I don’t cycle using my own bicycle as much as I used to, and although I now use the Boris Bikes a fair bit when in the center of town, I do recall some of the basic principles of cycling at night.

My bike has a rear red light, and like most people it is a muted flashing red light as it is known that this is more visible to the motorists coming up from behind.

However, my front light is a single static bulb.

Like the forward facing lights on all motor vehicles, its primary function is to illuminate the road ahead for the purposes of my safety.

My front white light bulb does not blink in the same way as the rear light does – because that would be stupid, wouldn’t it?

Yet, there seems over the past few years to have been a surge in cyclists using flashing front facing lights – and I was particuarly reminded of this last Friday.

I took a wander along the Regents Canal in the evening, and despite the attempts of some cyclists to demand that I almost leap into the canal at some points to let them “retain ownership of the path”, it was a pleasent enough walk.

However, the main problem was that approaching cyclists were coming towards me, not with a single light aimed at the uneven path, but aimed directly at the people they are approaching, and flashing at them.

I find flashing lights uncomfortable at the best of times, but on a dark path, to have often remarkably bright flashing light aimed directly at my face seemed not only bloody stupid, but also utterly pointless. Unless the point is to induce an epileptic fit in the pedestrians?

Dear cyclists, if you will insist on having flashing lights, please use them to illuminate the ground in front of you – and don’t use them to blind the pedestrians on the paths you might be sharing.

Approaching a suddenly blinded pedestrian who now can’t see what is going on around them isn’t going to make your trip any safer.

Thank you.


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  1. Sam says:

    Er…if you ride the Boris Bikes you should surely have noticed that they also have flashing lights at the front too.

    • IanVisits says:

      Yes I have noticed them – and I think the design is also stupid, albeit moderated by the fact that they are not ultra-bright spotlights that blind people they are “aimed” at.

  2. Ian Cooper says:

    So flashing lights on the back for visibility to other road users is OK but at the front they’re “uncomfortable”, “stupid” and possibly “induce an epileptic fit”.

    Yes, those flashing lights do make cyclists easier to spot from a distance. They’re also an utter nightmare for a driver who’s trying to look out for other hazards (in order to pass the cyclist, perhaps) but has the automatic parts of the visual system pulled to looking at the blinking flashing light that’s blinking and flashing to get attention.

    As for the front lights of Boris Bikes (@Sam) I wouldn’t have thought they were even bright enough for illumination and are simply a forward facing warning light.

    • IanVisits says:

      So flashing lights on the back for visibility to other road users is OK but at the front they’re “uncomfortable”, “stupid” and possibly “induce an epileptic fit”.

      The main reason, as I noted is that the red light is rather muted compared to the surprisingly bright lights that people use on the front of the bikes. It makes some sense for the dimly lit red light to take some action to be more noticeable, but why does the front “spotlight” need such additional activity?

  3. K says:

    Most bicycle headlights are inadequate for properly illuminating the road for potholes, etc, unless you really spend a lot of money. Therefore it can make sense to use it in “flashing” mode to increase the likelihood of oncoming traffic seeing you. I use mine in constant mode though – it just feels less obnoxious and I can still be seen.

    Flashing or not, it’s annoying when cyclists point their headlights directly in your face, especially when they’re those expensive multi-LED floodlights (which one is justified in using in Central/Inner London about as much as high beams on cars). I’ve been temporarily blinded a few times on the Superhighway by these incosiderate idiots.

    If the headlight can’t be seen when it’s pointing at the road surface, like it’s supposed to be, one should get a different one.

  4. Catherine says:

    I agree that blinding pedestrians is not helpful, but actually I am as concerned about being seen from the front as from the rear. If not spotted by someone in front of me, they are likely to turn across me, step out in front of me, and how about lorries looking in their mirrors before turning left… the biggest killer of cyclists in London?

  5. David says:

    Ah ha! The answer to your canal problems is for you to also carry a flashing white bike lamp and keep it pointed at the oncoming self-rightous cyclists. That should cause them immense confusion. Let’s see who gets wet first…

  6. I love those cyclists on Boris Bikes that you see along the canal and how scared they are to get too close to the edge.

    Not all cyclists are self righteous…just most of them!

  7. Alan says:

    As a cyclist and driver, I’d say you probably want either a steady rear red light or maybe a steady and a flashing one. Trouble I find with the flashing ones is while they distract your attention when driving, it’s often hard to pin down the exact location of the cyclist since they keep effectively ‘disappearing’. A steady light doesn’t have that problem.

    Quite agree on the flashing front lights though, they’re completely pointless!

  8. martin says:

    One of m’colleagues is of the opinion that he needs as many lights as possible, as bright as possible, and as flashy as possible. On the other hand, I prefer not to be blinded by flashing red lights when I’m cycling behind someone..

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