UPDATED: The Use of Lights By The “Great Un-Washed” of ChainLink


I really liked this ChainLink Forum thread:

Query about lights on your bike…
Posted by Bill Savage on October 22, 2012

Last night I did a leisurely round trip between Rogers Park and Pilsen, to meet a friend for a beer and to put some miles on in the nice weather. On the after-dark ride home (Halsted to Clybourne, Clybourne to Racine to Clark, Clark to Argyle, Argyle to Glenwood to Loyola) I saw ten or twelve cyclists riding without lights. No front light, no back light, nothing. About half of them were decked out in serious lycra-and-aerodynamic gear, the other half in more mundane fenders-and-chain-guard rides with racks and panniers. All were dressed in dark colors and so, without lights, practically invisible.

So, my question: if you don’t have lights on your bike, why not? It seems so basic and common-sense, yet riders who obviously spend a lot of time and money on their bicycles don’t have lights. It just makes no sense to me. Trying to figure it out.

I can answer this question in a single flippant paragraph. ChainLinkers are a bit as described in Matthew 7:5 by Jesus:

Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.

They spend more time fretting over on-air jokes about door-ing by stupidly callous sports personalities than they do about their own feeble attempts at humor over taser-ing:

They do this because it is always easier to criticize others than to take your own richly deserved medicine. According to the “trained seals” in the ChainLink community the single most desperately needed thing on the planet is motorist education. There is no end of willingness to print up stickers to plaster all over the automobiles whose drivers need to know more about the dangers of door-ing. But none of them seems to have noticed that taser-ing is no less objectionable as an idea.

You will find these types blathering on about saving the environment while whipping out a cigarette and polluting the air with foul-smelling smoke from an equally un-environmental cigarette. But say nothing because they will stare daggers at you for even thinking to invade their right to privacy when engaging in an act that affects anyone in their homes including their children.

These folks spend more time slavishly considering which color rims to “wear” on their bikes than they do about installing fenders, kickstands and silly little needless things like lights. After all adding weight to the bike makes it doubly difficult to slice through traffic at warp speed during an alley cat race on any given Sunday. Besides lights don’t look cool, whatever the heck that is supposed to mean.

Of course when you consider the question of door-ing and the fact that being visible might just help an otherwise preoccupied motorist avoid injuring you maybe, just maybe looking cool is a secondary issue.

For the most part the respondents to this thread were among the few “adults” that roam the halls of the ChainLink Sanitarium:

Reply by Anne Alt 19 hours ago
That one’s a mystery to me, too, especially since there are light options that are effective for visibility that are inexpensive, compact and add very little weight to the bike.

Reply by Clint H 19 hours ago

I answer this not to excuse what I do, but to explain it. For me, it’s simply a matter of forgetting. I have these quick-remove lights that I take with me when I lock my bike. I forgot to remove the front light once, and somebody stole it. This was toward the end of last winter, when I wasn’t riding in the dark nearly as often, so I never remembered to replace it. Half the time, I leave the back light at home, so on those rare occasions when I need a light, I don’t have it on me and have to ride as if I’m invisible. Now that it’s getting dark earlier again, I need to take care of this.

In short, I don’t have lights because I’m stupid.

At least he gets it. Among the other insightful replies were:

Reply by Leah Jone 19 hours ago
I know it is out of a lot of rider’s budgets, but this is why I got an integrated lighting system and hub generators. I hated being out for the afternoon with plans to be home by dusk, then one thing leads to another and you’re out after dark without lights.

Schmidt Edelux Lamp
© Peter White Cycles

I did the very same thing to our two Easy Racers Tour Easy recumbents and have never been more satisfied with a purchase for my cycling safety. Ours were purchased from Peter White Cycles. These are the SON front hubs that drive a single LED lamp. I carry two rear flashers made by Planet Bike that are quite visible even in daylight and a single front flasher (also from Planet Bike) which is great during daylight hours.

These Schmidt Edelux Lamps are really great. I keep them set to the “sensor mode”. That way whenever I need light (e.g. passing through a tunnel or entering a parking garage during daylight or evening hours) the lamp goes on automatically. I never have to think to myself to turn it on. The hub is always generating power it is just a matter of having the sensor direct it to the lamp for safety purposes.

SON Hub Generator
© Peter White Cycles

The generator is large enough that often folks as me if it is some sort of motor. I chuckle and try to explain that it is the opposite of a motor. It generates electricity (alternating current) which is used to run the lamp that they see behind my front fairing.

It is at moments like these that you see just how ignorant most cyclists are about the mode of transportation they use. They are clueless about how to fix most anything on the bike and equally clueless about fixing simple things like flats. Never mind building a wheel or doing maintenance on their drivetrain.

But ask them about which color scheme would look coolest with their hair color or Chrome bag and you get oodles of comments. I had one Active Transportation Alliance employ ask me a the most recent Open Streets event about how much slower our bikes must be when riding with front fairings. When I responded that the opposite was true he got this confused look on his face. He had probably never thought about the role aerodynamics play on bicycles as well as motorcycles and cars.

But I suppose he never questioned the efficacy of putting on a time trial helmet with a swooshed rear section because it “looked cool”. But believe it or not you actually travel faster with it on. But it makes sense only for those on uprights who are in a very aggressive tuck during a time trial.

My guess is that the average “trained seal” on this forum would be more intrigued by knowing about these helmets than in discussing something lame like bike lights. Never mind that they might help save your life or avoid serious injury they just are not cool. Besides it is much more appealing to save your money for the weekly ChainLink bar night rides where you can be both invisible and drunk off your butt with the money you should have spent on lights.

