OEM wheel.

    For those of you wishing to convert an existing bike (used or new) for commuter service and not able to do the mechanical work yourself I recommend you check with CCC at 1700 Alberta St., Portland. They convert (literally) hundreds of used, donated bikes each year for their Create-a-Commuter (CAC) program, have lots of new/used parts in stock and have the process down pat.

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  • Jim O'Horo November 8, 2010 at 2:47 pm

    wsbob @ #95:

    Hi Bob

    You said:
    ” ‘…wear-prone hub dyno-powered systems…’ Jim O’Horo #94
    I’ve not heard that hub dynos are wear prone. Just the opposite in fact, because there’s no physical contact between the power generating parts; it’s just magnets passing each other that generates the power. I’m no tech nerd though. Maybe you’ve heard something you should let everyone know about.”
    My response:
    Though I perceive hub dynamometers (usually abbreviated as “dynos”) to be expensive and, in my experience, prone to certain problems, I am a devoted fan of these systems. My personal experience is with Shimano hub dynos, which I believe are the ones most commonly used in the US, and I’ve heard from others confirming some of my own experiences. I am aware of 3 other brands of front hub dynos, Smith – made in Great Britain, Schmidt – made in Germany and more recently SRAM (France?). Sturmy Archer offers a combo dyno-drum brake hub. This might be of particular interest to tandem owners as tanems are frequently equipped with auxiliary drum brakes for use as drag devices on long, steep descents. Since my only personal experience is with Shimano hub dynos, unless otherwise noted, my comments apply only to them, though it’s possible other brands may have the same problems. My MTB, which I’ve converted & equipped for bicycle camping and long-distance on/off road touring, has a Shimano hub dyno which, with 2 repairs, one temporary and one permanent, has been in service since about 2005 and has now accumulated over 5000 miles. I am currently assembling another bike and have already purchased a Shimano hub dyno for use with the new bike, so clearly I’m not opposed to their use. Subject to some arcane concerns to be discussed later, I don’t see this as a safety issue. I continue to use them because I believe I’ve learned how to correct and cope with their deficiencies, and I got the 2nd one new for about $55.

    A minor (nerdy) correction & clarification:
    You said: “…there’s no physical contact between the power generating parts; it’s just magnets passing each other that generates the power…”.
    That’s partly correct. You are correct that “…no physical contact [occurs]…” However, magnets fixed to the rotating outer housing of the hub are passing an [electrically] open coil or coils of copper wire fixed to the non-rotating axle creating a changing magnetic field around the wires and causing varying voltage in the coil(s). No current flows, and thus no power is generated unless a load, such as an incandescent bulb is placed across the open ends of the coil(s). Also, just to be clear, a dyno is not a generator creating a DC voltage. It’s an alternator and creates variable-frequency AC voltage. That’s an important distinction if connecting to an LED light. The fact that it’s a dyno also has some minor health/safety considerations which I’ll discuss later.

    What is wear-prone?
    I said that hub dynos are wear-prone and stand by that assertion. Hub dynos are just what they’re named: both hubs and dynos. In my experience it’s not the dyno part that wears. It’s the bearings in the hub. In the Shimano units the bearings are cup & cone ball bearing sets just like you find in any other Shimano front hub. Note that Shimano has come out with some newer models since I bought my first hub dyno, and I haven’t had one of the newer units apart to see if the bearing system has changed, but based on external examination it looks the same. Whether or not they’re the exact same bearing system now, since they’re carrying a significant load and operating under often difficult conditions they require periodic maintenance just like any other hub. The periodic maintenance requirement applies to ALL hub dynos, including those from other manufacturers. Periodic maintenance consists of disassembly, cleaning, relubrication, reassembly and readjustment. If they’re not maintained, eventually the bearings will fail, possibly destroying the hub in the process. Retail price of a new hub dyno is about $100. OUCH! If you replace the hub, you also have to rebuild the wheel. Even if the rim is reusable, at the very least you’re looking at new spokes and labor for a total of about another $100. DOUBLE OUCH!! It’s like the sign I saw many years ago in the showroom of a Porsche dealer said: “If you think you’re going to buy it and forget it – forget it!!”

