Turn Signals and Brake Lights: Can It Be Done, Elegantly?

[Steyr Waffenrad c.1925; image via radlmax]

I know that I am not the first to bring this up. But when I see details like this from 85 years ago, I wonder what it would take to develop a modern, elegant mechanism whereby squeezing the brake levers on a bicycle would activate a flashing tail light. And furthermore, what it would take to develop an unencumbered, easy to use system that allowed for turn signal lights to be displayed without the cyclist having to use hand signals - which, from personal experience, I know are not always visible to motorists and are not always possible to execute.

While various turn signal and brake light kits for bicycles already exist, they are not popular. And I suspect the reason, is that the currently available ones either turn the bicycle into a science project monster covered with a mess of wires and gadgets, or are just not convenient to use. But what about a simple, attractive design that would integrate with a classic bicycle seamlessly? a design that a "normal person" (i.e. not someone who is into gadgetry) would find appealing and easy use?  I find it surprising that various labs out there are developing  prototypes of all sorts of crazy futuristic bikes without drivetrains or spoked wheels, yet the idea of brake and turn lights does not seem interesting or useful enough for anybody to pursue seriously.

If I had the funds and influence to do so, I would love to sponsor a contest with precisely this goal in mind - but unfortunately, I don't think that knitted hats and the "honor" of being featured on Lovely Bicycle alone have sufficient pull to convince electrical engineers to spend their time working on such a project. If anybody in the industry is interested in getting involved as a sponsor, please do get in touch.

What are your thoughts on this? If designed to integrate with the bicycle seamlessly, would you find a brake light and turn signal system useful, or not particularly? And in the event that you already have one installed on your bike, which one is it and how is it working out for you?


  1. I think this is a great idea. Hand signals when going around a round about are sometimes tricky with only one hand. And brake lights would be awesome it'd reduce bike on bike collisions so much!


  2. I just popped over here to find some inspiration on lighting, so this is appropriate (although I'm looking to redesign my front lighting).

    I saw some indicators that fit into the ends of your handlebars (I think you'd need open-ended grips). I'm not sure how they turn on, but it was intriguing.

    I think if I were to actually use light-up turn signals it wouldn't make much of a difference to drivers; they would still be confused.

  3. I think the rack mount rear light could have an accelerometer that would increase brightness during braking, or even blink/flash while switching from steady dim (not braking) to steady bright (braking). I think there are already rear light prototypes like that, but I don't recall who makes them and where. I suppose the added benefit is no extra wires for that, and no need to train the user. Potential downside is it could activate over bumps, but perhaps it could be engineered to tell apart shakes and deceleration.

    As far as turn signals, I wonder where the switch would be. It's already hard to fit a bell, gear shifters, brake levers, possibly computer and in some cases lights on the handlebar. I think there's also the question of how far-away (or even close-by distracted) observers would be able to tell your turn signals apart. It could be arrow outlines in yellow. You'd need front signals, too then. Where would they go?

  4. I think a turn signal might be more useful than a brake light. Under any conditions besides dense urban traffic, we're usually going a good bit slower than motor vehicles anyway. So knowing that we're slowing down probably won't mean much to most motorists. On the other hand, a turn signal might be helpful, as most cyclists (at least that I've seen) don't signal their turns. That may be due to the fact that most people under a certain age have never learned hand signals, or have forgotten them.

    By the way, I like the light on the fender. Make one like it with flashing LEDs!

  5. I LOVE the idea of turn signals. The mounting position quandary that MDI has raised is an issue; not only on individual bikes but as standardised features across bikes that carry them. Maybe it's a case of some clever clogs developing turning signals that sit either side of the headlamp, like motorbikes have.That's the front sorted. A similar setup on the back lamp?
    Cabling can be ugly as sin. Quite how to hide or integrate the cabling is a real issue I think. Whereas with headlamps and taillights you operate them by simply flicking a switch on the actual lamp mount, and your lamp may be battery-powered, generator-powered or hub-powered so any cabling heads wheelwards anyway, the issue is getting cabling *neatly* to the handlebars. I should think if top end Euro manufacturers like Gazelle got involved, it would be very neatly integrated into the frame; Gazelle already integrates its cables on many of its models.
    How to operate them? It has to be simple and maybe an on-off click button either side of the handlebars, one for left, one for right, is the easiest way. You'd have to remember to click off again after you'd turned though to avoid confusion, abuse and perhaps a rotten tomato or two.

  6. Please, people, NO!

    This will lead to federally mandated lights on bikes, along with the inevitable bureaucracy needed to create and manage lighting standards, testing, traffic laws, city by-laws, roadside safety checks and all of the tickets and fines that will surely follow.

