I want to put a light on my bike helmet.
October 12, 2010 7:58 PM   Subscribe

I want to put a light on my bike helmet. Do you have any specific products or strategies to recommend?

I have a nice bright white flasher on my handle bars, but I think I would like to add another to my helmet. Much of my biking is on city streets alongside parallel-parked cars. For cars pulling out across my path from parking lots or alleys, I think that my front flasher is sometimes cut off because the parked cars block the line-of-sight from the light to the driver's eye. But I can see over the parked cars, so, presumably, a light on top of my head would not be blocked.

So, I want to stick a light on my head. Here are some parameters:

1. I would like it to be small but not so small that it is ineffective.

2. I would like to attach it in some way so that it is not a hazard if I crash and land on it -- i.e., it should be very small or should be "breakaway" ready.

3. I would like it not to look tremendously dorky. (Impossible?)

Any thoughts or specific products ideas are welcome. Thanks.
posted by Mid to Health & Fitness (33 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Well, I just put a headlamp over my helmet. The elastic band makes it attach and detach really easily, plus it's adjustable and nice and bright. As for number 3? No dice, it's about the dorkiest look imaginable.
posted by Think_Long at 8:05 PM on October 12, 2010

I've seen this a lot lately, with both front and back lights (red in the back). I've seen it enough on different helmets that I have come to the conclusion that there's an actual product made for just this purpose. It doesn't look any dorkier than a regular helmet, but I would think it would also be useful to still have lights on your actual bicycle.
posted by padraigin at 8:08 PM on October 12, 2010

I don't know about yours, but there's a little notice on my bike helmet that says not to do this and that any attachments may void the warranty.

That said, I've seen people use 2-3mm cable ties to hold lights onto helmets. They snap easily enough if but they're strong enough to hold up to the shaking that comes with riding.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 8:09 PM on October 12, 2010

I second the headlamp - it's super dorky, but hey, it's dark, so no-one will see the headband and dorkitude, just the bright white blinking light! Plus it's multi function, which is always a bonus.
posted by foodmapper at 8:09 PM on October 12, 2010

If you are in Canada, you can get one of these helmet mounts plus the turtle light itself. Also known as "guppy" lights and maybe some other names. The 2-LED ones are pretty bright, enough for secondary visibility but not for illumination. Almost any cycling/outdoor store has these lights, but I'm not sure about the availability of the mount.
posted by bread-eater at 8:11 PM on October 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Nthing the people who have suggested getting a headlamp. I think they may make some designed for cyclists or climbers, but I know they make some that are targeted at mechanics. I know from personal experience as a mechanic that it's worth its weight in gold.

You might have to loosen the straps as much as possible, or zip tie it onto your helmet pretty well, but it's definitely a good idea.

As far as #3, I'd rather be safe, visible, and a little dorky than get run over by someone who didn't see me in time.
posted by AMSBoethius at 8:19 PM on October 12, 2010

Just a heads up; the reason helmets say not to put things on them is because helmets are slippery on purpose. Without anything hanging onto them, helmets can slide and redirect downward force outwards instead of into your neck. Make of that what you will.
posted by wayland at 8:31 PM on October 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

One thing you can do that mostly doesn't affect the sliding (much) is adhere reflective tape to it. You can even get it in non-white colors (no really!) if you're worried about looks.
posted by R343L at 8:39 PM on October 12, 2010

I took a small flashlight, mounted it on the side of my helmet far enough forward and out to provide full illumination on a wad of tape and then taped it on. With just tape attaching the light it is strong enough to not detach with branches but weak enough to catch my head in a crash.

As for #3, dorky seems cooler to me than dead or ambiguous fault.
posted by Blasdelb at 8:40 PM on October 12, 2010

A front light should be steady, not flashing. That is standard and what people are looking for. The quicker you are recognized as an oncoming vehicle, and not a store display, the better. A flashing front light may not be legal.
The larger in diameter the light is, the easier it is to see.
Driving close to parked vehicles makes it more difficult for cross traffic to see you, night or day. Drive the distance of a car door away from parked cars.
Some adhesives are incompatible with some plastics. Don't glue something to your helmet unless the manufacturer thinks it is a good idea. Zip ties that are tight are going to create stress on the helmet. Maybe the turtle light is good if it crushes easily. If the mount is hard, and you land on it, the mount may go through the helmet or vent.
posted by llc at 8:52 PM on October 12, 2010

