Bicycle Network: Bikes 'n' Bits
How we test lights
Ride On has tested the latest bike lights in the April-May issue every year since 2006. Find out how we do it
Lights to be seen
The test is primarily concerned with determining the most visible, best value lights for a variety of bike riders. The range includes lights designed to illuminate the way ahead for riders, but we consider how effectively visible they are rather than their output.
Because waterproofness, durability and usability of lights are also important factors affecting a purchase decision, all lights in the test are investigated by a team of RMIT industrial design students coordinated by their lecturer.
The visibility ratings and the industrial design ratings are combined to determine the overall rating of each light. Finally, we weight visibility as 60 per cent of the overall rating because visibility is the most important aspect of lights.
All kinds of lights
The test has always covered compact lights where the batteries fit into the unit. From 2010, the test has also included lights with an external battery pack and dynamo-powered lights. Ride On has acquires lights from a range of suppliers for the test. Wherever possible, models that are new since the previous test are included. A range of lights are included so that some of the recommended lights will be available at local bike shops in time for winter.
A key aspect of the test is that it is observational and realistic. The test is conducted in an inner-city laneway after sunset to create a realistic scenario. Ten judges stand at a distance of 200 metres and rate each light in turn for effective visibility. They consider phase of flash and angled visibility (assessed from 50 metres) in addition to front-on visibility.
For the front-on test, judges are 200 metres from the lights because that’s the minimum distance at which a bike light must be visible, as required by the road rules. For the angled test, the lights are displayed at an angle of 45 degrees to the judges, who stand 50m away. This simulates visibility at an adequate distance for a car travelling at 50km/h to react and brake before hitting a bike rider.
The lights are identified to the judges by their number in the order they are shown. A control light – the best light in the category from last years test – is shown before each light. The judges are told the control is worth an 8 out of ten for the purpose of the test and they then give their subjective ratings to each light.
View the 2011 test results here. Results and expert commentary are published from each year's test in the April-May issue of Ride On magazine and on www.rideonmagazine.com.au.
Visibility testing method
From a distance of 200m, the lights are displayed for 5 seconds each in turn, front on to the judges. The judges give each light in the test a rating out of ten relative to the control. Lights are displayed in their most visible flashing mode. The most visible flashing mode for each light is determined by Ride On staff. Where a light does not have a flash rate, the light will be displayed in constant beam mode. The judges will be able to request that certain light/s are shown again.
Following the front-on display of lights, the judges will move to 50m from the lights. The lights will be placed at an angle of 45 degrees to the judges and displayed in turn as per the front-on display.
We also ask judges to rate the flash rate of each light as this is a significant aspect of overall visibility. This rating is also subjective, based on what the judge feels is most effective. We ask the judges to rate the phase out of ten during the front-on display, but they are free to modify this score after viewing the angled display.
Where a light does not have a flash rate, the judges are instructed to give the light a phase rating of five.
Industrial design testing
Because durability and usability of lights is another important factor affecting a purchase decision, all lights in the test are investigated by a team of RMIT industrial design students under supervision by their lecturer. The lights will be assessed for durability, weather resistance and usability.
The visibility ratings and the industrial design ratings are combined to determine the overall rating of each light. The test will list the visibility rating as a secondary rating of each light for the interest of the readers and to underline the importance of the effective visibility in choosing a light.