    And I'm certain that bicycle signal lights designed by any traffic safety board would not be small and elegant - they would be big and heavy (in bicycle terms) and so wide-set that they'd preclude graceful mounting and dismounting.

    I've surprised myself that I'm being so passionate about this matter (I've always thought of myself as more of a libertine than a libertarian), but for me, one of the big attractions of bicycles is that they are so simple and (so far) un-encumbered by a lot of clutter. I want less on my bicycle, not more.

    V., please remove this entire thread from your website, lest some politician sees it and gets the idea that the way to avoid spending money on bicycle infrastructure is to force bikes to become heavier, more complicated, more expensive and subject to such restrictions that people either quit riding them, or don't take up riding in the first place.

    I speak sooth, people; ignore me at your peril.

  7. frozen prairie - I am sorry you feel that way, and I will give this aspect of things some further thought, but overall I don't think I share your point of view. First of, I am by no means the only one to mention this idea. Bike blogs write about it from time to time. And several kits for brake lights and turning signals already exist on the market; they're just kind of bleh and so not many cyclists buy them. Neither the availability of these products, nor the years (decades?) of others writing about how to rig up your own system, has resulted in legislature. And so I doubt that my mostly theoretical and design-oriented post will suddenly change the course of things.

    As a separate point, I think it would be a shame if fear of legislature prevented the invention of cool and useful products.

  8. I'm not sold on brake lights : On a bike one tries to keep his momentgum, you're not supposed to brake that much. Not hard anyway.
    A turn signal looks like a good idea, but since most people can't bother to maintain a proper ligthing system on their bikes...
    I also think a bike should be kept as simple as possible and that any accessory that can be broken will be crushed.

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  10. I would like turn signals on my bikes. It's something that my husband and I have thought on too, and also not finding an elegant way to integrate them. And a horn! A loud one! Loud enough that the people in their cars with the stereos blasting and the cell phones to their ears can hear when I need to get their attention.

  11. I don't think Frozen Prairie has to worry just yet, Bikes seem to be so far down the list of what anyone in any position of authority is concerned with that I think we'll probably still be on our own for another generation or two. If they start recognizing bicycles as vehicles and mandating more typically accepted standards for the equipment, than it stands to reason that they would be compelled to recognize Cyclists as People and start accepting us as entitled users of the public highways, the absurdity of which must be evident to all...

    I think a 5" wide L.E.D. strip programed to flash a crawling arrow on the back of a rack would possibly be effective and a small blinking indicator on the tip of each brake lever might answer the requirement at the front. Each unit could have it's own small pack of watch type batteries(3 tiny ones power the keychain laser which my children have been using regularly to drive the neighbors cat to quivering distraction through their kitchen window since the Christmas before last) and a small wireless controller with 2 buttons and a programmable delay to cancel the signal on a small module that could mount anywhere.

    My wireless cyclometer cost less than $30 7 years ago so by now the cost for that part of the equation is probably about that of an airport croissant. I'm not sure I want one but for less than $100 I'm sure it can be done. It can probably be done with existing parts except for the cycling specific mounts and brackets...


  12. In one way I agree with frozen prairie, I also would hate to have to register, insure, and be taxed on my bikes. I also would hate for my kids to have to do all the same.

    However, the usefulness of turn signals would be greatly appreciated. If it were me I would set it up more like a Harley-Davidson one button on each side, on a timer. The button would not need wires they could be like the wireless key fob of a car.

  13. There's always someone bicycling around each town I've lived in who has figured out a way to attach everything to their bicycle, including radios. Headlights, tail lights, horns, baskets, turning lights. . .Eye catching, yes, lovely and elegant, no. The beauty of a bike is in it's simplicity. Using hand signals puts more responsibility on the rider for his/her safety and it's my experience that a hand signal and a little eye contact is much more effective than trusting lights which the rider certainly can't see and. most likely. drivers of cars would, too.

  14. Yes, I would be all over that. My first thought was that it would help drivers be nicer to me and see me as more of a vehicle to respect. In addition to all the obvious safety reasons, that is why I would use a system like that. I've never seriously considered buying any that are on the market now for the same reasons you mentioned.

  15. We have cargobikes in stock from JoeBike in Portland that come with a rear brake light that is activated when you squeeze the lever.

    Basically, its a little device that the brake cable goes through that is wired into the taillight. Works well.

    If you want to see a picture of one let me know and I can snap a photo of it.

  16. V, if you would like to talk to some industrial designers who do sponsor contests like this, I can put you in touch with at least one good one who straddles the academic and internet universe and is interested in transportation cycling.

    I would love to see a more *practical* contest.

