Which Rear Bicycle Lights Should I use?

Should you use blinking lights? Steady lights? Bright lights? Daytime lights? Here’s what I do and why.

This is the companion article to Which Front Bicycle Lights Should I Use? Some of the background information and discussion of specific lights is covered in depth there and only peripherally referenced here. For best results start with that article and move on to this one afterwards.

… And Whats The Best Way To Use Them?

Just like in the companion article on front lights, I can’t tell you what the best lights are, or what the best lighting scheme is. What I can do is describe – as a daily commuter who has been refining his lighting setup slowly but surely for years – what I do and why. Use this as a guide to help pick out what you want your choices to be.

Executive Summary

Lets skip right to the good part. You can read the background info below if you feel like it.

  • All light choices have been in use in all weather … except sub freezing sleet/snow. I live in California and while it gets down to freezing, thats about it. Rain but no snow.
  • Use a pair of lights that display steadily. Either on the seatstays if you don’t have a rack, on your rack supports or best: out wide on your wideloaders.
  • Where legal to use, add a blinking light (that does not blink steadily, but rather blinks in a varying pattern). Put it dead center in the back, between the two steady lights.
  • Do not try and use lights that piggyback power off of your ebike battery or controller unless you have electrical skills and the desire to truly build something tailor made.
  • Do use USB rechargeable lights. Invest in a powered (plugin) USB hub and set aside one day per week (assuming 2x daily commuting use) to charge up all your lights (I use this one).
  • Pick lights that can be used as daytime running lights – use them on every ride day or night. So that means you want bright ones.

The reasoning and issues that cover blinking lights are covered completely in the companion post on front lights. Just refer to that. Here is a direct link to that section.

As described in that post, the best blinkers are the kind that use irregular, or ‘interruptive’ blinks.

Lights In Use or Worth Mentioning

I am using three different lights these days, and thought I would also mention the cheap ones that got me thru a few years of commuting safely, as well as another that turned out to be something of a dud.

The Knog Blinder Square (steady and blinkie)

This is now my favorite all-around go-to light for the back of the bike. It really shines (see what I did there?) as a steady light, but one of its many modes is as an irregular/interruptive blink that is very different from the Bontrager Flare RT described below. Is it better? Possibly not but if you find these lights on sale (as in: ebay) and you are willing to wait for delivery they are half the cost of the Bontrager light. Even at full price on Amazon they are significantly less expensive than the Trek/Bontrager light.

I made a short video showing the blink pattern below. My cell phone camera was unable to catch the fact that the inner and outer halves of the square are blinking alternately, so there is that added differential that is visible to the naked eye but not the camera.

The Bontrager Flare RT (blinkie)

This is probably the best-researched rear light on the market. Is it the best? Blinkwise, definitely maybe. Mounting-wise – definitely not. I certainly do like the one I have on my Surly Big Fat Dummy, but I had to get creative to get the thing mounted. The issue is its designed – pretty much exclusively – to be mounted on your seatpost under your butt. Thats great if you have no rear rack, or no saddle pouch under your seat for your tools and tube repair stuff.

Because I was mounting to the back of my Big Fat Dummy, I was able to fashion my own mount using a combination of a handlebar extension, a single Grin Technologies Handlebar Bob, a couple of zip ties and some gorilla tape.

Essentially, I used these parts to mimic an angled seatpost (the Flare RT mount is offset to point straight back behind the bike – assuming the seatpost is at its usual slant). If I had a normal bike rack I would have likely needed more tape (to build up the mounting surface for the Handlebar Bob to glom onto) and attached it to an existing rear horizontal surface of the bike rack.

In terms of the light it provides, it is strictly a blinkie, but it is one that is visible from a considerable distance without being particularly bright – In absence of brightness it provides a tightly focused beam that is visible from longer distances. I’m not sure if this is ideal in a busy urban environment, but it surely is in a rural setting.

One big negative of the Flare RT is it does not hold a charge during a period of inactivity. When taking the above pics, I tried switching my light on – to make a blink video like I did with the Blinder Square – and it was dead as a doornail. The light did recharge but the Knog lights sitting next to it – for just as long of a time unused – fired right up and worked fine.

The Knog Big Cobber (blinkie)

As noted in the article on front lights, I am using a couple of these on the front of a couple of bikes as front blinkers, and they might be overkill. The same is true in the back. I bought these before I found the irregular blink mode of the Blinder Squares, and before I had some time to evaluate the light. I am using it with its full 330-degree arc enabled, and in its short, sharp, intense ‘day flash’ mode. That may be ideal for daytime, but as winter commuting is here now I need to shift to one of its softer-transition blink modes for what is now a morning and evening commute in the dark.

