Bicyclists are essentially invisible to motorists at night and hence should and must, per state laws, take the necessary precaution to see and be seen. Every state requires a white front light to illuminate the bicyclist’s path of travel when riding between sunset and sunrise. Front lights are required to be visible typically at a distance of at least 500 feet. Some states require only a rear red reflector visible at a distance of at least 500 feet, whereas some require a rear lamp emitting a red light at a distance of at least 500 feet.
A wide variety of bicycle lights is available on the market with prices ranging from under $25 to $200+. Most if not all lights (front and rear) have a variety of steady and flashing modes, with the latter enhancing a motorist’s ability to see the bicyclist. Rear lights should always be put in flashing mode for this very reason. While front lights in general are operated in the steady mode to illuminate a path during the dark, they are also often used in the flashing mode during daylight hours, including dusk and dawn, to enhance the bicyclist’s visibility to motorists.
Front lights are typically mounted on the front handlebars. Many cyclists will also mount a front light or a second front light on the top of their helmets which allows them to illuminate their path in whatever direction they are looking. The rear lights are typically mounted on the rear of the bicycle on the frame, the seat post, or a bike accessory bag hanging off the seat. Additionally, rear lights can be clipped to the rear of bicyclists’ jersey pockets or even to their helmets. Some bicycle helmet manufacturers are now building the lights directly into the helmet.
An appropriate bike light selection requires cyclists to evaluate their cycling habits, including the frequency of their night riding and where they are riding. For example, riding on a removed paved bicycle path on an infrequent basis may not require a high-end light as compared to frequently riding on city streets during the dark.
The number one rule, regardless of how many lights or reflectors you have on your bicycle and yourself when riding at night (and even during the day), is to assume you are invisible to motorists and must take necessary precautions.