On reflection

I’m obviously contemplating my bike build, and having decided on the basics of wheel size and transmission I’m getting into the more peripheral elements of the bike. Since the choice of front hub depends whether I want to have a dynohub there or not (I think I probably do) the next part of the equation that’s been on my mind is lighting. I had a look into the regulations regarding lights, and found some wider information about what a bicycle is legally supposed to have in this country.

Well I won’t go into the fascinating story of which statutory instrument amended which Act of Parliament. In summary, the regulations regarding the construction of a cycle offered for sale in Great Britain are as follows:

  • Must have a front brake, operated by the right hand.
  • Must have a rear brake, operated by the left hand, or pedals (i.e. fixie/coaster)
  • Must be fitted with a bell
  • Must have a white, front-facing wide angle reflector, or front light
  • Must have a red, rear-facing wide angle reflector
  • Must have wide angle reflectors in the front wheel, or otherwise be reflective (e.g. reflex tyres)
  • Must have wide angle reflectors in the rear wheel, or fixed to the frame for the same purpose, or some other reflective element as above.
  • Amber reflectors must be fitted to the front and rear of both pedals
  • Bicycles sold as kits must include all of the above equipment, as well as a list of common tools to be used for assembly – any unusual tools should be supplied with the bike.
  • Bikes sold for competition use are exempt.

The regulations of the sort of bicycle one is actually allowed to use on the road are much less stringent, calling for:

  • An efficient front brake that does not operate directly on the tyre itself.
  • An efficient rear brake that does not operate directly on the tyre itself.
  • Er, that’s it.

Yes, you can quite legally whip off that silly excuse for a bell and all that great panoply of reflectors, as long as you’re only intending to ride the bike in daylight hours. Riding after sunrise and before sunset (which is not the same as the lighting up time that applies to cars) adds a few additional requirements and get a little complicated.

lights

  • Front white light, fixed to the bike positioned centrally or to the right, up to 1.5m from the ground, if steady conforming to British or equivalent European standards, or if flashing, frequency of 1-4hz and brightness of about 50 lumens or more (in total if more than one light is used)
  • Rear red light, fixed to the bike centrally or to the right, between 0.35 and 1.5m from the ground, if steady conforming to British or equivalent European standards, or if flashing, frequency of 1-4hz and brightness of about 50 lumens or more.
  • Rear red reflector fixed to the bike centrally or to the right, conforming to British or equivalent European standards, 0.25 to 0.9m from the ground. (note that this is in addition to, and is not replaced by, the rear light)
  • Amber reflectors on the front and rear of both pedals, unless the bike was manufactured before 1985. Note that modern clip-in pedals are NOT exempt from this!
  • The lights do not need to operate when the bicycle is stopped or being pushed, so dynamo lights without a stoplight function are legal.

However, this does sort of beg the question, if you need lights rather than reflectors at night, and you don’t need any reflectors during the day, when do you actually need all those reflectors (and let’s not forget that bell) that the law states that bicycles must be sold with? As it goes I think the rules are quite sensible, but they aren’t straightforward and aren’t presented as a single, well-thought-out ‘package’.

For my build I’m thinking of fitting Busch & Muller lighting – Germany has the tightest cycle light standards in Europe (so probably the world) and thus they will easily meet existing British legal requirements (British actual requirements are that you obviously have reasonable lights front and rear, as no copper is really going to know chapter and verse of the above. Woe betide the policeman who pulls me over for not having reflectors on the front of my 1982 bike’s pedals…).

I do think a dynamo is probably the way to go with this build, chiefly for reliability and less faff but also for reasons of it being the proper old-school way of doing things, with all the advantages of modern equipment. And that’s in a nutshell what this bike is all about. I’ll probably also want a back-up, battery powered rear light, because if your rear light goes out mid-ride you won’t know, and I think it makes sense to have independent systems.

As to the choice of which dynamo, there’s a few options but I’ve basically decided. There’s bottle dynamos but I think they’re a bit ugly and they don’t work as well in the wet, which does tend to happen in this country. There are some fabulously expensive hub dynamos, and two that I consider reasonably affordable. The Sturmey Archer dynamo has several drawbacks – it’s only available with 36 holes, it only generates 2.4 amps, and above all it’s heavy. 825g compared with 390g for a 3 amp hub made by Shutter Precision. This is available in shiny silver to go with the fork, and the only drawback is it isn’t available as a nutted hub.

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