In the velvet darkness,
of the blackest night,
there’s a guiding star,
no matter what or who you are.
there’s a light (over at the Frankenstein place)
there’s a light (burning in the fireplace)
there’s a light, light, in the darkness of everybody’s life.
I’ve had a number of close encounters with the road in my cycling life. The worst two have earned me long-term hospital privileges. The first, in late 2004, resulted in a concussion and a broken jaw–and a 15-minute period of memory loss to this day. The second, in 2012, cost me a hip.
One of these accidents was a single-vehicle crash when my front wheel dropped into a hole left by a road repair crew; the other happened because a driver didn’t see me and ran a stop sign.
But what’s interesting is that as much as these accidents are different, they could likely have been prevented by a common strategy.
In the days leading up to my concussion, I had been having trouble with my headlights. I had 10w and 5w Vistalites (very old ones–similar to those in the photo but much more powerful) mounted on the front rack of my bike, powered by a large water-bottle lead-acid battery, but the mount kept slipping, and the halogen lights themselves weren’t all that bright. If I had had a good working set of lights on that dark, rainy November evening, I might well have seen the hole before my front wheel dropped into it.
On the sunny July morning that I was hit, I had taken the (battery-powered) headlight off my road bike altogether, thinking that I had no use for it now that summer had come.
I learned about hub dynamos shortly after the first accident, and built a system around a 3W Shimano hub dyno. I went through a series of halogen lights, trying each for its beam, before building a pair of LED-based lamps. The second LED headlight that I built sat on my commuting bike for years (of course, I was not riding that bike at the time of the second accident). It was incredibly bright.
After the second accident, I built up a new bike, designed to have some of the characteristics of the commuter, but also to be a little lighter and more flexible. In connection with this project, I decided to see what had happened to LED lighting in the previous three or four years (i.e., while I’d been in law school). I bought a cheap reflector-based light from Amazon (alas, apparently no longer available), and mounted both it and my old light on the new bike for test purposes. I was amazed. I had always thought of reflector- (as opposed to lens-) based lights to be wasteful. No more. Looked at directly, this thing was brighter than the sun! So I bit the big one and ordered the creme-de-la-creme of the time, an Edelux. (I am reliably informed that lights have gotten better since.)
I mounted it up, and since then I have just left it turned on. That is, my bike is fully lit day and night. My nearly-10-year-old dynohub feeds the Edelux, which in turn feeds a taillight.
Am I now accident-proof? Nope. Not even close. But it’s harder for me to miss road problems, and it’s harder for someone not to see me (I keep the light on the right side of my front rack specifically to make it easy for vehicles entering the road to see me).
It seems like a bright idea.