    I think there should be a law that car horns be wired to sound as loud inside the car as they do outside. Mr. Horn Driver should devour his own medicine as much as he metes it out. Honk on this, mofo.

  17. I got a set of turn signals from here http://www.bicygnals.com/ while it would be nice to get a actuaited break light it is nice to have working turn signals. The only issues I have had with these is that they are a bit bulky and they tend to not stay in sync with each other. I am still looking for other solutions.

  18. Okay, my thoughts.

    In my estimation the reason that turn signals on bikes have never been developed/accepted is because of the narrow vertical nature of bikes. Without a wide, horizontal plane on which to delineate left versus right, the pattern and placement of flashing lights would simply confuse people. This was a problem on motorcycles in the early years, and the solution was to extend the turn signal lights on arms to create some horizontal distance between them. Without that distance, there is little to cue a motorist from behind what the lights mean. There's a spacial element to it that bikes don't lend themselves to incorporating without looking really funny... would you want to long arms sticking out the sides of the fenders holding little light pods?

  19. Oh, and I also believe there have been studies done on the effect of different shapes of signal lights-- arrows, etc... and the conclusion being that the shape is hard to interpret, especially at night, and that the simple emission of light is what signals the eye to something going on, and again, the relative placement and spacial relationship to the light with other visual indicators on the vehicle are what signal what is going on. The shape of the light is rather meaningless. This is why you see car taillights of all different shapes and sizes... it basically doesn't matter.

  20. If they could devise a wireless brake light/turn signal system that would be integrated with the brake levers and/or a handlebar switch at an affordable price, I'd buy it. As an bike commuter in Atlanta, I already have lights on my bike, and these would add valuable functionality.

  21. Thank you for not indulging FP and removing this post. Really, FP? Let's go back to unregistered, unregulated motor vehicles while we're at it. And do we really need the government bureaucracy of licensing drivers? Following your logic, humanity should immediately cease all technological development, lest government seize an opportunity to take control of it. Let's destroy all the bicycles, cars, planes, trains, buses, computers, electrical appliances, pharmaceuticals, etc. They only bring government oppression.

    I agree, Velouria; I would be all over a decent turn signal system. I actually think about this daily when I am on the road. I don't need another innovative drive train. I need a way to signal the drivers on the road at night that I intend to turn left, so that they understand why I am stopped.

    Transportation bicycles are not toys, they are vehicles. Turn signals and brake lights went a long way toward making motor vehicles safer. Most US states already mandate reflectors on bicycles. I really don't think that requiring lighting on bicycles at night is a bad thing.

  22. This has been tried before and, honestly, it has never worked that well. I remember bike turn signal systems from when I was a kid. The turn signals aren't that obvious in any case (ask a motorcyclist -- they all have stories about their turn signals being ignored.) Turn signals on a bicycle would be unfamiliar to drivers and less visible than those on motorcycles (because of weight and power issues).

  23. I think the reason you don't see turn signal and brake light kits is because bikes are sold as toys and not transportation in most of North America. The same reason bikes don't come with good lights but instead have an ineffective reflector system. Brake light switches have been integrated in motorcycle brake levers for decades, they're very simple. Turn signals just need to be a pair of switches for American bikes and a signal switch for the rest of the world, again the same as motorcycles mounted on the handlebars.

  24. There are already rear bike lights with accelerators in them that activate when you are slowing down - no wires. For instance:http://lucidbrake.com/

    I've always wanted a rear light that turned itself one when it was twilight and it detected the bike moving. So you could place it and forget it. Maybe the lucidbrake could do that if it had a light sensor to detect daylight.

    Actually, what I'd like even more is to have headlight and tail light integrated so you can turn both on with one switch and both run off the same battery located inside the frame.

    As to turn signals, part of the problem is it is hard to space, on a bike, two lights far enough apart that it is obvious which one is on for a turn. Your example with two panniers is one way this could work. Motorcycles have spacer bars for this.

    I just recently saw a wireless bicycle turn signal, so that reduces wiring:http://www.redferret.net/?p=9655
    Put the brake light, wirelessly, with this and you might have your perfect tail light.

    or is this taking blue tooth too far?

  25. I suggest you go about this another way. Find an edgy fashion designer and work with the Media Lab at MIT, to design jackets, sweaters, whatever that are consistent with your own aesthetic, but have embedded lights woven in that you can work remotely. It could make you rich.

  26. Just from my own personal experience, I've never had an issue with hand signals being mis-understood, and I really very rarely have any kind of stressful interactions with people in cars, except the occasional jerk who decides they need to speed past me at 35mph on a small street just to stop at a stop sign half a block ahead. So, for me personally, I don't really feel the need for lit signals on my bike (the simpler the better). If I'm stopping, I'm generally pulling over anyway, so I'm not stopping in front of a car (except at a stop sign or light, in which case, they are stopping too).

