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Old 11-26-09, 02:08 PM   #1
Sixty Fiver
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How much is too much... a question of etiquette.

This subject has been coming up a lot of late and thought it was discussion worthy... and it is not so much about the hardware you use but how you use it and in some cases, mis-use it.

As cyclists we light up our bikes so that we can see and be seen and I see increasing numbers of people taking this to what I think is a considerable extreme and entering a place where brighter lights may not help as much as they hinder.

My newest bit of kit is the PB 2w headlight that has a built in front strobe which I find to be good for daytime riding but is something I would not run at night because of the hazards it poses to motorists and other cyclists. We have some expansive bike routes and coming upon people with seizure inducing headlights or super bright lights is more than annoying, it is dangerous.

The 2 watt light provides more than ample light for night time riding in the city (I also have great night vision) and allows me to see what is coming from a good distance so I can maintain a good speed... the beam is fairly tight and I keep it aimed a little low as to not blind anyone coming my way.

I am seeing more people using bike lighting that rivals that I see on cars and when these are poorly directed can blind oncoming travellers.

I use lights like this for off roading, at night, on twisty singletrack or on longer tours on the open road but do not see the sense in running a light like this for commuting in the city.

German made lights are awesome in that they run at 3 watts (by law) and tend to have very good lenses that direct light where it is needed, provides good visibility, but does not blind oncoming travellers.

I would hope to see other manufacturers adopt this standard.

I have no problem with people running something like a Superflash in the rear or having blinkies on helmets but again... have seen a few folks with rear lights that are brighter than vehicle's tail lights.

I would suppose that one day, wheh everyone is riding a bike, we may see a set of standards adopted for bike lighting and see legislation setting limits and guidelines on what and what isn't acceptable as they have across the pond.

I figure that if they can see you from space you might need to dial it back a little...
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Old 11-26-09, 02:34 PM   #2
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Here are a few more examples of the excessive use of light:

SUVs and trucks raised up so that their headlights are at mirror level of normal cars, and whos low beams are blinding bright when they come up behind you at a stop.

Outdoor porch lights left on all night and illuminating all the neighbors, at face level, so that there's always a light in your face at night.

Drivers who don't dim their brights when they approach.

Cyclists who leave their helmet mounted lights on all the time, and on group rides.

Those highly directional car headlights with a blueish tint, with very sharp cutoff to the beam pattern, and that bounce (distractingly, like a strobe) as they hit things in the street.

"Security" lighting of everything, all the time. Light doesn't equal security. Light only helps an observer identify a breach of security. If nobody's watching, what good is the light?

I propose that there's a limit to how much light is reasonably necessary for bicycling. Plenty of accidents happen in full daylight. As LED technology quickly lowers the barrier to use of high powered headlights, we have to have this discussion. Thanks for starting this thread.
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Old 11-26-09, 02:37 PM   #3
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I live in one of the most light polluted cities on earth... if I wanted to go and look at the stars I have to leave the city.
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Old 11-26-09, 02:49 PM   #4
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Another problem with bike headlights is that they are physically very small sources. They're made to be as small as possible for weight and air resistance reasons on a bike. The smaller size of the image of them on a viewer's retinas makes the energy density of the image higher for a given amount of light entering the eye. Compare the area of a car's headlight with the area of a bicycle's headlight. Compare a motorcycle's headlight with a bicycle's headlight. For equal amounts of light going through your iris, the bicycle headlight will be waaaaay brighter.
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Old 11-26-09, 02:59 PM   #5
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I live in one of the most light polluted cities on earth... if I wanted to go and look at the stars I have to leave the city.
Cities will always have more of everything since they have so many people living in close proximity. I've lived in cities most of my life but retired to a rural area. Actually, I live in the middle of a 2.2 million acre national forest west of Glacier National Park. The nearby town has some street lighting, but nothing like I'm used to. Where I live there is no street lighting other than lighting on private property. Far too many cyclists here don't have adequate lighting to be out on the road at nights (some have no rear blinkies and many have such little light on the handlebars they aren't visible until you're right on top of them). Unfortunately, many states in the US don't address lights for nighttime riding but simply require reflectors. I think it's about time for US federal safety standards to require active lighting on all bikes sold in the US, including turn signals and brake lights. In this age of energy-efficient, super bright LEDs, there's no reason for bikes to be at the same point in lighting technology as they were in the 19th century. This summer, I added amber LED strobes (front and back) as turn signals and a red LED strip as a brake light. I use 1 9V battery for the turn signals and 1 9V battery for the brake light; I added the turn signals because it bothered me that so many drivers didn't seem to understand hand signals. I also have a bright rear-mounted blinky and a Magicshine headlight (I'll soon add a second lighthead). When I ride in the dark, the lights, especially the turn signals, make a world of difference in how cars stay behind and clear of me at stop signs (I have more stop signs than lights in my neighborhood). Unfortunately, I suspect that in the US we won't see any safety standards adopted that mandate active lighting on all bikes being sold.
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Old 11-26-09, 03:06 PM   #6
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Lightbulb

