As I think most folks that read this site know, I was involved in a pretty serious accident at the end of March. It was a hit-and-run, and the driver was never found, so I never got any real answers as to how the accident happened, but when I thought about what I could have done to have prevented the accident, making myself more visible was number one on the list. The road I was on was not heavily trafficked; it had a wide shoulder; and there was a clear line of site from the intersection where the call pulled out in front of me for a long way down the road. Even the road where the car came from only went to one place – a strawberry farm. In talking to the police, they expressed that visibility is often a major concern. Motorcyclists are hit more often than cars, and the assumption is just that motorcycles are smaller and therefore more easily overlooked as compared with a car. Imagine a cyclist down in the aerobars and how much smaller still we must be.
Before getting back on the road, I thought about what options I had to make myself more visible. Neon helmets, jerseys, etc. all crossed my mine. But ultimately, I wanted something that dramatically caught the eye, and the obvious thought was a flashing light. On cars, the presence of daytime running lights contributes to a greatly reduced risk of a head-on collision. Add in a flash, and I figured that drivers would pay even greater attention. I had a pair of Blackburn Flea lights which I used as "emergency" lights for rides during the winter months, when a flat tire or a headwind can mean that you get caught out in low light with the shortened daylight hours. Both the front and rear lights come with flashing modes, and I ran these lights whenever I rode. I could see drivers making eye contact with me at intersections, though I'm sure I was also more aware.
In addition to the flashers on my bike, I added a modular headlamp unit (it's a self contained module that attaches to an elastic headband) onto my helmet, using zip-ties to attach it. This light didn't have a blinking mode, but it would signal SOS and that seemed just as good to me. And that was my set-up every day when I rode. And it has saved my life at least once. Not long before I raced Ironman Arizona, a car ran a red-light on a turn arrow; As I approached the intersection, I could see the car speeding up, but by the time I realized what was happening, it was too late for me to stop on the lightly wet roads. I just turned and looked directly at the car, hopeful that he'd see the flashing light on my helmet. He stopped a few feet from me as I sailed on past.
Despite being satisfied with the light set-up I had, I knew there were better options. The Fenix lamp was bright – 105 lumens, as compared with the 40 lumens of the front Flea – but it used AA batteries, which meant either messing around with rechargeable AA batteries, most of which have a relatively short lifespan as compared with alkalines, or throwing away batteries, which is terrible for the environment. There is battery recycling around me, and I do recycle my batteries, but it still seemed that a long-lasting rechargeable running off a battery pack was a better option. The Flea was rechargeable, but it wasn't particularly bright at 40 lumens (a lumen is a measure of the power of light perceived by the human eye) and the very small internal battery didn't even last the claimed five hours in flashing mode, not exactly ideal as a recommendation for Ironman athletes, many of whom ride more than five hours regularly.
So I started investigating high-end commuter and mountain-bike lights designed for night riding and racing. Almost all lights featured a flashing mode. The brightness was an order of magnitude greater than the little lights I had, in some cases as much as 40x more powerful than the Flea for the very brightest options. And they all featured dedicated battery packs, many very small and long lasting lithium-ion packs. And so the idea for this series – "Stay Safe. Be Seen." – was born.
I relied on input from the endless resources of Twitter and Facebook to come up with a list of companies to contact, and I wrote to them asking for help for a different sort of look at their lights, one focused on lights as a safety tool. I wasn't talking about safety in terms of being able to see the road or trail better, but safety in terms of being seen by cars. The feedback has been fantastic. Many of these companies already emphasize this aspect of their lights, and I'm excited to spend some time reviewing these really impressive pieces of engineering.
The first light I received was from Cygolite, an Orange County, California company that designs and assembles all of its lights in the USA. Cygolite focuses entirely on forward facing lights, and unfortunately, they don’t make a light for the rear. But they do recognize the importance and value of lights for daytime visibility, as all their lights feature a "Daytime Flashing" mode, designed expressly for use during the day. Cygolite makes several options that seemed like they’d fit the bill for testing, but ultimately, we settled on the MityCross 400, a dual High-Brightness LED light with a max output of 400 lumens. It comes with both helmet and handlebar mounts, and at only 240grams for light, battery, and mounting hardware, it’s small enough that you hardly notice it’s there. The entire package – both light and battery pack – can be easily mounted on the helmet, but I chose to mount just the light unit on my helmet and to use the included extension cord to run the battery pack in my jersey pocket.
The light features two modes – "Bike Mode" and "Special Mode" – each of which features three settings. Bike mode has high/medium/low settings. Special mode has the daytime flash, low-intensity walking mode, and SOS flash for signaling in case of an emergency. The included 140g lithium ion battery provides 3.5/5/17 hours of runtime in each brightness setting respectively. And it powers the light for 50/100/100 hours in each of the special mode. An included charger with a simple dual-color LED – red means charging; green means charged – easily and quickly charges the pack; from totally drained to totally charged takes only four hours.
Both the battery and the lamp are weather sealed and designed to withstand rain, snow, dirt, dust, and general abuse. The intense brightness requires an aluminum body to disperse heat, as 400 lumens generates a lot of heat even from high efficiency LEDs, but it also makes for a very durable unit that is more than up to the rigors of cycling.
While the light came with both bike and helmet mounts, I focused on the helmet mount as the best way for most triathletes to mount up the light. Not only does mounting on the helmet allow you to direct the light for better visibility, it’s also easier than trying to mount the light on aerobars. Assuming you have a basebar that accepts a standard clamp (which many don’t), you’ll need to mount on side to prevent your hands from blocking the light. But mounting it outside of the pads presents another problem - your arms will obscure the light to cars on the left if mounted on right or vice versa. I’m working on a mount to put the light central – but underneath – your aerobars for clear visibility, the helmet mount works without requiring a trip to Home Depot.
Operation of the light is simple and straightforward. Push the power button once to turn it on. Push again to switch between brightnesses/settings. Push and hold the button for one second when turning on to switch from bike mode to special mode. The power button has three little LEDs underneath a transparent rubber cover which light up to display what setting is chosen. You can also easily program the light in the field to fine tune the brightness of both medium and low settings as well as programming the delay between pulses in the daytime flash.
- Dedicated "daytime flash" setting designed expressly for visibility with programmable delay
- Good price:performance ratio. MSRP is $245, but available at several e-tailers for $180, which is an excellent price for a 400 lumen lamp with a lithium-ion battery.
- Slightly heavier at 240g total weight than some competitors (lights of equivalent brightness)
- Exposed metal on battery joint connection is a *potential* area of weakness over the life of the light.
For more information, visit the Cygolite website to check out all the lights, including the MityCross 400.
However, since the focus of these reviews is really on being seen, there’s no real substitute for actually seeing the light in action.
Stay safe out there!