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How to: Understand lighting regulations

How to: Understand lighting regulations

Many cyclists are in the dark when it comes to bicycle lighting regulations. Here’s what you need to know.

You’re a responsible nighttime cyclist: you’ve got a white front light and a red rear light, both fixed to the bike. You’ve never been stopped by the Police. Yet it’s likely that your bike doesn’t comply with the Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations. If you were involved in an incident on the road on a non-compliant bike, you might be deemed partly at fault. To avoid that, you need the right lights and the right reflectors.

Let’s start with reflectors. Between dusk and dawn, your bike must be fitted with a red rear reflector and amber pedal reflectors that are visible from the front and rear. These must conform to BS6102/2. The red rear reflector is easy; your bike will have come with one. If you’ve lost that, it’s simple to add one to a seat post, rear rack, or mudguard. Some rear lights incorporate red reflectors too.


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Pedal reflectors can be fitted to most flat pedals, and many come with them installed. If you want to use clipless pedals, look for trekking/commuting pedals, such as the Shimano Deore XT T800 pictured, with a cleat on one side and a flat pedal surface on the other; these pedals come with reflectors. Alternatively, fit pedal reflector adapters, such as Shimano’s SM-PD22. If neither is an option, at least meet the regulations half way by wearing reflective ankle bands or shoes with reflective heels.

Shimano Deore XT T800 Trekking pedal

Lights are more complicated. There’s a difference between lights that are legal and lights that are approved. Essentially, a light is legal to use as additional illumination if it’s the right colour and doesn’t dazzle. But you must also have front and rear lights that are approved, which means conforming to BS6102/3 or ‘a corresponding standard of another EC country’. Strangely, it’s usually easier to find battery lights that meet German standards – they’ll be listed as meeting StVZO or marked with a K-number – than it is to find battery lights meeting BS6102/3.

Approved dynamo lights are easy to find, since such lights generally do meet German standards. Bicycles aren’t obliged to show lights when they’re stopped, incidentally, although most modern dynamo lights do have a ‘standlight’ function that keeps then shining for a while when you do stop.


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Some flashing lights are okay to use as your only lights even if they don’t meet BS6102/3 or StVZO. Firstly, they must only flash; if there’s a steady mode, even if you don’t use it, the light must meet BS6102/3 (or StVZO). Note that most flashing lights do have a steady mode. Secondly, they must flash 1-4 times per second. Thirdly, they must emit at least 4 candela. One candela is about 12.5 lumens, so that’s 50 lumens – which is unusually bright.

Before 1989, bicycle lights merely had to be ‘visible from a reasonable distance’. It’s a shame that the Department for Transport hasn’t reintroduced this common sense ruling. Fortunately, the Police take exactly this pragmatic approach: if you have clearly visible lights of the right colour, that’s good enough for them.


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