Blinky lights — annoying or helpful?

Psst! SF Bike Expo this weekend! I’ll see you there Saturday.

Blinky bike lights — are they more annoying than helpful? What do you say?



I caught up to a rider at a red light on Central Expressway the other day with three Planet Bike Superflash lights flashing away, including a helmet mounted light at my eye level. He rode at a comfortable pace for me so I stayed a couple of bike lengths back. I’m not prone to seizures, but after a couple of minutes I felt nauseous, and this was in daylight.

The next important decision: drop back? or pass?

(Of course I passed.)

I generally ride with my rear lights in flash mode, but I’m rethinking that now.

28 Comments

  • November 8, 2012 - 8:02 am | Permalink

    I’ve wondered this myself. I think for the most part one or two on the bike are generally okay and I don’t mind riding behind them. The helmet one might better be served as a solid though, especially as much as it moves.

  • Glenn
    November 8, 2012 - 8:07 am | Permalink

    Some of the super powerful front lights are extremely annoying in flash mode. About 1/2W LED front or back seems to be about the max semi-tolerable level for flashing (yes, I realize wattage is not a unit of light)

  • November 8, 2012 - 8:12 am | Permalink

    More attention is better, IMO. I think I’ll reconsider the helmet blinky after reading your post, it does move around a lot. Otherwise, if someone behind me is annoyed by my flashers, I consider that a safer result than potentially not being seen. Flash away!

  • November 8, 2012 - 8:24 am | Permalink

    Human eyes track motion, the eyes you want on you are the distracted drivers playing with their smart phones. Those blinky lights are helping you get noticed my drivers because they are seeing the blink as motion. I say the more annoying the better.

  • November 8, 2012 - 8:31 am | Permalink

    Blinking rear lights I think make sense for awareness. By that logic, a blinking front light might make sense also. However, I think it’s important to have a bright solid light as well for the front light because that serve a practical purpose for the cyclist.

  • Bruce
    November 8, 2012 - 8:37 am | Permalink

    These blinking lights are so bright, they burn my retinas when you are riding right behind the bike that’s blinking. However, for safety amongst the autos, especially at night, they are a must. I just bought a CygoLite Hotshot and the blinking dances with 5 flashing modes. A treat for retinas throughout the land!

  • Jeff
    November 8, 2012 - 8:44 am | Permalink

    I run with 4 lights during the dark. A flashing rear on the seat/back, a solid on my helmet. A flashing flea on my bars, a solid flea on my helmet and a solid big (water bottle battery) on my bar.

  • Jack
    November 8, 2012 - 8:56 am | Permalink

    I agree with Marc. If it’s annoying it means you are being seen and noticed.

    Flash away.

  • Kevin
    November 8, 2012 - 8:59 am | Permalink

    I read an interesting comment/suggestion about front blinkies last week. Basically it was that the blinking would reflect off of street signs and let drivers know that something was different and to pay more attention.

    Having said that, I ride solid front (for my viewing), blinky front (for attention), solid back (rack mount) and blinky back (seatpost mount).

    LIke loud pipes on Harleys, being noticed means you’re less likely to get hit.

  • November 8, 2012 - 9:07 am | Permalink

    I usually only set mine on flashing at dusk when there’s less contrast. After dark, the bright flashing lights–especially front lights–are not just rude, they are more blinding to others on the road. I had a pedestrian thank me for not having mine blink once.

    More here on my blog: http://ladyfleur.wordpress.com/2011/12/07/twinkle-twinkle-little-bike-lights/

  • November 8, 2012 - 9:27 am | Permalink

    Blinky is irritating. Most of Europe doesn’t allow blinking bike lights. Blinking signifies a warning, not a notification. The brain tunes out irritations and filters down the brighter intensity, making the net result is that everything the eye sees is viewed dimmer. Like a smaller aperature on a camera. Lights with a bright center sop and a tapering off side brightness effectively blind the riders peripheral vision.
    Any fully off stage is dangerous for a moving object.
    The best way to go is the solid lights that most of Europe allows, with a two stage low/high tail/brake light like cars have, and what I am developing and bringing to market.
    See http://www.bikelighting.net for more info.

  • November 8, 2012 - 10:01 am | Permalink

    I’m gonna go ahead and disagree with most of the commenters here. Blinky lights DO attract attention, yet in the same way that our eyes are drawn to TVs, campfires, and any other flickering/pulsing/flashing light source they also hold and lock our attention.
    When I’m riding with traffic I want to be noticed. I DON’T want a driver’s attention to be locked on me. I want them to be paying attention to what their car is doing and what the rest of traffic is doing.

    Another thing to consider: LEDs can flash so rapidly that it is nearly impossible to tell your relative distance or even absolute location from one. Put your light on super blink, walk away from it a bit and scan your eyes side to side.

    And one last thing: if you ride a mountain bike you know NOT to look at an obstacle you don’t want to hit. If your attention is focused on that rock in the middle of the trail, you’re going to run right into it. If your attention is locked on a cyclist’s rapidly flashing light, you’re likely going to get much closer to hitting them.

    “More blinky=more safe” is another example of more=better thinking. But like most complex systems there are many other elements that cause that model to fail and to possibly put a cyclist in more danger.

    p.s. If you ride on the Los Gatos creek trail and you keep all your lights on rapid flash (yes, I’ve encountered a few) please be more considerate to your fellow trail users.

  • November 8, 2012 - 1:31 pm | Permalink

    The Cygolite Hotshot has strobe mode that’s way more annoying that that, plus it has additional speed controls. LOL. I’ve always used the blinking to just for safety at night. Be so annoying that cars avoid me!

