Blinky Lights Primer

blinky lights“Blinky” lights, in other words flashing red safety lights for the rear of your bike, are a must-have item for riding on any route that is shared by motor vehicles. These are the basic things that will make you more visible to cars coming up behind and overtaking you. The more the better—if a driver is bewildered by the vision of a blinking red spacecraft moving along up ahead, he or she will be more inclined to slow down, and thus hopefully avoid hitting you.

The latest generation of high-powered LED bulbs are a boon to safety lights. Newer models are much brighter and get better battery life than lights of 5-10 years ago. Most use commonly-available alkaline batteries; one could also get a set of rechargeables and a charger to be more environmentally-friendly.

Blinky lights are not just for the nighttime—they can be very helpful in making you more visible on those dark and dreary rainy days, too. Even when it’s merely cloudy, brightly flashing lights can help you stand out on the road.

How many? We use at least two. Three or four are not too many. Here are a few of the ones we’ve been using regularly, and some new additions.

blinky light comparo

[L to R: Princeton Tec Swerve, NiteRider CherryBomb, Planet Bike SuperFlash, Serfas Guppy, Knog Skink]

This photograph of the lit-up lights in a row was taken with all of them on flashing mode, using a long exposure and a black background. Not terribly scientific, but it shows the amount of light put out by a given light for the length of the exposure. Notice that all three Big Hitters have distinctly different beam patterns.

Mounting
There are a wide variety of mounting options. Most lights come with at least one plastic mount to clamp to a tube on your bike, for instance the seatpost. The light can typically be easily unclipped from the mount if you are concerned about it being stolen while your bike is parked.

Many blinky lights also have a clip on the back, and many jackets, bags, and even some helmets have a special loop at the rear on which to clip your blinky. A zip tie around both the light and loop can make sure that the light doesn’t get bounced off.

Any blinky light should be mounted so that the brightest part of the light is facing squarely toward the rear. There can be a significant dropoff in the light’s intensity as viewed from side angles, making it less effective if it’s askew. You also don’t want a driver to mistake your direction if the light gets turned around entirely. Also, the higher the better, to get the maximum visibility.

The Big Hitters: These three lights are very bright and are on the bigger end of the spectrum.

princeton tec swerve

Princeton Tec Swerve
Bulbs: Two 1/2-watt LEDs
Batteries: Two AAA, included
Modes: Flashing, steady, off
Switch: Middle of outer face
Mounts included: Two o-rings and mounting block for handlebar, seatpost, seatstay, or fork; clip on back
Claimed runtime: 70 hours
Weight: 67g
Price: $30
Description: Two different lenses on the two LEDs create two different beam patterns, one focused and one diffused, that increase visibility. The switch extends past the edge of the light housing in the midsection and is easy to use when the light is mounted.
www.princetontec.com

NiteRider CherryBomb

NiteRider CherryBomb
Bulbs: One 1/2-watt and two 3mm LEDs
Batteries: Two AAA, included
Modes: Flashing, steady, off
Switch: Button on top rear
Mounts: Seatpost, clip on back
Claimed runtime: 40 hours
Weight: 52g
Price: $30
Description: The lens reflects light in many directions, and has an incorporated reflector for visibility even when the light is off.
www.niterider.com

Planet  Bike Superflash

Planet Bike Superflash
Bulbs: One 1/2-watt and two 3mm LEDs
Batteries: Two AAA, included
Modes: Flashing, steady, off
Switch: Bottom of light
Mounts included: Hard plastic clamp-on seatpost and seatstay mounts, clip on back
Claimed runtime: 100 hours
Weight: 53g
Price: $30
Description: The flashing mode alternates between the super-bright top LED and the two smaller ones, which makes for a very eye-catching pattern.
www.planetbike.com

Little Fish: These two are small and simple lights that are not as bright, but are easy to stow away as spares or to add on for extra visibility.

Serfas Guppy

Serfas Guppy
Bulbs: One 4mm LED
Batteries: Lithium CR2032, included
Modes: Flashing, steady, off
Switch: Button on top
Mounts: Elastic strap
Claimed runtime: 120 hours
Weight: 9g
Price: $18
Description: Bright despite its tiny size, and its housing is clear for a wide angle of light (besides the spot in the center).
www.serfas.com

Knog Skink

Knog Skink
Bulbs: Four 5mm LEDs
Batteries: Two AAA, included
Modes: Fast and slow flash, two chase patterns, steady, off
Switch: Button on side
Mounts: Soft silicone strap incorporated into housing
Claimed runtime: 30 hours (steady), 220 hours (flashing)
Weight: 52g
Price: $30
Description: Available in a variety of colors. This light also has a low-battery indicator next to the on/off button.
www.knog.com.au

[ Ed notes: This article, which was written by Karen Brooks with photograhy by Justin Steiner, originally appeared in Bicycle Times Issue #2. Click here to subscribe to Bicycle Times and here to purchase Issue #2 as a single copy.]

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