Bicycle Network: Bikes 'n' Bits
The rules and what you need.
Road Rule 259: Riding at night
"The rider of a bicycle must not ride at night, or in hazardous weather conditions causing reduced visibility, unless the bicycle, or the rider, displaysâ€”
(a) a flashing or steady white light that is clearly visible for at least 200 metres from the front of the bicycle; and
(b) a flashing or steady red light that is clearly visible for at least 200 metres from the rear of the bicycle; and
(c) a red reflector that is clearly visible for at least 50 metres from the rear of the bicycle when light is projected onto it by a vehicle’s headlight on low-beam.
The rules are the same across Australia.
The light must be visible from 200m - many lights fail to meet this requirement.
For a list of penalties, click here.
What you need
A rear red light
A front flashing white light/directional beam white front lights (LEDs)
A front flashing white light, though it makes you visible, will not light your way. If you are riding on an unlit path you will probably need directional beam front lights. We do recommend flashing white headlights for commuters as they are cheap, lightweight and the batteries last a long time. They will provide all the light you need to be seen by.
The standard flashing lights have 3 to 5 LEDs, but you can also get ones with up to 7 and with different flashing patterns. LEDs use very little power.They usually use normal AA size batteries which last 100-300 hours when used in the flashing mode. A set of batteries should last from daylight saving to the shortest day and from the shortest day to the end of winter.
A word of warning - when mounting flashing lights make sure they face directly forward or backward as visibility is low when viewed from the side.
We do not recommend clipping your light to your clothes or backpack as many times the light ends up facing upward or to the side and is not visible to motorists and other road users.
The best place to mount lights is on the seat post, rack or basket (high enough, clear of any rack mounted packs), the seat itself, and the handlebars. Generally, the higher the mounting position, the better.
We encourage you to put your lights on during the day when it seems necessary. LEDs are a cost effective way of ensuring better visibility on overcast and rainy days.
Rechargeable battery powered front lights
They are also usually brighter than standard flashing lights (6 - 32 watts compared to 2 - 6 watts).
Some systems come with two lights with different wattage (brightness) bulbs. This allows you to vary the amount of light (and battery burn time) that you are using depending on the conditions. These systems give off enough light to allow serious night time mountain biking.
One thing to look for in a rechargeable light is the size and weight of the battery pack, and how it attaches to the bike. For instance, you can get packs which fit into the water bottle holder, that strap onto the frame with Velcro or “sticks” with their own pump type mounting system.
There are different types of rechargeable batteries available. Lead acid batteries are the cheapest but are usually heavier for the same “burn time” as other types of batteries. An advantage, however, is that they tend to lose their charge more slowly so you have some warning that your light is about to fail. Nickel cadmium (NiCad -lighter) and nickel metal hydride (NiMH - lightest) batteries are lighter than lead acid for the same burn time but tend to lose their charge quite suddenly leaving you with no light in the middle of the ride. That is why we recommend having a back up flashing front light when using rechargeable battery lights.
As well as the standard handlebar mounted lights, you can also get ones which fit onto your helmet. The benefits of these are that the light beam is directed where you are looking, not just straight in front of the bikes travel direction. This is useful for looking forward around bends in the road or path where a handlebar mounted light cannot see. One disadvantage is that, since the light is shining along your line of sight, the shadow cast is directly behind the object. This makes objects appear “flat” or two-dimensional and distances may be hard to judge. Helmet mounted front lights are best used in conjunction with a handlebar mounted light which gives better depth perception. The size and weight of battery packs for helmet mounted lights are important, as they will need to be carried in a pocket.
Most rechargeable light batteries take about 7 to 8 hours to fully charge and will last about 1 to 3 hours (depending on the wattage bulb/s being used).
Dynamo powered front lights
Dynamos, also known as generator lights, are also an economical option for frequent night travelers. The dynamo works off a roller in contact with the wheel. Dynamos can even be incorporated into the hub (expensive). Dynamo lights usually go out when you stop cycling, though some come with a back-up battery that gives some light when stopped. The dynamo can power both the front and rear lights. The benefit of dynamos is that you do not need to remember to buy or recharge batteries. The higher quality dynamos generally have replaceable rollers.