FlashBak Lighted Safety Device – Enough is Enough

FlashBak Lighted Safety Device
Photo: FlashBak

I confess that I never took this product seriously.

It’s called a FlashBak, and it’s like a little lighted marquee that you can clip to just about anything. Maybe someone can set me straight in the comments. Please do. I probably deserve it.

When I first got the FlashBak, I could only think of humorous applications. I milked it for laughs. I clipped it to my butt and called myself Mr. Flashypants. I wore it on my shirt, under my jacket, and went around the office “flashing” my coworkers. It was effective.

Planet Bike Superflash and Ortlieb Mud Racer LED
FlashBak with my rear lights in the dark
Planet Bike Superflash and Ortlieb Mud Racer LED
FlashBak with my rear lights with the lights on

I really did wear it clipped to the back of my jacket at night a few times. But I couldn’t see myself becoming habituated to it. (And I’m someone who used to wear one of those reflective triangles around my waist.)

However, there was once–just once–when I was walking down a dark road, wearing a black hoodie. I did not have the FlashBak with me, and I wished I did.

Lately, I’ve been seeing even more ridiculous flashy, reflective, safety devices. I’ve got nothing against safety.

But seriously, cycling isn’t that dangerous. If people assessed risks rationally, there would be virtually no market for these devices, and people would wear helmets in their cars.

It’s the persistent perception that cycling is dangerous that makes products like this viable.

Take   a look at my lights. Does this look like the bike of someone who doesn’t like visibility? (You can see a side view of my setup here.)

That’s an Ortlieb Mud Racer saddlebag with a built-in LED. On my rack-top bag, I’ve got a Planet Bike Superflash Rear Light. I also have a flashy rear light on my helmet.

That’s enough! I’m not going to wrap myself in rope lighting, only to be mistaken for a runway, and get run over by an airplane. Nobody needs to. Somebody’s got to draw the line!

FlashBak claims that it “can be seen from a distance of 1 mile or more.” I suppose that’s a good thing if it’s the only lighting you’ve got. But if I had to use just one light, it wouldn’t be the FlashBak. Another advantage they tout is that if you are thrown from your bike, the FlashBak stays with you, making you visible to oncoming cars. They thought of everything.

Almost Everything.

I’m the kind of guy that tends to get ignored by bartenders on a busy night. The FlashBak finally answers the question…

“What does a guy have to do to get some service around here?”

FlashBak at The Tinderbox Annex
Yes, that's me wearing the FlashBak at The Tinderbox Annex in Flagstaff

Thank you, FlashBak.

The FlashBak sells for $30 on the FlashBak website.

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11 thoughts on “FlashBak Lighted Safety Device – Enough is Enough”

  1. matt says:

    “cycling is not that dangerous” … clearly you do not live in Boston!

    I say you can never have too many lights. whenever I’ve read about a nighttime fatality inevitably the cyclist was in ninja mode. here’s my list:

    * MagicShine 900L headlight (set to solid bright at night, or flickering in daytime)
    * 5-LED flashing light
    * motion-activated red LEDs on the valve stems
    * LED reflector on the front wheel – catches the attention of cars from the side
    * PlanetBike SuperFlash on the rear left side, and a regular PlanetBike flasher on the right
    * another red blinky on my helmet
    * red LED vest over my reflective yellow vest

    btw is that a folder in your photo?

    1. Ted Johnson says:

      I’m willing to have you prove me wrong. Show me that an hour of cycling in Boston is more dangerous than an hour of driving or riding in a motor vehicle.

      That’s an impressive lighting complement there. But at what point to you reach a point of diminishing return? That’s my point here, I think. With all the lights I’m already using, the FlashBak probably doesn’t add much visibility value.

      I agree: Ninja mode is plain stupid.

      Yes, that’s a folder. It’s been in a couple other recent posts too.

  2. matt says:

    I think statistics alone would bear me out, but Massholes consider driving a contact sport. Or maybe a videogame where points are counted in car lengths. Boston is now tagging bike-related accidents, so there should be usable data in a year or so.

    In theory there is a point of diminishing return, but when each light is just $10-30 I see no reason to skimp. I want to make sure that people from the front, back, and rear can see me.

  3. matt says:

    oh, and I ride a Xootr Swift.