The bright flash of the Big Cobber also bounces off that big red reflector just above it. Take that!

At $125 for a pair of front and rear Big Cobbers, this is a very expensive light (the Amazon link above is – at time of publication – the best price you are going to find for a pair of them). This light is an excellent option, but its lack of an irregular blink – and the inability to add one in via the mode designer app – is a weird omission that makes the half-the-price Blinder Square or the Bontrager perhaps a better value.

These lights have many modes, and while I could use them as steady lights, I don’t. Two Big Cobbers in the back replacing the Blinder Squares on my cargo wideloaders – plus a third blinking in the middle – would be ideally visible… but at a cost that makes a trip to the emergency room a bit less expensive. If money is no object, these behemoths with their 330-degree light throw are as good as it gets.

RETIRED: The Night Provision LINE-120R

I used these on many bikes over a period of three or four years as both a side steady and a center blinkie. They are rated for 120 lumens, but those are Chinese marketing lumens and not standard ANSI lumens. These lights are bright, but they aren’t any 120 lumens.

At less than $13 each, they are cheap. They have enough battery capacity that they last an entire week of daily use (my standard for convenience is to charge once per week; charging all lights in my office garage via a USB hub). Lastly, having had them sitting on the back of one bike or the other for years in all weather commuting, grime and crud did not seem to faze them – even if the flimsy rubber cover over the USB charging port comes off (which it did on about half of them).

Bottom line: These are good, cheap, dependable lights. You get way more than you are paying for here (especially compared to the Blitzus I tried to upgrade into below). Of the 9 of these lights I own, only one went dead recently after three years of service. Not bad for $13.

The reason I spent the bucks and replaced them with Knog Blinder Squares is … the Knogs are bigger, brighter and more visible in broad daylight. This is where these lights fall down. They are visible in bright summer sunlight, but they more or less blend in with the bike rather than jumping out at you. The Knogs are similar… but they are a bit brighter, and more is better during the daytime. The added safety is worth that price to me. In addition to that they are notably larger and more visible at night and twilight.

BLAH: The Blitzu Cyborg 168T

I am listing this one as an example of what I considered to be a failure. Its a halfway decent light, but its not up to the task of daily use. I tried these out as an upgrade to the Night Provision lights. Just like the Night Provisions, I used them both for steady and blinkie lights.

On the plus side:

  • At $16.95, its still cheap.
  • It claims 168 lumens, which is more than the 120 of the Night Provisions. However once again these are Chinese marketing lumens and not ANSI lumens.
  • It is physically larger for a further improvement in visibility over the Night Provisions.
  • It uses exactly the same mount as the Night Provision lights, which gives me spares just in case.

On the minus side:

  • Battery life at the more useful, brighter levels is poor
  • Battery life from one light vs. another bought at the same time varies – some would last for half as long as another bought at the same time.
  • I’ve had one die on me soon after putting it into service.
  • The soft rubber battery cover can easily come off and result in a failure from water spray (a second failure in addition to the one that died for no reason).
3 Blitzu Cyborg 168Ts – the two on the bottom are steadies and the one high center is a blinkie.

In the end, these lights provided a minor improvement in visibility but battery life sucked and they were not reliable. For an occasional ride to the grocery store on a nice evening every once in a while they’d be fine. But nothing more.

Spreading Them Wide

Here’s something I have been doing that may or may not have any scientific basis. I asked myself what kind of light arrangement are drivers accustomed to seeing? Well … they see the taillights on other cars. And those consist, generally, of two steady lights, at the same height from the ground, spread widely apart. So I set out to try and replicate that layout as closely as possible.

Even if all you can do is put two steady lights on your rack supports, thats still a pretty decent amount of separation.
The best-case scenario: out wide on your cargo bike’s wideloaders. There is a blinkie in the center – a Trek Flare RT

In pre-dawn commutes I have come across recreational cyclist diehards out on their morning rides. Since I’m a fast ebike I’m able to approach and pass them fairly easily. In that overtake, where the two of us may be alone on a rural, dead-straight road with few or no street lights, I have personally experienced the issue that studies show blinkie lights suffer from when used alone: You know the bike is there because you can see the blink, but its really hard to figure out how far away it is or how fast its going until you get right up on it and light the rider up with your headlights.

For this reason, I want steady lights – in visual stereo to aid in motion tracking as much as possible. Admittedly that ‘stereo vision’ benefit is not a lot, but you do what you can.

