Lighting Up – What You Need to Know

Everyone knows that when riding a bike at night you need to use lights but exactly what does that mean?  The rules and regulations have changed over the years so it’s probably worth reminding ourselves of what the Highway Code says:

At night your cycle MUST have white front and red rear lights lit. It MUST also be fitted with a red rear reflector (and amber pedal reflectors, if manufactured after 1/10/85). White front reflectors and spoke reflectors will also help you to be seen. Flashing lights are permitted but it is recommended that cyclists who are riding in areas without street lighting use a steady front lamp.

Law RVLR regs 13, 18 & 24

The front and rear lights are as most people would expect but they can be flashing, although a flashing front light is perhaps less useful in very dark conditions.  Many cyclists mix flashing and solid rear lights for a better effect.

The requirements for reflectors is one that takes many by surprise, even though they are a legal requirement and all bikes sold in the UK must come with them. In these days of mail-order bikes they are often left in the bag and never fitted.  Pedal reflectors are most often missing, especially when after-market clipless pedals are used as they don’t normally include them.

The logic for reflectors on the pedals is that they are often moving and therefore present themselves more clearly to motorists who may not notice a static light amongst the other lights in a typical streetscape.  A similar effect can be obtained by using reflective snap-bands near the ankle or by having shoes with reflective materials.  Nevertheless, according to the law these are not a substitute for reflectors on pedals.

It would be an unlucky cyclist who was issued with a £50 ticket though, especially if they were otherwise complying with the law.  More likely is that the non-use of reflectors could affect any court case, perhaps for compensation if a cyclist had been hit by a motorist. We haven’t heard of this ourselves but it could conceivably happen.

When to put your lights on is another point, and one that’s more complicated than you may have thought.  The terms ‘Lighting-up Time’ and ‘Hours of Darkness’ are commonly used, although it’s the latter that is used in the law (The Road Vehicle Lighting Regulations 1989).  The rules for motor vehicles and bikes are different though, largely due to the nature of the lights used.  Once the sun has dipped below the horizon, cars are required to at least use their sidelights, and cyclists should put their lights on too.  Only once half-an-hour has passed since sunset (or the same period before sunrise) are headlights required.

That’s the regulations dealt with – now what else can you do to make your bike more visible?  Wheel reflectors often come with the bike but look clunky so why not use spoke reflectors instead?  Using highly-reflective materials they certainly show up well when light hits them at night.

We have already mentioned slap-bands around your ankles and using alternating flashing / solid lights and you can also vary where lights are fitted. Many riders, especially in rural areas, use head torches to allow them to see around hazards and some helmets now come with built-in rear LED lights.

Making yourself visible is a choice and shouldn’t cost the earth.  Lights are more powerful and longer-lasting than ever with good quality bulbs and batteries meaning you can not only be seen but also help you avoid obstacles and potholes in the road.  With power comes responsibility however; make sure you aren’t dazzling other road users by pointing your lights down.