Tuesday, October 18, 2011

'Where's My Bike?' and Lights Too Bright

Viennale, Bikes
I've finally had the "where's my bike??" moment of panic a couple of nights ago. I'd left Jacqueline chained to one of the bike racks at the huge intersection in the Museumsquartier and went out for dinner with a friend.

Bike Parking, Vienna at Night
Afterward, I went to retrieve the bike, but was horrified not to see it at the rack where I remembered leaving it.

Museumsquartier Intersection
This is a large, busy intersection that has between one and three bicycle racks on each corner. It was possible I'd left it on a different rack from the one I remembered. I started checking them all, with my friend's cheerful encouragement: "Relax, no one wants to steal your junky bike!" 

Velo Lovers, Vienna at Night
While I don't appreciate the implication that Jacqueline is undesirable, I am glad that she was indeed safely locked up to a bike rack down the road. The shape is so recognisable, that I spotted her as soon as we approached. Immensely relieved, I vowed to pay more attention to where I leave her.

Jacqueline, Vienna at Night
On a separate note, the headlight bracket on Jacqueline snapped over the weekend (you can see it positioned at an odd angle here), and we do not have a replacement. So we've removed the headlight altogether now and I am using the LED battery-operated lights I brought with me from the US. Cycling with those at night, a couple of times now local cyclists have commented that my tail light is too bright. It's not that it blinds them, but more like they just find it disconcerting - not typically associating that level of brightness with a bicycle. Interesting, because in Boston the same tail light is not considered too bright at all; in fact in the past I've used two of them whereas here I am only using one. Just goes to show how different cycling "culture" can be, even in terms of light intensity preferences. 

38 comments:

  1. I've noticed something similar in Groningen. Brighter light sets are not available in stores and when you ask for them they look at you strange. It's assumed you will be on bike paths and the only people you need to warn are other cyclists.

    What doesn't get assumed is that you're sick of bike ninjas at the park, that you often ride faster than the bike ninjas and that you've run into the clueless bike ninjas a bit too often for your taste. While you can't force all the bike ninjas to get lights, you can at least light your own self up like a Christmas tree.

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  2. I would not be surprised by the "lights too bright" view if Vienna was 100% bike paths, but in fact lots of people here ride on the streets despite the infrastructure. Maybe the streets themselves are generally better lit.

    And yes, there are bike ninjas in the park : )

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  3. I love so much one of the XX that you have in a bicycle. It's: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lovely_bicycle/6025820930/in/set-72157622619992208/

    Do you know where I can buy a pair? Thank you!

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  4. I think the problem is, that without the headlight only one light is lid by the dynamo. But the power is enough to light up two lights.
    Therefor you have more power for the taillight.

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  5. Nils - It's an LED battery light; the dynamo generator is off entirely.

    Pau - Sorry, not sure what component you are referring to?

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  6. I cant see clearly the bracket on your front light but if the bracket bolts onto the light like a Busch and Muller Retro then something like these should be available.
    http://www.dotbike.com/p/4315

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  7. There ARE taillights floating around the Boston area that are Too Damn Bright. I've seen one of them on a friend's bike, don't recall the brand.

    I just upgraded my headlights after damaging the older ones, haven't had a chance to install the low beams, and the new ones (40% brighter than the old ones, except that they are lower voltage, hence they'll get more current) are guaranteed to get complaints. I've got to reinstall low beams ASAP.

    (Constant rant: bicycle lights are too damn expensive. DIY, my lowbeams are $20 additional cost, and there's no way to get a light that both almost certainly gets noticed by truck and SUV drivers, yet is not also in the eyes of peds and cyclists on the MUP, so I add low beams.)

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  8. I'm glad it was right where you left it,I can't imagine a worse feeling (non-kid related feeling ;) )!

    Steve

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  9. Just looking at the row of bike racks and bikes in front of the "Viennale" sign makes me jealous.

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  10. LOL, I once reported a car stolen, only to remember where I parked it - 2 days later!

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  11. There may be less distraction in Europe, hence less need for bright lights. Here in the U.S., we have neon signs that flash, drivers who aren't paying attention, etc. Just look at an American fire truck with 20+ flashing lights vs. four on a European one (two high to be visible from a distance, two low to be visible in the rear-view mirror when the truck is right behind you).

    The brighter the street lights are, the brighter your lights should be, so you can see and be seen. If it is pitch-dark, you need only a tiny light, because even a glow-worm is visible. If you are riding down the strip in Las Vegas, I imagine no light will be bright enough to stand out against that background.

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  12. "Relax, no one wants to steal your junky bike!"