    My experience with my Shimano hub dyno:
    After slightly less than 2000 miles and within the 2-year warranty period the bearings in my first Shimano hub dyno failed, causing my front wheel to drag badly. Of course Murphy’s Law was working, and the failure occurred in late June in Ashland, OR after I’d ridden well over 300 miles from home. I had none of the necessary tools or parts, and none of the 3 local shops would attempt a repair, so I loosened the bearings enough to get the wheel to turn freely though roughly, did the previously-planned 3 club rides over the next 3 days and then begged transportation back to Portland from a friend. On return I carefully disassembled the unit (more about the disassembly/reassembly nightmare later) and inspected to determine the cause and evaluate damage. The grease was fluid, and aside from metal filings caused by the bearing failure, clean. Dirt or lack of lubrication was not the cause. Finally I found that one of the lock nuts holding a cone in place had worked loose allowing the cone nut to gradually turn inward, tightening down on the bearings until all bearings and both cones self-destructed. Fortunately the cups, permanently installed in the hub body, were OK, so the unit was repairable.

    I felt that since I’d purchased the unit new from an authorized Shimano dealer and installed it as it came from the factory without any change, I should have gotten a new unit under warranty. Silly me. Shimano would not replace the unit. I spent the next 2 weeks travelling all over Portland looking for replacement cones. No luck anywhere. Finally in desperation I called Shimano’s US HQ in California where I was told they wouldn’t sell directly to me. I was directed back to one of the Portland dealers I’d already checked. Since the cones weren’t a stock item, I had to “special order” them for $15.50 prepaid. They’d call me when the cones arrived. 2 days later I got a phone call: “The cones are out of stock in the US and back-ordered.” “When are they expected in?” “About 2 months.” “@!!@%$#@#$ I have a long tour planned starting 10 days from now, and I need this bike. What am I supposed to do?” “Well, we could sell you a new unit and rebuild your wheel with the used rim for $175. It would be ready in about a week.” “Thanks, but no thanks.” I then did something I don’t recommend for the faint-of-heart – in fact I don’t recommend it for anyone. I used a rotary tool with appropriate-sized spherical diamond bit to hand-grind most of the roughness from the damaged cones. After relubeing, packing with new ball bearings, carefully reassembling, and adjusting, the wheel turned easily with minimal roughness. 3+ weeks later when I returned from my 750-mile tour the wheel was still working smoothly, but I put the bike aside and used another until the new cones arrived for a proper repair. Another 4 months later, in mid-December I got a phone call: “Your cones are in.” I picked up the cones and rebuilt the hub. 3 years and 2500+ miles later it’s still working, so I guess I got that much right, but I’m thinking it’s about time to open the unit up again for periodic maintenance. I’m not looking forward to that. The reason I’ve related these problems with Shimano is that, though I’m a sample of one and not necessarily representative of their treatment of others, my experience with this product is that (1) Shimano’s warranty isn’t worth the paper it’s written on because they don’t honor it, and (2) their support of this product is nil because the few replaceable Shimano-specific parts aren’t readily available.

    This is the area in which my personal experience with Shimano hub dynos is confirmed by that of others. Though I’m not a hot-shot, UBI-certified, full time, professional bike mechanic, I do feel I know what I’m doing and how to do it well. I’ve been a volunteer mechanic at CCC since 1997. My time spent doing periodic maintenance on a quality front hub such as a Shimano 105 = 20-30 min. That includes removing the wheel from the bike, disassembly, cleaning, relubrication, reassembly, adjustment and reinstalling in the bike. That time is for a hub with no worn out parts and grease which hasn’t been sitting so long that it’s oxidized to cement. The reason for the wide time variation is that cup-and-cone bearing adjustment is a bit of an art and a trial-and-error process. Sometimes you nail it on the first try and other times it takes half a dozen attempts. The full-time shop mechanics I work alongside of are faster – they get a lot more practice. I think they typically take 15-20 min. for the same work. At $35/hr. for time + shop materials that would cost about $10. The reason I’ve mentioned time is that time is money, and I want to use it as a benchmark to compare with doing the same work on the hub dyno so we can get an estimate of long-term operating/maintenance costs for a hub dyno.
    The first time I worked on my hub dyno I was learning as I went along. I’d never before even seen the innards of the hub, much less worked on one. Compared to working on ordinary front hubs it was an extraordinarily difficult task. The reason the task is so difficult is that the electrical leads exit the output side of the unit through the hollow axle into a plastic insulating fitting which fits between the cone and locknut. The wires are fine gauge and the multi-piece fitting is complicated and not easily removed. One has to be very careful not to twist the fitting or tug on the delicate outlet wires. By the time I finished, I estimated that I had spent about 6 hours on the job. That included 1.0-1.5 hrs. spent modifying one of my shop tools because it wouldn’t fit the Shimano hub. Yep, standard shop tools aren’t adequate; at least one special tool is required. It also included about 1.0 hr. grinding the damaged cones with the Dremel tool, something that wouldn’t normally be done during periodic maintenance (or any other time for that matter). Deducting the 2-2.5 hrs. of one-time efforts from the total leaves a net of 3.5-4 hrs. The 2nd time I worked on the hub I spent. 3-3.5 hrs. I estimate that with some more practice I might get my time down to 2.5-3 hrs., about 6.6x the normal time required for periodic maintenance. Without going through all the calculations, applying that same 6.6x ratio to the time & cost for a skilled shop mechanic I estimate that a shop mechanic would, after some practice take just under 2 hrs. to properly complete this service at a fair cost of $65. That’s 2/3 the cost of a brand new unit!! In addition, if I were a shop manager, before agreeing to service one of these units I would disclaim all liability for inadvertent damage and make the customer sign a waiver before I started work – the reason for disclaiming and the waiver is that the electrical wires/fitting are so touchy & fragile that even with great care they might still be damaged. People considering the purchase of a hub dyno would be well advised to find out the expected ongoing additional costs for maintaining the unit in good operating condition.

