Light up your Brompton

This blog post is advisory. The author accepts no liability for any advice offered. It is always the cyclist’s own responsibility to ensure that they are obeying any relevant road vehicle lighting regulations, in the country in which they are cycling. Laws change over time.

Hmm, Brompton lighting options. Where to start? Probably with the law of the land.

In the UK, you must have the following fitted to your bicycle between sunset and sunrise (if you live, or intend touring in, another country, you are advised to check any road vehicle lighting regulations specific to that country):

  • A white front light, fixed to the front (middle or right-hand side) of your bike, up to 1.5m from the ground, pointing forwards and visible from in front (if it only flashes, it must be at least 4 candelas / 50 lumens);
  • A red rear light, fixed to the rear (middle or right-hand side) of your bike, between 0.35m and 1.5m from the ground, pointing backwards and visible from behind (if it only flashes, it must be at least 4 candelas / 50 lumens);
  • A red rear reflector, fixed to the rear (middle or right-hand side) of your bike, between 0.25m and 0.9m from the ground, pointing backwards and visible from behind;
  • Four amber pedal reflectors, one fixed to each of the front and back edges of both pedals, such that they are visible from in front and behind.

Lights can remain switched off until 30 minutes after sunset, and can be switched off 30 minutes before sunrise, but reflectors must be used during those periods. Lights do not have to operate when you are stationary.

These regulations stipulate the minimum requirements. However, you should make yourself as visible as possible and, in the absence of street lighting, you will also need sufficient light to see where you are going.

There are numerous lighting options available commercially, some of which are specific to Bromptons, whereas the majority are generic. However, Brompton owners do have to factor in considerations specific to the bike:

  • If you want to keep the lights on the bike when you fold it, they cannot interfere with the fold (this includes rear lights mounted on the seat post, which has to drop most if not all of the way down, to secure the fold);
  • Brompton handlebars have limited space for attachment of extra items;
  • Mounting options are limited, because most of the frame is low down;
  • Anything attached to the bike increases the weight penalty if you have to carry it.

You will have lighting needs specific to your intended use of your Brompton. Most people also have a budget. My daily commute is very short, so I do not need a significant amount of reserve charge for a long journey. Similarly, when touring, I do not intend doing much cycling at night. If I do, I’ll make sure all of my lights are fully-charged beforehand, and use my head torch if I have to navigate unlit roads. Therefore, I chose the following lighting combination:

  • Two front lights (both USB rechargeable);
  • Two rear lights (both USB rechargeable);
  • Rear reflector (Brompton’s factory-fitted version);
  • Pedal reflectors (supplied with Brompton’s factory-fitted pedals);
  • Head torch (USB rechargeable, with spare battery, also used for camping).

Why two sets of lights? Because I am more visible in traffic and, if one set runs out of charge en route, I probably still have enough charge left in the other set to get me to my destination (one set flashes, which means it will last longer). If necessary, I could also use one set while the other is being recharged from a portable power bank (my long term aim is to install a dynamo hub, which can recharge a power bank while I’m cycle touring, if I cannot recharge it from the mains supply overnight).

First set of lights

I already had a set of USB rechargeable lights when I bought my Brompton, which I transferred to it, and then used for a couple of months before investing in a second set of lights (a combination of budget constraints and being undecided about which way to go … dynamo or USB rechargeable lights, and debating my power requirements).

Brompton-mounting CatEye lights and front and rear D-Lights
Brompton-mounting CatEye lights and front and rear D-Lights

This first set of lights were made by D-Light, but this brand is no longer available in the UK. However, they look identical to lights now supplied by Evans Cycles, under it’s own brand (FWE), so I would guess that they are manufactured by a third party (Evans Cycles were struggling financially in 2018 and bought by Sports Direct, so how long the FWE brand lasts is anyone’s guess).