I am of course also putting a blinkie in the center which is not something you see on a car. But that is a function of being a 2-wheeled bicycle sharing the road with 2-ton, 4-wheeled ICBMs crewed by inattentive pilots who – often as not – regard a bicycle as an annoyance unworthy of sharing the same road.

Is this the best way to do it?

Beats the hell out of me. With any luck – and I haven’t been hit from behind yet after almost 40 years of commuting in the saddle – I’ve given myself a fighting chance to keep the tire tracks off my back.

LED Strip Lights – Quick and Easy

I knocked this project out in maybe an hour, start to finish. I’m doing the same with this quickee explainer post.

There is a Part 2 followup to this article detailing some improvements. See it here.

What It Is

Not too long ago I saw someone show off some LED strip lights lining the front and bottom of their Larry vs. Harry Bullitt. Since I am fooling around with and writing up bike lights recently, I thought this looked pretty cool, so I decided to spring a few bucks to do a simpler version of the project myself.

What I Did

I have a reputation for not taking the easy way out, with careful planning and meticulous execution.

None of that happened here. I just slapped this sucker together, kind-of. Actually the way it went down … I was mocking up a couple different layouts in the garage, a light bulb went off for a simple setup, decided “how tough can it be?” and from there did the complete installation in under an hour.

I will probably pretty this up at some point but for now I’ll just enjoy what I have and see how I like it as-is. Before I get into the strip lights themselves, I need to back up a step and describe a mod I made awhile back that led me directly to lining the side panels rather than doing the usual and lining the frame.

What I Did Before: Side Panel Extensions

Waaaay back when I first built The Lizzard King, I lined the cargo area with a sort of tub of a special, ultra-dense closed cell foam. It works great, but its 1/2″ thickness narrows the cargo box area just enough that boxy items can sometimes not quite fit. If I could get back that space I would gain back some convenience.

I only wanted to get back a little as the LvH tonneau cover won’t fit if I spread the panels more than a little. I settled on the following parts to do the job

I wanted to use the big countersunk washers and screws on all of the attachment points, but the front two don’t have enough room for the washer to fit so I just used standard socket caps.

Pictures of the parts installed will do a better job of explaining how this all came together than writing it up:

The spacers add 8mm of width and the skinny washers sandwiching it together give a bit of extra strength. They also add about 2mm total for a roughly 1cm widening of the panel mounting on each side (so 2 cm total width increase). The countersunk washers and screws give a nice flat facing, with broad contact to the mounting bracket. The socket caps worked fine too, so the expensive option of the countersunk washers can be considered optional although I think its a nice touch, and prefer the facing to the cargo area be nice and flat.

I could have gone a lot wider as you can see if you explore the site linked above, but that would spoil my ability to use my LvH tonneau cover. As it stands its tight but it fits.

On To The Light Show

So… coming into the game this is what I bought:

4000k LED Strip Lights
If you want something to match your typical bicycle headlight, choose a strip with a 6000k color temp. I decided to go a little warmer and it turned out to be a good choice, although I didn’t know why this was yet.

I chose this set of lights because it was a longer 1.5M (just in case), it used 3M adhesive tape for mounting – these kinds of lights are infamous for coming off after exposure to weather – and it had a simple, switch-free USB plug.

Inline LED Switches
I thought when I bought the parts that I might not use switches at all – I would just plug and unplug my lights from the power bank I planned to use (more on that later) or use the power bank’s on/off switch to do the same job without extra parts. If I had been thinking I would have bought the white ones to match the USB wire coming off the strip lights.

0.4″ (10mm) -wide 3M VHB Double-Sided Tape
VHB – aka “3M red body tape” is a weatherproof, super-durable rubber tape available in a variety of widths and thicknesses. The bigger stuff can literally be used to stick smaller body panels (trim pieces and such) permanently to a car. Most modern car badging uses this stuff to stick on the vehicle make and model logos. Its strong and weatherproof. I had a roll already in my garage. Use the link above to get yourself some.

My idea was to lay down the VHB on the bike frame, and then stick the lights to the VHB – essentially: stick tape on the lights to tape on the frame. It’ll never come off.

Anker 13000 mah USB Power Bank
I already had this power bank in a drawer. It has two USB output ports and works perfectly to power both strips. Looks like it will last for a full week (I recharge all my stuff once a week).

Configuration

I started out trying to rig something up by running a USB extension up the steering tube to the handlebars where I have a bag already. I could have mounted the switches on the bags. This meant I would need to run the USB connections from the lights from the rear of the frame, and hiding that connection wasn’t going to happen since the light strips only bend on one axis. Plus I’d be gaining two more wires running up the steering tube and more visible wires are never a good thing.

