Bike light etiquette

"Headlights on when it's dark enough to need them." That's all there is to it, right? Well, there are a few matters of etiquette that rarely get written down or spoken, but I'll try to lay out my version of them here.

All the points listed here revolve around not blinding people (pedestrians, other cyclists, cars, etc.) and creating an annoying or even unsafe situation for others.

Point your lights towards the ground. Not horizontal, not upwards. This make a big difference in terms of not having the light seems painfully bright for folks you meet head-on. You don't want to point your headlight straight down, but based on your speed you probably want to illuminate the ground as best you can in front of you.

Turn off the super-bright flashing headlight when it's dark, especially if there are bikes passing head-on. The super bright flashing light (e.g., the flash mode I have on my Niterider Lumina (Retail: $99, got my 1100 series for $75 on ebay) is great for daytime and dusk conditions when you want to get the attention of cars in front of you (e.g., please don't pull into the bike lane and cut me off with your last-minute right turn). It's so bright sometimes cars think I am the police or something. But this mode is painful if you're experiencing it from the other direction in the dark when your eyes are accustomed to the low light conditions.

Typically, in urban environments as it gets darker you can turn your lights down to be less bright. 
This might seem counterintuitive at first, but your light is intended to light up the path in front of you relative to your surroundings. When it's dusk there is still a fair amount of light in the sky, and you might need your light on full blast to see features in the dark road that are hiding from view. Once it's really dark out your eyes will adjust to the night conditions, and you probably need less light to see in front of you. (Of course if you're going really fast or on a twisty trail you'll want lots of light either way.)

What about tail lights? Generally the same issues aren't as relevant since they 1) they aren't as bright as headlights 2) red is less disruptive to your night vision and 3) there are fewer "head on" situations where people will be blinded by your light. That said, consider turning down your tail light if it's super bright and you are riding in a pack or on a path where there are lots of others bikes heading the same direction as you.


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