All Lit Up

Original Photo by H. Noecker

Let’s take a moment to talk about photosensitive epilepsy and how it pertains to light safety. This is not exclusive to bicycle safety as lights, visual stimuli and night time (when brightness is most drastic on the visual cortex) happen everywhere and every day.

Actually, it kind of sucks sometimes.

Everyone has seen the jokes of strobe lights and epileptics flopping around like fish out of water. You know what’s not funny? Shitting and pissing all over yourself. Cracking your skull on the ground. Banging up various body parts on furniture and inanimate objects in your warpath. Feeling like you were hit by a semi truck the next day because all you muscles had been stretched out like those salt water taffy machines.

Rubber bands.

Your muscles snap like rubber bands as all the synapses in your brain misfire and you go through an auto reboot.

And there’s still always the possibility of shitting and pissing yourself.

Then there’s the “flash lag illusion” – that’s the idea of rotating lights like a marquee at an old timey theatre where the lights aren’t actually moving, but give the illusion that they are. When you get a group of cyclists all with differing blinking frequencies, it can be not only difficult to gauge speed, but the direction in which they are coming from. I have heard this first hand from multiple friends that are either non-cyclists or do ride bikes, casual or every day commuters, etc. “It’s just a sea of people at night – especially in adverse conditions.” 

Talking about flashing lights kinda comes up in conversation with people I know a lot.

And then there’s the “Moth Effect.” It’s a debatable theory, but it’s one that has been well documented with many, many fatalities of drivers swerving into flashing lights they see towards the side of the road. The idea is that by the time the driver figures out what is going on, it is too late. That is why in most states drivers are required to move into the opposite lane on highways when there are accidents on the shoulder and things like that – to avoid instances like the moth effect.

Being drawn in like a moth to a flame.

It can also be likened to highway hypnosis in a way. I am sure that everyone sober or not has had a habit of veering at one point or another towards a light (flashing or not), but it is definitely a flashing light issue. And there are many studies linking flashing lights drawing drunk drivers towards them.

I freak out with falling leaves in my face.

In my former life, I used to do corporate marketing and I recall a study I read about why casino interiors are designed the way that they are. Ceilings are generally painted black to keep people from looking upwards. Nothing there. Carpets are obnoxiously busy to befuddle and confuse them so they they will avoid looking at the floor. Everything is set at eye level: Bright, blinking, shining lights and  spinning colors – all at eye level.

An epileptic nightmare.

So, right in front of you at eye level, you at night time there are two lights. One is steady and the left one is blinking. Is it a car making a left hand turn or is it two bikes riding two abreast? Who the hell knows! Some people say, “At least you can see me.” But that kind of attitude means that what if the driver behind you assumes you are a car making a left hand turn and continues on and then hits you? Yes, it was their fault. But then, they really didn’t see you.

And also, your flashy light was making me feel like I had to puke.

I realize that it’s not all about me, though.

Now when it comes to bike lights on group rides, I kind of become a little bit of the stereotypical “light nazi.” There are few things that I care about. I don’t care about politics for the most part, or at least in an overtly “protesty” sense. I don’t whine or gripe about a lot of issues. Sometimes I’ve even run a light or two or  a stop sign, especially when on my tall bike and really don’t want to have to dismount when it’s super clear, but strobing lights – that I complain about. I think I would complain about them even if I didn’t have a neurological disorder that caused me to have embarrassing flailing fits that could, you know. . . maybe kill me while riding my bike.

Or at the very least, lose my bowels while at a house party.

First of all, it’s fucking annoying. You’re in a group of people and riding along and getting flashed in the face with light while you’re trying to enjoy the night. It’s totally unnecessary. If you are worried about visibility, think about this. You are a group of cyclists clumped together with lights on. You’re going to be seen.

Flashing lights kill night vision visibility. Eyes are unable to adjust to the constantly changing level of light – making it a hazard to you and anyone traveling with you. (Front and rear light issue.)

Slower reflex to road hazards such as rocks, sticks or pot holes, etc with flashing lights. Steady lights allow for a constant scan of the road in front of you.

Randonneurs for instance, in Article 10 of the USA rules, are not allowed to use flashing lights during official brevets for safety reasons. Just putting that out there.

They’re also required dorky vests or sashes.

There are always going to be flashing lights to watch out for in life, where it is construction signs, emergency vehicles, business marquees – why add more confusion and hazards to the road. Motor vehicles have solid lights. Let’s be consistent and keep human powered vehicle lights solid and safe as well.


(Note, no actual cyclist is moving. Everyone is standing still.)

4 thoughts on “All Lit Up

  1. Spiffy

    I’ve always used the blinking setting just to save batteries… but since getting a dynamo-powered lighting system I’ve grown to like the constant light… I think I’ll start using the steady setting on my battery-powered lights now though…

    oh, and I’ve always turned off my blinking rear light and pointed my blinking front light down at the ground in front of me on group rides…

    1. Halley Post author

      On my other media outlets; twitter, FB, etc I have gotten feedback and the number one is that really the battery saving is the good reason and it is! There are also fantastic USB lights on the market now that last for ages as well that save you $ in that arena as well.

      Thanks for comment, consideration and for reading!

  2. Nicky Onion

    Thank you for this. I often thought that the blinking was excessive and garish but didn’t question it as that’s how the lights come.
    Recently I read that in parts of Europe a flashing light means an emergency so regular bike running lights need to be steady and not blinking.


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