While I was pondering that, I realized I had an overhang created by my side panel extensions. This gave me a rubberized surface to stick my base layer of VHB, which will only make for a more firm connection. Also this would bring the wiring up further away from the ground, splashes and shield it from ground impacts.

After poking at it a bit more from this panel-mount angle, I realized I could run the power connections from the front, directly into the front of the cargo box. Since I already had a small bag located there holding two power banks for my lower front headlights, I could just add this to the bag that was already there.

Dang thats good enough to just get it done in a few minutes. I can mess with cleaning up the wires later if I feel like it. And so, here again I’ll use pictures to show the install result:

You can see the light strip is sitting directly on a ‘bed’ of thin black rubber. That is the 3M VHB, which I laid down first as a complete strip, front to back. From there I peeled and stuck the lights atop that. Since I was sticking sticky tape onto sticky tape I had to be careful to get it right the first time, but it wasn’t difficult. The light strip can be cut at specific, marked spots along its length and it was easy to do that.

You can see on each end there is a rubber cap. This is 3M 2229 mastic electrical sealing tape. Essentially its tape-shaped rubber goo. You cut a thin strip of it and lay it over what you want to insulate. Then you work it a little like clay until its formed into a shape that gives you a watertight seal. Mastic is one of those things everyone should have in their tool box. There is a thinner version – 3M 2228 – that is commonly available in big box hardware stores in the USA (much cheaper than found on Amazon).

And yeah I know that bag just sitting there is kinda cheesy, but it was already there holding the power for the two fork-mounted headlights. Thats a spot where my lock is always sitting (in that black bag) so its not taking up space I use for anything else.

Whatsit Look Like Turned On?

Well, before you scroll down to see the pics, know this: The camera gives you a false impression of how bright it is. It is nowhere near as blindingly bright as you see in the night time pics, and its brighter than it seems in the daytime pics.

At night, mounting the strips on the panels – which thanks to the mods I did create a narrow overhang ideally suited to mounting these lights – the effect is to light up the frame as if it was a billboard. Its bright and legible and really cool looking. The camera makes it look like its a blinding washout of light and thats the camera, not reality. Also, the 4000k warm color temp I chose meshes perfectly with my green frame. Different color frames (Moondog – navy blue – comes to mind) might take better to a 6000k color temp, and I bet Pepper (hot red) would like 3000k better than 4000k.

The bike jumps out in the night, which is the idea insofar as visibility in traffic is concerned. Also, the lights face downwards and illuminate the ground in a nice big circle around me. Thats useful to me in a minor way (whatever I smash into will be brightly lit up), but also helps increase my visibility to oncoming and overtaking traffic. The forward facing lights provide a minor benefit to illuminating the road close up.

During the day, the effect is minor but on a cloudy day the bike does look a bit ‘brighter’ from the side, and for sure the forward facing portion of the lights provide a daytime running light effect. On sunny days? No idea I just did all this last night.

As near as I can tell, power usage is minimal. I was unable to dent the battery in my testing and trials. We’ll see how that goes after a week of daily use.

Down the road, I may play around with USB extensions and move the switches back towards the rear – I can run them behind the padding that lines the box – so I don’t have to open the tonneau to switch the lights on. I have a couple extension cables and smaller power banks without a job that may work well in this regard. We’ll see. For now this is quick and dirty and pretty slick.


EDIT:
I cleaned this all up and got rid of that stupid brown bag altogether. See what I did in Part 2.

Which Front Bicycle Lights Should I Use?

What front bicycle lights give the best beam pattern? Are blinking lights safer?

There is a follow-on to this article: Which Rear Bicycle Lights Should I Use? Check it out once you’re done here.

And how should I use them?

I can’t tell you what the best lights are, or what the best lighting scheme is, but I can describe what I do, and why. Hopefully this will give you a better idea of what you want to do yourself.

This topic is very much like the “Which Bike Lock?” article I didn’t want to write. “Which bike lights?” is another question that comes up soooo often, and is written about so much, I didn’t feel a need to pile on. But like with the bike locks, I find myself drawn into discussions on the subject. So here’s my take on

  • How to create an ideal beam pattern
  • Power source
  • Safety and the actual science that backs up lighting choice.

But First… Executive Summary

Lets jump to the conclusions right off the bat.