  4. Jay Rain says:

    I’ve been running a Flashbak for about a year now. My favorite thing about this light is the lighted remote switch. With just a glance, I can tell if my rear light is still ON. It puts my mind at ease KNOWING my back light is on while I’m riding. Plus, this is the only light I’ve used that has made a few cars pull up and mention it while stopped at lights and such. If you think Boston is dangerous, you should ride to work in Dallas with us. Whatever light you use…..USE IT! Ride safe.

  5. Rob E. says:

    I need to look harder at the numbers, but I feel like you make some good points, Ted, about risk assessment and appropriate response to real risks.
    My feeling is that:
    1) Cycling is safe, relative to many other activities.
    2) More accidents happen when it gets darker.
    3) A high percentage of those cyclists have no lights at all.

    So any light at all makes improves your odds that you’ll be seen. If there’s evidence out there that 5 lights makes you significantly safer than 4 (or 3 or 2 or 1), I haven’t seen it.

    In my city, the legal requirement is a rear reflector, and, having seen the reflectors from a driver’s point-of-view, I think they’re pretty effective, but you have to be watching the road and have your headlights on. Anything else that you do to make yourself feel safer is great. I would never say, “You have way too many lights on that bike.” or “That reflective vest really doesn’t go with those shoes.” I generally have a minimum of a Planet Bike blinky light, with other visibility devices depending on what I have with me and/or the particular situation. So do what makes you feel safe. Matt says, “whenever I’ve read about a nighttime fatality inevitably the cyclist was in ninja mode.” and that fits with what I hear, too. That’s a pretty strong indication that any attempt at making yourself visible makes you safer then riding in “ninja mode.” It does not indicate that you get progressively safer with every lumen you put out.

    So I wonder about advocating for more and better lighting. Ultimately, a reflector will do the trick if the driver is paying attention, and if the driver is not paying attention, there’s really only so much you can do. Pushing cyclists to light themselves up like Christmas trees feels like it’s taking responsibility for accidents away from drivers and putting it on the cyclists, and that makes me uncomfortable.

    So I can see where I might want one more blinking light in some situations, but I agree, Ted, that at some point it’s overkill. It makes cycling seem more dangerous then it is, and, to my mind, it shifts responsibility away from the drivers. I say light yourself up as much as you want, but /advocate/ for better enforcement of existing visibility laws, better education for drivers and cyclists on sharing the road, and stiffer penalties for drivers who put cyclists at greater risk.

  6. Chrehn says:

    I’m a 24 hr. Lights-on bike rider. I have Planet Bike lighting front and back plus a “FuelBelt” mesh reflective vest that I can wear over anything. If someone runs over me, it won’t be because they didn’t see me. I will admit that there is a fine line between being safe and carrying on a conversation with yourself in public. My thinking is that cars are more visible with headlights on during the day, so a bicycle rider should be more visible with lights on during the day…

    1. Ted Johnson says:

      There is a fine line between being safe and carrying on a conversation with yourself in public.

      Quote of the day! I’m putting that on Facebook and Twitter.

  7. NOEH Swamper says:

    Clearly the cyclists that wear untold numbers lights do not ride in areas as resplendant in sasquatch sightings as I do. Maybe I’m paranoid, but I’d rather deal some cager that is at least my own species than give away my posisiton to some hairy beast prowling the darkened roadways herabouts. Too many lights (hell, any lights) will show your position, speed and direction to our swamp-dwelling population of bigfoots (bigfeet?).

    Hey, just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean there isn’t something out there chasing me.

  8. Dan says:

    I don’t like the flashbak, it looks stupid. Sorry, no other way I can really put it. Thankfully there are better looking and better working products out there for sale.

    As for the side discussion on night riders safety, I somewhat agree. While I agree that many night riders don’t use any lights and that’s a big part of the problem, the other side of that problem is that some riders just don’t use strong enough lights. I car share some days instead of riding my bike, and more often than not at night, I’ve noticed while driving that the lights on most commuters bikes simply aren’t visible enough from a far enough distance away. By time I realize they’re there, I’m almost right next to them.

    After seeing this more times than I can count on the main roads, and realizing their potential danger zones, I upgraded my own visibility to avoid it myself. Now I use: 1 white headlight (cat eye voyager 3), 1 red taillight (nite rider cherry bomb), spoke lights (nite ize spoke lit), 1 front reflector (came w/ bike) 1 rear reflector (optronics re15rk), side reflectors on topeak rear rack bag (pre-sewn on). I get laughs at work of course, but on the road I get more respect from cars at night then I do during the day. I get far fewer close calls of cars turning into my lane, and more cars pulling to the left to avoid me.

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