    I can see how they would be useful in other situations though, or in heavier traffic or in areas where people are less used to seeing bicycles around.

  27. i really think that if someone wants to ride a bicycle on the road then they should develop sufficient balance, confidence and handling skill to execute a clear hand signal while moving across lanes and/or turning. Riders who cannot manage this should ride a tricycle. hand signals have served cyclists well for over a hundred years, motorists know what they mean, and they don't require batteries!

  28. Brake lights have been done:

    B&M DIWA Plus


  29. I can remember the stop lights & turn signals of old and they had the same issues as there are today adding ANY lights to a bicycle.

    Battery power or the lack thereof.

    Until the battery industry can create a little ,but very mighty, battery or a zero drag bicycle generator the issue of reliable lights in general for bicycle is going to be just a dream.

    The mechanics to put lights on a bicycle exist today in spades but the power for the job does not. :((

    1. Power is a problem? That is just not so. I have two 400 lumen lights (Cygolite eXpiLions) on my road bike and they are FANTASTIC. The USB-rechargeable Li-Ion batteries mean that they will last for about 2 hours on BOOST (that is really too bright) and more than ten hours on flash (very useful during the daytime to prevent pull-outs).

      No, power is not the problem -- but making a design that is clear to drivers is (animated LED arrows?).

  30. I'm not an engineer, so feel free to take this with a grain of salt, but if I *were* to design a practical, yet elegant way of integrating turn signals, I would do so by integrating them into the headlights and taillights (much like a car). In other words, on the rear of the bike, the setup would look much like the photo Velouria posted with two tail lights attached horizontally to each rear seat stay. The idea, then, is that each light contains a "turning element" which would flash when activated (probably a switch wired up to the handlebars). The same for the front, with each headlight integrating a turn signal, attached to each front fork. I would think the wiring could either be hidden internally if the bike were specifically designed with this in mind or else dealt with using appropriately integrated braze-ons.

    The obvious advantage to this, (even if you don't like the turn signal option) is that your bike is going to have a lot more visibility, as you'd basically be forced to go from two lights to four.

  31. What a coincidence, I`ve just been designing and prototyping some bike indicators and brake lights today for a school project. Since it`s in school the outcome is quite crude and bulky but it`s interesting to see what other people think about the idea of indicators, in my design there is an option for `Hazard Lights`

  32. Re batteries: Is it impossible to make the signals dynamo powered with a strong standlight feature?

    lyen - Yup. There are several systems that exist already, but something is usually off about them, or else they are incomplete. I like the DIWA plus tail light, and I think it would look perfect attached to a rear rack. But then you have to also use their headlight, which I like far less than my existing headlights. And there is no turn signal feature. But the tail light itself does look decent.

    portcullis - That would discourage a good portion of people, especially beginners, from cycling altogether. Lots of people complain about how difficult it is to make hand signals while cycling; we can't just get ride of them all.

    portlandize - I mean the hand signal being not seen, rather than not misunderstood. For example, in the dark or in drizzly weather. Even if a cyclist has the brightest lights on their bike, you can't always see them raising their arm in the dark.

  33. portcullis said...

    i really think that if someone wants to ride a bicycle on the road then they should develop sufficient balance, confidence and handling skill to execute a clear hand signal while moving across lanes and/or turning. Riders who cannot manage this should ride a tricycle.

    I just wish there was a reasonable selection of trikes to accommodate the needs of people with balance problems without having to spend a fortune customizing them.

    Personally, I can see a place for signal lights when riding at night. The whole world isn't lit well enough to see hand signals all the time

  34. Walt,

    Power is not an issue. A hub-driven dynamo can generate a current that can get stored as energy in a large capacitor, from which the turn signals and/or brake lights can draw their power. Modern dynamo headlights and taillights already use capacitors to maintain luminescence after the bike has stopped. There's no reason this can't be adapted to turn signals and/or brake lights.

  35. Veloria - based on the "just get a trike" idea, if you are doing a regular Friday poll, can you do one on how many readers need modifications to their bike to accommodate a health or mobility problem? (bad knees, bad back, bad hands, bad balance, whatever) I'm just curious.

  36. Somer,
    I said......"Until the battery industry can create a little ,but very mighty, battery or a zero drag bicycle generator the issue of reliable lights in general for bicycle is going to be just a dream. "

    I agree with your point that there are generators.

    It is making them transparent to the cyclist that is a major issue since all do cause a drag which increases rider effort.

