Please illunimate us, Miss Panniers

Lighten up!Dear Miss Panniers,

I’m a little in the dark when it comes to lights. What’s the etiquette around here?

Cedric Libani, UW student

Gentle Cedar,

When it comes to lights, our goal is to see and be seen. (Just one of the many ways that cycling is like finely cultured society).

While Miss Panniers considers herself a slave to both fashion and etiquette, she is also a loyal subject of the realm. State law (RCW 46.61.780) requires a white front light visible from at least 500 feet and a red rear reflector visible from 600 feet in low-beam headlights. A red light or flashing “light-emitting diode” (blinkie light) may be used in addition to – but not instead of - the rear reflector.

Miss Panniers has noticed a widespread trend to use ONLY a white blinkie light on the front. This is like wearing a fabulous tie…without a shirt. Blinkies are an eye-catching accessory (goal: be seen); the steady beam is the all-important staple (goal: to see). That steady beam in front will reveal important terrain features such as curbs, potholes, storm grates, roots, small mammals, etc. Miss Panniers herself covers all her bases with the basics (white front beam and red rear reflector) as well as a red rear blinkie and white front blinkie.

Next, we consider location, location, location. Unless you wear your trousers backwards, Miss Panniers strongly admonishes you to NEVER, EVER use red lights in the front and/or white in the back. This fatale faux-pas sends the exact opposite message to passing bicyclists and motorists regarding your orientation and direction of travel. The ensuing confusion could lead to an ugly head-on collision.

Just as we survey our attire in a mirror before stepping out the door, Miss Panniers encourages you to survey your bicycle lights before you assume they are adequate. Use a friend as “mirror”: have them ride your bike (perhaps even wear your gear) in low light. Is your front beam directed so as to illuminate the surface ahead? Check out your backside: are your rear reflector and light blocked by your seat, rear racks, etc? Make adjustments or add reflectivity to ensure that you will see and be seen to best effect this winter.