But hey, the really important thing is to be there with your Buds or Heinekens or Stellas so you can grouse about guys on the radio who joke about door-ing. And since you are more mentally impaired than usual you can follow up the grousing with jokes about ways to taser pedestrians and runners who dare to use the bike lanes that belong to you and only you.

This last response was priceless:

Reply by James BlackHeron 17 hours ago

I fear the stealth bike kids whether on my bike or behind the wheel of my large automobile.
I rarely drive my car these days but when I do at night the stealth cyclists give me the most scary moments. Car drivers have limited visibility inside and behind the windows and roof pillars, and at night it is even worse.

How many Chicagoland urban bicyclists are not drivers and just don’t realize this? It must be a pretty high percentage by some of the crazy unpredictable things many do around car traffic. They must think that somehow a driver can see and react to stuff that happens in their blindspots -especially in the dark by black-clad kids without lights or even a reflector.

Maybe I’m just getting old, but christ… as bad as Chicago auto drivers have gotten over the past few years (for whatever reasons) a very small but oblivious 2% of cyclists are even worse. Most drivers are a-holes, but they are almost always predictable a-holes on the road. Ninja stealth riders who are cutting between cars going sideways to traffic, salmoning, doing their circles and S-shaped courses through intersections on red lights, and generally being invisible on the road just tend to scare the hell out of drivers at night. They can simply appear 6-foot in front of you out of the shadows from any direction, in any part of the road going at a random course. There is almost no way to predict where they may come from or which direction they might be going once the materialize out of the dark. Invisible and unpredictable -a bad combination.
Either they have death-wishes or just don’t understand how dangerous this is.

It’s hard to tell during the day if the crazy 2% minority of cyclists have lights or behave that way at night -but at night it is the unlit riders who pull 98% of the stupid stuff on the road in my experience watching other bicyclists in this city.

As usual you are always obliged as a ChainLink participant to vastly undercount the number of your peers who are being stupid out on the roads. This reply pegs the guilty at 2%. That is clearly not correct, even if only casual observation is used on any given weekend. I would peg the scofflaws who run the red lights at closer to 50%. And if you ever bother to attend a Four Star Bike Tour ride you can count on your hands the number of riders who bother with either stop lights or stop signs. And please don’t get me started on the behavior of the folks who volunteer to serve as ride marshals. That my friends is simply indefensible.


One kind soul suggests giving away free lights. But he gets a bit of pushback from those who consider this essentially “bicycle welfare”:

Reply by David Barish 1 hour ago

I understand that its not society’s responsibility to provide lights. I completely agree that cyclists need to take responsibility for their own lives and own rides. Most of us do that (to some degree). There are some who really don’t know. There are some who are living a very spartan life. there are some who are just fools. I figured that a positive energy action that is FUBU can do some good. No question it may simply be a freebie for a rider who already has one or already could buy one. No question many lights will sit in a bag or perhaps get used until they run out of battery. However, if many of the lights reach the uneducated or poor we have done something. If the guy wearing a black jacket riding stealth gets seen by a driver he may not even know that there has been a minor shift in the cosmos that now includes his/her life for a while longer or at least in one piece for a while longer. I agree that absent some education the action may be meaningless. If somebody sees that an item that costs a few bucks and fits in a pocket, purse, bag, or rolled into your sock can be a good thing.

I am not sure this action would do anything for the tricked out fools (both the junior Armstrongs and the hipster elite) that Bill saw riding in the dark. They spend money on their bikes and know better. If we don’t impact them perhaps natural selection will be the only operative factor.

Reply by lauren eg 41 minutes ago

As a person who doesn’t have lights on me every time I ride… I seriously have lost three lights now (of the Knog and Planet Bikes clip on variety) and have yet to put anything mounted on my bike. I will do the latter, especially as winter comes with the time change, but I figure that’s something that applies to many. Not a stupid person, not trying to commit cycling suicide.

I will also take suggestions for good mounted lights here that are as theft-proof and water-proof as possible and not too garish in appearance.

Reply by Dragonborn 22 minutes ago

I agree. In my opinion, the best way to get more cyclists to utilize headlights and taillights is through education and enforcement.

Educating the public on the relationship between bicycle lights and safety is far more essential than having the police hand out lights that are funded through taxpayer dollars. The police role should be of law enforcement. Laws that are never enforced are pointless laws. If there is a law that states cyclists must have lights, then I support cyclists getting ticketed for breaking the law. People can flame me all they want, but the law is the law.

If a cyclist does not wish to wear a helmet, I have no problem with that and I am against forced helmet laws. The reason is because only the cyclist is at risk when not wearing a helmet. But cyclists who don’t use bicycle lights are putting not only themselves at risk, they are also placing others at risk who share the road with them. I believe it’s safe to say that most drivers don’t ever want to hit a cyclist, but when the cyclist is invisible, it increases the risk of drivers getting into an accident themselves.

People learn more through education, less through handouts. Free lights won’t change a person who is adamant on not using them. That’s when enforcement and penalty should come into play.

There is much food for thought here. The last responder made some good points. I will however take exception with the notion that not wearing a helmet puts only the cyclist at risk. In one sense this is true. But the bigger picture is that an injury for which a helmet could have been a solution means that the burden on the medical care system to perhaps provide emergency help is borne by everyone in that system. Whatever I do as a cyclist is going to affect more people than just myself.

We need to give the helmet law some reconsideration. If we tell people that buckling up behind the wheel is mandatory for their own safety why should wearing a helmet on either a motorcycle or a bicycle be optional? That kind of thinking flies in the face of sound logic. The analogy really should be that everyone is required to have drivers insurance because we do not want the insured motorist to be the only one paying in the event of an accident for which his actions was neither negligent nor the biggest causal factor. It should always be about having the users of a roadway system being prepared to pay their fair share for any possible mayhem which is bound to occur.