Mountain Equipment Co-op sells little blinkie LEDs for $4. They come with a stretchy loop attached. I was able to attach it to my helmet by threading the loop through the airvents, like so. I did the same with a red light on the back of the helmet. Works great, very small and light, doesn't look super dorky

Brightness-wise some reviewers on MEC say it's not good enough for cycling, but it seems plenty bright to me, and I think it's fine as a secondary light.
posted by PercussivePaul at 8:55 PM on October 12, 2010

My suggestion is to angle it in such a way that it won't shine in the face of people (other cyclists and pedestrians) coming towards you. I was jogging the other night and someone had an incredibly bright light on their helmet and it made it very difficult for me to see.
posted by bluedaisy at 8:57 PM on October 12, 2010

I've always wondered why people put lights on helmets, because helmets are not designed to have lights on them.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:06 PM on October 12, 2010

My thinking is that unlike a head-lamp or a bike light, which has a wide beam (to light the area, and to be visible from all directions, respectively), for a helmet lamp you want a focused light. This is because a focused beam is much brighter than a spread one, and the disadvantages of a focused beam no-longer apply because it's on your helmet, so you can point it directly at a car. (I find that I am aware of which cars might not see me, a long time before they need to have seen me)

I disagree with llc. A flashing beam draws the eye far more effectively than a steady beam. This is why motorcycles, which have always had the battery power for a strong steady beam, have been trending towards flashing headlamps.
The reason for it is our biology. We are binocular hunters, our eyes are tuned to detect movement, it catches our attention the same way it does cats.
A steady beam looks like a streetlamp or a door light, or any other non-moving light source that gets filtered out. A rapidly blinking light looks like movement and instantly catches the eye.

There is a disadvantage to a rapidly blinking bright focused head-mounted beam though - if you are cycling through a dark area, so that it becomes your sole source of illumination, it starts to make you strain a bit - they're not fast or bright enough to have a pleasant effect like a disco strobe, it's just kind of a mentally and visually straining.
posted by -harlequin- at 9:47 PM on October 12, 2010

I see a lot of bikers in LA who have little knog lights that they clip to their helmets. Something like this.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 9:59 PM on October 12, 2010

Something like Sugru might be handy in attaching the lights to the helmet. I've never used it, so I don't know if the lights could come off easily (I'm betting no, though.)
posted by elerina at 10:06 PM on October 12, 2010

I've used a cheap torch, and attached it to my helmet with stick on velcro, before. Works pretty well.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:10 PM on October 12, 2010

I haven't argued that flashing lights are not detectable. We have not evolved to detect and respond to oncoming vehicles. Our eyes are not tuned for driving. Cats have entirely different eyes and seem to be poor at crossing roads. Eyes are part of the brain and people, in part, see what they are looking for. People are habituated to a steady white light meaning an oncoming vehicle.
It is my understanding that, in my jurisdiction, a steady front light is legally required.
Are there jurisdictions where flashing front headlights on motorcycles are permitted at night ?
posted by llc at 10:11 PM on October 12, 2010

Koko, a helmet-mounted light is helpful because you can point it at things without making the bike go there. So it's understandable to want a light up there. (But if you're using it to illuminate your path, rather than just be seen, be advised that helmet lights take away your sense of surface contour because of the parallax involved - no visible shadows.)

I am nervous about the potential for injury sticking something onto my helmet. If I did it, I would probably use velcro or very lightweight zip ties so it would pop off in a crash. I'm not a big fan of general-purpose headlamps, either. Many headlamps are just not bright enough for bike use, not even to make people aware of your presence. If you go that route, choose carefully.

You could try something like this Sparkfun tutorial, if you're a tinkerer. I've given that some thought.