  • Whether I mention it individually or not, all of these lights can survive weather. And dirt/dust/mud being kicked up and onto them from a tire.
  • Use a couple of small, steady lights, angled a hair to each side, to give a nice wide beam pattern close up, and a third, long, narrow one to reach further out. Overall, you should create a shape for urban use that is an elongated pear with the wide part being closest to the bike.
  • Where legal to use, add a blinking light (that does not blink steadily, but rather blinks in a varying pattern) to minimize a SMIDSY incident. Separate it from the steady lights as much as possible: If its close to them, the steadies will wash out all but a crazy-powerful blinkie.
  • Do not try and use lights that piggyback power off of your ebike battery or controller unless you have electrical skills and the desire to truly build something tailor made.
  • Don’t go apeshit and come up with a powerful lighting system that needs its own li-ion battery pack (assuming you are running on city streets… have at it on trails).
  • Do use USB rechargeable lights. Invest in a powered (plugin) USB hub and set aside one day per week (assuming 2x daily commuting use) to charge up all your lights.
  • Pick lights that can be used as daytime running lights – use them on every ride day or night. So that means you want bright ones.
  • DO NOT focus the lights straight forward. Its tempting but bike lights do not have cutoffs and will blind drivers. Focus the core of the beam to the pavement in front of you. Close and far as described below. This article has some excellent “good vs. bad” graphics on light focus. In that article they arrive at a similar result I do but with a very expensive single layered beam.

OK thats out of the way. Now lets get to the reasons why I said all that.

Pass a bunch of cyclists day or night in the USA and chances are good they have a ‘blinkie’ on the front. Oftentimes thats all they have. Is that a good idea?

In some parts of the world (Germany comes to mind) its illegal for a bike to have blinking lights. So be mindful of your local laws when considering blinkies.

Going back many years, cyclists in the USA began relying heavily on blinking lights. In part I suspect it is because scientific studies have shown blinking lights improve the ‘conspicuity’ of an object traveling down the road by a significant margin. Here is one of the most-often-cited ones, associated with snowplows. The very first scientific study was a different snowplow study in Denmark. While it was available for reading at one time, it seems to have disappeared off the internet. For years it was all there was, in terms of scientific evidence, to justify a blinking light.

However, time has passed. There has been movement away from blinking lights (in scientific literature, not so much in cycling circles) for a number of reasons:

  1. Blinking lights when used on their own makes it tougher for the driver to track you and estimate your speed.
  2. Blinkies can create a ‘moth effect‘ (fascination complex) which can cause, for example, drunk drivers to fixate on a blinking light and drive right into it. This effect may be written up as unproven – as it is in the link above – but more recent literature cite studies that demonstrate the effect exists, even if they still remain unable to fully quantify its impact.
  3. While there is specific, detailed research that acknowledges the above and also notes the increase in conspicuity delivered by a blinkie, there is no coherent research that correlates blinkies’ effects with actual increased safety (i.e. reduced injury rates in control population vs. population blinking at you).
  4. Blinkies just plain piss people off. Lets admit it: We all know this coming into the game, and we know why.

What a mess. The thing that clearly makes me more noticeable to speeding, inattentive missiles on wheels also makes it more likely I will get run down by one? Maybe?

I decided years ago that if steady, bright, lights are the de facto standard – what people are used to seeing, and are essential to tracking my motion – then I wanted those. Also, because of that conspicuity thing (I still can’t believe thats a real word), I wanted a blinkie to go along with the steady light. So, the blinkie makes me noticeable and the steady light gives me a decent shot at being trackable – and more easily avoided – by sober or drunk eyeballs as they speed towards me. Plus of course having a steady forward light lets me see what I am running into and over, which helps.

As for the pissing-people-off part, I consider that a benefit because thats how I roll.

OK I’m kidding about that.

More seriously, we live in an imperfect world and my lighting choices can’t be all things to everyone. I have to choose personal safety over politeness so the blinkie is in the mix.

The fact is, I was t-boned by an inattentive motorist in late 2017 in a classic SMIDSY where the driver – who I made eye contact with – looked through me and not at me, it turns out. That driver accelerated from a dead stop right into me despite my being in a bike lane, traveling relatively slowly and having three steady, front-facing headlights during evening rush hour (it was still daylight). I asked myself afterwards “what the hell more can I freaking do to get these morons’ attention?”

Not much, really. My answer was to add a blinkie. I just didn’t have any more spaghetti to throw against the wall than that.

Sidebar:
Here's a detailed look at the SMIDSY risk, and how to actively avoid it, beyond passive methods like a blinking light.

All blinks are not created equal. Most traditional blinkies do so at a steady rate. But modern lights have been developed after recent study that use an asymmetric type of blink (Trek calls this effect an ‘interruptive blink’). The idea is that a non-steady blink is superior to a steadily repetitive one. All of my blinking lights use this form of non-steady/variable/asymmetric/interruptive blinking, and I consider it a required feature of blinkies. This severely limits the number of lights I consider for use since most do not offer this feature.