    LOL! What's wrong with that?
    You should be proud. It is an honour! It means you bike or you or both do have quite some experience being on the roads.
    I find it is a compliment!

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  13. Years ago when I was living in London, England all the cars drove with only their parking lights on at night. When I was riding my 125cc Honda motorcycle that was so old that the driving light didn't work & I had to use low beam I got a lot of cars flashing their head lights at me to turn my head light off.

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  14. John - Fascinating. One reason I hate driving in the city is that at night all the bright lights, mixed in with other cars' headlights, are a bit of a sensory overload. On a bike this bothers me a lot less, possibly because I am going slower.

    Montrealize - She said it in a scornful and dismissive way. Jacqueline deserves to be admired!

    Jon Webb - Those are actually bike share bicycles. Always plenty available in the center.

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  15. I sometimes run into tail lights that are too bright in Portland, but much more often it's the headlights - seriously so bright you can see a beam coming off of it, and mounted to a helmet where it's just at the right height to shine directly into your eyes and completely ruin your night vision for about 5 minutes, and for me at least, actually physically uncomfortable.

    Probably my biggest pet peeve about this time of year.

    Imagine parking in a facility like the central station bike parking in Amsterdam - I'm pretty sure I'd have at least a few incidents of "oh crap, where's my bike!?!" :)

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/poetas/4990325353/

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  16. I agree with janheine. I think here there are so many distractions that you've got to compete!

    I keep two headlights on my bike, one for visibility and one for being visible. I keep the "being visible" one on as soon as dusk starts to set and turn on my "visibility" light on once I need to see as well.

    Glad you found the bike!

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  17. portlandize - I agree about helmet-mounted lights, particularly if they blink. Thankfully almost no one rides with blinkies in Vienna; I need a rest!

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  18. I think blinkies are illegal in Germany and The Netherlands :)

    Why? Imagine thousands of bicycles riding around all with blinking lights! It would be insane.

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  19. There is a genuine belief among cyclists in the US that blinking lights on bicycles are "better" and several US cycling blogs advise new cyclists that this is the type of light they should purchase. I've angered every blogger I've attempted to engage in discussion over this issue so far, so I am not optimistic,

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  20. "We" do tend to think there is ONE right answer for every question that covers every context.

    I've had similar response talking about over-bright and helmet-mounted lights in general. Many peoples' response is essentially "I don't care how it effects you or anyone else, I'll do what I want to feel safe." - which is basically the same reaction I get when I say I don't like blinking lights.

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  21. Portlandize is right. Blinkies are illegal here in NL. I totally didn't know that and had to ask hubby! They're sold in the stores everywhere.

    http://www.access-nl.org/our_services/pdf/booklets/cycling_in_the_netherlands.pdf

    Lights are also supposed to be "not blinding".

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  22. @portlandize - Blinkies are indeed illegal in Germany and the Netherlands, for precisely the reason you name.
    And I wonder how long it's going to take for people to have bike keys that make their bike beep or blink, just like cars. Should certainly be possible on e-bikes as those already have a power supply.
    @John Le Marquand - In Dutch these parking lights are still called town lights ("stadslichten"). You used to switch your headlights off when entering a built-up area. Quite a long time ago ...

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  23. Wowwwww!!! I'm so stupid!!! What is XX for me? xD OMG... sorry Velouria, I don't know what was thinking.

    So, the component is the white/beige wheel.

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  24. Blinkies-- I used my battery lights in blink mode mainly to save battery power, now that I am running generator lights, I don't blink anymore because power is essentially limitless (or as much as I care to pedal) and the lights are german :).

    Helmet mounted lights-- I actually liked having one, because I could direct it as needed at a car driver to make sure they would see me and not pull out in front of me as I am coming down the road. I generally had it pointed down at the ground in front of me, so as not to blind other oncoming bicycles.

    But I in general I also do not like overly bright, blinking lights. There are some ridiculous blinking headlights out there that are about enough to put me into a seizure-- it is worse than a strobe light at a dance club.

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  25. I don't have to much of a problem with regular blinkies. But I loath, detest, and hate the strobing taillights. There are at least two cyclists in the local group that I have told I refuse to ride close than about 100 feet behind them at night because those strobes are so annoying and distracting.

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  26. I find that those new halogen headlights on cars are a real danger... because they truly are too damn bright. I'd guess they are 200% brighter than standard headlights. This danger applies equally to cars and to bicycles trying to see past them.

    I think they ought to be outlawed... but of course they never will. Sort of goes along with texting while driving and cell phone driving... which the general public just can't seem to stop. (mostly without consequence).