But I like my setup. I use this CygoLight LED model on my handlebars and it's bright enough that people know I'm there past the parked cars without the extra light on my helmet. (I have a rear blinky and car deflector reflector tape on my helmet and bike as well.)
posted by richyoung at 10:16 PM on October 12, 2010

Lazer helmets are a very nice brand of helmet with integrated front and rear LED lights. Red in back, white in front. The front one isn't huge and is mainly useful as a safety signal in flashing mode IMHO.
Nevertheless, they are a solid brand of helmet and have a unique adjustable sizing system that lets you dial in the fit in seconds to very snug and comfortable. I'd look for one of those. Email me if you want more info.
posted by diode at 10:36 PM on October 12, 2010

If you get a focused light on there, be careful when you're looking over your shoulder. You don't want to blind someone just before you pull out in front of them.
posted by emilyw at 12:31 AM on October 13, 2010

Baseball hat with built-in front-facing LED: http://www.sciplus.com/singleItem.cfm/terms/16498

Not sure how easily it would fit under a helmet, but since the seller recommends using it while biking, presumably it's workable.
posted by foursentences at 3:12 AM on October 13, 2010

Similar product minus the hat:
posted by foursentences at 3:16 AM on October 13, 2010

Fiasco da Gama writes "That said, I've seen people use 2-3mm cable ties to hold lights onto helmets. They snap easily enough if but they're strong enough to hold up to the shaking that comes with riding."

Anything you mount to your helmet should be able to be brushed off with your hand so that it won't get caught in an accident thereby straining your neck. Zip ties are way too strong as is anything but the lightest of velcro mounts. An elastic mount can be good but don't thread it through the holes in the helmet.
posted by Mitheral at 7:06 AM on October 13, 2010

You just need a very very bright handlebar light, and to not ride extremely close to parked cars. A teeny helmet light is not going to make you that much more visible/recognizable as a vehicle. A powerful beam coming from about the same place as other vehicles' headlamps is what you want. A small light up on your helmet is only going to be seen when your head is in view, and anything bigger should be mounted on your handlebars so it doesn't screw up your depth perception.

I have this light. It is blindingly bright. You can attach it to your helmet if you really want to, but I think it's more effective, easier to use for seeing the road, and safer on the handlebars. Cars can see the beam long before they see me.
posted by oneirodynia at 7:18 AM on October 13, 2010

I used to have a headlamp that just slipped over the helmet with an elastic band -- no attachments necessary -- and it was awesome. It was very easy to put on and remove, and could be angled down to catch more of the road and less of people's eyes. You could actually read street signs at night, which made navigating much less of a pain. It does also make you more visible, especially combined with the front headlight, and I feel like it improved biker-driver communication since being able to see where you're looking makes it a little clearer what you're planning on doing (e.g., at intersections).

Sadly, I left it somewhere last winter so I don't have the exact product number, but I'm almost positive it was this one.
posted by en forme de poire at 7:20 AM on October 13, 2010

Nthing the headlamp. And they generally have a blinky mode, too. But yeah, no way to avoid the dork factor.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 7:57 AM on October 13, 2010

Get a (really frickin') bright one that lets me see you. Don't get a blinky one.
posted by jeffamaphone at 8:03 AM on October 13, 2010

Mr. Lexica and I both use Petzl Tikka headlamps with their elastic strap slipped over the helmet. In the event one of us goes off the bike and the helmet makes contact with anything, the lamp will slide free with barely a touch (which I know because it does it annoyingly frequently, like every time I take the helmet off when the light is on it).

There is no way to avoid looking like a dork. Sorry.
posted by Lexica at 10:09 AM on October 13, 2010

KNOG lights! Very small and cheap and not-dorky looking. I have a white one on the front of my helmet and a red one on the back ( as well as proper bike lights on the bike itself). I love them. I'm in the UK but you have such great bike stores in the US I am sure you can find them there too! They look like this.
posted by cmarie at 1:33 PM on October 13, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks - For the Knog people, which specific Knog light did you get to attach to your helmet? They have lots of lights.
posted by Mid at 3:31 PM on October 13, 2010

I just bought two little Spok lights to put on a helmet to be legal whilst riding a borrowed bike with a borrowed helmet. They're pretty tiny, so I'm choosing to believe that they aren't too dorky. They go on with velcro and can flash.
posted by kjs4 at 3:44 AM on October 14, 2010

Response by poster: I got a Knog Frog Strobe and it's basically exactly what I wanted. Thanks!
posted by Mid at 6:13 PM on October 16, 2010

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