    I’ve heard of two cases which confirm my experience in servicing these Shimano units:
    Case 1: A friend who had an older Shimano hub dynamo took his front wheel to a large local shop for service. The shop, like most, is an authorized Shimano dealer, has been in business a long time with a good reputation and employs 15-20 mechanics. They know what they’re doing. In the process of servicing the hub it was damaged beyond repair. Now my friend has a new hub dyno supplied by the shop. I don’t know the nature of the damage, but I have suspicion.
    Case 2: Again this is a large shop with 15-20 mechanics, is an authorized Shimano Dealer and has been in business about 15 years. The mechanic I talked with said he got a Shimano unit in, took it apart, took one look at the damaged output wires and threw the unit directly into the scrap bin.
    Obviously I don’t know every mechanic in the metro area, but I’ve asked around and haven’t been able to find a mechanic who has successfully worked on one of these units. If there are any out there, I’d be delighted to hear from them and compare notes.

    A possible design deficiency:
    After having the Shimano unit apart and back together again twice and examining it carefully both times I believe I’ve seen something in the design which makes the output-side locknut more likely to work loose as mine did. When reassembling and reinstalling the unit the 2nd time around I made some changes which I believe will work around the problem. The changes would, of course, void any Shimano warranty, but since I feel Shimano’s warranty on this unit is worthless, there’s nothing lost from my point of view. Time will tell if the changes result in more reliable performance.

    Lots of info on dyno hubs on Harris Cyclery’s website:

    I’d said earlier that I would discuss the issues of running LED lights with dynos and mentioned a minor health/safety concern. At the moment I’m out of time & have to get back to work. I don’t know if anyone is interested in those topics anyway, so if you are, let me know & I’ll post comments on those. Otherwise, I’ll drop them.


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  • wsbob November 8, 2010 at 4:00 pm

    Jim O’Horo …that’s an excellent, informative accounting of some of the technicalities associated with dyno hubs, and the difficulties you’ve personally experienced with the Shimano hub. So…thanks for taking the time to write it up and post it!

    It’s been some time since the topic has come up in bikeportland’s forums, but there has been some serious discussion about them there. People are definitely interested in this kind of lighting system. I kind of hope you might go to the forums, search for the most relevant thread, and re-post your comment there, or…start a new thread with your story and info.

    The realities of maintaining and servicing complicated bike components is important to know about. Maybe other dyno hub manufacturer’s designs are better (not something I know about). If public demand for dyno hubs is a growing thing, manufacturers will probably do the research and development to produce units that are less delicate and less difficult to service.

    “… Silly me. Shimano would not replace the unit. …” Jim O’Horo

    What was the reason they wouldn’t replace the unit? With a complicated system like this, impeccable customer service would seem to be essential to building customer demand.

    I hope dyno hubs grow in popularity, and the design kinks to the extent they exist, get worked out. Too many batteries being produced that have to be disposed of, isn’t good. People that appreciate their vehicle can feel good about paying people to keeping them performing well.

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  • Paul November 8, 2010 at 4:29 pm

    @100 et al.: It’s true that lower-end “blinky” headlights, and most tail lights, use (or can use) disposable batteries. In those cases, it falls to the consumer to choose rechargeable batteries, a solution that requires some commitment and an initial cash outlay.