Baseline Established

So now you know what my basic layout for lights should be: Steady lighting and blinking lighting, together. What else matters here?

Battery (Power Source)

Please note, what follows in this section applies to the general consumer. There are some very smart and capable people out there in the world who can build their own custom lighting systems from scratch. For those people, none of what I’m saying just below applies.

I see some people with ebikes fixating on using lights that wire into their existing ebike main battery or controller system. This is not a lighting quality decision, its a convenience decision where the rider is trying to consolidate his or her recharge efforts (I classify dynamo hubs and similar systems that provide real-time power generation in this same league). I think this focuses on the wrong thing: convenience rather than safety.

I prize a proper beam pattern more highly than I do charging convenience. After all the point of lights is their output, which might just keep me alive and un-maimed. Everything else is a distant second.

Going that hardwired/generator route also means the number of beam choices goes way down. Maybe to only one option. And typically it means wires. Wires running from the front light, wires running to the back. Ebikes can be a maze of wires and zipties as it is. I’m not making that any worse with more wires.

Beam pattern

Most often, people ask “what light should I buy? Singular. As noted earlier I have given up on finding one single bike light to completely light up whats in front of me.

And believe me, I’ve tried:

Figure 1: This is 40w worth of LEDs putting out about a billion lumens in a variety of focused spot and flood bulbs, with a fabricated cutoff to keep me from being arrested. The project got its own 52v, 8ah battery.

Instead, I pick a variety of front lights that each do different jobs. Usually a couple of wide beam lights, focused a hair to the side and down a tad more than I’d go if they were my sole front light. Then I add in a narrow center beam of some kind, focused a touch further out and illuminating dead center whats in front of me. The net result is a long pear-shaped beam that gives me good coverage of the ground in front of me. To ensure I don’t run face first into something well-lit, I have that center beam reaching out some distance. But not so far out or overly powerful I am blinding oncoming motorists.

Worth special mention is the fact that up close, wider is better. This is something I learned over time, and thankfully before I hit anyone. I have had some real shocks using long, narrow beams that show me a clear path, but then I whiz past a pedestrian or some motionless bystander having a smoke in the dark. I had no idea they were there until I passed right by them.

To keep that from happening, I started using my closer-in ‘sidecar’ beams, for lack of a better term and they solved the problem. Sure I have a bunch of lights on the front of the bike, but they are pointed in different places and for a specific reason.

Over time, I have reduced the cost of this approach. Its still not cheap, but its not as godawfully expensive as it used to be.

Brightness (daytime running lights)

I run my lights day and night. At night to see and be seen, but also in the day to be seen by motorists. For this reason, all my lights are relatively bright. I do not, however, blind oncoming traffic by focusing the beams straight ahead. Rather, I try to focus to a useful distance on the ground, which lights up what I am rolling over in the dark. With multiple beams doing this work, I can leave them individually set to their lowest level, which lets me wait awhile to need to recharge them. My standard is one day each week (Friday) I pull all my lights off and recharge them in my office garage.

EXAMPLES

I have done a variety of front light setups with the above in mind. Lets look at some, along with prices:

2Fat’s front lighting (present day)
Figure 2: My present day lighting setup on 2Fat

The Blitzu Gator is a cheap little light that is surprisingly good. It has a nice, broad beam that you can use as a solitary light if necessary, at its higher settings. I set it on low intensity and its good for a week’s commute riding. If I ride in a park, beach or rural area with no streetlights, there are two higher output settings that give me all the forward peripheral light I could ask for.

At under $16 each these are a great deal. They are also easily removable so when I go to the store – and pull everything off the bike that is not nailed down – they are easy to pop off and back on again.

I first purchased a pair of these little Gator lights when I was looking for a pair of lights for a bike and did not want to spring $100+ for another pair of Niterider Luminas. These are not anywhere near as good as the Niteriders, but then again they are also a small fraction of the cost.

The Victagen bicycle headlight is a relatively common design sold under many names. Its 3000-lumen peak output is not to be believed, but if you have been shopping for lights you already know most lumen claims are baloney. In this case, the light uses two Cree bulbs that are *rated* for 1500w each, which is not the same as them actually putting out that light level. Still, in conjunction with the two Gators, this light works great as a part of the team.

On the street I use it on its lowest setting. This preserves battery life and is still plenty bright for city use. It has an aluminum casing and two 18650 cells inside that make it relatively heavy, but also gives good battery life. Its digital (percentage-remaining) readout is constantly on so you’re never wondering how much power is left. There are two higher settings useful if riding without streetlights helping out.

