A rider contemplating his first 300K recently asked, “[W]ondering what kind of lights you use or recommend?”
A vast subject, and one rife with contrasting opinions … but here are a few thoughts for you new(er) randonneurs. Thoughts and comments from other veterans welcome, too.
I’ve always used battery-driven lights, though some prefer hub generators. Currently, I’m using an Ixon IQ headlight, which is made by Bausch & Mueller and you can buy them for about $100 from Peter White. Runs about 5 hours on 4 AA batteries. I used this light at PBP in 2011, and it worked great. There are other lights in the $100-150 range that are perfectly suitable for randonneuring. You can spend a lot more than that without much difficulty, and you’ll get either longer battery life or more light (or both) in return, but that’s likely not necessary for most randonneurs.
You can also spend less than $100 and still have good light. The issue you tend to run into there is battery life, so you’ve got to carry spare batteries or have some other way of recharging the light on route if there’s any possibility that you’re going to be riding at night for longer than you have battery life.
A back-up headlight is also a good idea. I run a $20 Cateye as a “be seen” light in low light conditions (fog, dawn, dusk), which is enough to let other road users see me and where I don’t need the light to make out the road surface or actually see by. That’s also a good idea when I’m riding around others, so that my main, bright light doesn’t cast shadows of others, interfering with their ability to see. The back up is also a nice spare; if my main light dies or breaks (it’s happened), then I can still finish the ride legally, though not under ideal circumstances. I don’t require a back-up headlight, but you’ll find some RBAs do.
The final word on headlights is that the rules require that they be mounted to the bicycle. You can have a helmet light, and some do, but you’ve also got to have a light affixed to the bicycle for the duration of the ride. Some like helmet lights for seeing better through turns (you can turn your head, and the light moves with you), and for helping to read the cue sheet when it’s dark. (A small LED on a necklace, or affixed in the vicinity of your bar-mounted cue sheet works well for this purpose, too.)
For taillights, I’ve used a variety of brands, all in the $20-40 range, and all of which have worked great. Currently using a B&M ReliteD taillight, but in the past I’ve used Niteriders and Cateyes and the generic Planet Bike light, and those all work just fine. You’ll find many riders mount two taillights. Some will run both for added visibility. I typically mount two but only run one and keep the other as a backup. Battery life should not be an issue with taillights on a 300K.
The only other word on taillights is, like headlights, they’ve got to be mounted to the bike. Also, I ask riders to turn their lights to solid (not flashing). That’s the rule at PBP, and it’s also the law in Florida (and flashing lights are distracting to many riders and drivers).
Only other thing you need to think about with night riding is the reflective gear requirement (see Art. X). You’ll need some kind of reflective sash or vest, and reflective ankle bracelets. You can get these from any bike shop or from the RUSA store. I’ve had the same RUSA bandoleer belt going on
9 10 years. Wore it on this morning’s commute. Works great. Others prefer vests. I leave my ankle bracelets (RUSA sells these, too, and they’re in any bike shop) on all day on long rides because my ankles are a good place to “store” them!
Hope this helps a bit on the lighting subject. Holler with any questions or thoughts, and hope to see you on the 300K and longer rides!