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Seeing the Light

24 May 2022

Whether you're dodging impatient cars after a hard day at the coalface, spinning the pedals on a mid-winter road ride, or caning your favourite singletrack... increased visibility on nocturnal missions is always important.

Photo: Dominic Blissett

With only modest application of brain and wallet, you can significantly increase your visual presence on the road and reduce your chances of becoming a statistic. Light and battery technology gets better, and cheaper, each time you blink - leaping forward in Neil Armstrong-like steps. If your lights are more than a few year's old, then an upgrade could well be in order.

Like A Xmas Tree

NZ law requires a flashing or steady front and rear light at night - both visible from 200m. A useful minimum guideline and easily achievable without having to break into your KiwiSaver account. Ground Effect has a selected range of front, rear and side LED lights to adorn your treadly. All are USB rechargeable and last a reasonable time between charges.

Photo: Tony Hutcheson

... Like a Dog's Bollocks

On the tarmac, headlight choice is more about being seen rather than seeing. Within reason more is always better, but 100-200 lumens is ample.

A grunty tail light is an obvious necessity. If possible, mount it high on your seat post. Avoid clipping it to your body or backpack. The light is directional so its effectiveness compromised, or at least variable, when you bend forward.

Quality front and rear 'starting' commuting combos cost around a 100 bucks.

Day and Night

Ultra-bright day flash mode is pretty standard on quality lights and is an extraordinarily effective supplement to bright coloured clothing. The extra lumens burn through the batteries though requiring a disciplined regime for recharging.

On and Off

Light fingers are a constant hazard when away from your bike. Lights are low hanging fruit for sure. Commuter lights should be easy to both remove and reattach, and slim profile to store in your pocket or backpack.

Full moon

Off-road front options will light up the trails like Hayden Paddon's WRC car and will suitably stun errant marsupials in your path. Even basic models throw out in excess of 1000 lumens. Top spec systems deliver over 3000 lumens.

Ground Effect stocks the Magicshine 1500 lumen riding light. A sweet spot on the dollars vs lumen curve, letting you run one on your helmet and another of your handlebars for excellent vision on twisty singeltrack.


The helmet-mounted light lets you shine it in the direction you're looking, rather than where the bike is pointing. However it produces less shadowing so can be more difficult to spot terrain changes and obstacles. The lower-mounted handlebar light sorts that. And the second light as backup will save your bacon if you suffer an electrical melt-down or flat battery.

Photo: Tony Hutcheson

Twinkle, twinkle

Back on the road, reflectors or reflective clothing are legally required and effective - with a couple of caveats.

Reflectors and reflective clothing only bounce light back in the direction of its source. So in urban areas, where vehicles' lights are dipped, reflectors on the bottom half of your body work much better than those on the top.

And movement catches the eye. Pedal reflectors tick both boxes but are not standard issue with SPD pedals. Most Ground Effect longs, tights and 3/4 shorts have Hazard!™ reflective labels on each calf that move up and down as you pedal.

Right height

For travelling in traffic, mount your lights on the handlebars so they're at the height motorists expect to see them. With helmet mounted jobs you may be mistaken for a coal miner rather than a cyclist travelling at speed. And while it's tempting to shine them directly into cars so the driver knows you're there, with a high output light you risk the blindingly obvious consequences.

May the force be with you.