A third, square center light is a little forward flood. It is handy on rural trails to light up the landscape ahead – just barely enough to be useful. Not something you want to use with oncoming traffic, but helpful on pitch-black trails.

Despite its heavy weight, the screw-down mount keeps the light from jiggling. It charges with a readily available USB C cable and contains an output plug so you can use it as a power bank for your cell phone if necessary.

Figure 3: Skootch the two Gators against the Victagen and they naturally point outboard just a bit for a perfect expanded arc of elongated pear-shaped light. The light on the right needs a little more skootching to be in full contact. You can also use a velcro strip to ensure they stay together.

I consider this Victagen light the natural, low cost successor to what was my preferred buy in this class: The Niterider Lumina, which I still use on a few bikes. Luminas typically go on sale around the end of the year but even so they come in at double the cost of one of these Victagen lights (as of today I own 5 of them, so I’ve saved quite a bit).

The Knog Blinder Front Square. Look closely at Figure 2 above and you will see a yellow square, on the front of the rack, just above the tire in the lower right corner of the picture. Thats my Knog Blinder, run as a blinkie – in variable blink mode – and set as far away from my steady lights as I can get it. the Knog lights come with a number of modes pre-programmed, and some of them can be set up custom via an app that connects to them and allows you to come up with your own pattern (I did not need this as one of the pre-programmed patterns sufficed).

Knog is an Australian company that specializes in bicycle lighting. What they sell is sophisticated, capable … and expensive. Still, they have become my default standard for rear lighting (both steadies and blinkies. I will cover rear lights in a separate article) and, in a couple of different forms, are my chosen light for front blinkies.

The best price on these lights is not found on Amazon. I get mine from seller Abaxo on EBay. I own maybe a dozen of these Blinder lights – front and rear versions – spread across several bikes. For now, I will only discuss the Front Blinder Square. The Amazon link I am using for one front and one rear is a pretty good price, though. And if you follow my lead, you may want to pick up at least one of those deals. But you’ll need to also read my rear lighting article to see what I am using, and why.

Figure 4: We’ll talk about how I use 3 Knog Blinders in the back … in a separate article. In this photo, I wasn’t fast enough to catch the center blinkie when it was ‘on’
2Fat’s front lighting (recent past)

My use of the self-contained Victagen, and the Knog Blinder, is fairly recent. Formerly I used a pair of different lights – across several bicycles – that are worth mentioning.

Figure 5: Different center light and blinkie than used in present day.

My favorite light from a narrow, long beam standpoint is not the Victagen. Its this light, which is reasonably priced, Perfectly bright for street use at its lowest setting, and VERY bright on ‘hi’ for rides thru the park. The beam is also very narrow and very sharp-edged, so it makes a perfect long-reach beam that does not blind oncoming traffic. It has a big battery pack so it can go easily 2 weeks without recharging. The mount on this light is unusual in that it is very sturdy, adaptable and not subject to breakage over time. Why did I replace it? Because it requires a special USB cable to charge and over the years I have managed to lose all but one of them (I have four of these lights, two of which are mounted on the forks of the Lizzard King, and can be seen at the top of this page and in the next example below).

I have tried buying USB cables that match the cable ends required of the light and no dice. There’s some kind of unique wiring in the cable that a generic cable does not have. And the charge cables are not available separately. Without its special charge cable its a paperweight, so I moved away from using these.

Worth noting:  You can solve the charge-cable issue by switching to a power bank such as this small $25 model from Anker, which I have done successfully.  It gives a further advantage of having even greater capacity than the original factory pack, and charges with a standard cable.  Trouble is it adds $25 to the cost of a $32 light, and these power banks overload if you try and plug two lights into one bank, so you have to do one per light.  You have to really want this particular light beam to go this route.

Before I decided to spring the big bucks on the Knog Blinder Front Square, I used this little Night Provision front light for a few years. It is highly water resistant even if the rubber plug cover falls off (happens about half the time). Its battery life falls within my magic 1-week window, it is rated for 120 lumens which seems optimistic. It is usable as a blinkie in the day, and it is cheap at under $14 each. Here again I used the rear version of this light x 3 in the back of my bike before I went to the Knog Blinders. And again I’ll discuss those separately in a future post.

Unlike the Knog Big Cobber that you can see below on the Lizzard King, this little light is not bright enough to be mounted between or anywhere near your steady lights, and must be mounted low and away from them to be visible.