    What is really a shame today is that all bicycles aren't shipped with a zero rolling drag lighting system that is reliable, feather weight (for the weight weenies), and inexpensive.

    Lighting systems are a given on all engine driven cycles but then the rider isn't required to power their lighting.

  37. Anonymous said...
    "There's always someone bicycling around each town I've lived in who has figured out a way to attach everything to their bicycle, including radios."

    That is precisely the image that comes to my mind when someone mentions brake and turn lights on a bike : ) But then I see antique bicycles such as the one in my first picture, and I realise that it doesn't have to be that way.

    somervillain - How about a wide triple tail lght, that would be classically shaped yet wide enough to fit under a typical Dutch-syle rack? My Gazelle could accommodate an enormous tail light in place of that reflector.

  38. Hmm...this might not be elegant, but I've often thought that it would be a good idea to have flashing amber turn signals on my gloves, at least for night riding. They'd need to be easy to switch on or off - maybe just by tapping the back of your hand against the handlebars.

    As for braking: yeah, that'd be great. I've noticed that while most motorists understand the hand signals for turning, almost nobody knows the hand signal for stopping. This is especially a problem when you need to stop in mid-block to wait for oncoming traffic to clear for a left turn. I'm imagining something like the DIWA brake light somebody linked to above, but in the octagonal shape of a stop sign, to make it clear.

  39. V.,

    Ah, perhaps I was being a bit paranoid (but that doesn't mean someone isn't out to get us !). As anonymous said, we probably don't have to worry about Big Brother legislating turn signals in the near future, and I hope you all realize my comments were at least partially tongue in cheek.

    I actually think that the technology already exists to create signal lights for bikes just as V. has envisioned them. Some LED tail lights can run for hundreds of hours in blinking mode, and since the lights would be working only periodically on any given ride, the batteries would probably last at least a year.

    I'm talking about night visibility here though - if they had to be easily seen in daylight they would probably need more power/bigger batteries.

    This signal light discussion is the first time I haven't been in total agreement with V. On all other things technical and aesthetic - colours, lugged frames and forks, coaster brakes and all the rest, we are but two freewheels clicking as one.

  40. as i strongly doubt the practicability of turn- and brake lights on bicycles i guess it is a question of personal taste.
    at best these things make you feel good. at worst they convey a wrong feeling of security. - defensive riding always is key to bicycle safety. - if you have these things on your bike and do not expect anybody to read them no harm is done. just like you should never expect any truck driver to read your hand signal either.
    btw. i loved the 'superba' rack prototype i saw the other day (o.k. that was very privileged information - sorry guys, you will see velouria's wonderful work later...) - but: do i have to be seriously concerned with those brackets for the rear lights now??

  41. I share sommervillain's opinion that the shape of the bicycle makes it hard for another vehicle to identify the meaning of the (flashing?) signal without a point of reference. Maybe a central white light at front and red light at the back with two orange blinking lights on each side activated by momentary pushbuttons. Still I have big doubts about its effectiveness and it would imply some kind of standarization. The rear brake light would, in my opinion, only be useful to warn other bicycles and it would make little difference for cars, considering the usually high relative speed between the car and the bicycle.

  42. portcullis

    I found your comment quite abrasive. I believe I have quite good cycling skills thank you very much but do find it difficult to slow down to turn AND signal since my brakes are hand operated! Fine on flat terrain or on a light bicycle perhaps where braking with only one wheel might feel ok. But I ride a heavy loaded bicycle down hills and need to brake with both wheels/hands. I usually try to extend a finger or indicate with my eyes/head/position on the road my intentions but usually drivers are not that used to bicycles or don't notice OR ARE LOOKING FOR TURN SIGNALS!!!

  43. I really don’t want to sound like a conspiracy nut, but. I have to agree with frozed prairie, even if the post was meant to be humorous. We live in a culture of fear that in demands safety caps on medicines, labels about every harmful possibility, cars with seatbelts (laws about seatbelt usage), airbags, crumple zones, ad nauseam. Beyond the bike helmet arguments, there are these type of actions, all in the name of safety.
    Rep. Mitch Greenlick (D-Portland) has submitted HB-2228, which prohibits putting children age 6 or younger in bicycle trailers or on the backs of bicycles.
    A group of Idaho bicyclists has gone to court to regain their rights to ride their bikes on a 1.5-mile section of a bike trail that has been marked as a dismount zone in Garden City, Idaho.
    The Black Hawk, Co. city council enacted a law in 2009 to make it possible to ban bicycles on certain streets for safety reasons. Early in 2010, the city erected "no bicycling" signs on nearly every street in town and police started issuing $68 tickets to folks riding their bicycles. They think the streets are too narrow for cars and bike to be on the roads together.
    Given a chance at making biking “safer” we would probably see laws requiring stop and turn lights if they become practical.

