Lite (not) Brite

Early nightfall claimed another victim last week.

I had planned to ride to the Walk/Bike Nashville social last Wednesday night after work. Though in a part of town I don’t visit often, the venue was only 4.5 miles away from my office, the night was relatively mild, and I had prepared by wearing the right clothes.

I considered taking the Bat, with its generator light in front, but it starts feeling heavy if I ride more than 10 miles or so. I decided to take Kermit Allegra, since the Mini Monkey Light is impossible to miss and I also have a great fender taillight that I installed over the summer. And I’d just replaced the batteries on my headlamp, which had been burnt out for a while.


Unfortunately, my headlamp was not up to snuff on the dark side streets I’d mapped out (to avoid busy roads at rush hour). At worst it was as above; at best it was as below, when the inadequate streetlight was broken by individual house lights.

 

I rode this bike most of last winter without an issue, but I think this was the first time I’ve ridden it in the dark, alone, on side streets that I was not familiar with. On my route home, and on the routes I use for most places I go regularly, there might be a few dim blocks, but I am so familiar with them that I know whether a shadow is a pothole or a branch or a crack in the concrete. In those circumstances, light that functions mostly to let me be seen is workable, if not ideal. Not so on these roads. When I realized I had passed two miles braking for obstacles (imagined or real), I decided it was time to turn around, go home and get my car.

West End traffic on the horizon

 

Lights that illuminate the street well have been elusive for me. I find that handlebar lights don’t have a wide enough beam, and front fork lights are often diffused by the fender, as displayed above. Again, these issues are workable if I keep to familiar and/or busier routes, but it’s frustrating to have my rides limited in this way. What front light do you use that allows you to both see and be seen? I’m thinking of trying a side wheel mount light like the one on Dottie’s Oma, which works on the dark sections of the Lakefront Path.  If anyone can recommend an aftermarket front light worth considering, I’m all ears. Money is…well, it’s an object, but I’d rather spend $50 on a light that works than get five crappy ones that don’t end up helping the situation.

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27 thoughts on “Lite (not) Brite

  1. Meghan Naxer says:

    I highly recommend the Cygolite Expilion series for front lights. They are super bright, charge via mini-USB, and give me plenty of light so I can see the road and can be seen by others. The handlebar mount also allows you to turn the light slightly to the left or right if you’re in the dark on curvy roads. Just use a Planet Bike rear light. So far so good!

    http://www.cygolite.com/products/index.html

  2. Sungsu says:

    When I travel more than 10 minutes away from home, I use two Planet Bike Blaze 1W lights, one of them flashing usually. The side streets here are rarely dark.

  3. Lisa says:

    I second the Cygolite recommendation. It makes a 2 AM ride home from work possible on a route with little car traffic but also very few streetlights. The potholes are fearsome things around here, but with this light I can boldly go on even the rainiest of Seattle nights.

    http://www.rivbike.com/product-p/lt006.htm

  4. HappyWithMyLights says:

    The key thing for seeing in the dark is how much light your lights put out — and unfortunately there are essentially no bike lights in your stated price range that have the oompf you’re looking for. As a poor grad. student in 2003 I splurged on a Cygolite that ended up being totally worth it. When it died in 2011 I replaced it with an Expillion, but the mount was so stiff I had trouble getting the light to latch into place, and it fell off in traffic a couple times. I wasn’t sad when it was stolen. Now I have a MityCross — again a bit out of a reasonable price range, but it actually works. I use it in combination with a blinky on the front. It lets me safely navigate the one spot on my commute where I have to thread between a fencepost and a ditch in pitch black. Last week I saw a very different option that probably works: buy a flashlight and use electrical tape to strap it on your bike. Lots of light for pretty cheap, and a pain to steal.

  5. Ray Ochitwa says:

    I would go with something from Niterider. Anything from a Mako 200 ($50) to the MiNewt 350 ($90) would be what I would put on a bike if I was buying a new light right now. I’ve had the 100 lumen original MiNewt on my bike for four years now. My night time rides mix lit streets, unlit streets and forested trails and it’s adequate for all that. I’ve also experienced no noticeable loss of battery capacity in that time. The only annoyance is that it attaches to the handlebars using an o-ring and the rings usually give out in about 18 months and have to be replaced. The Makos have a more substantial clamp and they’re available in models with integrated rechargeable battery packs or ones that use a pair of AA batteries.