I can remark that every motorist who's ever commented on my Nova BULL or DiNotte 140 taillight has been praising it because it makes me easy to see, and/or wanting to know where I got it. That includes a Sheriff's deputy who stopped and waved me down so he could find out where to buy one for himself, and a man who stopped at the top of a hill on a dark county highway, turned off his truck, and waited for me so he could tell me how well I showed up, and how he wished every cyclist would use gear like mine.

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I use lights like this for off roading, at night, on twisty singletrack or on longer tours on the open road but do not see the sense in running a light like this for commuting in the city.
I find that the "noisier" the background, the more power is needed to (1) be noticable, and (2) see the road surface to avoid hazards. I like powerful lights off-road too, but this Tuesday I went off-roading with a 140-lumen light and could still see where I was going well enough to ride pretty fast, because it's the only light source around and my vision could adapt to it. On a city arterial like the one shown below, however, that same light won't even make a visible spot on the pavement at 100 feet out. When you're trying to dodge grimy black ice domes frozen to manhole covers at 25mph, despite having a faceful of automotive headlights to see past, it takes a bit of power.


^If there were a cyclist with a 2W PB Blaze coming towards you, would you see them in this traffic before turning left across their path?

So I'm just stating the obvious: it's situation-dependent. MUPs are a situation I prefer to arbitrarily avoid, because a walker with no lights at all, navigating by the city's ambient "light canopy" alone, will have his night vision ruined by nearly ANY light source. And it's not like you can be 10-20 meters to one side as you approach eachother, MUPs are dinky. Forget it, I'm taking the street

Out on the highway, my favorite beam pattern ends up looking like this:



Really not that much excess "lift" in the beam, it's similar to an auto's low-beam. As RapidRobert said, the light does come from small apertures and can seem very intense, so partly as a placebo move, I will shut down some of the throw power when facing a car directly on a dark two-lane, so they see that "ok, he dimmed his lights, he's not high-beaming me." This also is their cue to check whether their high beams are off.

Last edited by mechBgon; 11-26-09 at 03:34 PM. Reason: speeling
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Old 11-26-09, 03:08 PM   #7
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I have been pondering building up a set of front and rear turn signals using LED lights and friend has built a rear brake light with a steady setting and switched brake that is activated with a magnetic switch on his brake lever.

I do support the use of active lighting on all bikes as reflectors are a very poor substitute... laws need to be changed to reflect this fact.
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Old 11-26-09, 03:39 PM   #8
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You ABSOLUTELY need more light in areas where there is ambient light than when you're out in the country. You do need some level of light in the country to see by - IMHO about 200 lumens is the minimum that I feel comfortable with riding at or nearly at speed with, but 400 or so is more comfortable.

As far as "how much is enough" - when car drivers stop saying "I didn't see him" then we've hit "enough".
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Old 11-26-09, 03:45 PM   #9
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You ABSOLUTELY need more light in areas where there is ambient light than when you're out in the country. You do need some level of light in the country to see by - IMHO about 200 lumens is the minimum that I feel comfortable with riding at or nearly at speed with, but 400 or so is more comfortable.

As far as "how much is enough" - when car drivers stop saying "I didn't see him" then we've hit "enough".
If you lit your bike up like the sun there would still be people who wouldn't see you...
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Old 11-26-09, 04:09 PM   #10
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If you lit your bike up like the sun there would still be people who wouldn't see you...
It's true that no amount of lighting guarantees safety. One hazard is that they may see, but not comprehend. Yesterday on my way home, I was getting ready to make a left turn (across the path of oncoming traffic), and a car was coming toward me that had only one headlight working. It didn't really "compute" for a moment. How far away it was, where on the road it was... the working passenger-side parking light finally gave me the divergence cue once I picked up on it, but in downtown traffic in the dark, it took a moment.