  44. David - I am as into conspiracies as the next fellow and ideally I would live "off the grid" entirely, with geothermal electricity, untraceable internet connection, and all that other lovely stuff. Nonetheless, I like the idea of a bike with turn signals and brake lights. I don't see how wanting a cool gadget on my bike is in the "culture of fear" camp at all.

  45. You could place the rear turn lights on the back pockets of my pants, that would have a plenty wide enough spread.

    I'm with frozen prairie, "not in my back yard".

  46. Okay, here is a question for frozen prairie & co: If you were 100% guaranteed that there would be no legislature as a result of the invention, would you still think it was a bad idea? In other words, I am trying to separate your opinion regarding its usefulness from that of its potential political implications.

  47. jens - I promise not to put anything on the Superba that takes away from her sleek bone structure and subtle presence : )

  48. The culture of fear isn’t about the individuals desire or actions as much as societies actions or reactions. You should have anything on your bikes you want, for whatever reason you want them. And I and every other biker should have the same freedom. Culture of fear takes over when the powers that be take over and demand you, in the name of being safe, do something you might not choose to do. (or prevent you from doing something you would choose.) Whereas American car manufacturers Nash (in 1949) and Ford (in 1955) offered seat belts as options, differentiating themselves from their competition, now they are required (and in Kansas I can get a ticket for not using it) What was personal choice has now been mandated by the state. I’m not against there being an integrated, well-designed taillight/turn signal for you to purchase. I just think that once there is, our culture of fear will soon mandate it on all bicycles.

  49. There were people who thought seatbelts in cars were a bad idea, too.

    Somervillain is right, though. Motorcyclists have long detested the mandated signal lights and often opt to install (usually illegal) 'flushmount' signal devices to clean up the look of their bikes.

    Unless a vehicle is relatively close to you, the driver will have a difficult time discerning just what that blinking doo-dad means unless it's an appreciable distance to one side of you: this is easily accomplished with vehicles, often in an aesthetically pleasing way.

    However, scooters and motorcycles usually wind up with something like this: http://0.tqn.com/d/motorcycles/1/0/m/i/-/-/2009_Yamaha_Zuma_rear.jpg

    Granted, you can always jazz up a utilitarian look, but I have yet to see someone do it particularly well.

    There are other options, that posters mentioned, like clothing integrated (e.g., that 'seil bag' thingy) signals, but I believe the problem there is similar to the slippery slope mentioned earlier in the comments. Any signal device usually winds up being legislated because, as transportation boards usually argue, signals can be confusing or distracting for motorists. That's why teenagers can't have flashing blue license plate frames, and why they aren't supposed to have 'clear' turn signals and whatnot.

    At the least, your signals could be ignored by drivers who misunderstand them. At the worst, your signals could wind up costing you a ticket for being a 'distraction'.

  50. I would live "off the grid" entirely, with geothermal electricity, untraceable internet connection.

    Ha, I had to chuckle at the irony.

  51. Velouria,

    I think it would have to wider than the Gazelle rack. At a minimum, something like this wide:


    Keep in mind that fender alone is probably several inches wider than the rack on the Gazelle.

  52. David 5:01 - How funny that we can believe largely the same things and come to different conclusions. I am with you up until the last sentence. But the thing is, that:

    1. I don't believe that legislation in this case is an inevitability.

    2. I don't think it's right for invention and creativity to be censored because of these sorts of fears. If we have serious concerns about legislature for/against anything then it is our right to lobby our cause. But that should be kept separate from the product's right to exist. Otherwise, that's not freedom, that's the same culture of fear but just on another level.

    3. I would categorise brake lights and turn signals as "components/ accessories" rather than as "safety gear".

    To me, the case you guys are making is basically equivalent to making a case against bicycle racks. Imagine that we do not yet have convenient bicycle racks on the market, and that some are arguing against them for fear that their use will be mandated. After all, carrying your shopping bag on the handlebars, or a huge sack of weight on your back, can be deemed a safety hazard, therefore deeming the rack a "safety feature"...

  53. The reflective strip on tire sidewalls blew my mind the first time I saw it working in front of my car headlights. Now THAT was a good idea!

    Also, in Finland - people wear reflective broaches and decorations on their clothes in the dark seasons - much easier to see.

    I would like SIDE lights built into my headlight and tail light - so that I could be seen just as easily by people driving with their lights off.

    I ride with my IQ Cyo and Toplight Line lit at all times - during the day also - and don't notice much drag from the SA hub.