  • November 8, 2012 - 1:56 pm | Permalink

    i like the Portland design works lights they have a nice fading in and out rather than a jarring blinking…

  • Glenn
    November 8, 2012 - 5:47 pm | Permalink

    Don’t get me wrong, blinking is good for attracting attention, and lights on your helmet are great for being seen above parked cars and so you can point it in the direction of the cars approaching the intersection at cross streets, but as noted above, a solid light helps determine distance and speed, so my preferred compromise is a bright solid light and a less bright flashing helmet light for the front. The off-road style trail riding lights, which could light up a movie set, shouldn’t even be allowed to blink as they’re so blinding, they’re more likely to cause an accident than save you – if these guys think that drivers, because they can’t judge theirr distance and speed will play it safe and wait, well, good luck with that theory. Risking a life compared to waiting 5 seconds is apparently a reasonable tradeoff where I live.

  • Retrogrouch
    November 8, 2012 - 5:49 pm | Permalink

    This says it all:

    http://goo.gl/BZHd7

  • November 9, 2012 - 7:25 am | Permalink

    I agree that we need to get past “More is Better.” I find a spoke light does a great job of informing my speed and distance (but I need to replace those batteries), and I’ve got a blinkie on my backpack and two amber 21-LED blinkies, one on each side of my Xtracycle bags (until I figureo ut a better mount), and I”ll be adding Christmas lights and a tree soon… but that’s about enough, I think.
    Perhaps we need to add audio, too, for grabbing attention from texters. Hmmm….. perhaps 20 sound clips of assorted, interesting things like crying babies, breaking glass, yodelers…

  • November 9, 2012 - 8:33 am | Permalink

    It would be interesting to see a study – it seems the majority that use blinking are convinced it attracts attention. But annoyance & difficulty seeing by other cyclists is not in and of itself superior. I’ve noticed people now use strobes even on the bike path – i always see the rider well ahead of noticing the light. I would submit that the very nature of lights on both the bike and helmet move enough to attract plenty of attention (and I’ve been told as much by neighbors – I run non-flashing lights front & rear.

    Definitely annoying – and until demonstrated otherwise, I submit not necessary!

  • nocklebeast
    November 10, 2012 - 5:54 pm | Permalink

    I’ve always used the rear red light in solid (non-blinky) mode. I figure it’s easier for the eye to track the movement of a light that isn’t blinking.

  • November 11, 2012 - 9:28 am | Permalink

    This post Wiggins-whack Times article says it clearly: http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/public/cyclesafety/article3594901.ece drivers hit cyclists, not the other way ’round. The more lights the better — I go for bright ones in the day, too. In fact I feel a bit safer in the winter, my lights make me more obvious on night-time commutes.

  • November 11, 2012 - 3:10 pm | Permalink

    Is there any evidence to suggest Wigg’s hit was a SMIDSY?

  • November 12, 2012 - 1:38 pm | Permalink

    “She said that she genuinely had not seen the cyclist and when somebody told her who Bradley Wiggins was that was really upsetting.” — which is pretty grotesque. Apparently hitting non-celebrities is okay, http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/public/cyclesafety/article3594878.ece

  • November 14, 2012 - 3:02 pm | Permalink

    as both as a pedestrian and rider, i must say the rear blinkies dont bother me much, but it’s been the newer white front lights, i do feel on a bad trip of disco i really prefer not to be in front of when paying attention at busy intersections
    they are quite annoying actually (esp. really strong ones especially, are the LED?!) I prefer non-blinky option for the front lights.

    not sure if other people get a bit frustrated with this frequently…

  • Anonymous
    November 14, 2012 - 3:27 pm | Permalink

    annoying, especially if you’re on a 2-way bike path and being blinded by other cyclists.

  • Kent
    November 25, 2012 - 2:52 am | Permalink

    I find it very uncomfortable riding behind cyclists with superbright blinkies like Light & Motion Vis 180. No doubt visible to car drivers, but highly annoying and probably unnecessary when in a group ride. Also, LED bike headlights have gotten so bright they really do need beam control like auto headlights. Blinding oncoming traffic does not make you safer. You want to be highly visible, sure, but not to the point of disorienting the person trying to avoid you.

  • Anonymous
    January 14, 2014 - 1:33 pm | Permalink

    there is literally no point to flashing bike lights. they do not make you more visible – just annoying to other cyclists. they are a MASSIVE pain in the arse and i want them banned again in england

  • January 15, 2014 - 5:41 am | Permalink

    As in the car, I only use blinking lights when conditions are hazardous – such as in fog. I have one white serfas pointed front and down, another straight ahead, and a red one on the back stem. I keep them on solid beam.

  • January 15, 2014 - 11:18 am | Permalink

    You’ve seen my bike Richard, but I forget if you’ve ever seen it properly lit up at night. I had, at my height, a dozen lights of varied types, until some were stolen. I still have 2 front lights that I keep solid for my own vision + a front helmet light, 3 in the back that I usually have set to blink at a low oscillation, and 3 Bike Glow 10ft cable lights artistically wrapped around the body of my bike.

    I have lights covering every angle of my bike and I still have some jackass nearly hit/main/kill me on a weekly basis. San Jose drivers are the worst.

    I would encourage any blinkie light hater to go to Burning Man and try to maintain that philosophy. Burning Man is about as dark as dark gets, the only lights there are the ones you bring with you. The majority of them blink and twinkle because they are more eye catching. To not have lights or not be light up enough makes one a Darkwad, or any number of other insults cursing your stupidity at not being lit up after dark. To not be lit up is to ask for death out there.

    After Burning Man I began practicing this here in civilization as well and it definitely has increased my visibility, but that still means little when people just NEED to get to Starbucks RIGHT NOW, and my bike just happens to be in their way.

  • Leave a Reply