    Higher end headlights, however, mostly use rechargeable batteries. My current headlight (a Cygolite Milion) uses a USB-rechargeable system that makes it very easy for me to charge when at work. I just plug it into my computer.

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  • Val November 9, 2010 at 10:14 am

    Jim O’Horo: I am a bike mechanic, and I have successfully worked on Shimano dyno hubs. The shop that I work for (Aaron’s Bicycle Repair in Seattle ) works on them fairly frequently, with a high ratio of success. The issues you encountered do make this repair much more difficult than a standard hub repair, but it can be done. Of course, some hubs cannot be repaired. In particular, as you note, the lack of small parts is a serious obstacle in many cases. I have also noted that the bearings on the lower end Shimano dyno hubs are not well protected from the elements, which makes maintenance even more important. For what it is worth, I also have experience with the Sturmey Archer dyno hubs, and they are somewhat easier to work on, and use sealed cartridge bearings which are very well protected and last much longer than the loose ball versions on the Shimano. The Schmidt hubs also use cartridge bearings, and are intended to last for many years. If you can manage the initial investment, they can be well worth it.

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  • Paulie November 9, 2010 at 10:19 am

    I just had a dyno hub setup installed on my commuter last week. Love it! I went with the Shimano Alphine brand, which uses Ultegra bearings. Hopefully, they will give me longer use than the lower quality bearings used in the Nexus brand.

    I had been using rechargeable AAA batteries in blinky lights, but hated that they would run out of charge without warning during my commute. I also hated that so many now require 3 batteries, since every charger I’ve seen requires batteries to be charged in pairs. That always left one charged battery unused, and when it was time to recharge, that extra charged battery seemed to inhibit getting a full charge on the battery it was paired with.

    I also have a blinky red light attached to the back of my helmet, not only as a backup, but also because I feel it is more noticeable to have a blinking light at head height, where it won’t blend in with car taillights.

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  • Jim O'Horo November 10, 2010 at 12:47 pm

    wsbob @ #100:

    “ I kind of hope you might go to the forums, search for the most relevant thread, and re-post your comment there, or…start a new thread with your story and info.”

    Bob, while I’m reasonably comfortable & competent cruisin’ around the insides of a bike, when it comes to getting around on the internet, I’m lost. As far as I know, none of the comments on this article are copyrighted. As far as my comments are concerned, if you think something here is worth repeating elsewhere, the next time you’re on the forums, cut & paste it into that location or just post a link. I’d also consider posting a reference to Val’s comment @ #102 as it confirms a lot of my concerns.

    “What was the reason they wouldn’t replace the unit?”
    I don’t know why Shimano refused to replace the unit. The person I contacted never gave me any reasons; they just avoided the issue and bounced me back to a dealer. I felt replacement was in order. Maybe I just connected with someone who was having a really bad day. Though the unit was repairable, while the bearings were grinding up the cones, they were putting an equal amount of abuse onto the cups. Even though the cups didn’t show obvious signs of damage, I’m sure they suffered excessive wear and tear, reducing their remaining life – I don’t trust them any more. What really ticked me off was that Shimano wouldn’t even give me the cones. They forced me to buy them PREPAID and then hung me out to dry for 4 more months before I got them. What if I’d been a low-income commuter and this bike were my only transportation for getting back & forth to work? We do have a few of those here in the Portland metro area.

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  • Jim O'Horo November 10, 2010 at 12:58 pm

    Val @ #102:

    Thanks for the feedback Val. Though I wouldn’t wish the job of repairing a Shimano hub dyno on an enemy, it’s at least cold comfort to know I’m not alone in my assessment. I’m curious to know how far off my estimate of time required for a seasoned shop mechanic to do periodic maintenance on a Shimano hub dyno is. Would you be willing to divulge the estimated time required for you or your coworkers to perform the following: removing the front wheel from the bike, disassembly, cleaning, relubrication, reassembly, adjustment and reinstalling in the bike? That time is for a hub with no worn out or broken parts and grease which is still fluid. How would that time compare with comparable time for the Sturmey Archer hub dyno?

