For many years cyclists relied on high-viz clothing to grab motorists’ attention. Now, more and more riders are supplementing their neon apparel with lights to improve visibility for both night and day use. Even when daylight is plentiful, it’s not unusual to see cyclists along Colorado’s Front Range sporting high-powered front and rear lights on the sunniest of days. But what about side visibility? While some head and tail lights do provide extended coverage, Blackburn Design has upped the ante with their dedicated 360-degree-visible Grid Side Beacon light set.
Available in a two-pack ($55 MSRP) or as part of the company’s Luminate 360 light set ($110 MSRP), Blackburn’s Grid Side Beacons boast four output modes, an IP-65 protection rating, and are easily charged via a standard USB port with the included cable. Measuring just 13 mm thick, the compact 29-gram (each) lights can pump out up to 85 lumens on the highest setting. And to make sure that you don’t get caught with a dead battery, the Side Beacons feature built-in LED charge indicators (green for 100-75%, amber for 75-25%, and red for less than 25%). The Grids attach via simple o-rings, and the lights’ rubber backing help keep them securely positioned while reducing the likelihood of scratching the bike’s frame/fork.
|Mode||Output (lumens)||Runtime (hours)|
If you already use front and rear lights, you may be wondering why you should bother with side lights. Simple: increased visibility to motorists. Blackburn cites a recent study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) that showed 27% of bicycle accidents are side impacts, and 30% of fatalities occured in intersections (between 2010-2017). And those amber LEDs? Why that color instead of red or something else? For one, the (amber) color sits in the middle of the (light) spectrum, making it easier for the human eye to pick up. Secondly, yellow/amber send a clear message of caution or slow down (as well as disambiguating itself from white/front and red/rear lights).
I spent the past couple of months testing Blackburn’s Side Beacons on my pre-dawn and late afternoon commutes. The 12-mile route covers a mix of residential streets, separated bikeways, multi-use paths, and dirt/gravel trails. My bikes’ legally required front and rear lights were supplemented with the Grid Side Beacons, which I attached to the bikes’ forks. On the brightest (85 lumen) setting, the Side Beacons produce an extremely powerful glow. While I was initially concerned that the Grids’ amber light might affect my night vision, the Side Beacons’ output wasn’t distracting or disorienting in actual use. For pre-dawn riding, I generally found the low/solid (50 lumen) mode to be sufficient (and enabled longer runtimes). During the day, I alternated between the high/solid (85 lumen) and two flashing modes (85 and 50 lumens).
It should come as no surprise that the addition of Blackburn’s Grid Side Beacons certainly increased my visibility. Did that additional visibility translate into improved safety? That’s a tough question to answer, as so much of one’s safety is dependent on proper infrastructure, as well as motorists’ attitudes and awareness. I may have noticed a slight increase in cars’ passing distance when using the Side Beacons, but that’s almost impossible (for me) to quantify. What I can tell you, though, is that the Grids enabled compliance with Colorado’s legal requirements, specifically (italics mine):
42-4-221. Bicycle and personal mobility device equipment
Every bicycle, electrical assisted bicycle, or EPAMD [electric personal assistive mobility device] when in use at the times described in section 42-4-204 [between sunset and sunrise] shall be equipped with reflective material of sufficient size and reflectivity to be visible from both sides for six hundred feet when directly in front of lawful lower beams of head lamps on a motor vehicle or, in lieu of such reflective material, with a lighted lamp visible from both sides from a distance of at least five hundred feet.
Will I continue to use the Side Beacons now that I’ve published this article? Absolutely–and not merely to adhere to the aforementioned legalese. Shuffling Blackburn’s Grid Side Beacons between my bikes is quick and easy thanks to the o-ring mounting system (but I’d like to see Blackburn include a third, middle-sized o-ring), and the lights’ generous run times mean that I don’t have to charge them after every ride. And ultimately, anything that makes me more visible to motorists is a win in my book.
Disclosure: Blackburn Design provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation in exchange for editorial coverage.