You Can Never Be Too Vigilant As An Urban Cyclist

Background Reading


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


I am so very thankful for all of the vigilance demonstrated by my fellow Urban Cycling Movement members. It is a very dangerous world we live in.

On the one hand we have people who are trying to ‘box us in‘ by offering us reflective spray paint as a means of providing us more visibility. But fortunately the Pope of Bicycle Heaven took this dastardly effort in hand and warned us about the dangers of providing the Automobile Cabal with ammunition to try and weasel out of paying damages in the event of a collision in which we were not ‘clearly visible when riding at night‘.

And then there is another sinister trend on the horizon to demand that cyclists have lights on their vehicles to shine ahead and behind each bike at night or in dim conditions. And many of the American Cognoscenti of the Church of Urban Cycling caught on to that ploy and openly challenged the need for this sort of thing. Clearly wanting to be visible is something demanded only by the Automobile Cabal needing to find any way possible to get us to assume any responsibility in a collision which might mitigate some portion of a judgment when a bicycle and a motor vehicle collide.

(image courtesy of DOT)

(image courtesy of DOT)

Here in Chicago we have the Look Campaign where we have been quite successful at simultaneously doing at least two things for cyclists:

  • Deflecting criticism of the placement of ‘SHARROW‘ lanes up against the drivers’ side doors which is so close that untrained/uneducated cyclists traveling at speed often hit an opening door with great bodily harm. But because we have emphasized only ‘the responsibility of motorists to watch for us‘ we have kept the focus on them and not ourselves.
  • Because we have no licensing and very little training that is universally applied to our membership we have made it possible for cyclists to claim ignorance of their responsibility to ride at least 3-5 Feet away from the driver’s door to avoid collision.

So long as we can keep the public focused on the deaths caused by motorists and the wildly unpredictable behavior of pedestrians who obstruct our safe passage through the crosswalks when we ‘amber gamble‘, we will have furthered the case of cycling for everyone.

Blinking Lights Are ‘Bad’

And now for the really good news! Portland has become Ground Zero of the fight against ‘blinking lights‘. The basic problem with using a front or rear blinking light for the purposes of being seen, is that it signals to the General Public that we share some responsibility for our own safety. We clearly do not.

But as the good folks at BikePortland have pointed out we need a new point in the Catechism of the Church of Urban Cycling. Along with these points:

  • Thou shalt not wear a helmet as it is the Mark of the Beast placed upon your forehead.
  • Thou shalt not bend the knee to the God of the Red Light Signal. You should have no other gods before Urban Bicycle Advocacy.
  • Thou shalt not bend the knee to the God of the Red Stop Sign. It too is blasphemy because stop signs were never intended for bicycles, only cars.

We need to add that:

  • None of the members of the Church of Urban Cycling should attempt to assume a posture of increase safety by means of the use of blinking lights.
UK Bicycle Cops

UK Bicycle Cops (Please ignore the front/rear flashing lights)

There are some non-Believers who will try to disguise their insidious attacks on the Church of Urban Cycling by pointing out that:

  • Ambulances, fire trucks, police cars and even passenger vehicles employ blinking lights. (And might we add that airplanes, helicopters and even signal towers all have blinking lights) But all of these are vehicles which defile God’s Creation by means of the use of fossil fueled internal combustion motors. These are the very demonic instruments that our Wiccan-inspired World Naked Bike Ride is meant to exorcise.
Gearing up in Normandale Park in 2014. (Photo by J. Maus/BikePortland)

Gearing up in Normandale Park in 2014.
(Photo by J. Maus/BikePortland)

Further some might seek to confuse you by claiming that the use of blinking lights is justified in ‘the real world‘ in situations like these:

  • Crosswalks using flashing hand icons to alert pedestrians to their status.
  • Road construction areas are usually surrounded by flashing lights on A-frames to warn both motorists and cyclists alike so as to avoid injury.

Blinking lights are indeed the Spawn of Satan. Any True Believer who is not ‘firm enough in the Faith‘ to realize that members of the Church of Urban Cycling are never to be held responsible for their personal safety and thus will be protected by the Pope of Urban Cycling is unworthy of the appellation ‘Real Cyclist‘.

Beware Of Those Who Would Have Us Avoid BUI

Finally, it has come to my attention that there are Infidels amongst us who would dare to cast aspersion on ‘members in good standing‘ of the Church of Urban Cycling who ride with a few beers under their belts. Criticisms of this practice are to be reserved ONLY for those piloting motor vehicles.

Cars Kill, Bicycles Do Not!

And for this reason alone it is unnecessary for any of us in the Urban Cycling Movement to offer any remorse at the fact that the media is claiming that some pedestrians have been killed by cyclists who collided with them.

If this indeed happened it is no doubt that there are some extenuating circumstances that none of us can possibly understand. Cycling is an injury free activity that does not require helmets, lights or any brightly colored clothing. And it most certainly is the case that when we ride up behind pedestrians or through the crosswalk while they are still in it, it is their responsibility to LOOK OUT FOR CYCLISTS!

The Chicago Lakefront Trail Is Ours!

We are the only users of that trail that have a legitimate right to be on it! We have made this clear to the City Council and they have agreed to segregate the pedestrians off into their own ‘trail ghetto‘ where we are no longer subject to their wildly reckless movements.

We have ‘put on notice‘ all schools that allow their athletes to jog on this hallowed piece of real estate (Our Promised Land) without ‘looking for us‘ when we approach from the rear. It is our considered opinion that they would be better off finding a bit of land of their own to use to train. This Land Is Ours!

Stay Strong Fellow Believers!

There are going to be those who trust in science to keep us safe. We know better. We have our Pope and He has God’s Ear. We can drink what we want and as much as we care to without ever having to ‘own‘ any responsibility for our personal safety when riding along Taylor Street.

Ninja Riders Glorified

Ninja Riders Glorified

We own all trails and indeed the night itself.