The front light (80 lumens) is mounted on the right-hand side of my M-handlebars. Initially, I mounted the rear light (15 lumens) on the seat post, just underneath my saddle so that I could still drop it fully when folding my bike, but when I purchased my second set of lights I re-located it on the rear reflector (courtesy of my 5p/7c rear light modification, using a cable tie). The front light is set to flash, the rear light is set to be on permanently.

Second set of lights

Because light-mounting options are limited on a Brompton, it made sense to look at Brompton-specific lights. The lights themselves are generic, but their mounts are designed for specific mounting points on the bike. Some are powered by a dynamo, whereas others are USB-rechargeable (Brompton still supply a replacement for the factory-fitted rear reflector, which incorporates a rear light, but this is battery-powered and requires the removal of screws to change the batteries … no thanks, my 5p/7c rear light modification provided me with a USB-rechargeable version of this).

Although my longterm aim is to install a dynamo hub (primarily for recharging a power bank, which itself can then recharge all of my lights and devices via USB), this is an expensive upgrade that will have to wait. In the interim, I opted for the Brompton-specific CatEye USB-rechargeable front and rear lights, supplied by Brompton.

The front light (400 lumens) mounts above the front mudguard (low down, so I set this to be on permanently), and the rear light (25 lumens) mounts beneath the saddle (which I set to flash, because it is more visible to traffic approaching from behind).

[ I have read comments from a number of people who do not think much of the mount for the rear light – suggesting that it is flimsy and insecure – but I have had no problems so far, after three months of daily use, including folding and unfolding my bike twice a day. ]

Charging lights with a four-port USB charger (mains-powered)
Charging lights with a four-port USB charger (mains-powered)

Head torch

I have a Petzl Tikka head torch, powered by Petzl’s own USB-rechargeable battery. The head torch is useful if I am navigating unlit roads, in which case I use one front and rear light at a time, to make them all last longer (this assumes that I’m off the beaten track and that I can keep out of the way of any occasional traffic approaching from the rear). If using a head torch in this manner, do make sure you do not dazzle the driver of any car approaching you (most makes have a built-in hinge, for adjusting the direction of the beam).

The only disadvantage of this head torch is that I cannot wear it at the same time as my helmet, so the helmet comes off (assuming I’m wearing it at the time) and gets clipped to the top of my front bag (I’ll avoid diving down the rabbit hole that is the helmet v. no helmet debate just now … I wear mine most of the time – especially when commuting and as much out of habit as anything – but not always when touring).

If necessary, you can use three AAA batteries to power this head torch, but the rechargeable option is more environmentally-friendly. In due course I will buy a second rechargeable battery, to provide backup power and extend the time for which I can use the head torch at night (not least because I also use it when camping and hiking, so need sufficient power for those activities as well).

I store my head torch in a Petzl Noctilight case, which is brilliant (pardon the pun) for camping, because you can use it as a lantern (the head torch is turned on inside it), hanging it from your tent roof by its built-in hanging clip/loop (demonstrated in the Petzl Tikka promotional video below).

Miscellaneous notes

  • If you swap your factory-fitted Brompton pedals for something else, and intend riding at night in the UK, they should still have four amber reflectors (most clip-in pedals won’t have them, so either find some that do, or consciously break the law);
  • Keep your lights clean;
  • Lights are just one aspect of making yourself more visible to other road users – you should consider wear bright-coloured clothing if you are worried about traffic conditions (when commuting in the dark, I wear a Ronhill Vizion hi-visibility mesh bib, which is made for runners – so it is very lightweight and cool in summer, but can fit over layers of clothing in winter – and a hi-visibility band on my right ankle, in lieu of a cycle clip);
  • At some point in the future I will upgrade to dynamo lighting, especially since I will eventually invest in a dynamo for portable power. I would move the Brompton CatEye front light to a mount on the handlebars to make room for a dynamo-powered front light, replace the Brompton rear reflector with a dynamo-powered rear light (which would have a built-in reflector), and use my D-light rear light as a clip-on (e.g. on my saddlebag, when touring).