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Bicycle Lights 101

In this post I am going to talk about different luminary devices, proper placement and use, and the law.

The Law

First things first, the law.I am writing from Chicago, and my knowledge pertains to local laws, so Chicago law is what I will be using. But even in the absence of law, common sense prevails, and when it is dark, and you are riding your bike, you should use both front and rear lights.

The law around these parts says:

9-52-080- Head lamps, reflectors and brakes

(a) Every bicycle when in use at nighttime shall be equipped with a head lamp which shall emit a white light visible from a minimum distance of 500 feet from the front and with a rear red reflector capable of reflecting the head lamp beams of an approaching motor vehicle back to the operator of such vehicle at distances up to 200 feet or a rear lamp emitting a red light visible from a distance of at least 200 feet from the rear.

Let me translate that for you... You need a good front light, and a clean, visible, rear reflector.

To find out the laws in your neck of the woods, I recommend searching your local government's website, walk up to the next police officer you see and ask them, or if all else fails, the internets may work too.

As a side note, I would like mention a few laws that people may not know about:

9-16-020 (f) Turning right in front of a bicycle

When a motor vehicle and a bicycle are traveling in the same direction on any highway, street, or road, the operator of the motor vehicle overtaking such bicycle traveling on the right side of the roadway shall not turn to the right in front of the bicycle at that intersection or at any alley or driveway until such vehicle has overtaken and is safely clear of the bicycle.

9-36-010 (c) Overtaking on the left

The operator of a motor vehicle overtaking a bicycle or individual proceeding in the same direction on a highway shall leave a safe distance, but not less than 3 feet, when passing the bicycle or individual and shall maintain that distance until safely past the overtaken bicycle or individual.

9-40-060 Driving, standing or parking on bicycle paths or lanes prohibited

The driver of a vehicle shall not drive, unless entering or exiting a legal parking space, or stand, or park the vehicle upon any on street path or lane designated by official signs or markings for the use of bicycles, or otherwise drive or place the vehicle in such a manner as to impede bicycle traffic on such path or lane. The driver of a vehicle shall not stand or park the vehicle upon any lane designated by pavement markings for the shared use of motor vehicles and bicycles, or place the vehicle in such a manner as to impede bicycle traffic on such lane. In addition to the fine provided in Section 9-4-025 of this Code, any vehicle parked in violation of this section shall be subject to an immediate tow and removal to a city vehicle pound or authorized garage

*This information comes directly from


Bicycle Lights

First off, you need to figure out your lighting needs. Are you commuting in the city? Riding along unlit country roads or bike paths? Off road night riding?

Different uses require different lighting. Bright flashing lights are great for alerting traffic to your presence, but when you need a light to see where you are going as well, the flashing light may not suit your needs. Or in the case of off road night riding, you need high output lighting to navigate your way through the dark trails.

Lets look at some lights designed to let traffic know you are there, as well as provide a source of solid light when needed.

Blackburn makes one of our favorites in the store to fit this need, the Blackburn Flea USB. This light is powerful, recharges with USB, and has a lifetime warranty!

Here are some of the features of the Blackburn Fleas

  • Ultra compact rechargeable Li-Ion light
  • FLEA Front - 4 Super-bright white Nichia® LEDs
  • FLEA Rear - 4 Super-bright red LEDs
  • FLEA Front - 40 Lumen output
  • Magnetic USB smart charger
  • Flexible and compact mounting system
  • Standard, overdrive and flash modes
  • FLEA Front - 1hr High, 3hr std, 5hr flashing run times
  • FLEA Rear - 6hr Steady, 12hr flashing run times
  • LED fuel gauge/charge indicator

LED Fuel Gauge - The innovative LED battery fuel gauge/charging indicator is cleverly integrated into the power button of both the Flea and Super Flea lights. Now you no longer have to guess how much battery life is left, just follow the simple color code. Green = 100% - 75%; Orange = 75% - 25%; Red = 25% - 0%

Patented Magnetic Power Adjustment - Found on the Flea and Scorch lights, electrical current is passed through the magnets, allowing for a compact and watertight connection. In the case of the Flea lights, it allows for mounting in both horizontal and vertical USB ports.

The Blackburn Flea is such a favorite of our store, most of our staff use them as well.

If you like batteries, or just don't have a place to charge a USB, Bontrager has a couple lights that may fit your needs: Bontrager Glo Headlight & Ember Taillight Combo & Bontrager Ion 1 Headlight & Flare 1 Taillight Set.

