From the Mechanic’s Bench: Light up the Night


During the winter months, our mechanics will be providing blog readers with maintenance and mechanics articles on different skills, knowledge, and tips for safe riding.

This month, Andrew “Light up the Night” Magill is highlighting the importance lighting.


As we enter the time of year where hours of daylight are few, it’s important for bicyclists to be visible when they are riding in the dark. This is accomplished by bicycle lights, reflectors on the bike, and reflective clothing. One easy way to make your bike more reflective is to purchase tires with a reflective strip on the sidewalls. The motion of the wheels helps drivers to see bicyclists. Many folks also add reflective tape or decals to their bike–more surface area equals more reflection. You can find reflective vests, jackets or pants, and gloves with reflective material.

Bike lights are also essential. Minnesota law requires that, at a minimum, bicyclists riding in the dark have a front light and a rear reflector. A rear light is highly recommended as well. A dim front light allow bicyclists to be seen by motorists, but it will not do much to light the path of travel. Bicyclists riding on dark roads away from ambient light or city lighting will want a brighter front light.  

Not able to spend a whole lot of money of lights? Cycles for Change carries a basic set (front and back) for about $15. We also sometimes have used lights for sale. The U of M’s Boynton Health services is a resource for free lights–check in their pharmacy. Want to spend a little more on lights? USB rechargeable lights are an option. Another option is generator lights–there are older models available: used and state of the art new ones (you will need a special hub or wheel for these). The brightness of bicycle lights is usually measured in lumens or in candlepower. A 50 lumen rear light will be relatively bright. Front lights can range for 50 to 800 or more lumens.  

Where folks mount their lights is important–lower on the bike helps a bicyclist to see the road or path better, while a helmet-mounted light shines in the direction they turn their head. For extra visibility, it is recommended to  mount a rear light on legs or wheels, as the movement will stand out to drivers (find wheel-mounted systems online). Multiple lights makes bicyclists more visible, and it’s nice to have a backup if one light runs out of juice or stops working. Also, many studies suggest blinking lights are more visible to motorists than a solid beam. When riding in the street, a bicyclist’s position in the lane of travel can also affect ability to be seen during the day or night.

Safe riding means being visible, and at night this means proper lighting and hi-viz (high visibility) or reflective clothing. For more information on this important and fascinating topic, try a simple internet search. I used the search term “car light reflection at night, bicycles.” C4C staff love to talk about riding, bikes, and lighting, so come visit us! In the meantime, ride visible, ride safe, and keep smiling. – Andrew Magill