January 1, 2005

    Hey there, Mr. Bike. I'm a long-time fan, first-time caller.
    After perusing your site, I realized I might be able to get the answer to this question from your book, but since it's New Year's Day and I don't believe in supporting businesses that make people work on holidays, I figured I'd e-mail you today and look for the book tomorrow. (Not working today applies to you, too, so I don't expect a reply for a few days.)
    Anyway, here's the question: For commuting in Chicago at night (I use my bike as a primary means of getting around), I have lots of reflective material on both me and the bike, along with blinking LEDs in back and in front ($30 CatEye with 3 white focused LEDs). However, as visible as that makes me from most angles, I'm still concerned about cars that suddenly swerve into the bike lane, whether trying to get around left-turning vehicles or just to use it as another lane. I've had a couple of near misses biking to and from the Loop on Halsted, especially at rush hour where cars are lined up for blocks due to congestion.
    So what I'd like to do is mount some sort of headlight that will really get a driver's attention in the right hand mirror. Is there a particular model that you might recommend? Are halogen lights (like those 5-10 watt rechargable "water bottle size battery" dealies) better for this purpose than LEDs?
    Although LEDs are bright if focused dead on, I'm thinking they don't have as much spread. Money isn't as important as my safety, so I'm willing to invest in something more expensive if necessary.
    And thanks for helping to make Chicago such a great place to commute by bike.

Mike M.

    Working on New Year’s Day doesn’t seem so bad when you consider that Mr Bike’s union pays triple-time for holidays.
    Holidays notwithstanding, it sounds to me like you’ve gotten pretty well lit. I think your main challenge lies with getting your light in a motorist’s eyes from behind. This involves not just brightness, but, as you sagely surmise, direction.
     Yes, one of those $300 set-ups will give you the equivalent of a car headlight, which should get most motorists’ attention. (See my book, presuming you’ve got it by now, for a DIY recipe). But Mr Bike likes cheap and easy solutions, and I’ve got two.
    First, mount a light on your helmet so you can aim it at motorists’ rearview and sideview mirrors. My friend and advisor Bike Freeek just got himself one of those headband camping lights like the one shown at right, and it really does the trick for brightness and direction.
    Alternatively, if you don’t want the bother of figuring out where to point your light, try a bright, omnidirectional strobe (like the ones shown at right). The marine industry has had these longer than they’ve had sonar, meaning you can get ‘em cheap and waterproof. Strap one these babies on your helmet or upper arm, and that driver will think twice before cutting off what looks like a yacht.

Mr Bike

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