This light set combines Bontrager’s Glo and Ember lights for convenient front and rear visibility. These super-compact lights have a single LED (Glo is white for front; Ember is red for rear) that can be run in steady or flashing mode and make you visible from 2,000 feet! Plus, you can attach them pretty much anywhere in seconds with the elastic Velcro straps!


  • Be Seen, Be Fashionable
  • Single LED multi-use safety lights
  • Glo (White Front LED) and Ember (Red rear LED)
  • Visible Up To 2000 Feet
  • 40+/45+ hour run time using two CR2032 batteries (included)
  • Steady and strobe-flash modes
  • Includes silicon strap for quick installation on handlebars, seat posts, forks, helmets and more

Bontrager combines the Ion 1 and Flare 1 for excellent illumination and visibility when riding at night! The Ion has 3 bright, environmentally friendly LEDs visible from 2,000 feet and 270 degrees of visibility. Plus, it comes with a universal mounting bracket that attaches to handlebars, posts, and even some helmet vents. The Flare taillight features 3 red LEDs that are visible from 3,000 feet across a 180-degree viewing angle and can be run in steady, flashing and random modes. It mounts easily to your bike with the included bracket and attaches to packs and belts with the included clip, too!

  • Each set includes lights with focused optics and over 270 degrees of visibility
  • Ion 1/Flare 1 set includes: Ion 1 headlight, Flare 1 tail light, SyncV2 bracket, belt clip, seat post clamp and seat stay clamp

The above lights do a good job at letting traffic know you are present, as well as providing some solid light when needed. But if you really need to illuminate your way, these lights by NiteRider are a couple to look at.

First we have the NiteRider MiNewt Mini 300 - USB Plus.

NiteRider's MiNewt Mini.300-USB Plus is a powerful compact light that puts out an impressive 125-300 lumen for up to five hours! And it's light, too, weighing in at a feathery 175 grams! Attachment is easy on any handlebar or helmet and three brightness levels let you customize the output to your speed. Recharging is easy—just plug it into the wall or your computer's USB port. And so you don't get caught in the dark, the battery indicator switches from green to red when power is low.

For more power, jump up to the Pro 3000.

The Pro 3000 might be the brightest bike light ever constructed, pumping out an unbelievable 3000 lumen! The new Pro 3000 utilizes 6 high-powered, highly efficient LEDs to achieve this staggering light output. The Pro Series continues to be the only bike light available to allow complete customization through our unique DIY Software allowing you to tailor fit your light to the ride; light output, lumen and flash modes are all fully programmable by the rider. The Pro 3000 is one of the most technologically advanced bike lights ever created.

There are of course many other light options from loads of other manufactures. We have 100's of them on our website available for order. Click here to see them all.

 Bicycle Light Installation and Placement

Once you have lights, they need to be installed on your bike.

First and foremost:

White lights to the front.
Red lights to the rear.
Amber lights to the sides.

I can not stress this enough, so it is getting the big, bad, boldness on it...


I see a few brave few riding around with front facing red lights. These are usually the same bike salmon riding the wrong way down a bike lane. And what is going to happen, is at night, when that red tail light is flashing the wrong way, someone is going to assume that the bike is headed away from them, and either open a door, or even worse, run you down. Either way, that is going to be a bad night, and nobody wants a bad night. Bad nights suck.

Now that we have that out of the way, strap, Velcro, attach, screw on them lights to your bike. Front light should be clear of baskets, racks, cables, horns, iPhone, or other items that may block your light from doing its job. On the backside, do the same thing on your seat post. Watch to make sure it is visible above your tire and not hidden by your fenders.

Mount white lights forward and free of obstructions.

Mount red lights facing the rear on the seat post high above the tire.

Do not mount lights under fenders. No worky.

Now that you have your lights on, go ride your bike. And a great place to ride your bike with lights is The L.A.T.E. Ride!

Join up to 9,000 bicyclists on Saturday night/Sunday morning July 1, 2012 for Friends of the Parks’ L.A.T.E. Ride. Enjoy a 25-mile ride through Chicago's neighborhoods and along the lakefront. Cycle past skyscrapers, hear shout of "Opaah!" in Greek Town, cruise through the North Side, wave to onlookers, and watch the sun rise over Lake Michigan. Plus, you’ll enjoy music before the ride, sponsor booths to explore, refreshments before the ride and at the rest stop, and great food and beverages after your trek through the city.

Save $5 on registration with the code VCC9A3

Don't forget that lights do not protect your head, so always wear a helmet.

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