    I agree with Jens, these signals you propose could give people a false sense of safety.

    Side facing lights that were on ALL THE TIME could be safer.

    The more reflective area on your bike and clothes, the better, but this is of course only useful when reflecting light and being noticed - a passive approach.

  54. Who is the intended audience for the side-facing lights?

    Cars about to intersect with your path don't see them yet, cars in front of you don't see them and cars behind you also don't see them. So who sees them? Only cars already stopped and waiting for you to get by, or cars who are not going to be able to stop in time from the moment they see your side-facing lights.

    I suppose cars heading towards you and about to make a left turn just as you are making a right turn will briefly see them. Also, pedestrians will. Reflective sidewalls are great also because people see your parked bike in the dark before it's too late.

    I believe Forrester addresses the issue of side-facing reflectors and I believe he finds them not sufficiently useful. But I could be wrong.

    1. How about when you have to pull out into the lane to pass a parked vehicle? That is the bane of many suburban and urban riders, especially is you take the lane to avoid the door zone (as I do). Sometimes you need to accelerate quickly, yet cannot do that with one arm outstretched.

  55. This isn't a difficult engineering issue; it's simply a marketing problem. Several velomobiles on the market in Europe have working brake lights and turn signals. Wiring is inside the fairing, of course. These exist because velomobiles are considered practical commuting machines in Europe. In North America, most bikes are sold as recreational toys so, hence why they also have no chainguards, fenders, or racks.

    Is it necessary? I don't think so. If we think we need to have turn signals and brake lights on our bikes because our streets are dangerous, we should fix our streets instead.

    Over-engineering in the grand tradition of car design.

  56. MIght have been mentioned before, but on scooters, there is a turn signal switch that is more of just a toggle switch. Right to turn right, left to turn left, and center to turn off. YOu have to manually turn it off, but the clicking is loud enough that it's a good reminder to turn it off.

    Something like that, combined with lights attached to the front wheel skewers, and rear wheel skewers (or inside the bar ends) might be a decent idea.

    The issue for me comes up with the crossover between one set of bars and another - with upright, you can probably mount it trigger-shift style, but what to do with drop bars?

  57. Before Volkswagen Beetles were equipped with signal lights they had semaphore turn signals, brightly colored flags that stuck out the side of the car when in use. Perhaps a clever cat riding on the rear rack could provide the same function.
    (Sorry. If I'm forever banished from this blog I understand.)

  58. What is old is new again.......

    This 1942 Hawthorne Victory bicycle was sold with a stop/tail light that was very unusual even in 1942!


  59. Bikes are too narrow for spacing between left and right signals to provide any useful directional information to drivers, unless you bolt on some kind of ugly mast.

    I think the commenter's idea above of lights on gloves is inspired. And while I don't have any thoughts on side-facing lights, side-facing reflectance is extremely useful when crossing intersections and I can think of lots of other geometries where it works--crossing in front of a driveway, for example.

    P.S. The commenter who asked Velouria to delete the thread to prevent an overzealous legislator from getting any ideas was a little over the top, for reasons already stated in response. But don't think for a second there's no risk of something like that happening. Public officials in some cities are making louder-than-comfortable noise about requiring bike licensing. Same threat, different route.

    Oh, and a belated Happy Birthday to V!

  60. MDI, side facing lights work great from every angle as long as you maintain a steady weave.

    As far as the seatbelt discussion goes, I used to work with an engineer who was involved in early testing programs in the 50s to develop Gov't standards for them. He maintained that it was driven by the car companies actual desire to build safer cars and gather the best resources to make them as effective as possible and that the Gov't had to be drug by the nose through the whole process. He also was convinced that the best seatbelt would be a single strand of the best piano wire across the drivers lap. To sorta' focus one on the job at hand, you know. He was kind of an unpleasant, bitter guy really.

    I'd be interested to know just how people actually use hand signals these days. I don't think 20% of drivers know what they mean and the added confusion sometimes makes the traditional signals counter-productive. I personally point in the direction I'm intending to go(often with a jaunty waving motion that I'm sure most motorists find friendly and charming) and that seems to work better than the ones portrayed by Goofus and Gallant in the D.M.V. study guide(bolt upright on a 1952 Schwinn Hornet, left arm locked in one of three positions, evidently meant to indicate ones directional intentions and possibly unfailing loyalty to the leaders God has granted to our nation). The approved ones seem so affected and make me feel the ultimate boob.


  61. Oh S%$t, I didn't catch that "feeling the ultimate boob" thing till now, sorry...


  62. Velouria, this is an interesting discussion and topic. But, most of all, thanks for posting this very interesting photo of a bike stop light from 1925! As a lover of old velo, I never knew this existed.