The Lizzard King’s front lighting

This one turned out a little weird, but thats largely due to the unusual nature of a frontloader and partly because, as described above, I have a couple of those extra-tight-beam lights not doing anything.

Figure 6: The lower fork lights

Due to the unusual configuration of a frontloader cargo bike, its not unusual to see a single light mounted on the fork bridge, relatively low given the 20″ wheel size. I tried adding a special mount on the bridge to put a light in that spot, and for reasons unique to my bike it didn’t work well. With these versatile mounts, this particular light is a perfect fit to mount on a semi-round fork blade, and since they have to go on the side, two of them to balance out the beam was an easy – and for me, cost-free – choice.

Figure 7: The upper lights
Niterider Luminas

For the upper lights, I used what I once considered to be the best self-contained light on the market: The Nightrider Lumina. I have three sets of these. Two of them are the full sized Lumina 900 and a third is the smaller Micro 750. I’ve also owned lower-powered versions of both form factors going back many years. Of the two, I prefer the smaller Micro as they balance better over the handlebars.

The beam patterns on the Luminas are excellent. Their mounts have an internal ratchet that let you inch their focus right or left by a hair to widen their spread. Again they last my magic standard of a week without a recharge, and they can be at their lowest power level when used as part of a team effort. One drawback: The mount that is sold with them is junk. You have to spring for the upgraded screw-clamp mount they sell separately, and this adds another $11 to the cost of each light.

Lastly they are sturdy and water resistant. Easy to remove and re-attach, they make great standalone flashlights, especially when working on a flat tire at night on the side of the road.

BUT… They aren’t cheap. When the Victagen-style lights came onto the market, with their similarly sturdy casings, rich feature set and strong mounts… for $25 a pop. Well, you can see why I jumped ship.

Knog Big Cobber

This is one big, badass blinkie. I mean… its freaking big. And bright. Maybe too bright but I haven’t been arrested yet so maybe not.

The Big Cobber can be tied into their app, and before you think that an app for a bike light is stupid, it isn’t for this light. Using the Knog app, you can set the light to ‘eyesaver’ mode, which disables it across 1/3 of its 330° arc of light. Three Hundred and Thirty degrees. If you don’t run eyesaver mode, you are going to get this thing blinking in your face. I found I needed to use eyesaver AND to tape over the top part of the light because even though those LEDs were not firing, there was still enough backwash from what was running to annoy me. Once I did that, its a near-perfect light. I am using the short, sharp, intense ‘day flash’ mode with eyesaver.

And it sure isn’t cheap, either. With that said, its the best fit for the bike I have it on, so it stays. This is a VERY sophisticated and high quality light, so if what it does works for you, you’re not going to be disappointed.

The Surly Big Fat Dummy’s lighting

What I did here was unusual given the front rack on this bike, along with the inverted suspension fork that has no bridge to affix a blinkie down low.

Figure 8: Since the lights are hanging sideways, I used some velcro straps to ensure they don’t jiggle.
Victagen Dual Beams

You have seen these used earlier. Since I ride multiple bikes, I keep a set of lights permanently on each rather than swapping them around. This is where using lower-cost but still effective lights pays off. I found putting two of them off the front edge of the rack induced too much shaking (you can still see the mounts, at top right and left on the front). So I built up the sides of the rack with silicone tape and hung them off those. It was easy to angle them so I have a continuous swath of light in front of me and there was no need for a separate, long-range steady beam. For a blinkie, I have…

The Knog Big Cobber

With no way to properly separate the blinkie from the steadies thanks to the use of thhe Wren Inverted fork, I needed a bright badass blinkie to keep it from being washed out. The strong Knog light is that light, and once again has been set to ‘eyesaver’ mode and taped at the top just like the other one on the Lizzard King. Its worth noting this light puts quite a bit of its output straight down onto the ground which still magnifies my visual presence to some degree.


Figure 9: Before I came across what I currently use for the long, centered beam, I used a velcro tie to strap together two Niterider Luminas. A great option… but takes up a lot of real estate and cost is about $100 even if you get them on sale.

Recharging

If you have been counting lights, you will have realized my once-weekly recharge party at my office garage is something of an event. It is but it isn’t. I need to spend about 5 minutes pulling lights off and attaching them to …

My powered USB charging hub. I have two of these 10-port powered hubs. One at home and one at work. I usually only do this at work. Despite making the mistake of trying a much more expensive one, found these to be perfect.


So… skipping the failures and the mistakes, thats what I am using or have used for front lights, and why I’m doing them that way. What I use for the back dovetails neatly into my choices for the front, but you’ll have to read that separate article to see exactly how.