Fit Recovery

Home » Cycling » Is Cycling Safer with a Light on the Back of Your Bike?  This Cyclist Says It is…

Is Cycling Safer with a Light on the Back of Your Bike?  This Cyclist Says It is…


September 2016

Tony, “One Regular Guy Writing about Food, Exercise and Living past 100,” and I were kicking around a little theory about why cycling with a blinky on the back of a bike is safer for a cyclist in reference to my post about Trek’s ABC’s of Awareness, which boil down to “be seen”.

I wear bright cycling clothing that matches my bike.  This is both a good and bad thing as my bike is red… on black.  Red sticks out excellently well.  Black?  Uhm, matching the road surface is not advisable if you have a desire to be seen.  So basically I have a lot of red and white in my jerseys because black is basically cycling camouflage.  

Two years ago I bought a new headlight and blinky (blinking taillight) for our once-a-year Halloween night ride that signifies the end of the season for our advanced Tuesday Night Club Ride… then I bought the same light for my wife…

I’ll just cut to the chase for brevity’s sake:  Every cyclist I’ve spoken with, every one… 100%, has stated that they are treated better by motorists if they’re sporting a blinky when they ride.  Day or night.  

As of a few weeks ago, every time I ride alone, with my wife, or in a small group, I ride with a blinky.  With all of the reports of bicyclists getting mushed by motorists lately, I decided I owed it to my wife and kids to do everything I can to bring it home alive.  

Over the last couple of years, my wife and I both have noticed a difference in motorists driving patterns when we’re sporting a blinky over when we’re not.  It’s a subtle difference.  Fewer attempts at buzzing us (I can’t recall one with a taillight on), a little more room as a car passes…

Now, I know what some will say about putting a blinky on their high-end carbon aero bike…  I used to think the same way…. used to.  Left seat stay:

I use the Serfas Thunderbolt for one reason:  A police officer pulled over a friend of mine to complement him on his blinking light.  He said that he could literally see it flashing a mile away.  

That was the light I wanted on my bike.

There are four settings, two low (solid and blink) and two “blind you” settings.  Now, I don’t want to blind motorists so I use the low setting which is more than enough.  Unlike most lights on the market, even the low setting on the Thunderbolt can’t be looked at directly from close range without causing one to recoil.  The light is bright is what I’m trying to say.

It also fits on any kind of aero tube you’d want, without scratching the paint, and without any special tricks needed (like zip ties) – in other words, I don’t need a saddle bag to attach it to (because I’m too cool for a saddle bag).

The left seat stay is the perfect location for a taillight.  It doesn’t get in the way, it shines at motorists rather than down at the ground and in a small group it’s better on the eyes for those drafting behind you.

I know this because all of my cycling friends rely on a Thunderbolt, and that’s mainly where we prefer them.  Simply put, other than the Garmin interactive radar taillight that costs more than a decent mountain bike (with the computer you need to run it), the Thunderbolt is the best blinky on the market for the fashion conscious cyclist.  It’s small, the brightest light on the market (that I’ve seen or know of), weatherproof (in my experience), rechargeable (6-7 hours on a charge in low-blink mode) and it won’t screw up my paint.

What more could a fella want?  Oh, yeah… motorists appreciate it and treat me better when I use it.  

Serfas gave me nothing for mentioning their blinky.  No free stuff – they actually don’t have any knowledge of me or my blog (that I’m aware of).  I mention their light because it is the best.  In my experience.

There is no imperical scientific data that suggests riding with a blinking light causes motorists to treat cyclists better.  None that I’m aware of anyway.  I don’t need it, because I know what I’ve experienced on the road, and all of my friends agree:  A rear blinky means better riding.  Period.


  1. unironedman says:

    There may not be data about improved driver behaviour, but there is plenty to back up the fact that the blinking light is far more noticeable than one that stays on all the time. We are programmed to look for patterns; it’s hard-wired into the brain. So it’s quite likely that the average motorist will be a happier bunny when they can see you hundreds of yards out and not happen upon and start getting testy. As they do! Same theory applies to having reflectors on your pedals which are constantly moving. But lights are a better bet alright. Even cheapo LED ones, the size of your thumb are better than nowt, as long as they flash.

  2. Quan says:

    Especially when I commute, and motorists are sipping their coffee, I always wear my blinky when I’m on the road… and you’re right – you get treated better!

  3. rennrad says:

    i used the blinky a few times in the morning, but never felt the difference. at night I use sometimes use two: one at the very top of the seat tube and one at seat post. my main concern however is the headlight: never found a convincing one…

  4. wanderwolf says:

    In Germany, its illegal to ride without lights at night. Like, you get pulled over and pay a fine the first time and threatened with court action if it happens again. Good that you’re doing what you can to stay safe on the roads!

  5. I was about to say your light is on the wrong side, then remembered you ride on the other side of the road. Hehe!

    I ride with a bright rear light day or night, even on my TT bike. When I was commuting I used to run two rear lights (one flashing and one steady) for added visibility and backup in case of failure.

    • bgddyjim says:

      LOL! Yep, other side of the road for us. I saw a guy once, with something like six running all at once. He was a little off, though… if you know what I mean.

  6. Tony says:

    Thanks for the mention, Jim. Much appreciated.

