Bicycle Light Arms Race

It seems like “Bigger, Brighter!” is the mantra being used to sell bicycle lights.  Don’t get me wrong, bicyclists riding in the dark need both to see and to be seen, and there are a myriad of lights available to do just that.  I would suggest, however, that just because you can get a brighter light does not mean that you should.

I’ve had a couple of instances heading home in the dark recently where I’ve nearly been blinded by the light/s being used by another bicycle commuter.  Even allowing for the happenstance of hitting just the right angle coming up a hill or around a corner, the number of times I’ve been momentarily blinded is not negligible.  Each time, it’s been from an incredibly bright light, aimed pretty far forward of the bicycle.  I get it that the faster you go the farther in front you need your light to fall so you can anticipate/prepare for hazards, but really some of these are excessive, especially when the bicyclist isn’t actually going all that fast.  I will, on the other hand, give props to the cyclist who will dim or physically drop his light when he sees oncoming bicyclers.  He also goes pretty fast, so it makes sense.  The others…not so much.

Look at it this way–Cyclist A gets tired of being blinded, so gets a bright light that will keep him from being blinded because his eyes will be adjusted to the higher output of his light, meaning the less bright lights won’t cause his pupils to dilate nearly as much.  Cyclist B gets hit with Cyclist A’s light a few nights running, so she gets a new light and raises the lumen level a bit.  Cyclist C, who’s been out of the technology loop for a bit, gets hit by both A and B, and decides to upgrade his light to the brightest he can possibly find, and, while at it, gets a couple for better coverage, and, after all, brighter is better, isn’t it?  Pretty soon you have a lighting arms race going on, culminating in people pulling small generators to power their theater lights, and drivers in cars being blinded by the bicycles.

OK, I push it to extremes (the weight of the generator would rule that option out, since most cyclists prefer to go light weight, although I have seen a couple of suspicious looking trailers recently), but there should be some sort of a common sense way for each cyclist to balance out his/her lighting needs with an ability to avoid blinding others.  Like I said, the guy who takes care to drop his light gets huge credit in my book, and I appreciate his common courtesy.

Really, that’s what it comes down to, is common courtesy.  If you desperately need the bike light equivalent of a light house, please do us all the favor of aiming it towards the ground when riding towards others.  If that’s too hard, maybe consider something a little less powerful so that we’re not tempted to purchase a mirror to bounce that beam of light right back at you.

And thus endeth the rant.