    After 2 experiences servicing my Shimano unit I had already come to the conclusion that the proper way to design a hub dyno is with cartridge bearings. Again, it’s nice to know I’m not alone in my thinking. My main reason for preferring cartridge bearings for hub dynos is not so much for durability and the need for less frequent periodic maintenance, though those are definitely additional benefits. My main reason for preferring cartridge bearings in this application is that there is then no need for bearing adjustment and no possibility of bearing failure from overtightening as happened in my case. While bearing adjustment in cup-and-cone systems is a bit of an art, it’s not unduly difficult for hubs by themselves, though it’s slightly different for quick release (QR) axles vs. nutted axles. When a dyno is added into the hub, getting a proper bearing adjustment becomes much more difficult. When turning the axle of a hub dyno, one of the things one feels is the dyno “stepping” from one pole of the magnets to the next. This makes it difficult to distinguish excess drag. For QR axles I normally set bearings slightly loose when the wheel is out of the bike, because when clamped into the bike the QR skewer slightly compresses the axle reducing cup-and-cone bearing clearance. To avoid any chance of overtightening, I set bearings slightly looser than normal on the Shimano hub dyno unit. Then I put the wheel into the bike and check for any side-to-side wheel wobble. If found, I take the wheel out, loosen the locknut, tighten the cone VERY slightly, retighten the locknut and reinstall. I repeat until I detect no more or very slight wobble. What a PIA! I’m willing to live with very slightly loose bearings rather than risk overtightening and bearing damage. Someone needs to take the engineer(s) who designed this setup out behind the barn & “educate” ‘em.

    If Shimano’s newer Alphine brand, which uses Ultegra bearings, has better seals, the bearings will be better protected and last longer. However, if it’s still a cup-and-cone system, the difficulty in adjusting will remain. In addition, unless change has been made in the power outlet design, I fear there may still be a tendency for that locknut to work loose causing the bearings to overtighten.

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  • Jim O'Horo November 10, 2010 at 1:06 pm

    Paulie @ #103:
    “I also hated that so many now require 3 batteries, since every charger I’ve seen requires batteries to be charged in pairs. … that extra charged battery seemed to inhibit getting a full charge on the battery it was paired with.”

    Hi Paulie. You’re right, rechargable batteries in typical rechargers should be charged in matched pairs or sets. It’s bad practice to try to recharge unmatched batteries, because the higher internal resistance of the charged batteries reduces current in the series connection, increasing charging time dramatically. In addition, the charged battery with its high resistance is heating up beyond normal levels, and that’s very bad for the battery. I have a 6 volt recharger which I use to charge batteries in sets of 4, but I’ve seen the same problems as you have in dealing with batteries from devices with 1 to 3 batteries. I’m thinking of rewiring my rectifier with a 4:1 step-down transformer for 1.5 volt output. Then instead of charging batteries in series sets of 4, I can charge any # of 1.4 volt NiMH or NiCad batteries in parallel, and each should take power & charge according to its individual need.

    NOTE: Don’t try this unless you’re handy with a soldering gun, understand electric circuitry and aren’t afraid to risk losing some equipment. After modification/assembly test outdoors in a dry, fireproof location. Stand back, and whether or not the altered device works, throw away any warranty you got with it. I take no liability for consequences of performing such modifications.

    I’ve also purchased a small 5 volt voltage regulator which I’ll wire into a second output from the rectifier, giving me the proper voltage for recharging cell phone, PDA, etc. If the step-down transformer can be reversed to work as a step-up transformer, then I can also have 5×4=20 volts for recharging my netbook computer. Yee Haw! I’m gettin’ wired!!

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  • Val November 10, 2010 at 1:35 pm

    Jim O’Horo: Looking over our Labor Rates, I see that we have no separate listing for overhauling dynamo hubs (an oversight that I’m sure will soon be corrected), but I imagine it would be similar to our rate for an Internally Geared Hub: minimum 36 minutes shop time or $60.00. In general, the dynamo hubs we have disassembled have taken less time than this, but it does vary according to the condition of the hub. We install quite a few of the Sturmey hubs, and we do this for every one before installation, in order to upgrade the lubrication for the Pacific Northwest, so we have gotten fairly good at it. As far as refurbishing damaged cones is concerned, look here: almost all the way at the bottom of the page. The new Shimano bearings will also be loose ball style, as Shimano seems to have a company policy against cartridge bearings in hubs – not sure why. Another advantage of cartridge bearings (besides those you mention) is the ability to replace the whole unit should any bearing surface sustain damage. These bearings are usually readily available from industrial bearing suppliers (I know that the ones used in the Sturmey hubs are), and are rarely expensive.