This "what is it?" perception problem is part of the reason I go to great lengths to add "context" besides lights, such as:
  • the invaluable reflective legbands (the motion attracts the eye and gives the "human being" cue)
  • reflective vest
  • reflective tape on the bike frame, crankarms, and wheels
  • reflective tires
  • a jacket with reflective tape down the arms (although I need to make a new one, the zipper's failing).

Last edited by mechBgon; 11-26-09 at 04:41 PM.
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Old 11-26-09, 06:22 PM   #11
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God I love this forum!! A perfect and timely thread for my wife and I as we are currently doing our research on what type of front and rear lighting we need - primarily for day riding and minimal night riding. I'd love some input... we are in a rural area; traffic "in town" is moderate and has by no means the heavy light pollution as shown in an earlier post with pic. We are also interested in the turn signal concept for our utility & pet trailers... weren't there some bike turn signal applications back in the '70's? I haven't looked to see if any are still in the marketplace currently. Happy Thanksgiving & God Bless!!
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Old 11-26-09, 06:41 PM   #12
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God I love this forum!! A perfect and timely thread for my wife and I as we are currently doing our research on what type of front and rear lighting we need - primarily for day riding and minimal night riding. I'd love some input... we are in a rural area; traffic "in town" is moderate and has by no means the heavy light pollution as shown in an earlier post with pic. We are also interested in the turn signal concept for our utility & pet trailers... weren't there some bike turn signal applications back in the '70's? I haven't looked to see if any are still in the marketplace currently. Happy Thanksgiving & God Bless!!
dzrthauler,

I just built my own turn signals using amber super bright LED strobes that are fairly large 3.7" x 1.6" (there are 22 LEDs per unit) and a center off toggle from Radio Shack. The LED strobes I got online from a Hong Kong vendor for under $7.00 a pair (with free shipping). http://www.suntekstore.com/us-44-led...hts-amber.html I would order from this vendor again, I got my order in about 2 weeks. I also ordered a red super bright LED strip fro a brake light; it's attached to my rear brake cable via a micro lever switch that I picked up at my local Ace hardware (the brake light is triggered everytime I press the rear brake lever). All the LEDs require little power. I've got the 4 turn signals wired to 1 9V battery; and I've got the brake light wired to a separate 9V battery. I have a trailer too and one of my winter projects is going to be adding turn signals and brake lights to it as well as making extension cables to plug them into the existing turn signal and brake wires on my bike. I'll be ordering more LED strobes from the same source. Good luck, I think you should have no problems tackling a project like this.

Here are some photos of my turn signals and a blurry one of the brake light as well as a brief video showing the brightness of the LED strobes.







[video=youtube;NvOPIW_TRZI]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NvOPIW_TRZI[/video]
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Old 11-26-09, 06:58 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by dzrthauler View Post
God I love this forum!! A perfect and timely thread for my wife and I as we are currently doing our research on what type of front and rear lighting we need - primarily for day riding and minimal night riding. I'd love some input... we are in a rural area; traffic "in town" is moderate and has by no means the heavy light pollution as shown in an earlier post with pic. We are also interested in the turn signal concept for our utility & pet trailers... weren't there some bike turn signal applications back in the '70's? I haven't looked to see if any are still in the marketplace currently. Happy Thanksgiving & God Bless!!
For daytime visibility from the rear, with a pet trailer, one off-the-shelf option is a DiNotte 400 taillight in 5-pulse blinking mode.

If you have a rechargeable battery pack in the 9.6-15 volt range, you could also wire up Nova BULL or Whelen TIR3 strobe heads (edit: or the ones shown above), which sell for about $55-60 each and feature a sync wire so you can set them up for wig-wag or synchronous strobing as desired. Sample of the Nova BULL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k3cy6KSr8wk They're also available in amber if you want more of a "caution"-oriented color. These have multiple flash/strobe patterns available, including a 75Hz single-flash mode that would make the amber ones a viable turn signal indicator.

