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Are daytime bike lights a safety essential? Should you get daytime lights?

Trek thinks it's time cyclists started using bike lights even in bright conditions. Do you agree?
This article was originally published in August 2015

Should we ride with a rear light on during the daytime? Or perhaps we should go further and ride with both front and rear lights on even when the sun is shining?

We had a forum topic about this issue on road.cc a couple of years ago and what you might call a heated debate when Bontrager announced its Flare R rear light, designed specifically for daytime visibility, earlier in the year.

The reason we’re thinking about it again is that we went to visit Trek last week and the brand is really keen to promote the use of rear lights during the day. It even had the members of Trek Factory Racing ride the prologue of this year’s Tour de France on time trial bikes fitted with the Flare R “to promote awareness of the most important cycling accessory available today”.

Daytime light.jpg

Of course, your cynical side thinks that Trek wants to encourage the use of lights in the daytime because Bontrager, it’s sub-brand, produces that Flare R rear light. It’s simply a way of boosting sales.

Trek acknowledges that, of course, it has an interest in selling lights, but says that the key motivation for launching the Flare R was to keep cyclists safe.

“About two years ago, I was in San Diego, and I’m driving along during the day, and I see a biker, a road cyclist, and he’s got a blinking light on the back of his bike, and I thought, ‘That is a great idea,’” says Trek President John Burke. “The only problem is you could barely see his light.

“When I got back to Trek, I put together a team of engineers, and I said, ‘Listen, what I’d really like to see is a light on the back of a bike that can be seen during the day.’ If we could do that, I think it would significantly enhance the safety of cyclists everywhere.”

The result is the Flare R. Here’s John Burke’s short video presentation on the light.

Trek argues that using a light during the day makes sense because that’s when about 80% of cycling accidents occur.

Well, yeah, says your cynical side, but what percentage of cycling takes place during the day? Maybe that figure simply reflects the number of people on bikes during the daytime compared to the number who ride at night.

Trek also argues that, “Studies on accidents resulting in the fatality of a cyclist show that in 40% of all bicycle vs. car accidents, the victim was struck from behind.”

That statistic is from the US. Put a light on the back of your bike, the argument goes, and you’re less likely to be one of them.

Bontrager Flare R City Tail Light.jpg

“We think products like the Flare R allow a rider to have more control over their safety, putting us in both offensive and defensive positions on the road,” said Trek’s Chris Garrison. “We want to get people talking about increasing their visibility not just at night, but also during the day.”

Chris cites a recent AA-Populous poll as evidence that more cyclist visibility is required. In that poll 91% of drivers said that it’s sometimes hard to see cyclists while driving

John Sullivan, an RAF pilot and keen cyclist, advised in his paper A Fighter Pilot’s Guide to Surviving on the Roads, “Aviation research shows that contrast is the single most important factor in determining the likelihood of acquiring an object visually – this is why military aircraft camouflage is designed to tone down their contrast.

"On the ground, dark coloured vehicles or clothing will result in reduced contrast against most usual backgrounds, and this is why high visibility clothing (for pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists) and/or bright lights are so important, in the daytime as well as at night.”

Back at Trek, John Burke says, “People should be able to see you all the time. And when they do, you’re going to have a better riding experience. Get a new Flare R, or buy something else. What I care about is making sure you have a really safe cycling season.”

Exposure Trace TraceR set

Of course, Trek didn’t invent riding with a rear light on during daylight. Some people have always done it and USE, for example, has been advocating it for years. The British lights brand says that its Exposure Flash front light and Flare rear light (yes, the same name as the Bontrager light) are designed specifically for both daytime and nighttime use (you could argue that USE, like Trek, has a vested interest in promoting more bike light use).

Our man Dave says, “I’ve used the Flare R rear light a lot and I’d say it makes a noticeable difference to the passes you get. Drivers tend to give you more space.”

Of course, that’s anecdotal evidence. If anyone knows of any scientific research that has been carried out, we’d be interested in hearing about it.

So, why do so few of us use lights during the daytime? We guess that most people don’t think it’s necessary, although some oppose the idea in principle.

“When a vehicle has lights on it makes any in front or behind without harder to see,” said Simon E in that road.cc thread mentioned earlier. “Every vehicle that runs with sidelights/LEDs/DRLs [daytime running lights] in the daytime is furthering the idea that you have to have lights on to be seen, so all the sheeple do the same. Baaaa! This means drivers to look only for lights, not other vehicles or people.