    • I’m going to second the recommendation for the Niterider MiNewt. I’ve got the 600 lumen guy and it is FANTASTIC for tangling with traffic on the lightless surface street portion of my commute. Cars no longer pull out in front of me; I think they assume the bright light is on a motorcycle or something. It’s also been a literal life-saver by illuminating the numerous deer which hang out on the bike trail. I do make sure to dip or cover the light when passing other cyclists so as not to blind them, though.

  6. Ray Ochitwa says:

    I would go with something from Niterider. Anything from a Mako 200 ($50) to the MiNewt 350 ($90) would be what I would put on a bike if I was buying a new light right now. I’ve had the 100 lumen original MiNewt on my bike for four years now. My night time rides mix lit streets, unlit streets and forested trails and it’s adequate for all that. I’ve also experienced no noticeable loss of battery capacity in that time. The only annoyance is that it attaches to the handlebars using an o-ring and the rings usually give out in about 18 months and have to be replaced. The Makos have a more substantial clamp and they’re available in models with integrated rechargeable battery packs or ones that use a pair of AA batteries.

  7. Dennis Hindman says:

    Low priced bike lights do not produce a lot of lumens (total light output). So, for riding on the street, you should look for a light that has a very tightly controlled and evenly distributed beam pattern that has a sharp cut off at the top and bottom to limit wasting light in areas where you need it the least. A problem with LED’s though is that they produce a very uneven light. Both the Cateye Econom and Philips SafeRide bike head lights overcome this and produces a very even and tightly controlled rectangular shaped beam by having all of the LED light hit reflectors before it leaves the housing.

    Notice the nice rectangular beam pattern of the Cateye Econom Force HL-EL540 (its not the higher priced rechargeable Econom Force Hl-EL540RC) and the Philips SafeRide bike light in this Mtbr comparison of commuter bike lights:

    http://reviews.mtbr.com/2012-bike-lights-shootout-backyard-beam-pattern-photos/2

    Here’s the Mtbr review of the Econom Force EL540 where they go over some details of the design and they also show another photo of the beam pattern:

    http://reviews.mtbr.com/cateye-econom-force-hl-el540rc-2012-mtbr-lights-shootout

    The Econom Force HL-EL540 has a list price of sixty-five dollars. The next Cateye bike head light below that which uses the same reflector technology is the Econom Hl-EL340 and it has a list price of forty-five dollars. Here’s a link to Cateye that has information about the Econom Force HL-EL540 :

    http://www.cateye.com/en/products/detail/HL-EL540/moreinfo/

    If you look at the right hand column on this link to the Cateye webpage for the Econom Force HL-EL540, and then click on the 2012 Headlight Chart that is under ‘RESOURCES’ ,you will see a comparison of the light beam patterns for their different bike head light models.

    Don’t expect the lights to be as bright as the Cateye comparisons show when you use them, because they won’t be. The MTBR shootout website, that I gave a link to above, is more realistic, but even that was shot in a dark area to highlight the beam patterns.

    The Philips SafeRide bike light has a list price about three times that of the Econom Force Hl-EL540, but it also has a much wider beam that has a light intensity (lux) at least three times that of the 13 lux Cateye, according to the Mtbr test measurements (Philips states the SafeRide has a light output of 220 lumens and a beam light intensity of 80 lux).

    Reading this Mtbr review of the Philips bike light will give you an even better understanding of why a controlled beam pattern is important for riding on the street:

    http://reviews.mtbr.com/philips-saferide-led-bike-light-2012-mtbr-lights-shootout

    The Philips SafeRide runs off of four NiMH AA batteries. Most bike lights over one hundred dollars for the U.S. market come with lithium-ion batteries that store much more energy per square inch than NiMH batteries do. As a result, the SafeRide is bulkier than most of the competition. Its has a great beam pattern for riding on the street though, and that cannot be said of most of its competitors products, which are usually designed to also illuminate low hanging branches when you go mountain bike riding.

