Posted by Madi Carlson on September 4th, 2018 at 12:15 pm
Kid bedtimes are getting easier now that the blazing orb of discomfort is leaving the sky well before 10 p.m.; but with that comes the need for little manufactured orbs of light. As much as it pains me to say it, the days are getting shorter and now’s the time to prepare for darker mornings and evenings.
I can tell from our packed school bike racks that there are a lot of new bike riders this year and I hope they’ll keep it up as the temperature drops and daylight hours lessen. I also bet a lot of them don’t have lights yet. If you need some help seeing the light (hardy-har), this week’s post should help you out…
➤ Legal lighting requirements
Legally, you only need a front light and a rear reflector when it’s dark out. Per ORS 815.280, “during limited visibility conditions” one must display a white light visible to the front (on your helmet is OK — it doesn’t have to be attached to your bike) from at least 500 feet away and a red reflector visible from the rear at least 600 feet when lit by car headlights.
➤ Battery and rechargeable lights
Even the little free lights available at booths during Sunday Parkways and from the library during bike month (May, for kids, while supplies last) are sufficient per the 500-foot legal requirement. These lights are great for the “be seen” level of visibility. However, since Portland roads feature lots of potholes and debris, and some of our paths have tree root bumps, you’ll want something bigger than those little freebies.
I’m partial to the lights that plug in to charge so I don’t have to deal with batteries, but modern battery lights last a long time before the batteries need replacing so they’re both good options. Also, I like all our bikes to have rear lights, not just rear reflectors. Portland has a lot of people on bikes (yay) so I don’t only need to be visible to car headlights coming up behind me, but also to someone riding a bike with a freebie headlight.
➤ Dynamo lights
I’m pretty bad at remembering to charge up my lights and put them on my bike if I’m going to be out after dark so I love having pedal-powered permanent dynamo lights. There are a few varieties of dynamos: old-school bottle-shaped ones that rub against the side of the tire, magnet-based ones, and most commonly, front hub (the part where all the spokes meet in the middle of the front wheel) dynamos. In addition to powering front and rear lights, some dynamos can also power chargers with USB ports. They’re attached to the bike making them theft-proof, forgetting-them-at-home-proof, and they’re ready to go without plugging in or worrying about batteries.
Here’s a great explanatory dynamo lighting video from BikePortland Family Biking column sponsor, Clever Cycles. And psst, no details available yet, but I hear they’ve got a dynamo special coming soon (after all, this option costs considerably more than regular lights).
I have dynamos on both my cargo bike and my regular bike. The front light on my cargo bike has had to withstand eight years of being bumped into bikes racks and dozens of toddlers adjusting its aim. The plastic bracket under the lens broke a couple years ago so it’s held in place with electrical tape now (I’d have to replace the entire light) and still works just fine. My front wheel was crooked for a while which messed up the inside of the hub, but that was fortunately just a small piece that needed to be replaced for not a big pricetag. My regular bike’s dynamo hasn’t had to endure any rough treatment and is good as new after four years. We don’t manage to keep our removable bike lights unbroken and unlost that long.
➤ Blink or steady?
We lived in Seattle until a year ago, where bikes cannot legally have blinking front lights (not listed with the bike laws, but buried in RCW 46.37.280: Special restrictions on lamps). This isn’t the case here in Portland, but you should still run steady front lights for the safety of epileptics and to not blind anyone with a dazzling blink.
➤ Auxiliary lights
Extra lights can be fun! And they add side visibility. In the winter I add twinkle lights to all our bikes. Waterproof holiday lights are best, but even “inside use only” strings of lights from the drug store with the battery pack kept in a waterproof pouch are great and last several years.
Over the years I’ve had a couple bike-specific auxiliary lighting products, like a BikeGlow tube zip tied along my frame:
And pink “down low glow” with Go Brightz:
I haven’t personally used Monkey Light Bike Lights, but they’re popular for extra light. They’re also a good example of putting lights on a moving part of the bike to create even more visibility — lights or reflectors on your ankles are also good for moving lights that are hard to miss.
➤ Upcoming family night ride
Want to take your lights for a spin with a bunch of fun friends? Join Kidical Mass PDX and ride to the Chapman Swifts this week:
Friday, September 7, 6:00 p.m.
Start at: Jamison Square (810 NW 11th Ave, Portland, OR 97209)
End at: Chapman Elementary School (1445 NW 26th Ave, Portland, OR 97210)
2.4 miles, one way, our route
RSVP and join the discussion on our Facebook event page
Do you ride in the dark? What are your favorite lights? Please share in the comments! Thanks for reading.
Remember, we’re always looking for people to profile. Get in touch if it sounds like fun to you. I’d especially like to feature families of color so please get in touch or ask friends of color who bike with their kids if they’re interested in sharing their stories. And as always, feel free ask questions in the comments below or email me your story ideas and insights at madidotcom [at] gmail [dot] com.
Browse past Family Biking posts here.
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Madi Carlson (@familyride on Twitter) wrote our Family Biking column from February 2018 to November 2019. She’s the author of Urban Cycling: How to Get to Work, Save Money, and Use Your Bike for City Living (Mountaineers Books).
In her former home of Seattle, Madi was the Board President of Familybike Seattle, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting bicycling as a means for moving towards sustainable lifestyles and communities. She founded Critical Lass Seattle, an easy social group ride for new and experienced bicyclists who identify as women and was the Director of Seattle’s Kidical Mass organization, a monthly ride for families. While she primarily bikes for transportation, Madi also likes racing cyclocross, all-women alleycats, and the Disaster Relief Trials. She has been profiled in the Associated Press, Outdoors NW magazine, CoolMom, and ParentMap, and she contributed to Everyday Bicycling by Elly Blue.