“Lights are NOT needed in daylight, whether on bikes, motorbikes or cars.”

In a comment under our story announcing the launch of the Flare R, McVittees said, “Whilst it is perfectly reasonable to want to run as bright a rear light as possible either during the day to warn cars or at night when riding on unlit country roads, I hate being stuck behind someone who is running a high output rear light at night during my urban commute. I find it distracting and obscures my vision of the road (and thus traffic) ahead.”

andyp said, “[Bontrager are] pouring money into something which will make them more money, not into solving a problem.”

What do you reckon? Do Trek’s arguments convince you that you should use a rear light during the day? Let us know what you think.

Mat has been in cycling media since 1996, on titles including BikeRadar, Total Bike, Total Mountain Bike, What Mountain Bike and Mountain Biking UK, and he has been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. Mat has been road.cc technical editor for over a decade, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer. Now over 50, he's riding road and gravel bikes most days for fun and fitness rather than training for competitions.

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212 comments

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Shouldbeinbed replied to mrmo | 8 years ago
0 likes

deleted - quote fail

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Shouldbeinbed replied to mrmo | 8 years ago
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mrmo wrote:

http://www.bontrager.com/featuresif/flare_r

I don't know if the image is on a carrousel I don't think so, just in case, the image of a car driver using a phone following a cyclist, now shall we change the image to a hooded man following a young woman in a short skirt. Where would you put the effort to solve the problem?

If I was in the business of selling long skirts......

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mrmo | 8 years ago
1 like

Something I noticed this morning, cycling along a cycle path and car coming towards me, then as drivers do it turns across in front of me ( I was a little way from junction so no issue) but it was only at the last minute that I noticed it actually had indicators! The DRLs so effectively masked the indicator! this isn't the first time I have noticed this.

More on topic, If you ride in sunny weather in and out of the cover of trees you can loose sight of things. I can see where a rear light may help, but this comes back to the old CTC argument. Why should bikes have lights, shouldn't the onus be on the driver to look where the f*** they are going? All those drivers complaining about not cyclists not having lights? If not having lights means you can't see them how do you know they are there, or is the issue that the drivers don't have hours to respond, that they aren't actually paying attention and are simply victim blaming to cover their own crap driving.

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webster | 8 years ago
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I have to admit when it gets gloomy and cars have their lights on I tend to put mine on too. It helps to be seen from a very long way off.
I see some riders do the same even when it's bright and sunny, which I think is of no use at all.

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Kim | 8 years ago
1 like

Realistically this is a sticking plaster solution to dangerous roads. It would be much better to fix our roads and make them safe for all, rather than just try to sell cyclist more stuff.

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Joeinpoole replied to Kim | 8 years ago
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Kim wrote:

Realistically this is a sticking plaster solution to dangerous roads. It would be much better to fix our roads and make them safe for all, rather than just try to sell cyclist more stuff.

What a ridiculous and comically unrealistic aspiration. How do you propose to "fix our roads and make them safe for all"? What exactly will that involve, how long will it take and what will it cost? And what is the likelihood of it ever happening?

Anyway, whilst you are waiting for your perfect world to arrive, you can do *your* bit to make *yourself* more visible (and therefore safer) by spending as little as £20 on a cheap, lightweight set of lights that cost next to nothing to run.

Like these for example;

http://www.evanscycles.com/categories/accessories/lights/f/set#!!price_f...

There ... that's "realistically" for you.

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CommotionLotion replied to Joeinpoole | 8 years ago
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Thank goodness, I thought I was the only one who lives in the real world. Well said sir.

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dassie replied to Kim | 8 years ago
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Kim wrote:

Realistically this is a sticking plaster solution to dangerous roads. It would be much better to fix our roads and make them safe for all, rather than just try to sell cyclist more stuff.

While cyclists mix with cars driven by humans in all manner of weather conditions & environments, and in the absence of a world of 'self-drive' cars - I'll continue using my 1W Smart rear light on flash during the day, for extra 'visibility'.

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LondonDynaslow replied to dassie | 8 years ago
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Kim wrote:

I'll continue using my 1W Smart rear light on flash during the day, for extra 'visibility'.

I have one of these as a backup - excellent light and incredible value if you find it on offer somewhere.