    Bottom line is if you want to be able to confidently ride your bike on almost any street at night knowing that you have a head light that has a bright wide beam to see things clearly, even in the rain, and is designed to not shine directly into oncoming drivers or bicycle riders eyes, then buy the Philips Saferide. Since the Cateye Econom and SafeRide use AA batteries this gives you the advantage of being able to carry spare batteries or buy some at a nearby store to lengthen the amount of time that you can ride at night.

    • FritsB says:

      I second this recommendation. See also David Hembrow’s info here:

      http://blog.dutchbikebits.com/2011/12/top-quality-bicycle-lights-for-roads.html

      • Dennis Hindman says:

        FritsB, great that you included a link to David Hembrow’s comments about the SafeRide headlight. Even though he sells the product, i’ve found his views agree with all other reviews that i’ve found.

        Bike headlights for the U.S. market are marketed by how much total light output you get for your money. Even though Philips states the Saferide light output is 220 lumens, its beam brightness (lux) is comparable to about a 400 lumen headlight with a list price of about one hundred and ten dollars to one hundred and thirty dollars judging by the Mtbr comparisons and what I’ve seen on-line. So, it seems way overpriced if you judge it by the 220 lumens output, or even 400 lumens. How the light performs overall using it on the street compared to the competition would seem to be the most important consideration, even above cost, since this involves your comfort and safey.

        I use what I would say is a typical headlight lense design for bike lights selling over a hundred dollars, a Cycolite Trion LED bike light that is rated at 600 lumens. After using it for a few weeks I noticed what I thought was a peculiar trait. Going home from work at night I usually would pull into a left only lane on a wide four-lane street. The overhead street sign that is in the middle of the intersection next to the signal was always lit up like a glow worm when I was stopped in the left-only lane waiting for the light to turn green. I then noticed that the cars that stopped at the intersection before I got there did not produce this effect even though car headlights are much more powerful than my bike light.

        The traffic signs on the right side of the road half a block away on this same street would also light up as I pedaled in the bike lane about eleven feet from the curb. Again, car headlights would not do this even if they got much closer to the signs.

        I realized after this discovery why so many opproaching drivers were honking as they got near me. They were annoyed by the bright light shining in their eyes! Even though I would try to eliminate this problem by tilting the light down so the edge of the beam would be close to the front of the bike, this trait continued. Surprisingly, almost all battery bike headlight designs have a round flashlight beam pattern like this. This type of lense design is great for trying to avoid low hanging branches while off-road mountain biking, but on the street its a waste of light output and can be distracting to oncoming traffic.
        The Philips bicycle tail lights also are unusal in having a surface area that is evenly lit like a car tail light, instead of a exposed LED lighting effect that other bicycle tail light designs have. They also have been very favorably reviewed, but they don’t seem to be distributed in the U.S. yet.

      • Dennis Hindman says:

        FritsB, great that you included a link to David Hembrow’s comments about the SafeRide headlight. Even though he sells the product, i’ve found his views agree with all other reviews that i’ve found.

        Bike headlights for the U.S. market are marketed by how much total light output you get for your money. Even though Philips states the Saferide light output is 220 lumens, its beam brightness (lux) is comparable to about a 400 lumen headlight with a list price of about one hundred and ten dollars to one hundred and thirty dollars judging by the Mtbr comparisons and what I’ve seen on-line. So, it seems way overpriced if you judge it by the 220 lumens output, or even 400 lumens. How the light performs overall using it on the street compared to the competition would seem to be the most important consideration, even above cost, since this involves your comfort and safey.

        I use what I would say is a typical headlight lense design for bike lights selling over a hundred dollars, a Cycolite Trion LED bike light that is rated at 600 lumens. After using it for a few weeks I noticed what I thought was a peculiar trait. Going home from work at night I usually would pull into a left only lane on a wide four-lane street. The overhead street sign that is in the middle of the intersection next to the signal was always lit up like a glow worm when I was stopped in the left-only lane waiting for the light to turn green. I then noticed that the cars that stopped at the intersection before I got there did not produce this effect even though car headlights are much more powerful than my bike light.

        The traffic signs on the right side of the road half a block away on this same street would also light up as I pedaled in the bike lane about eleven feet from the curb. Again, car headlights would not do this even if they got much closer to the signs.