  7. fitnessgrad says:

    Hm, This was an interesting post, as I was on Facebook, an ad popped up for lights on the wheels (as your tires spins it makes a picture, or some kind of light). I am sure you have heard of this feature, I decided to look at the comments just to see what people thought, and many people thought it was a neat idea of course, but many also thought it was unsafe because it would cause a distraction for drivers. I have heard cyclist say they feel the light is a distraction, now I have yet to be distracted but then again, I am assuming that is because people don’t have their light working properly or maybe it is meant to be dim where I don’t necessarily notice, not sure. However, what is your opinion on the whole lights on wheels idea?


    • bgddyjim says:

      Shay-lon, I am going to be very honest. I spent A LOT of money on my bike. It was 18.8 pounds. Then I spent A LOT more to get it down do 17.4… I’m not going to put lights on my wheels anymore than I’d put baseball cards in my spokes. I use only what I need that will actually work to keep me safe and lights on wheels are simply a toy.

      My bike came with four reflectors, two on the wheels, one on the handlebar and one on the seat post because bureaucrats decided my bike needed them. They were gone before I ever rode my bike – I took them off before I put my pedals, because they’re useless against a good blinky (and a bunch of reflective points all over my clothing).

      Oh yeah, and I don’t ride at night. 😉

      • fitnessgrad says:

        I hear ya. I can understand what you mean. I mean I am not a cyclist, but I found it interesting that someone came up with the concept, but I can see your point in them being a toy, hell I don’t see why anyone would want them otherwise, lol (to pay that much for each wheel light) if it isn’t necessary.
        Don’t ride at night? is this because you don’t particularly like it or to avoid the crazy drivers who like racing down dark roads.

      • bgddyjim says:

        I don’t ride at night because it’s more dangerous and I have better things to do. I’m an early to rise, early to bed kind of guy.

        Truth is, riding during daylight hours is dangerous enough. I just don’t like the idea of cycling at night without a BUNCH of lights… and maybe a price helicopter lighting me up as I go. It shouldn’t be that way, but it is.

      • fitnessgrad says:

        No, I understand what you mean. That is how I feel about running when I go for runs outside, I prefer running during daylight hours vs night time because I have better things to do and too dangerous for running during evening hours in my opinion.
        With the amount of people getting hit by a motorist, I cannot see why anyone would take such risk unless it was necessary.

      • bgddyjim says:

        Police helicopter, not “price”… Autocorrect got me.

  8. Archetype says:

    While I don’t have concrete proof and it could be debatable, but since I have been riding with the blinking red light, I think I get a bit more consideration from the cagers. Whether this is a perception or a reality, I cannot validate 100%, although I have had less instances of horn blowing and brushbacks. Coincidence? Could be.

    Sure, I still get the occasional POS who comes very close to me or blows the horn for no apparent reason, other than to intimate me I suppose. But overall, I feel like the light has given me the slightest more presence on the road and perhaps a smidge more courtesy… either way, I’m glad I started using the USB rechargeable light back in January. I wouldn’t ride without one now.

  9. MJ Ray says:

    I agree that the seat stay is a very good position for a light (as long as you’re not a tourer with a big pannier in its way). It also has the benefit that you can look down towards your heel and verify it’s still lit.

    Now back to antagonising you: I detest both lights in daytime (waste of electricity and you ain’t gonna be brighter than the low winter sun) and blinking lights. Blinking lights have three problems: they’re harder for good drivers to judge distance; they may be “off” at a crucial moment, like when a turning motorist looks towards you or a speeding motorist rounds a bend; and they identify you as a cyclist, fair game for a certain type of idiot motorist to “buzz” or “skim” with a close pass.

    So I favour steady lights with the largest lit surface you can muster without looking silly: easier to judge distance, always on when someone looks and might leave the skimmers in doubt about whether you’re a moped or stopped car until it’s too late for them to position themselves.

    I’m glad we agree on not using the blinding settings. They’re illegal over here (I think it’s a £50 fine for defective lights in theory, but they’re not as strict as Germany) so why do they even have such settings on tail lights? Blinding front lights have an excuse that they may be intended for off-road MTBs, but what reason is there for a dazzling tail light?

    • bgddyjim says:

      Sweet! Now that we’re back at it, blinkies are used because the human brain is hard-wired to look for patterns, therefore the blinking light is more noticeable and better. Mine flashes every second or so, so I’m not going to be missed. If the motorist’s eyes are bad enough to misconstrue you for a moped, with your legs pumping up and down, bend over and kiss your ass goodbye because he’s blind as a bat and you’re about to get hit. Keep coming back though, brother. Chuckle.

      As for the unfortunate rare loser who chooses to buzz cyclists, I understand you guys have it much worse over there. We get a better reaction out of motorists for having a blinker on over here. They give us more room, though this is obviously observational in nature.

      • MJ Ray says:

        Yeah, I seem to have forgot part-way through writing that you were talking about daytime riding, as I don’t use lights in the daytime. In the daytime, they can see that I’m a tall man who they probably don’t want to annoy. At night, when they can’t see my legs and so on, a single big steady red light could make them think moto/moped, though.

        I also think there’s an argument that blinking lights in daytime can make you be seen too early, out of context, so that when a motorist processes the rest of the scene as it becomes visible normally, they dismiss you as “already dealt with that” and fail to allow enough space.

        From the few times I’ve cycled in the US, I’d say that your biggest benefit is that traffic lanes are often much wider than ours and roads are quieter outside of cities. The worst near-miss I remember wouldn’t have been helped by any lights because I’m pretty sure the motorist wasn’t looking as they pulled out of their parking space without signalling – if there had been a car coming, I think it would have ended in bent metalwork.

      • bgddyjim says:

        Glad you didn’t need any plastic work!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: