‘Your lights are on’

This article was published in 2018, in Newsletter 136.

As I was cycling along somebody started shouting at me. This is not what you are thinking. Yes, people riding cycles get shouted at by drivers of cars all the time, mainly including the phrases ‘get off the road’ and ‘use the cycleway’ even when there is no cycleway. No, I was shouted at by somebody waiting at a bus stop.

She started shouting at me from a long way away. This must have therefore been very important. So instead of just ignoring her, I decided to stop and have a chat. As I slowed down and got closer, I started to work out what she was saying. ‘Your lights are on’ being the gist of it.

Now, she was not alone. She was waiting at a bus stop with two other people that looked like a youngish couple on their way to do some shopping in the centre. This was not a threatening situation to anyone.

I stopped and asked again what the problem was. The previously shouting lady then started to explain that my front light was on, and that I should switch it off because the battery would run out and I would then not have any lights for the trip home.

This would be a valid concern if my light was battery-powered. Instead, I explained that my light was powered by a dynamo that is built into the front wheel so it was not a problem. However, she was absolutely insistent that I had to turn my light off.

The couple who were observing this conversation just starting nodding at what I was saying. They probably had cycles that also had dynamo lights that just turn on when they start moving, and eventually turn off once they have stopped.

The lady was however now slightly confused. ‘But surely the dynamo will run out of battery power at some point and need recharging.’

‘No, it gets power from me. As long as I eat, there is enough power for the lights.’

She was more confused than ever. So I continued. ‘It works just like a car. The lights on a car come on because the engine recharges the battery’. OK, perhaps that didn’t help. The couple also waiting there were trying to suppress a smile.

So I tried a different tack. ‘The lights work when I move. I just leave them on because then I can’t forget to turn them on at night.’

No, it gets power from me. As long as I eat, there is enough power for the lights

She didn’t really understand. ‘But when do you change your light batteries?’ ‘I haven’t yet. Sorry, got to go and get to work…’ And I pedalled off.

Now, I do have pretty standard lights on my cycle. The dynamo powers the front and rear lights, and they have a capacitor in them to keep them on for a few minutes after I come to a stop.

This is really useful when I arrive back home because I can still see the door lock illuminated by the cycle light.

It does have some downsides, of course. Every so often, some well-meaning person decides to switch off my lights after I’ve parked, because they don’t realise that they are powered by dynamo and capacitor. Now, that is annoying.

Robin Heydon