It is no surprise that car traffic is the leading concern keeping would-be cyclists in their cars. Bikes Belong reports that the 4 leading causes keeping folks off their bikes; traffic, lack of bike lanes, weather conditions, and darkness all relate to safety. Parsing this data we find that women and men weigh the 4 key impediments to cycling similarly except when it comes to darkness. Women are far more concerned about darkness than men.
To better understand the opportunity to improve bike safety, Light and Motion, a bike lighting company in Monterey, CA undertook a study to probe cyclists fears and needs while looking in parallel at accident statistics collected in New York City, which happens to keep quite detailed accident data. We also integrated meta data collected by the National Highway institute to better understand how and where cyclist are most at risk.
Comparing the statistics against rider’s perceptions, we found a significant difference. The biggest fear ranked, #1 by 96% of the 1550 surveyed cyclists was getting hit from behind. Yet only 30% of bike accidents are rear collisions. Digging deeper, we found that rear collisions are 4 times more likely to be serious than any other type of accident. We are afraid of what we can’t see coming and for good reason.
Still, intersections are the riskiest place to be on a bike. Cars just don’t see us at a time when they are most likely to turn across our path. The illustrations below show the typical impact scenario.
In addition, 62% of bike accidents occur after 4pm. This is the time when we are less visible, and drivers potentially more harried or distracted.
When asked to rank the most critical safety equipment for avoiding accidents., the overwhelming top choice was a “really bright” headlight and tail light. Interestingly while we cyclists understand safety, we don’t act on it. There were over 18 million bikes sold in the US last year; more bikes than cars! Yet Leisure Trends reports that just over 1 million bike lights were sold in a similar time period at an average price of $27.
A lot of bikes, very few lights, and the lights we bought at $27 can hardly be called an investment in being seen or safe.
Most of the lights sold are little more than simple bar mounted flashlights or rear facing “blinkies”. The inherent low power of these lights means they are easily overwhelmed by typical urban lighting. How are we to be noticed by a fast charging SUVs in a hurry to get home for dinner?
Consider this; the most popular bike tail light sold at high end bike shops puts out a meager 3.5 lumens of light compared to a car tail light which emits close to a 100 lumens. Typical AA battery bar headlights are not much better. In addition, their narrow beam style insures that a passing car will have little or no visibility of the lights except when directly behind or in front. Mounting these meager lights on bars or seat posts places them lower than a car door making them virtually invisible to a passing driver.
So the problem is in part, simply delivering more light, and in part, insuring we direct that light where is can help us see and been seen.
We tackled this problem in two ways; first we developed a high powered tail light with real directional side lights; second we developed a lightweight high powered helmet light system. Mounting lights on a helmet places them up high and makes it easy for the rider to signal drivers while keeping hands on the bar
For the tail light, we matched the highest power density battery on the market with the best LED available. The Vis 180 ($99) pictured below is the first USB rechargeable taillight. It packs over 10 times the light output of the best selling “Super Flash” taillight on the market. Instead of just directing all this power out the back, the Vis 180 has two directional amber side emitters that allow the light to create a 180 degree cone of visibility around the rider. A passing car sees a pulsing red light while approaching and a flashing amber as it pulls alongside the rider.
The helmet mounted system takes the cone of visibility a step further, placing the light in th
Current helmet solutions are heavy and have a high geek factor. As one woman in our focus group exclaimed upon seeing a conventional flashlight style light mounted at the crown of a helmet; “No fashionable women’s hat was ever designed with the visual center on the crown of the head. That only works for dunce caps.
“Bike helmets are no fashion statement, but the Vis 360 is a fresh take on the styling and weight problems. As the name implies, the Vis 360 creates 360 degrees of visibility. This is achieved through an integrated all-in one system using a diminutive but powerful 110 lumen front headlamp with bright amber side markers, and a four lumen rear taillight also with amber side markers for excellent rear/side visibility. The front headlamp and rear taillight are conveniently connected and the rechargeable lithium-ion battery is discreetly tucked into the rear taillight. At a mere 135 grams, it is 32% lighter than the best all-in-one bar mounted lights and is a complete lighting solution. The split design balances the weight fore and aft making it hardly noticeable when added to a helmet.
So cyclists; be aware that cars don’t see you and do something about it. Get some good lights, ride defensively and get involved with local and national advocacy groups pushing for bike lanes and bike paths. See you on the road!