Lights and reflectors required by law
In order to cycle in compliance with Belgian road laws classic city bikes should be equipped with reflectors:
- a clear one at the front and a red one at the back;
- yellow/orange reflectors on the pedals;
- two yellow/orange reflectors on each wheel and/or a reflective sticker on each side of the tyres.
For racing/road bikes, mountain bikes and small-wheeled bikes, reflectors are only compulsory when riding at night or with visibility at less than 200 metres.
To comply with the law, all bikes used at night or when visibility is less than 200 metres should have two lights:
- one white or yellow at the front;
- the other red at the back.
These can be flashing or non-flashing, fixed to the bike or carried by the cyclist.
We can divide available equipment into three categories:
- dynamos fitted to the side of the tyre, beneath the bottom bracket or inside the hub;
- battery-powered lights;
- lights without batteries (powered by magnetic induction or solar energy).
Most often, city bikes have a front headlight powered by a dynamo and a battery-operated red back light that has the advantage of remaining lit when at a standstill and (for the manufacturer) simplifying the assembly.
To improve your visibility you can also kit yourself out with gilets, armbands (with our without LEDs), stickers, reflective tubes that clip on the wheel spokes and other reflective clothing (bearing the CE label and therefore conforming to EU standards). Although these items are not obligatory, we do recommend them: when you wear them you will be seen from a distance of 150 metres as compared with 50 metres if you just wear ordinary light-coloured clothing. Faced with the extensive choice of equipment on the market, anticipate what you will need and separate the useful from the unnecessary by pinpointing your needs and your kinds of journeys and bikes.
Lastly, you can add a so-called safety distance spacer at the rear left side of your bike. This device helps prevent you being grazed by cars. It is made up of an orange-coloured arm that at one end has a fixing that connects to the bike and at the other end has a red reflector and a white reflector.
Life of power source
If you use a dynamo you are certain of always having a light that conforms with the legal requirements. Its only limitations are determined by your stamina and the lifetime of the bulbs – although halogen bulbs are increasingly replaced by LEDs. Also be aware that there can be difficulties with faulty connections and sometimes even whole sections of the cables that connect the dynamo to the headlight. We should also point out that certain models of dynamo-powered lights include an accumulator. More expensive to buy, they allow the rear light to remain lit when at a standstill thanks to the electric current accumulated while pedalling and thereby resolve the main drawback of dynamo-powered lights.
Besides their “lighting” function, dynamos can now power electronic accessories (GPS, GSM, MP3, …).
How long a battery-powered light lasts depends on the life of the battery. Most of the time, these types of light also consist of LEDs. Consuming little energy, lightweight, sturdy and resistant to impact, LEDs have a long lifespan (particularly when they are used for flashing lights). If you use batteries, opt for rechargable ones.
Some types of light equipment are mounted in the factory; others are attached to the bike later.
The first types, generally dynamos, have the advantage that you never run the risk of forgetting them somewhere. The dynamo that is integrated into the hub is certainly the most practical due to the fact that it is part of the wheel. Furthermore, using it hardly effects your ride (friction between the dynamo and the wheel being almost non-existent) and is not affected by the weather, contrary to other dynamo systems.
The second types, generally battery-powered/batteryless lights, can be used on different bikes, put on wherever you are and do not affect your physical effort. However, if you are thinking of buying a detachable system, test the fixings beforehand in order to check how solid and practical they are. In the case of batteries, watch out for the length between the cable and the light. Also, as the theft of these kinds of accessory is common practice, consider compact systems that are easily portable. Finally, when you attach the back light, fix it to the luggage rack rather than the mudguard as this is more solid and less vulnerable to knocks and vibration.
In the case of folding bikes, detachable lights are of course more suitable.
Maintaining your bike
Regularly clean your bike so that the lights and the reflectors/reflective bands are always clearly visible. It is mainly the reflective bands that can be problematic: by getting dirty and worn with use, their reflective power becomes greatly reduced.
The good function of a dynamo that is fixed to the side of the tyre or under the bottom bracket will be linked to the state of your wheel. A dirty or buckled wheel will result in intermittent lighting since the roller will not be able to spin continuously. Furthermore, if this type of dynamo is badly installed it can damage the sidewalls or the tread of your tyre.
Lighting powered by a dynamo fixed to the side of the tyre or under the bottom bracket is not suitable for all kinds of tyres. Besides, if it rains, the roller of these kinds of dynamos has less effective contact with the tyre. Note that it is always possible to add a piece of rubber in order to increase contact.
Some front and back lights combine headlights and reflectors. This “two in one” package, which is absolutely legal, diminishes the number and therefore the weight of the compulsory pieces of equipment. Buy an extra large gilet so that it can go over your backpack.
Some bags/saddlebags come with reflective surfaces, which is ideal!
Fitting your bike with basic lights costs between € 10 and € 20. For “top quality” lights, plan on spending between € 50 and € 100.