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herohirst | 8 years ago
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I ALWAYS have a flashing red on the go.
The human brain is hardwired to respond to changes in stimuli as a priority & de-prioritise stable state information. Whether consciously or sub-consciously, another road user will be more aware of you with a flashing tail light.
My commute used to be partly along leafy lanes and (even more so on a bright, sunny day) a car driver driving into shade under trees will suffer several seconds of visual acclimatisation; it's a physiological certainty. They WILL notice a flashing light in the shade of those trees where they might immediately see you otherwise. The earlier another road user notices you, the safer you should be.
Do whatever you can for yourself & stay safe.
I admit, I can be as self-righteous as anyone but I'd rather not do it from a hospital bed.

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BikeBud replied to herohirst | 8 years ago
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herohirst wrote:

I ALWAYS have a flashing red on the go.
The human brain is hardwired to respond to changes in stimuli as a priority & de-prioritise stable state information.

Sometimes I use a flashing rear light in the daytime for this reason - just to ensure I'm noticed. Whether a driver gives me enough room or not is another thing!

I've just bought a knog blinder road having seen it on a club-mates bike. Incredibly bright, and has a USB charger.

Yes - we should educate drivers better, police the roads and make improvements to the road infrastructure, but none of these are mutually exclusive with visibility.

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ibike | 8 years ago
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I’m sensing that most of the comments are from sports cyclists who are more likely to be mixing with fast moving traffic on busy roads. On a 70mph dual carriageway in poor visibility a rear light seems a sensible choice (although I would resist it becoming mandatory).

For your typical utility cyclist pootling about town or a leisure cyclist out on a quiet run in the country it’s not necessary. Yet another reason for people to be put off riding a bike.

Look at any video of Dutch people riding bikes during the daytime. Not a red light in sight. See for example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jpi01x_DgDY

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Martyn_K | 8 years ago
2 likes

I see the problem of cyclists not being seen on the road getting worse over the next 10 years.

A few years ago a euro law made daytime running lights on vehicles mandatory. Now drivers are used to seeing bright LED's when there is something in the road. Over time proportion of cars on the roads with daytime running lights is going to get higher and higher. This will make drivers eyes lazy, only looking for a bright light in the road lane.

I suspect it is only a matter of time for LED's front and rear to be built in to bike frames/ handlebars and powered from the electronic groupset or frame battery (for cable groupsets). The technology is already available, it just needs one leading brand to decide to do it.

Personally i don't use lights in the day, but make sure i have them for evening rides when there is a chance of being out at dusk.

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HandyAndy247 | 8 years ago
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Totally agree I ride with my See.Sense lights on all the time.
The problem I had with other lights in the past was they are just not bright enough to be seen during the day.

Anything under 70 Lumen will not be bright enough to be seen on a bright sunny day.
Also the way the light is dispersed is very important they need to have great side visibility.

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demolitionspecial | 8 years ago
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I've always ridden in daylight hours with a rear light. Personal choice I know and (without waking the victim-blaming evangelists) having been cut across and hospitalised on my motorbike resulting in ruptured artery and lots of internal bleeding and a written off bike, I choose to use anything that might wake up a dozy or distracted driver to my presence.
My rear light of choice is the Niterider Cherry Bomb, which has a half mile visibility and was reasonably priced. The bracket is crap though and needed a little modding.
A few quid on batteries each year, why would you not?

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Toro Toro | 8 years ago
1 like

This "only doing it to line their own pockets" argument has never made sense to me.

Tesco don't sell me food out of the goodness of their hearts. Doesn't mean I shouldn't eat.

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don simon fbpe | 8 years ago
2 likes

Absolutely NOT!
Drivers need to learn to drive properly, more stringent tests.
Driving is a privilege and not a right (or money making scheme).
 102

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stealfwayne replied to don simon fbpe | 8 years ago
1 like
don simon wrote:

Absolutely NOT!
Drivers need to learn to drive properly, more stringent tests.
Driving is a privilege and not a right (or money making scheme).
 102

You're right with the sentiment. Everything you say is factually correct. I however ride with both lights on all the time, if out for more than a few hours I switch them to a lesser flashing mode to extend the run times. On really long rides I have two rear lights.
The reason is simple. Anything I can do to mitigate risk is worth the extra grams. I want to be riding tomorrow, next week, next year and so on. So to max the chance that this is a possibility, I use my lights on even in the day. Why, if you own them not use them. It's not a lot to think about in your pre ride checks. 'Bolts, tyres, brakes, lights, (gps and camera if you have them) Done, get out and ride.