  63. I have a moto/bike friend who has mounted low-profile turn signals on his Ducati, which render them invisible.

    The idea of turn signals isn't bad, but the available width is too narrow, unless they were mounted far apart with arrows pointing the way. Functional, but not a Lovely Bicycle!

    Consider also a cyclist is often to the right, or at least to the periphery of a car driver. The perceived lack of separation of signals is even greater. A vehicular cyclist taking the lane would render them more effective.

    My general feeling is the car driver would be so transfixed by this curious and novel blinking light as to flatten the rider. Or at least not know what to do.

    End of handlebar, where the plugs go, on a swept back. At least one mfg. makes standard lights that fit.


  64. Every day as I come home, I must ride down a very steep hill for 1 block after which I must execute a left turn. As I make this left turn, I make a sincere wish for both a brake light and turn signal. I simply cannot make this maneuver without both hands on the handlebars. Every time I do this, there is almost always a car to whom I would think it better/safer/nicer to signal my intentions to slow down and turn, especially in the dark. If such a device were nice looking, and easy to use without losing control of my bicycle, I would certainly be in the market.

  65. Just home from work and glad I tuned in.

    Velouria 5:32, disregarding any worries about government actions, I think signal lights on bikes could be made to look good - classically elegant even, but if they were optional, I'd probably not opt for them.

    I just had a thought about how to turn them on and off though. Could the technology that is used in a wireless mouse be adapted to control signal lights - tiny transmitter in handlebar-mounted switch, tiny receiver in signal light ? No wires to snag/come lose/create visual clutter.

    Hah ! I started out opposing them, now I'm designing them.

    Fickle, fickle.

  66. Since getting my Pashley, have been on the hunt for an intelligent brake light system that looks nice. Drawn a blank - great blog post to raise awareness!


  67. Thanks for the opportunity to comment. I would not go for a turn signal system. I have enough to worry about in urban traffic in the middle of Washington, DC. I don't want to have to mess with a turn signal on top of it all. Many motorists aren't even paying attention to the fact that there is a cyclist on the road, let alone whether they have a turn signal or not.

    In addition, I'm not a fan of integrated lights. I like to use something like the Dinotte or even the Spaninga (sp?), which can easily be moved from one bike to another. My primary concern is that my lights are bright and visible, and that they work :). Beyond that, I do not want to mess with them.

  68. I think the mistake here is thinking the lights should be on the Bike.

    The lights should be on the helmet, wirelessly connected to sensors either in your gloves or on the bike. Something like this: http://www.instructables.com/id/turn-signal-biking-jacket/

    If anyone wants to collaborate - I'd love to hear from them.

  69. I don't know if this was mentioned earlier, so I apologize if this is a double post.
    I have seen on Instructabes or Make a jacket that has led's in the wrist bands that have a motion sensor attached so that when you raised an arm to signal, the led's would light up. Also, I have seen brake pads that have a red led set in them so that when the brakes are applied, the led's light up. I like these because of the lack of wires and cleanliness of the design. I don't know if I would use the brake pads, but if the wrist lights were on gloves or wrist bands, I would use that for my night time commute.
    Of course I cannot find these things right now, but I will add links when I do.

  70. i'm not sure if someone already posted this, but i just came across it so here it is:

    it's not so "classic" and it's on the backpack, but it's good looking and interesting solution.
    here's the youtube video:

  71. In the 1960s in one Australian town, styled light timber boxes bolted to the top of rear pannier racks were common. They were wide and long enough to take a school case. A foot (300mm) wide, ideal to hang a rear turn signal on.

  72. Well I'm late to the party on this post, but this topic is still very relevant among cycling commuters!

    I love the repetition in these post comments. Should I repeat the bicycle width observations just to fit in? Or suggest a wireless connection?

    Ok seriously, I commute daily on my bike which is very much a "utility bike" and not a "sport bike". It is designed for usefulness not for racing and such has both a front rack and rear rack that are a good 6" wide. I wouldn't mind if the signal extended even wider (so long as they were narrower than the bike's handlebars).

    Nobody asked earlier, but I'd wager people who commute by bike all year around already have racks and bells on their bikes. The "simplicity is beauty" arguments seems to apply more to lightweight road bikes with no cargo capacity or sport bikes intended for offroad use (like mountain bikes).
    - Ben

  73. If your goal is to trigger a brighter "brake light" effect when the brakes are activated, that is as simple as connecting a microswitch to the brakes somewhere along the line, and then when the brakes are acivated, increasing the voltage to the LED or activating a second brake lamp.


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