New! – Your Chicagoboyz Bicycle Safety Product Endorsements

As the season turns to Spring, Chicagoboyz turn to wholesome fresh-air pursuits such as bicycle riding. Unhappily we must share the road with motorists including various drunks, hotheads, incompetents, text messaging fiends and other menaces. A friend of ours who is a lawyer has taken to yelling at drivers who buzz him, advising them of the law requiring them to give cyclists at least three feet of space when passing. We have great respect for the law but prefer more active measures. To somewhat improve our survival odds we now limit our hours of operation, have increased the proportion of our riding done on off-road trails and, when we do go on the road, light ourselves up like a Christmas tree. (To those who are troubled by bright flashing lights in traffic I can only say: Yes, such lights are troubling, that is why they are used on police and other emergency vehicles that are at high risk of collision.)

In this regard the following products are ones that I have used extensively and recommend:


This is one of the best daylight-visible tail lights and probably best for the money. (The best, cost-no-object tail lights I have seen are made by Dinotte. However, the current Cygolites aren’t much dimmer, are smaller and you can buy five or six of them for the price of one Dinotte tail light.)

These little Cygolite headlights are great for daytime use as front-facing white flashers, and if you get caught out after dark they have a very respectable steady headlight beam for getting home. Their main limitation is a small battery that only lasts for an hour or so in steady headlight mode. You’ll need a brighter light with a bigger battery to ride at night. (Here’s an even brighter version of this light.)

MagicShine is a line of relatively inexpensive Chinese LED headlights of decent quality. The MJ-872 is an older model but still available. (Here’s a list of MagicShine products, including newer models, available on Amazon.) I’ve used an MJ-872 for a couple of years and it’s been reliable. It has a crude rubber-band mounting system that works well as there is little to go wrong with it. These lights are wicked bright, the newer ones no doubt even more so (an Amazon review of a similar product said it’s so bright it kills vampires and will burn a shadow in your drywall, which is exaggerating but not by much). While this light is adequate for night cycling on dark roads the beam is too wide for night trail use unless you use it in conjunction with a similarly-bright narrow-beam headlight. One weakness of the MJ-872 is its lack of a flashing mode, which makes it less useful during the day, which is why I bought the Cygolite headlight mentioned above. Other MagicShine models do have flashing capability. Overall, in my experience and the experience of my friends MagicShine products are good values.

I just started using these. They are very bright and reflective when new but can get grimy with use. We’ll see how well they hold up.

These mirrors are excellent. (Click the Amazon link to see a clearer image of the mirror on the Amazon site.) I prefer the standard model as the compact model sat too close to my face, but YMMV. They stay adjusted and the company will replace your mirror for a few bucks if it breaks. Not everyone likes these mirrors as they block part of the forward view on the side of your glasses the mirror is mounted on, but for the price it’s worth trying one to see if it works for you.

There are also many reflectors, spoke- and pedal-mounted reflectors, reflective tape and similar products, too many to list. Many of them are cheap and work well at night. It may be worth experimenting with such things if you ride much. I am mainly concerned with visibility during daylight hours and around sunset, when bright headlights and flashers seem to work best.

Whatever safety equipment you use, keep your head up, ride defensively, don’t wear headphones, and avoid public roads as much as possible. Self-driving cars can’t come soon enough.

10 thoughts on “New! – Your Chicagoboyz Bicycle Safety Product Endorsements”

  1. Reflective kit is the key: far more important than lights, once you have enough lights to satisfy the local law. I speak both as a cyclist, and as a frequent driver in a cyclist-rich area.

  2. It’s a good idea to use reflectors but they need light from headlights to reflect. Bright clothing helps during the day but there is no substitute for bright lights, especially flashing ones.

  3. “It’s a good idea to use reflectors but they need light from headlights to reflect.” That’s exactly why they are so good – so that the car driver sees you even if lots of lights other than yours are grabbing his attention. Certainly you must wear a reflective jacket: reflectors on your ankles and spokes also help. Reflective gloves are good too.

  4. Speaking in my capacity as a driver:

    I disapprove strobe lights and ultra-bright headlights. They’re blinding and disorienting, and they strike me as dangerous. I’ve swerved a little, involuntarily, when getting suddenly hit with a strobe. This is a badness thing.

    I approve reflective clothing. It makes a bicyclist very visible, and it’s a large surface so the bicyclist is more visible than with tiny stick-on reflectors on bike frame or bicyclist.