    You know you're a real bicycle person when your blood boils when the ditzy person behind the wheel of the 3 ton SUV nearly runs you over because they're yakking on their cellphone. I guess the more expensive the vehicle the more rights they feel they have to do as they please.

    lol!

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  27. I just started reading your blog and it is awesome, i was just wondering why the pictures are in such a small size, i would love to see them in full resolution.
    keep up the amazing job you are doing in this blog; best wishes
    -Jp

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  28. Thanks Jpavon87. See here regarding the photography.

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  29. You need a Brompton ;)
    badmother

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  30. I have seen bike riders at night with front and back lights that were adequate, but from side on they were invisible until I was quite close to them. That is quite scary. I have noticed that the rider wearing lots of reflective gear makes them really visible without any of the problems of blinding lights, though I do not actually own any of this type of gear. Reflective tyres can help a lot in this regard and I think they are compulsory in the Netherlands? I am trying to get them for my bike now, having trouble with the old 28" wheels though.

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  31. One major reason to use blinky lights is that they usually use less power, which is important if you're running on batteries, either because you don't have a dynamo or because -- in my case -- the manufacturer of your $3500 bike didn't see fit to provide a dynamo-driven rear light.

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  32. The notion that "too much is not enough" seems to pervade both automotive and cyclist cultures in the US, in my opinion. Here in NYC, it's maddening to travel with and against bike traffic that is populated with the people who have drunk the "be seen" Kool-Aid and don't seem to give a damn about the people who have to put up with their overly bright flashing lights -- sometimes I think I'm going to have an epileptic fit. As a driver and pedestrian, it's the same with vehicles -- he newest LED lights are intolerably bright; and when someone in front of me steps on the brakes, all I can think is "do these automotive engineers actually do human comfort/response research of any kind?"

    I think that the European countries, ahead of us in so many ways, have it right: flashing lights of any kind should be outlawed as an important safety issue. I always ride with lights solid on, and wish everyone else would too, in consideration of their fellow cyclists.

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  33. I disagree about the blinking lights: I always use them and feel much safer with them. The only exception is that I turn my headlight to a solid low-beam when I enter my town's pedestrian-heavy downtown area, because I feel rolling up super-close and blinking the light in someone's face can come across as aggressive, especially to the drunks folks who are common there. Also, the flashing is just less necessary in dense, well-lit, slow-moving traffic.

    I can't stand strobes, though. I think they can distract people and make it harder for them to judge your distance. I have to test my lights out in person to make sure I have a slow blink in the front and a side-to-side and back chase (I got one one time that chased L->R, L->R and returned it to Amazon), because I think the chasers emphasize the width of the bicycle, hopefully getting you a little more space.

    I just feel significantly less visible with solid lights, especially once I am on busier streets with higher speed limits. Too many close calls, even when using a light. It's also possible that I have though about this entirely too much.

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  34. bicyclesinnewcastle.com: Side reflection on bicycle wheels became mandatory in the Netherlands on January 1, 1987. The original idea was to have everybody use spoke reflectors but those sold out very quickly and in the long run it was easier to have reflective sidewalls on tires.

    An interesting development here is the introduction of brake lights. There is at least one small manufacturer that offers them: a row of extra LEDs on top of the standard rear light that come on when the brake levers are pulled. For now only on their e-bikes as the system needs a continuous power supply. I doubt that they are very helpful on our mostly separated cycle network, but vehicular cyclists may find them useful, although more red lights will only add to the light pollution.
    (Rona: the brand is Multicycle, in Groningen try Belga or Steenbergen).

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  35. Hey Frits B- I was at Belga not more than 3 weeks ago :) I love that store a bit too much. Shame they don't make a system like that for non-electric yet. Not been to Steenbergen yet, but I see their ads in the krant all the time.

    I'm wondering when Timmer's will get sick of me yet. <_<

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  36. Thanks, Frits for your answer. Do you think the reflective tyre walls are effective as a night time safety feature?
    Vicki

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  37. @FritsB / re brake lights

    Do understand that it takes a pathetically small amount of electronics to make an adequate bicycle standlight for a dynamo bike, and that the "logic" involved would also suffice to build a brake light. I work in Computer Science, but long ago got a degree in electrical engineering and did some theatre lighting electronics way back when. Designed by a professional, not a hobbyist, the circuit to switch a battery on/off to keep your lights lit when not rolling, and also to activate a brake, should cost about $10-$20 for parts (maybe much less) and fit in about a cubic centimeter.

    Thus, my continual rant. We get little dribs and drabs of technology for bicycle lights, and pay extraordinary amounts for it.

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