As a person I seldom stand out, at least to look at – I am of medium height and medium build, my hair is plain and I choose my clothes precisely so as no-one remarks about them. If you passed me in the street your head would not turn, and I am fine with that. Even my bicycle, like many of the garments I own, is black.
Yet actually standing out when you’re a cyclist is handy. It should mean that motor vehicles and other cyclists, and even possibly pedestrians, should pay more attention to you, and so the chances of being involved in an accident ought to diminish.
That’s why I have been riding with a Blaze Laserlight on my bike all winter so far. This light projects a green bike image on the road in front of you, and added safety is the clear marketing pitch from the manufacturers. However the company that makes them is based in London, and I am cycling in Berlin – I am yet to see any other cyclist with anything similar here. The £125 (about €150) price for a cycle light might also put a fair few people off.
So what has my experience been so far?
Actually – and perhaps rather alarmingly – rather little, and this perplexes me.
Perhaps it is my curious nature – that if I saw anyone using such a thing I’d try to get to the bottom of what is was, and would happily ask someone about it. Two fellow cyclists have stopped me so far – one, amazed, to inquire how to get one, and one in a cynical tone asking “Wofür ist das?” and shrugging when I explained. One further cyclist was perplexed by the light and thought it was projected from a street light somehow, and a couple of pedestrians have pointed at the light or remarked.
The incidents that really confuse me is where I am cycling behind someone else, waiting for space on Berlin’s narrow and dark cycle paths to be able to pass them. In these circumstances the projection from my Blaze light is ahead of the cyclist in front of me. It’s as if a bike projection is following them. Considering that no-one else I have yet encountered in Berlin has such a light, wouldn’t that be a bit odd? Yet none of the ten or so times this has happened has anyone turned to look, or remarked when stopped at the next traffic light.
I am unsure what to make of this. Perhaps we are all just more reserved in public spaces than I would have thought. Perhaps people who physically stand out actually draw less attention, and fewer comments, than I would have imagined. Or is it, perhaps more worryingly, that we are all so deadened in our senses that we now cease to be able to appreciate something that is genuinely different? Or that we are so in our own worlds when out and about in the city that we consciously shut out what is around us?
Anyway, I will continue to use the Blaze light. In my view it’s extraordinary, and brilliantly engineered, and if it draws just a little more attention to me when cycling in traffic then I am grateful for that. And if nothing else, the brilliantly powerful regular LED headlight in it helps illuminate the dark corners of Berlin’s cycle paths.
(As for the next cycle lighting tech… Zackees Turn Signal Gloves?)