Thursday, October 16, 2008

I Feel Like Getting Lit

If you're an 8-to-5 stiff like me, there's not a lot of daylight riding left, at least during the week. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing - I'm your textbook night person and a for me, a good night ride is hard to beat.

I'm no expert on lights, but I've goofed with them a bit. Earlier this year, I was a frustrated all-work dull boy and to preserve my sanity I resolved to ride every day, starting on March 1st. I didn't make it anywhere near Jason's 150+ days, but I did make it over 3 months and most all of that was after long work days, and therefore, in the dark. That kind of repetition was key to finding out what does and doesn't work for me as far as lights go (And also led to some adventures like ending up crashed and half-submerged in a huge puddle in Manito on a frigid March night, but that's a story for a different day).

So now that lights are again parked on my frontal lobe, here are some random thoughts . . .

I bought my first serious light as a fairly green commuter in Seattle. I researched the hell out of it, all on company time. I bought a Light and Motion Solo Logic. Halogen handlebar mount with NiMh bottle-cage battery. I've stayed loyal to Light and Motion ever since - I love that company - the'yre the littler guys that make a great product and provide even better service.

I vividly remember my first ride with this light at about 11 pm on a weeknight down the Soos Creek Trail in Kent, turning night into day. Whoa. This is a great light that would be everything I ever needed in a light, if only I wasn't such a gear junkie. I haven't used it for a while and as a matter of fact, Jacque was by tonight and is going to try it out. I don't know if it's what he's looking for, but he seemed extremely pleased to see where he was going as he was headed out.

I got tired of the minor inconvenience of moving the Solo Logic from bike to bike and thought the L&M Vega would solve all my problems. It's cool because it has a self-contained battery (cords are a major nuisance for me) so it is extremely portable. The mounting bracket can be moved from bike to bike without tools and it is compact enough to stuff in your pocket while you head into the tavern. Unfortunately, the light output is low and the battery life sucks. Great concept, bad execution. Sorry L&M, nice try. I'll hang onto it, though, because it gets Patty up to the Rocket Market with me sometimes.

Then I decided I was gonna ride with the hardcore TNR (Tuesday Night Ride) group. These are the folks that ride MTB's year-around, every Tuesday night, rain or shine or snow or WTF-ever. Riding in pitch black woods requires serious lumens and so I bought the mother of all lights, the ARC Li-Ion. HID (high intensity discharge - the name alone is scary). I quickly found out that there was no way that I could hang with these guys but that as a consolation prize, I could burn their retinas out with my light. Serious night-time MTBing is about the only legitimate use for this light, as far as I can tell. It's just too much and too obnoxious for city riding. Picture parking a Humvee in Riverpark Square.

Which brings me to my current fave - a helmet-mounted Stella-L. This is an LED light with a Li-Ion battery. I've mounted it on a dedicated helmet, so it is always ready. No matter what bike. Grab and go. It has a 5-6 hour battery life on the highest light setting. The whole thing weighs 22 oz, which is not feathery, but really manageable. I love not having to charge it every time I go for a ride. I also really like being able to direct the beam with my head. There was a period of time last spring when it seemed that I was having a close call with cars every time I went out, due to the fact that motorists just don't expect to see bike on the road in the middle of winter. With the helmet-mounted light, I am able to get their attention by shining the beam in their direction. Slightly alarming and obnoxious, but effective, safe and therefore justifiable.

For rear blinkies, it's the Planet Bike (another great company) SuperFlash. Hands down. $24 and worth every penny. The first time I turned one on at the LBS in broad daylight I ended up seeing spots for the next 10 minutes.

As you can see, I'm a battery light guy, so far. But I'm expanding my horizons. John and others espouse the virtues of dyno lights, so I'm trying those out this winter. All the best ones come from Germany, complete with German-language instructions - yay. My light arrived yesterday. It's a halogen, which is quickly becoming old school. L&M just re-vamped their line and all they offer now is LED. The LED technological advances of late are pretty staggering. They're most definitely the future - low power consumption combined with ultra-long lamp life and now super light output.

Here's a sneak preview of my new dyno hub.

Bring on the night (t0 steal a phrase).


Jacque Hendrix said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jacque Hendrix said...

Geesh! In my original comment I called you Hank. Sorry 'bout that.

Anyhoo, good post and info on the lights. This is the perfect time of year to talk about them.

Love the light, perfect for my needs.

Looking forward to another visit, this time I'll bring the beer.

Pat S said...

No problem . . . I've been called a lot worse things than Hank ;-)

Glad you like the light.