For side visibility, you might consider a MonkeyLectric wheel light, which is an LED light bar that creates the illusion of a pattern as it spins. YouTube has MonkeyLectric videos if you want to see what they look like. They're around $55 at Amazon.com.

For front visibility, any medium-powered or high-powered light could help as a daytime running light.
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Old 11-26-09, 09:29 PM   #14
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This "what is it?" perception problem is part of the reason I go to great lengths to add "context" besides lights, such as:
  • the invaluable reflective legbands (the motion attracts the eye and gives the "human being" cue)
On my commute into downtown Portland (both driving and riding), I find that generic blinky lights clue me into the existence of a bike rider best. (I see many riders, even on my normal 7AM commute.) It doesn't necessarily give me a good idea of how far or how fast, but they're the longest-range cue I've seen.

I saw a pair of riders coming towards me one morning, riding side-by-side with fairly powerful headlights. At long range, I thought they were a slow-moving car.

The riders that get me are the ones wearing all black or grey, with only a tiny blinky in front and rear. Technically "legal", but damned hard to see. I call 'em "ninjas", which makes wrong-way riders wearing black "ninja salmon". Beware the Ninja Salmon!!
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Old 11-27-09, 11:48 AM   #15
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I don't mind if motorists don't know what I am; if they know I'm a cyclist, many of them think "just a cyclist, OK to ignore." If they think I might be an emergency vehicle or a UFO with all those blinking lights, they'll be a lot more cautious.
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Old 11-27-09, 01:14 PM   #16
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[*]the invaluable reflective legbands (the motion attracts the eye and gives the "human being" cue)
Even if the reflective legbands are on the dog ?
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Old 11-27-09, 03:09 PM   #17
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On my commute into downtown Portland (both driving and riding), I find that generic blinky lights clue me into the existence of a bike rider best. (I see many riders, even on my normal 7AM commute.) It doesn't necessarily give me a good idea of how far or how fast, but they're the longest-range cue I've seen.

I saw a pair of riders coming towards me one morning, riding side-by-side with fairly powerful headlights. At long range, I thought they were a slow-moving car.

The riders that get me are the ones wearing all black or grey, with only a tiny blinky in front and rear. Technically "legal", but damned hard to see. I call 'em "ninjas", which makes wrong-way riders wearing black "ninja salmon". Beware the Ninja Salmon!!
There is something about rush hour on the Hawthorn bridge when you see so many lights coming / going as cyclists head to and from work... I was told it was a little quiet in October when I was last there but I was still very impressed with the number of cyclists on the road.

I bet it will be even quieter when I am there in a little under a month as it will be winter and I know how PDXr's feel about ice / snow...

I'll be the guy riding around in shorts with a bunch of blinkies and reflective bits.
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Old 11-27-09, 08:58 PM   #18
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I have been asked to turn my PB (Smart) SF taillight onto steady mode rather than blinking on a group ride because it was too bright. Hate to see the reaction to some of these other lights such as DiNotte
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Old 11-27-09, 09:10 PM   #19
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I don't mind if motorists don't know what I am; if they know I'm a cyclist, many of them think "just a cyclist, OK to ignore." If they think I might be an emergency vehicle or a UFO with all those blinking lights, they'll be a lot more cautious.
I had someone cut me off the other night.... they waited for me when I was way back, as soon as they saw I was riding a bike, they pulled out in front of/beside me with about 6" clearance. Left a nice boot-sized reminder in his rear quarter panel that the law says 3 feet of distance minimum.

First close call since I got my MagicShine headlight... I'm pretty happy with my light.
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Old 11-27-09, 09:26 PM   #20
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IMO bright taillights are not needed on a group ride and could be annoying to following cyclists, particularly in blinking mode. The brightest could also affect fellow riders night vision.

When riding on unlighted streets I want enough light from my headlight to be able to spot road hazards soon enough to avoid them. In city riding I want enough light, front and rear, so that I am not unnoticed by other road users.

