Few parents think first of tricking out their children's bikes with lights. Here in America, cycling with lights, while a best practice, is still optional. It shouldn't be.
|Lights and vest|
Can you find the kid on the bike? What if it were a rainy night?
Click on the pictures to see them in more detail.
Click on the pictures to see them in more detail.
Mounting good lights on your child's bike can be cheap or expensive but it's a terrific habit to begin from the earliest days of your child on his or her own rig. (Obviously we think you should have lights front and back on your kid carrying bike -- see our dynamo lighting post for more information about lights on grownup bikes). So herewith a quick primer on lighting your child's bike from soup to nuts.
Your kids are smaller and less predictable than you — they need better lights than you do yourself!
Visibility, maintenance and cost are the three most important factors to look at when choosing lights for your kids' bike.
- Visibility both day and night increases your child's protection on the road or sidewalk because it raises the chance that a car driver will notice your smaller than average height rider. Car drivers in Chicago-- and in most American cities -- are not really expecting to see a child out on a bike. Brighter lights create better visibility and better light in the dark when your child needs the street lit for the trip home from whatever fun kept you out late. A high visibility vest is icing on the cake.
- Maintenance can make the difference between your lights working when you need them and a mad rummage through the garage while you get late for the birthday party frantically looking for batteries or a bulb to fill in the dead lamp. We prefer lights with next to no maintenance. This includes the need to remove the lamp to prevent theft, need for adjustment and need for replacement parts like bulbs.
- Cost. More expensive lights may require less maintenance over time and be much brighter, stretching out the initial investment for the light versus needing to replace lamps or batteries more often. They can be shifted from bike to bike as your child grows to help soften the blow of that first purchase. On the other hand, cheaper lights are much better than no lights at all, and some, like old generator lamps, can be quite good.
|The little blinky is on and nearly facing the camera.|
These things are next to useless when the batteries
start to wear down, like this one. This flashlight
seems about as bright as the generator LED lights.
You can get little blinky lights, some of which look like toys or characters, and stick them on your kid’s bike. This may be the most popular option, cheap and easy and fun, but even with new (expensive replacement) button batteries those lights don’t attract much attention in traffic. They seem bright in your hand, but in traffic they are not very bright except in one narrow direction and they get dimmer and dimmer as the batteries wear. And people, especially kids, forget to turn them off, so they wear out quickly. The blinking light may seem to attract some attention, but as a driver it’s hard to exactly place a blinking light in space, if you even see the feeble flashes. Drivers have trouble determining the distance to the bike. It’s hard to trust your child’s safety to one of these. We don’t use them much, though sometimes they are handy on the back of a helmet or bag in a pinch because they are lightweight and much better than nothing. The kids like to play with them.
Visibility: 3 of 10 [10 is good] (narrow angle, not very bright, even when turned on)
Maintenance: 2 of 10 (need expensive batteries changed often, need to be taken off locked bike)
Cost: 9 of 10 (about $5 - $15 each)
|big battery light with new batteries, from the side|
|Bright if you look at the right angle, but not if you don't|
Visibility: 6 of 10 (depends on angle and age of batteries, must be turned on)
Maintenance: 3 of 10 (need cheap easily available batteries changed often,
need to be taken off bike when locked)
Cost: 5 of 10 ($15 to $30 each for AA or AAA batteries, much more for rechargeables)
It's bright when it's going.
Visibility: 6 of 10 (great except when bike is stopped, always available)
Maintenance: 4 of 10 (occasional bulb changes once installed, but sometimes needs adjustment of tire dynamo angle due to hum and drag)
Cost: 10 of 10 (entire old system costs about $15 in Chicago at used shops - Working Bikes selection is in the picture.)
|This one has spoke lights|
and a $28 LED standlight.
It's the one in the top pictures.
Visibility: 9 of 10 (pretty much as good as you could expect,
stay lit at intersections, always on or available)
Maintenance: 10 of 10 (nothing to change once it's installed as long
as it's not damaged, assuming a hub dynamo... With an old
tire dynamo that needs adjustment, maybe 7-8 of 10)
Cost: 4 of 10 (front $35 and back $25 minimum, plus generator or
hub dynamo, $5 to $100 and up)
|parts from old to new, and zip ties, just to show the variety.|
You need only one white, one red, and one dynamo.
|drill the fender with the wheel off|
or you'll pop the tire
4/14: we recently had to fix up a grown up bike that had an old fashioned incandescent light running on a wheel dynamo, and we bought one of the newer (2012) LED lights, a LYT T Senso Plus from B&M with Licht24 daytime lighting. The idea is that at night, the light is pointed down at the road and cuts off higher so it doesn't blind oncoming traffic, like a car headlight or the LED lights we list above, but in the daytime the lamp switches to four bright LEDs pointed higher so traffic sees you. It sounded like a gimmick and it adds $20 to the price but it was what was available quickly so we bought it. And guess what? It really works well - surprisingly well. This is definitely something to consider for your kid's bike if you plan to buy a new headlamp.
On kind of the same note, when you set up your kid's lights, please try to make them visible without blinding oncoming traffic. Some of these new lights (mostly ones for mountain biking I guess) are really bright but don't cut off the beam.