Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Cure to My Light Envy

The sad reality. Being a working stiff means night riding. Early sunsets. Long work days. Night riding is unavoidable. I've been relying on this PlantBike number. It functions flawlessly. It turns on. It turns off. Batteries last quite long.

It is strictly a "be seen" light. The more night riding I do, the more I realize it does not garner much notice by motorists, because it's significantly dimmer than the vehicle headlights a crossing motorist is scanning for. It is easily overlooked where the street scene consists of illuminated signage, and other vehicle traffic.

The lamp fails at illuminating a path into visibility. I've always know this, but didn't realize what 'real' trail lights looked like until last week. A rider pulled behind me on a dark section of bike path armed with an ExposureLights Six-Pack. HOLY MOLY! I could see where I was going. Well mostly. I stuggled because I was riding in my own shadow from his lamp... 30 yards behind me. I felt way safer. And blown away. Need!

The search. There is a huge array of options for bike lights. Everything from DIY, to Chinese imitation lights, to expensive high tech. My criteria were light capacity, form factor, and price. I spent three nights digging around the wasteland known as the internet. The best reviews I found are located [here] and [here]

A few candidates consistantly came up. First candidate was the MagicShine. This appears to be a Chinese knock-off of the Lupine Tesla 5. Several comrades have bought this lamp, and been pleased with the capacity. One calling the naming high power setting "bunny retina burning" level. They are dirt cheap. Around $100. But... Quickly found out why. The batteries and chargers are junk. Numerous reports of batteries being defective caused the primary importer halt sales. Then UL issued a bulletin that the chargers are falsely using the UL symbol. I found few complaints about the actual lamp head. But after looking at options of homebrewing a custom battery and charger... the economy factor is no longer applicable. It seems the major cost of a quality lightset is in the battery and charger. Plus, the only remianing dealer doesn't appear reliable. Shipping times of two weeks to two months have been reported. Although cheap, I'd rather not mess about with the potential headaches.

I looked at the ExposureLights SixPack. It's is a great unit. Obviously bright. It's advantage is wireless form factor, and reasonable price. It's constructed like a flashlight. It's disadvantage is it's wireless form factor. It's too heavy to helmet mount. And quite frankly on singletrack having that mass shaking on a bar mount taking a beating... I'm leery the beam wouldn't be steady, nor the mount to be durable. Perfect solution for a street bike, but I need both.

In the end I bit the bullet and got the Lupine Betty 7 and Piko combo. They weren't cheap lightsets. But I could not find anyone with anything negative to say about them (other than expense). No complaints about batteries, chargers, or overall quality. The form factor is perfect. Bar or helmet mountable. Great chargers, including a car charger. And Lupine have a great history of standing behind product. And they're made in Germany. C'mon the Germans always make great stuff.

I ordered direct from Gretna Bikes. They shipped the next day without delay for the holiday season. I love getting packages!

First the Piko. Comes with lamp, helmet mount, helmet mountable battery, extended cord, and charger. It's 8w LED (16x more powerful than my "be seen" light). Plenty road usage by itself.

The light head is compact and lightweight. Ideal for helmet mounting.

The Betty 7 comes packaged in a nice zippered case. With car charger, wall charger, frame mount battery, helmet mount, extened cord, and lamp. The lamp bar-mounts the integrated base. No mount is required for handlebars.

The Betty is also compact and lightweight. There would be no problem helmet mounting this lamp.

One nice thing about Lupine's chargers. They are interchangeable. Any LiION charger can be used with any LiION battery. Further, the charger included with the Betty also charges NiMH and NiCAD battery packs (including trickle modes). The charge rate is selectable. It works with big and small batteries. Super nice.

This improves the long-term economics on these light sets. In the future I can upgrade batteries and lampheads separately without purchasing more chargers or packaged light sets. It's all plug-and-play. And I can travel carrying only one charger for all my lights: present and future. NICE!

Tomorrow... mount up and test.