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  • wsbob November 10, 2010 at 6:27 pm

    “… As far as my comments are concerned, if you think something here is worth repeating elsewhere, the next time you’re on the forums, cut & paste it into that location or just post a link. I’d also consider posting a reference to Val’s comment @ #102 as it confirms a lot of my concerns. …” Jim O’Horo #104

    Jim…thanks…I may do that. I also did a search over at bikeforums (not to be confused with bikeportland forums) about service and repair experiences owners have had with Shimano Dyno hubs. There was a thread there…not a lot of comments in response, but some good info. One of the comments corresponded with your feeling that Shimano hubs are tricky to service. Shimano and Son hubs as well.

    I figure it’s just a research and development issue. Get rid of the bugs, and they may be as long lasting, loved and sought after as vintage Sturmey-Archer 3spd ‘in gear hubs’ (at least, over at bikeforums, the impression is strong that the old 3spd hubs enjoy that status).

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  • Todd Boulanger November 10, 2010 at 6:36 pm

    Hi Jim…Congrats…I think your post #99 might be the longest single post in BikePortland’s history. 😉

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  • Todd Boulanger November 10, 2010 at 7:16 pm

    For the discussion…I love commuting with dynohubs…just ride and forget vs. batteries or the friction of bottle generators…I have had over 7 years experience (daily until this year) commuting with several dynohubs. I have not had to send them into repair yet.

    My ~2003 vintage Shimano hub had the longest daily use and seems to be still ok. (The older versions look a lot better assembled than the new $99 hub + wheel units.) It was parked when I started commuting with a Schmidt hub 3 years ago – real smooth and nice for long dark highspeed suburban commutes. Worth the extra cash just to reduce the overhauling…even if once.

    Had some limited milage experience with Dahon’s dynohub (Batavus Nova Versa folding bike), a nice affordable hub with good fit and finish; the vintage Sturmey Archer Dyno hub, classic but I have not been impressed with the output – but perhaps ok if set up to an LED; and the $79-$99 Shimano hub and wheel, a great entry point into low mileage dyno commuting…but likely a disposable item…the hub does not have the fit and finish of the older units. (Bought my g-friend a unit from Amazon (MN shop) but a pedal palooza parader fell on it – taco’ed, so we bought another one locally…still good after 2 years of commuting and hours parked in the rain.)

    If you get yourself a dynohub…go for the LED lights…even the cheap units throw a lot more light than the best bulb lamps of recent history. Though I do love the warm golden beam pattern of an old Schwinn/ Union headlamp hooked to a dynohub.

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  • JM November 11, 2010 at 11:53 am

    For the most part if you start looking around you will see the commuters doing the right things. They have lights, and bright clothing/helmets. It’s the SE hippies that are wearing dark street clothes, smoking while riding or on their phone, and riding on the wrong side of the road or down a main street at rush hour… those are the dangerous ones.

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  • Lynne November 11, 2010 at 12:51 pm

    “wear-prone” dyno hubs. ? My hubs (I have two) have not ever caused me any problems.

    My hubs are the SON hubs. Granted, they are the top quality hubs available, but they do not break down. I have friends with 40,000 miles on their hub.

    SON hub + LED lighting. Never, ever worry about not having light, or “rationing” my batteries, or forgetting to recharge or replace them. That’s huge.

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  • Todd Edelman December 19, 2010 at 7:36 pm

    Giving out free lights with rechargeable batteries (In Odense, Denmark they gave out ReeLights) is nice and cheaper than sending fire trucks, with gentle fix-it tickets for the lazy, rebellious or uninformed. Consumer demand will drive the bike manufacturers to install lighting and generator hubs as standard. This is better than a law as it will ensure higher-quality lights. Indeed, for riding on streets people should be able to install anything they want (even if they make it themselves) as long as it falls within the minimum standards.

    It is the maximum standards which don’t exist, right? It seems that off-road cycling can have brighter lights, but there is tendency to push both active (lighting) and passive (anything reflectorized, glowing, bright) for on-street cycling with the idea that more is always better. I call this “hyper-illumination” and you can read more about it here:

    “Be Seen, Be Safe” mixes recommendations for bright clothing (not required) with ones for lighting and – I think related – CCC pushes helmets whilst giving out free lighting. This is imprecise messaging and manipulation.

    I also think that many cyclists don’t realize that lighting helps pedestrians a lot. I didn’t really think about this too much until I moved to Berlin where a lot of cyclists ride crappy, out-of-regulation bikes illegally on the sidewalk (not nice when walking my old dogs at night).

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