The biggest probllem with bright cycle lights I believe, as the OP noted, is that most have poor beam patterns that would be illegal for the low beam on a car headlight. For higher power bike lights a lot more work needs to go into reflector and lens design so that the lights have a reasonable vertical cutoff. Light going out above horizontal is pretty much wasted. Take a look at some of the beam pictures in the MTBR light test thread linked to on another current thread in this subject area. What is the point of brightly lighting tree limbs 20+ feet in the air?
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Old 11-28-09, 01:26 AM   #21
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IMO bright taillights are not needed on a group ride and could be annoying to following cyclists, particularly in blinking mode. The brightest could also affect fellow riders night vision.

When riding on unlighted streets I want enough light from my headlight to be able to spot road hazards soon enough to avoid them. In city riding I want enough light, front and rear, so that I am not unnoticed by other road users.

The biggest probllem with bright cycle lights I believe, as the OP noted, is that most have poor beam patterns that would be illegal for the low beam on a car headlight. For higher power bike lights a lot more work needs to go into reflector and lens design so that the lights have a reasonable vertical cutoff. Light going out above horizontal is pretty much wasted.
Here's a frame from video of my bike alongside a car out on the highway. I drew a red circle around the "blast zone" from my ~900 lumens of bike headlights, and around the "blast zone" from the headlights of the car that's alongside me. Both my lights have symmetric beam patterns with no cutoff, and their impact is still far lower than an automobile. We should do something about those darn automobiles



Quote:
Take a look at some of the beam pictures in the MTBR light test thread linked to on another current thread in this subject area. What is the point of brightly lighting tree limbs 20+ feet in the air?

When your bike's aimed at the G-out at the bottom of a gully, and the other side is effectively well "above the horizon," it'll start to make sense

Quote:
IMO bright taillights are not needed on a group ride and could be annoying to following cyclists, particularly in blinking mode. The brightest could also affect fellow riders night vision.
That's a valid point. If I'm on a group road ride, I only switch on my DiNotte if I'm at the back. And if visibility is deteriorating, I'll switch on the DiNotte and stay at the back to protect my group. I usually have either my reflective vest or my Tron Jacket™ on hand for rides that'll take us into twilight, too. But I haven't seen anyone in my club complaining about SuperFlashes, they're directional enough that someone right on your wheel is well above the "hot spot" of the beam anyway.

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Old 11-28-09, 01:28 AM   #22
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Light going out above horizontal is pretty much wasted. Take a look at some of the beam pictures in the MTBR light test thread linked to on another current thread in this subject area. What is the point of brightly lighting tree limbs 20+ feet in the air?
Remember that when you're riding along looking for a certain street. The car headlights seem to light up the street signs just fine.... why is it suddenly 'bad' or 'illegal' for a bike headlight to do the same?
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Old 11-28-09, 01:52 AM   #23
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Here's a frame from video of my bike alongside a car out on the highway. I drew a red circle around the "blast zone" from my ~900 lumens of bike headlights, and around the "blast zone" from the headlights of the car that's alongside me. Both my lights have symmetric beam patterns with no cutoff, and their impact is still far lower than an automobile. We should do something about those darn automobiles
Looks like you're a fair way off to the side there, not in the hotspot of your light... where an oncoming car driver would be.
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Old 11-28-09, 02:21 AM   #24
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Looks like you're a fair way off to the side there, not in the hotspot of your light... where an oncoming car driver would be.
True, but that holds for both the bike and the car. However, let me see if I can get anything more head-on from the video clips...



That's at 0.4 mile, shot at 4x zoom... sorry it's not up close, but divided highway is divided highway If I go again out tomorrow night, I'll try to gratify y'all with something closer. Too bad I don't have a HD camera!
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Old 11-28-09, 09:55 AM   #25
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Originally Posted by Falchoon View Post
I have been asked to turn my PB (Smart) SF taillight onto steady mode rather than blinking on a group ride because it was too bright. Hate to see the reaction to some of these other lights such as DiNotte

I use my DiNotte 400L as my steady rear light, even then it's on the medium setting, but it's nice to know that I have extra brightness in reserve. I also have a TL2000 light that I always keep in alternating mode( not flash) to help in getting motorists' attention, and still not be totally annoying. I've checked out my 400L in all flash modes, but my commute doesn't warrant that drastic type of rear lighting yet. My forward light, on the other hand, needed something more than 2 or 3 watts, especially with the typical US motorists I contend with on a daily basis, and a dual Magic Shine set up seems to be doing the job in reducing even more, the nightly "close encounters" on my urban commutes.
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