Illuminating night time cycling

Bike lights and reflectors
Lights and reflectors – do we have what it takes?

As winter closes in, we all check our bike lights and reflectors to make sure we’re visible on the commute home, and following the Road Code guidelines for lighting, right?

Well, maybe not, according to some research carried out by Rongotai College year 9 student, Leo Griffiths,. For a Science Fair project, he investigated whether people on bikes complied with the Road Code guidelines, and whether cyclists were aware of the requirements. His results are a wake-up call.

Leo’s research was in two parts: first, observing bike riders at night to see if they complied with the Road Code guidelines, and secondly, an online survey of cyclists to find out if they were aware of the guidelines.

In the first part, he observed bikes passing at several points exiting the CBD, and visually checked whether the bikes complied with the guidelines. For the record these are:

  • red or yellow rear reflector
  • steady or flashing rear-facing red light
  • white or yellow headlight
  • Pedal reflectors or reflective clothing.

Leo observed 321 cyclists heading home in the dark. Only 52% complied with the guidelines. The most significant omission was reflectors. Relatively few people had no lights or reflectors (it appears that Kent Terrace is the prime place for invisible cyclists!)

The online survey of 136 people on CAW’s Facebook group asked what people used when they biked at night, what they thought the requirements were, and what they thought would most improve cyclist visibility.

Only 33% of people said that they used a set of lights and reflectors that complied with the guidelines. Like the roadside survey, the main issue was lack of reflectors. Only 29% correctly identified the Road Code requirements, again mainly because they didn’t list the reflector requirements.

The most popular suggested improvements were more reflective clothing, particularly on the legs (more visible because they move up and down), and better lights.

What are we to make of this? In some ways it’s not surprising that many bikes lack reflectors. Most bikes leave the bike shop with reflectors (although some high end bikes don’t) but they often fall off and aren’t replaced. Pedals with reflectors are replaced by clip in pedals without reflectors (I have to plead guilty here!). Mudguards, the traditional place to place reflectors, are less common now. My informal observation is that a lot of us rely on reflective clothing and packs rather than reflectors on our bikes. This can be very effective, so long as we actually wear the gear, and don’t, for example, put on a non-reflective parka on a wet evening. It could be that the guidelines should be updated to put more emphasis on reflective gear.

We seem to be reasonably conscious of the need for lights, and GWRC have been giving us good information about our choices here. Indeed there are concerns that some bike lights may be too bright, interfering with other people’s vision.

To sum up, Leo offers an ultimate visibility list:

  • A white/yellow steady light on front of bike
  • A white/yellow steady or flashing on helmet
  • A reflective vest (no back pack)
  • Light coloured clothing (white, orange or yellow)
  • A rear facing steady red light on helmet
  • A rear facing red light on cyclists back or seat post
  • Reflective bands on ankles
  • Flashing lights in spokes facing sidewards.

To this, I’d add a reflective band on the wrist, to make hand signals visible, a spacemaker flag to remind cars to keep a reasonable distance from me. If wearing a pack, I’d either use a reflective pack cover, or a “bum flap” below the pack. (Spacemaker flags and reflective pack covers are available from the CAN shop)

You can read Leo’s full report (which earned him second prize in the Rongotai Science Fair) here: ScienceFairTextv1.docx.

Thanks to Leo for a useful piece of research that should get us thinking about how we make ourselves visible at night, and that we are familiar with the guidelines.

Advertisements