        I realized after this discovery why so many opproaching drivers were honking as they got near me. They were annoyed by the bright light shining in their eyes! Even though I would try to eliminate this problem by tilting the light down so the edge of the beam would be close to the front of the bike, this trait continued. Surprisingly, almost all battery bike headlight designs have a round flashlight beam pattern like this. This type of lense design is great for trying to avoid low hanging branches while off-road mountain biking, but on the street its a waste of light output and can be distracting to oncoming traffic.
        The Philips bicycle tail lights also are unusal in having a surface area that is evenly lit like a car tail light, instead of a exposed LED lighting effect that other bicycle tail light designs have. They also have been very favorably reviewed, but they don’t seem to be distributed in the U.S. yet.

    • LGRAB says:

      Thanks, this is really helpful. I have been pretty pleased with the Cateye on my Peugeot, and I have had good experiences with Philips products as well, so I’ll check both of these out.

  8. Dennis Hindman says:

    Low priced bike lights do not produce a lot of lumens (total light output). So, for riding on the street, you should look for a light that has a very tightly controlled and evenly distributed beam pattern that has a sharp cut off at the top and bottom to limit wasting light in areas where you need it the least. A problem with LED’s though is that they produce a very uneven light. Both the Cateye Econom and Philips SafeRide bike head lights overcome this and produces a very even and tightly controlled rectangular shaped beam by having all of the LED light hit reflectors before it leaves the housing.

    Notice the nice rectangular beam pattern of the Cateye Econom Force HL-EL540 (its not the higher priced rechargeable Econom Force Hl-EL540RC) and the Philips SafeRide bike light in this Mtbr comparison of commuter bike lights:

    http://reviews.mtbr.com/2012-bike-lights-shootout-backyard-beam-pattern-photos/2

    Here’s the Mtbr review of the Econom Force EL540 where they go over some details of the design and they also show another photo of the beam pattern:

    http://reviews.mtbr.com/cateye-econom-force-hl-el540rc-2012-mtbr-lights-shootout

    The Econom Force HL-EL540 has a list price of sixty-five dollars. The next Cateye bike head light below that which uses the same reflector technology is the Econom Hl-EL340 and it has a list price of forty-five dollars. Here’s a link to Cateye that has information about the Econom Force HL-EL540 :

    http://www.cateye.com/en/products/detail/HL-EL540/moreinfo/

    If you look at the right hand column on this link to the Cateye webpage for the Econom Force HL-EL540, and then click on the 2012 Headlight Chart that is under ‘RESOURCES’ ,you will see a comparison of the light beam patterns for their different bike head light models.

    Don’t expect the lights to be as bright as the Cateye comparisons show when you use them, because they won’t be. The MTBR shootout website, that I gave a link to above, is more realistic, but even that was shot in a dark area to highlight the beam patterns.

    The Philips SafeRide bike light has a list price about three times that of the Econom Force Hl-EL540, but it also has a much wider beam that has a light intensity (lux) at least three times that of the 13 lux Cateye, according to the Mtbr test measurements (Philips states the SafeRide has a light output of 220 lumens and a beam light intensity of 80 lux).

    Reading this Mtbr review of the Philips bike light will give you an even better understanding of why a controlled beam pattern is important for riding on the street:

    http://reviews.mtbr.com/philips-saferide-led-bike-light-2012-mtbr-lights-shootout

    The Philips SafeRide runs off of four NiMH AA batteries. Most bike lights over one hundred dollars for the U.S. market come with lithium-ion batteries that store much more energy per square inch than NiMH batteries do. As a result, the SafeRide is bulkier than most of the competition. Its has a great beam pattern for riding on the street though, and that cannot be said of most of its competitors products, which are usually designed to also illuminate low hanging branches when you go mountain bike riding.

    Bottom line is if you want to be able to confidently ride your bike on almost any street at night knowing that you have a head light that has a bright wide beam to see things clearly, even in the rain, and is designed to not shine directly into oncoming drivers or bicycle riders eyes, then buy the Philips Saferide. Since the Cateye Econom and SafeRide use AA batteries this gives you the advantage of being able to carry spare batteries or buy some at a nearby store to lengthen the amount of time that you can ride at night.