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Peowpeowpeowlasers | 8 years ago
1 like

I agree. Think about those times you've been driving with the sun ahead, bouncing off your dashboard and making it difficult to see. You slow down a bit but the tall hedgerow to the left is no longer green, it's black and completely in the shade. Pedestrians and cyclists can easily be masked by that shade. Not all drivers will slow down, so I keep out of the shade but I also use my rear light (hope district) to reduce the chance of being hit.

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rjfrussell | 8 years ago
1 like

In tree lined country lanes on sunny days visibility is a real problem- I nearly always have at least a rear light on. It is a bit like helmets- I don't see that it can do any harm, and it might help.

But, as with helmets, it must be the individual's choice/ responsibility.

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honesty | 8 years ago
1 like

I leave my lights on all the time. As they are dynamo lights it's just easier. My rear light also gets brighter when I brake, which is nice.

cant see it making a massive difference though. Just another way of victim blaming.

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Cantab | 8 years ago
1 like

Ultimately I can't see that it can harm (except your wallet) to have a bright rear light during the day. I don't think it should be mandatory (ditto helmets, high-vis/YJA, reflective clothing), but I think it is more than somewhat cynical to believe Trek are only doing this to line their own pockets (after all they're hardly a monopoly, indeed Bontrager isn't the first brand I'd think of with respect to bike lights).

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LarryDavidJr | 8 years ago
1 like

I find myself leaving my front light on flashing mode in more daylight hours these days mostly because of the 'sun dappled' country lanes. You can go from bright sunshine into, what for the eyes is, relative darkness, leaving your vision temporarily impaired. In an instance like that for a car coming the other way, having the front flasher on could make the difference between being seen or not.

As for the rear, I've got a Fly6 now which is always recording, so there's always a light on there anyway, but I guess the same thing applies.

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dave atkinson | 8 years ago
1 like

run time: i mostly use it in night flash mode which, incidentally, isn't a mode i'd use at night because the flash is too bright. stated run time for that is 23hrs. day flash mode run time is stated at 5.75hrs, so not ideal for longer rides

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Rooster123 | 8 years ago
1 like

I ride with lights 100% of the time, except today, as I forgot to grab them from charging  17

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dave atkinson | 8 years ago
2 likes

there's a full review of the Flare R coming, but for the record here are the things i like about it:

1) it has two sensible steady modes for night and group riding
2) it has two pretty brutal flashing modes that are genuinely visible in the daytime from a really long way away
3) it comes with a good mount and a neat clip for clothes or the back of a bag
4) it's nicely made

and does it make a difference in the daytime? well, anecdotally it seems to, yes. you still get crap, impatient passes from people that have seen you but just can't be bothered to give you decent space. but overall, there are fewer bad passes. i'm not claiming this as a scientific proof, it's simply my experience of using the light over a couple of months. your mileage may vary, etc and so on.

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Must be Mad | 8 years ago
1 like

I keep my rear light fitted during the day, so its there if I need it - but should the lights be on as a rule during the day?

NO

The biggest issue is run -time. In order to be useful the lights will been to be very bright, which means that run times will be at a premium. How many will last an 8 hour ride?
Does not make sense to me to have the light on all day, only for it to run out of juice just as the evening gloom is starting to set in.

However it is sensible to switch on the lights an hour or two before sunset - when the sun is low it can make visibility difficult, and anything we can do to stand out in front of a glaring sun is worthwhile. Similarly worth having the light on during rain and mist etc

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Podc | 8 years ago
1 like

I have lights on all the time. One less excuse for other road users not to see me.

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Pointbroken | 8 years ago
2 likes

I wouldn't like this to become mandatory,

but I think its a good idea.

I personally notice other cyclists from farther away when they have lights on, even during the day.

I have no evidence to back up this opinion.

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babybat | 8 years ago
1 like

My commuter bike has hub dynamo lighting, and I leave it on all the time. The front light probably doesn't make much difference in daylight, but I like having the rear light set to always on; that way when it gets cloudy or you go under a bridge, you've got that extra 'notice me' element. I agree with Gazza that the main problem is drivers not looking, but having the option of daytime running lights is one that I appreciate.

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