Illumination can help night riders stay alive

Take a drive around the city of Medford on any night and you are likely to see a kamikaze (suicidal) bicyclist, riding without any lighting and dressed in dark clothes. To make the situation worse, these night riders are commonly riding on the wrong side of the street, going against the flow of traffic. But that is a different issue for another column.

I'm not sure why some night-riding cyclists are so stealth-like in the darkness. Surely, if these folks were thinking clearly they would realize that they are virtually invisible, just asking to be hit by an automobile.

Putting adequate lighting on your bicycle is inexpensive and easy. For less than $40 you can buy proper front and rear lights that make you conspicuous to motorists and pedestrians from the front and the rear, as well as lighting the road, trail, or bike path ahead of you.

If you have "cat eyes" and don't care about seeing the road or path ahead, at least put a blinking LED (Light Emitting Diode) on the front handle bars and another on the back of the seat post, the seat stay or your helmet. You may not be able to see where you are going, but at least drivers and pedestrians will see you.

Currently, most lights intended for view by traffic coming from behind the cyclist are solid or blinking LED lights. Some of the blinking versions have "scroll blinking" and can be mounted vertically or horizontally. Most rear lights are red. However, I have seen emergency orange and fluorescent green lights. In addition to blinking, most of these lights can be set to a steady beam.

The beauty of an LED is the strength of directional light that it emits for an extremely low energy input. LED lights can typically operate for more than 100 hours on a single set of AA or AAA batteries.

The most eye-catching blinking light I have seen is a Planet Bike Super Flash tail light. It comes with attachments for mounting at different locations on the bike and also can be worn on the back webbing of newer helmets. The light has a distinctive flashing pattern that can be seen from up to a mile away.

If you want to see where you are going, you will need a front light that emits a strong enough beam to illuminate pot holes and debris in the road. Of course, a front light also helps oncoming motorist identify you.

The least-expensive front-lighting systems have LED bulbs and run on two AA batteries for up to 100 hours. Front light systems typically attach to the handlebars.

If you ride frequently at night, I recommend a rechargeable battery-pack system, which has more powerful and efficient front lighting. NiCad batteries are used in the majority of the smaller, self-contained lights, but you may find lead acid, NiCad, NiMh or even Li-ion batteries. Typically, the more expensive the system, the more efficient the battery and the more powerful the light-emitting bulb.

Expect to pay around $100 or more for a good rechargeable system. NiteRider, CygoLite, and Light and Motion are popular brands. Recharging time varies from as short as four hours up to overnight. The length of usable light time varies considerably between systems.

The latest high-tech light is the Nite Rider MiNewt, Mini-USB. It is the first bike light to feature a Li-ion battery capable of being charged from the USB port of your computer or wall outlet, providing the ultimate in charging flexibility. Weighing only 175 grams, the unit can be mounted almost anywhere. Although light on weight, the Mini's high-powered LED pumps out more than 110 lumens and has a run time of three hours.

If you don't want to end up as a flat piece of humanity on the road surface (like many nocturnal critters in the Rogue Valley), make yourself visible at night. Turn on your lights, cyclists, and be seen! If you venture out at twilight or after dark, wear reflective clothing and a helmet. Be safe and live to ride another day.

Bicycling enthusiast Bob Korfhage of Phoenix is a former president of Siskiyou Velo bicycle club.

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