Friday, December 07, 2007

Bike Lights

Ok, a while back I put up a post on riding in the dark. It is different than riding in the night, obviously. There are two points to consider. 1) Can drivers see me? and 2) Can I see the road enough to ride at a decent speed? The first point can be handled pretty inexpensively. I've got a Planet Bike Blinky Super Flash tail light and the dang thing is bright. It's not as bright as a Dinotte tail light, but it seems to do a good enough job. I even had a driver tell me at a stoplight that he liked the taillight that I had, and that was on a Saturday morning. It was cloudy, but it was between 11 and 11:30 am. If I had a spare $150, I'd get the Dinotte. Joey from Trinity Bicycles showed me one on his bike back this summer and the thing is bright. The pics from the bottom of their photo page that show a huge amount of red light look exactly like what I saw. But the Super Flash was $20 or so. Case closed. I guess if I were concerned that someone was going to hit me from behind, then I'd get the Dinotte. Yeah, the busiest part of my commute is a road that had a shoulder that's a whole lane wide. If I didn't have that, I'd spend for the Dinotte. Despite the high cost of living, it's still popular. You can handle the first question for headlights (Can drivers see me?) for relatively little cash as well. The Fredcast recommends that you actually have two lights for visibility, one flashing on your handlebars and one constant on your helmet. Folks can see that you are looking at them and respond quicker. The one for your head should probably be a relatively expensive one though, so you can use it to see the road better. I got a cheap Cateye LED for Joseph last month. I didn't realize how weak it was until I got it, but it will work as a flashing light just fine.
But for the second issue, can I see the road, you need to be prepared to spend the bucks. I originally got a NiteHawk Phoenix halogen light that had been sitting in the shop for three years. Since it had been sitting there for so long, it was marked down to 1/2 MSRP. I liked the brightness, the charger, and the setup on the bike. Unfortunately, the yellow light tended to get washed out at dusk, especially when there's cars passing by. On a dark night or on a trail, it's great though. So I ended up getting an early Christmas gift from my Pop, a NiteRider Minewt. It's the '07 model, not the one they sold last Spring. It throws the light a bit farther than the halogen and the light picks up contrasts a bit better. It also has three settings: high, low and flash; and the battery lasts longer. My commute is short enough that I don't worry about the Phoenix dying out, but on longer night rides, the 3 1/2 hour burn time is nice.
Last night I rode about 12 miles from the office to try to catch up with the bi-weekly night ride. I brought along both headlights, as I was worried that I might run through the Minewt's battery. I haven't ever had a light go out on me when I needed it, but I'm pretty good about making sure the things are charged up. I missed the ride and had to turn around and go home. So I got a chance to see how the lights worked at twilight, at dusk, and then after sunset. When there was enough light to see the road clearly, I had the Minewt on flash. It gave me the comfort I needed to approach intersections and basically let folks know I'm there. Eventually it got a bit darker and I had to go to the low beam. The high beam didn't help me see the road better, although you could see a difference between high and low, plus I wanted to be able to use it for the entire ride. Turning on the Phoenix didn't give me better vision at this point either. After I figured out that I had missed the ride and had turned back, it was after sunset. I started to head home. Unlike my normal commute, this was mostly through neighborhood streets with no defined shoulder instead of on a major road with a full lane of shoulder. The Super Flash was still adequate but the Minewt just didn't seem to throw out light far enough as I passed from block to block in mostly-darkness. After a couple of miles, I threw it on high. Then I turned on the Phoenix and noticed quite a difference. When I was riding down the major road with lots of light pollution (streetlights, car headlights), the halogen Phoenix was washed out. If I had the Minewt on low and turned the Phoenix on and off, there really wasn't a discernible difference, except at the far edges of the beam. I think this is primarily because most headlights and streetlights are halogens, so the light pollution from them washes out the halogen Phoenix. The LED light freqs thrown out by the Minewt are different enough to help me see up the road. But when there's not much light out at all, the Phoenix was a tad brighter. Using both gave me the best vision though. The Minewt threw the light out a bit farther and the light itself is easier to adjust, so it was tilted a bit further up than the Phoenix. I was planning on giving it to Joseph or to my Brother-in-law, but now it looks like I'm buying some more lights for Christmas for them. Maybe I'll buy them some different types and try them out first.

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