    Most of all, I very very much approve reflective sidewalls on bike tires. For the driver who wants to avoid hitting a bike, they do it all:
    – They’re large object, very visible.
    – They tell me not only where the bike is, but how far away (because of the size of the circles) and what direction it’s going (because I can see the distortion from circular depending on its orientation).
    – They tell me all this in a single glance, without blinding or distracting me.

    This is all based on actual driving experience in a city with a lot of bicyclists, sharing roads with (optimistically) inadequate bike lanes on narrow streets.

    If I were Empress, I’d make them mandatory on all bikes.

  5. It might be a good idea to distinguish between day and night. During the day, bright lights and especially bright flashing lights are effective at alerting motorists to bicycles even quite far away and are not blinding. There could be a case for dimmer tail lights on bikes at night. Perhaps technology will make the lights more effective and less annoying to motorists. However, the fact that lights on emergency vehicles have become brighter and more numerous over the years suggests that noxiously bright lights prevent accidents. To put it differently, complaints about bright lights on bikes would be more convincing if the complainers also complained about the lights on police and fire vehicles, tow trucks, etc.

    Reflective tires and other side reflectors are a good idea and make it easier for drivers to see and avoid cyclists who run stop signs at night or do other dumb things. I have reflective tape and other reflectors on the bikes I use most, am cautious at intersections and don’t ride much at night. But while poorly illuminated cyclists are an inconvenience for drivers, inept/hostile/distracted drivers are a deadly threat to cyclists. Prudent cyclists also use bright forward- and back-facing lights because the main danger comes from overtaking and turning cars. The bright headlight on my bike noticeably reduces the rate at which motorists make turns across my path, especially around sunset. If some motorists are annoyed by my light I can live with that.

  6. Bright lights on emergency vehicles serve a different purpose. They’re not there to help you see the vehicle, or to prevent accidents; they’re there to warn people who are several blocks ahead to get ready to pull over and get out of the way. By the time they get close enough to be blinding, you’re generally not moving anyway.

    It’s not a question of being “annoyed” by being strobed. It’s a question of safety for yourself, and in part for others. It is not safe to blind or startle someone driving close to you. (It’s not safe even if you’re protected by a car.) This is particularly true on a narrow road where bicycle and car are far too close in the first place, which is a distressingly frequent situation. If I were riding a bike, I wouldn’t want to trigger startle reflex in a driver inching past me, and I would want to make sure that driver knew exactly where I was—not just a blinding point source of light.

    Cars don’t have a single headline and single taillight, and there are laws against driving a car with your brights on against traffic. There’s a reason for that.

  7. “do strobe lights promote epileptic fits in drivers?”

    I was wondering last fall if someone would sneak a strobe light into a Hillary rally.

    It would have been hilarious but the sneaker would probably end up like Seth Rich.

  8. I’ll take the challenge of complaining about flashing lights. Not police/fire/ambulance, since they are careful not to deploy them outside of specific need. The ones I object to are all of the others; tow trucks just transporting a disabled vehicle, trash trucks on the freeway and especially construction vehicles far from the job. These are just useless distractions, forcing me to determine whether it represents a real hazard or just an idiot too lazy to shut it off.

    On the other hand, bicycle and motorcycle riders need to make themselves as visible as possible. The challenge is to make it possible for other drivers to not only notice them but to accurately judge their distance speed and direction. A single point of light, no matter how obnoxious is noticed but impossible to judge for distance beyond the distance where binocular vision is active (much less than a hundred feet). Drivers are used to judging the distance to other cars by the apparent separation of the headlights. Any single vertical object, the silhouette of a bike or motorcycle, is also hard to judge, or at a distance, to tell from a post.

    Beyond lights, flashing and otherwise, the need is to increase the apparent horizontal size of the target. Reflectors, lights and clothing should all be deployed with that in mind. The car that turned in front of you probably saw you but misjudged how close.

  9. MCS:

    Thanks for your thoughtful remarks.

    In my area it’s not unusual for empty police cars to be parked with lights flashing on busy roads where a lane is closed for construction. It’s also routine everywhere for emergency vehicles parked at accident sites to have their flashing lights on, day or night. It’s annoying and it gets attention.

    A single point of obnoxious flashing light is better than none. The cyclist’s target audience isn’t careful drivers but distracted idiots who might not notice cyclists at all otherwise. It’s also motorists who misjudge cyclists’ speed, as in probably most of the many cases where drivers turned across my path over the years.

    Also, as did the other commenters here you ignored the distinction between day and night. At night there might be a case for limiting the brightness of cyclists’ flashers, though I’m not convinced. However, most bicyclists are out during the day when there is every reason to use the brightest, most visible lights available.

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