  9. Adam Herstein says:

    It sounds like you just need a brighter light. I’ve got the NiteRider Lumina 650 and its bright enough to light up the whole path in complete darkness. It might be out of your budget at $140, though. They make brighter lights as well, although they are more expensive.

    • LGRAB says:

      I don’t mind spending money if I know something is quality (although $140 is a little higher than I had in mind). Will look into this.

      • Adam Herstein says:

        They also make cheaper, dimmer lights if you’re not willing to shell out the cash for the 650 lumen version.

  10. Scott says:

    I found a hi power LED flashlight, bike mount, charger and batteries the best solution. The link below is to a forum summary post with shopping links. That’s $44 as the charger is good for the US. I keep mine pointed down so as to not too beam it on others, plenty bright enough.

  11. Dennis Hindman says:

    Philips does make a smaller 40 lux SafeRide bike headlight that sells for about a hundred dollars that has half the light beam lux (brightness) and also projects half the distance compared to its larger sibling. This is about the amount of light output that a lot of dynamo powered LED headlights create. Instead of a self contained unit like the larger version, it has a separate battery pack that uses 4 AA batteries. It seems to retain much of the light beam width that the 80 lux version has.

    This product is not commonly sold in the U.S. market. However, there is one dealer on Amazon that has it. The website has a photo that gives you an idea of the beam projection for a 40 lux Safeguard headlight and a photo showing how much you could expect to see with a standard 10 lux light beam:

  12. Doug@MnBicycleCommuter says:

    Without giving a specific recommendation, I’ll just say you have to buy in the $100-$200 price range to get a light bright enough. In that price range you can have a light as bright as a car headlight. It’s like night and day (pun intended) compared to what you’re using. I will be riding in the dark everyday, morning and evening, for the next two months. I don’t have a car, or the related expenses. So the $140 I spent on a good light is easily manageable….AND it’s a lot cheaper than going out and buying a car. If you already own a car and only ride after dark on rare occasions, a good light may not make sense. Just drive the car.

    • LGRAB says:

      Thanks Doug. I could definitely just drive my car, but I would rather have the option not to. My other bikes do have slightly better front lights, but they still would have been iffy on a route this dark. I may wait a while to actually pull the trigger, just in case this doesn’t happen again this winter…if it doesn’t, it may not be worth it.

  13. Heather says:

    My Lezyne Super Drive light is the bomb! It is very bright at it’s lowest setting and blindingly so at it’s highest (there are 3 brightness levels, plus a flashing mode). The light coverage/”throw” is great so I have no trouble seeing or being seen – cars definitely wait/stop when they see me approaching, which never happened with previous lights. It charges via USB and the body of the light is metal and seems very solid, durable, and well-made. Because it is SO bright (I never use the highest setting and rarely the medium), I think I could’ve gotten by with the smaller, cheaper Lezyne Mini Drive and been just fine. I got my Super Drive at ModernBike.com, who are awesome btw. They currently have just the Mini Drive in stock and on sale for $59 for the silver and $65 for the black. I have the silver Super Drive and it is very classy-looking. Modern Bike also has photos showing various lights in action at http://www.modernbike.com/guide.asp?ListID=61#2126198435, which helped me make my purchasing decision. I see that the Lezyne is no longer shown there now, but it was definitely on the brighter end of the spectrum. I really can’t recommend it highly enough, I just love it and it has made riding at night SO much more pleasant and less nerve-wracking!

  14. What kind of fender tail light are you using? I’ve got a Radbot on my rack but would rather have it on the fender.

    • LGRAB says:

      It’s a Portland Design Works light. I think it’s plenty bright and has a blinking option as well…it was about $25-$30 at my LBS if I’m remembering right. Installation was pretty easy. I didn’t take the tire off, just stuck a couple of magazines between the fender and the tire and drilled with care. :)

  15. Rabbit says:

    You can get ~900 lumens LED torch from Deal Extreme for ~$20, that run on rechargeable 16850 li-ion batteries. 2x Batteries and charger are another ~$20. Bike specfic lights are (and always will be) years behind the latest in single chip LED tech (product dev lifecycle time, etc). Just Google CREE led for the latest in chip technology.

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