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I have recently invested in an LED front lamp with a battery pack. The results are great, it's incredibly bright and I will feel much safer with it on my bike.

However, I don't want to blind or hinder any other road users with how bright it is.

Car headlights are brighter but angled in a specific way, what is the correct angling (roughly) for a bike front headlight to maximise visibility whilst not impairing other road users?

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Yeah, generally you want the headlight aimed at the ground in front of you. How far ahead depends on the brightness and "spread" of the light and road conditions, but I'd say 10 to 30 feet. (20 meters sounds like a bit much.) –  Daniel R Hicks Oct 10 '13 at 0:59
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One extra tip - not a direct answer. Many of these lights have a strobe mode, but if they're bright enough to light up the road in front of you, all the strobe will do is dazzle drivers, other cyclists etc. By all means use flashing lights, but not a flashing headlight. The strobe "feature" was probably added because it was an easy way to claim more features. –  Chris H Oct 10 '13 at 10:17
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The strobe also extends battery life. –  Doug D. Oct 11 '13 at 17:42
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@ChrisH The strobe function makes the light more visible in the daytime. –  andy256 Nov 7 at 4:11
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@andy256 that's true and in that case is unlikely to dazzle anyone except at close range. My content was about high brightness strobes at night. –  Chris H Nov 7 at 8:21

2 Answers 2

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Car headlights are more complex than bike lights. The beam is 'shaped' to throw light away from oncoming drivers and has a sharp cutoff on dipped beam. therefore bike lights will always cause a greater degree of glare (for relative brightness) than car lights.

Point the beam so its shining at the ground about 10-20meters in front, and slightly towards the curb. The faster you go, the higher it needs to be. Curb side is where you need most light, as that is where the glass and rubbish is, and it avoids blinding oncoming motorists. As far as being seen, add a non-directional flashing light and hi-vis gear.

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Some bike lights, ones that state they pass the German bicycle lighting regulations, have mirrors like regular car lights (not high beams) which do not shine above the horizon. These can be focused to project much farther forward on the ground without blinding on coming riders, unlike the bike lights with spherical beams (unfortunately the majority of the market) which blind everyone even when you point them down. –  Rider_X Nov 7 at 16:58

If it's a bright light, it definitely needs to be angled down somewhat, but how much really depends on the brightness + beam-spread.

You've got a few potentially competing/conflicting safety interests:

  • lighting the road/path to see potholes, debris, branches, ...
  • not blinding those in front of you (pedestrians/cyclists/drivers, perhaps even animals who'll stop like a deer in headlights)
  • making yourself visible (though I use a second visibility light for this)

My method of dealing with this was to get someone to stand on the street while I rode toward them, changing my headlight angle each time, angling it down until they didn't find it painfully blinding. It's not very scientific, but is at least very specific to my particular lights.

Depending on where/how you're riding, you might want to get them to sit in a small car (if commuting, as that's likely the lowest eye-height you need to worry about), stand on the road/path, or get up on a bike (depending on the likely users of your road/trail/path/...).

This should work reasonably well if your lights have a hard cut-off around the edge of the beam, and you'll hopefully end up with the road in front of you lit up (at a useful range). If it's too far, you can still move it further down (duh) but if it's basically at your front wheel you might need to find a narrower-beam light with a harder cut-off.

When I'm commuting, I tend to point it down a little lower (aimed about 3-4m in front of my bike, which is fine for my usual commute speeds with my particular light), but if I'm riding faster, on lower-traffic roads/paths, I'll have it pointed a bit higher (less people to annoy, and likely moving faster so want to see further). Mine happens to be very easy to adjust up/down, which makes this convenient.

Obviously this only applies to lights that are specifically intended to light up the road (not to provide visibility), though I often pass riders who have the former but think it's the latter, pointed straight ahead. I think part of the blame for this lies with light reviews/recommendations, which compare both types side-by-side. I regularly see articles/blog posts along the lines of "2014 bike light round-up review", which include 50–100 lumen front visibility lights alongside 200–1000 lumen headlights, failing to point out that the former are for others to see you, while the latter are for you to see the road & others.

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