Light ’em up!

It’s that time of year again. The autumnal equinox and daylight-savings are behind us. Winter solstice will be here soon. Night-time is officially longer than day-time and before 5pm I’m not the only geek with lights on my bike.

I’m actually impressed with a lot of the bike-lights I’ve been seeing on the road, at least on the bikes with lights. On the other hand, here’s a compilation of Wellington bicyclists who don’t quite get the “lights thing” –

As it says in those video descriptions: You’re looking for a cyclist. Motorists aren’t.

One of the problems with choosing a good bike light is that they ALL look bright when you’re standing in the bike-shop, holding the light at arm’s length and pointing it at your face. This doesn’t really mean much when you’re on the road, in a dark and rainy night, and the driver behind you is doing “important” things, like eating a burger and sending a txt.

We all like to think that the lights on our bike are conspicuous and “make drivers see us” but you have to do the experiment: Have a friend ride your bike a few hundred metres up and down a busy street, after dark, while you watch. Does the bike get lost in visual noise? Is it noticeable if you’re looking for it? Or is it conspicuous?

Simon and the gang at GWRC have tested a big pile of lights that are available locally for less than $100. Better yet, you can pick up a discount voucher for lights at the GWRC offices (142 Wakefield St – Ask for some free reflective tape while you’re there).

NZTA’s official road code for cyclists lists the requirements for lights. The important thing is that front and rear lights that are visible from 100m is a minimum requirement. Bicycle lights, even on a modest budget, can now easily put that “visible from 100m” requirement to shame.

On a related note, police in Wellington have, over the last few weeks, been doing bicycle light checkpoints (they may also check your helmet). More of these check-points are scheduled, so make sure you qualify for a chocolate, not a ticket.

A note on battery maintenance: Avoid lights that use “button” or “coin cell” batteries; it’s often cheaper to replace the light than the battery and they’re the weakest lights you can buy. For lights that use AA or AAA batteries, invest in ni-mh rechargeable batteries and a charger. When the batteries go flat it’ll cost a few cents to recharge them and you’re not filling a landfill with dead batteries. Many of the newer lights have built-in li-ion batteries and USB charging.


12 thoughts on “Light ’em up!

  1. Nigel

    Maybe it’s just me or the time lapse video, but the location on Adelaide Rd for that checkpoint looks a bit hazardous. It’s right on the petrol station entry way.
    What a good turn out of cyclists though!


  2. Simon Kennett

    The checkpoint looks like fun. I’ll have to get along to one soon.

    Interesting to see a few cyclists with quite dull lights getting waved through. I wonder why the regulations for bike lights are so lax in this country? In Australia, bike lights have to be visible from 200m, not just the 100m permissible here.

    The brighter bike lights stand out really well.


    1. Simon Kennett

      Student Owen Hughes won the first round of this competition – he’ll be getting a fine set of Blackburn lights. We were surprised to get over 55 entries (about 80% correct) so will do a double draw at the end of this week. Feel free to enter again – remember, you’re not looking for the brightest overall lights, just the brightest at 40 degrees.

      BTW, I was sent the luminous intensity standards for front cycle lights in Japan and Germany yesterday. Of the 30 lights we tested, about 15 would pass the Japanese standard and about 9 would be acceptable in Germany.


      1. Simon Kennett

        All of the rear lights we tested had a flashing mode. All but three of the front lights we tested had a flashing mode.

        The flashing mode is code for ‘Bicycle ahead’ in NZ now. Not only is it more conspicuous and conveys more meaning, but it also extends battery life by about 400%.


      2. Simon Kennett

        Michael Brown and Jim Webb won the second round of the competition – – they’ll also be getting a fine set of Blackburn lights. Feel free to enter again – remember, you’re not looking for the brightest overall lights, just the brightest at 40 degrees.


      3. Simon Kennett

        This week’s winners of a set of Blackburn bike lights are Stuart Kilmister and Andrew McLellan.

        The entries were down slightly – if that trend continues, your chances of winning just get better (especially if you can answer the question correctly). The weekly draws will continue through to the end of the month.


  3. Simon Kennett

    Long-time cycling advocate, Jane Dawson, won this week’s draw.
    Somebody by the name of Bert would have won, but their email address didn’t work.

    The competition runs for two more weeks. You’re more than welcome to enter a second, third or fourth time.

    We have two more sets of lights to give away, so will do double-draws.


  4. Simon Kennett

    This week, Jack Elder and Robbie Price won a set lights each. Just two more sets of commuter lights to be won (before the competition closes at the end of the month).

    And if you don’t win, grab a 20% lights discount voucher from Greater Wellington – only valid for the best lights we tested (in the under $100 price-range). These are also expire at the end fo the month.

    Details here:


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