$100 bike lights: best bang for buck?
November 6, 2008 12:42 PM   Subscribe

I have a budget of $75-$100 for a bike headlight. I am seriously considering NiteRider's MiNewt-USB. Does anyone have any other recommendations, or anecdata about the MiNewt?

My priorities are:

1. < $100.
2. Brightness.
3. Charge longevity (in other words, this one isn't a huge deal).
posted by everichon to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Check the "bike light" or "commuting" forums at forums.mtbr.com.
Here are the 200 search results for MiNewt-USB.
posted by doncoyote at 1:00 PM on November 6, 2008

I like my Blackburn X3, but it seems to have been replaced by the X4 which is a little over your price range. Maybe you can find it in old stock somewhere.
posted by exogenous at 1:14 PM on November 6, 2008

I got the NiteRider X2 Dual which is AWESOME but more than you want to spend. The guy at my local REI said they can't keep the USB MiNewts in stock so I take that as a sign of popularity. Based on my experiences with the X2 the quality of NiteRider products is excellent.
posted by GuyZero at 1:34 PM on November 6, 2008

I built a pretty good light from a yard spot and some plumbing fittings for about $8.00. This only works because I already had the rechargeable drill battery. Hacking a flashlight (built for that system) would have added another $30 to the cost but would have made recharging the battery a lot easier.

This is only <$100 if you already have the battery and the charger, but you can get a sun tan from it.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 1:56 PM on November 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

Someone asked that I explain what I did a bit more via MiFiMail.

Basically, I did this. Then I bought a flashlight that goes with my drill battery, cut off the parts that weren't battery mounts and mounted that on my cargo deck and connected them with some reasonably stout wire.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 3:04 PM on November 6, 2008

I don't want to sound like a dick, but I think $80 for a bike light is ridiculous. I went to the dollar store and bought a bike light...for a dollar. Works perfectly fine, it even seems to be fairly weatherproof, if not waterproof. The light is strong and bright.

Try for cheap first. Even cheap flashlights have improved a lot in the past decade or so with the use of LEDs. Take that $80 and buy your grandma a nice sweater (or something).
posted by zardoz at 4:43 PM on November 6, 2008

I use two Mini-Mag-Lites, with brackets from DKG and aftermarket super-bright LEDs. You could easily make a single one of these for less than a hundred bucks (using two is overkill for commuting and riding at dusk, while nothing seems to be enough for high-speed off-road trail riding--what kind of riding do you do, and what kind of lighting are you hoping to achieve?). Details here. Not as bright as Kid Charlemagne's setup, but a lot lighter.

Personal opinion: proprietary batteries are the Achilles' heel of most bike lights. That's one of the biggest advantages to a DIY solution.
posted by box at 5:07 PM on November 6, 2008

Some electrical info/help
posted by hortense at 5:18 PM on November 6, 2008

I think $80 for a bike light is ridiculous

Well, no.

Cheap lights are weak. If you're riding trails or unlit roads at night a cheap light will do nothing for you. A $25 light from REI will do nothing for you. You need a really, really bright light. You are going at 25+ km/h after all. A stock 2AA mini maglight is way less than half the brightness of the light the OP linked to. If you buy a LED replacement bulb then you're looking at about the same brightness but that's about $25. Plus $20 for the handlebar mount. Plus $20 for the light itself. Plus $5 for rechargeable batteries. Plus a charger if you don't have one. So now you're at $70. The linked light has a good handlebar mount system, a lithium battery, recharges from any computer USB port. And it has a long battery life and lithium batteries which have a pretty good lifespan and are light.

If you ride your bike on a regular basis in the dark a high-quality bike light is an investment that will make your ride much safer and easier. Even a good flashlight gives off a lot less light than the one the OP linked to.
posted by GuyZero at 5:21 PM on November 6, 2008

(Since GuyZero mentions Minimags: My feeling is that, for about the same amount of money, the modded-Minimag solution is far more long-lasting, both because of durability and because of the proprietary-battery thing. My feeling is also that, if you're the kind of person for whom a DIY solution is appealing, you've probably got some of the parts lying around already.)
posted by box at 5:25 PM on November 6, 2008

I marked GuyZero's response as "best" because his comparison of the MiNewt (which, lets face it, is very much entry-level among serious headlights) to Mini Maglites is helpful, and tells me most of what I need to know. I can't visualize N lumens, but I can visualize a maglite.
posted by everichon at 6:21 PM on November 6, 2008

Cool Tools had a review of a 160 lumens headlight but that's outside your price range.
posted by Arthur Dent at 8:02 PM on November 6, 2008

GuyZero is dead on correct.

With all respect to the DIY-ers out there, some of us do not have the time, the patience, or the handy skills (or the desire) to fool around building a possibly-non-weatherproof solution.

NiteRider has been making diving system lights for years. They know what they're doing and do it very, very well.

everichon, I have the non-usb version of the light you're looking for (the MiNewt standard). It is a solid, powerful light that gives off plenty of light for me to ride at my normal daylight speeds (~18-25mph) on open space trails and unlit back country roads in full dark.

It won't work as a "trailrat" or an offroad light; you need more oomph (and preferably a dual system with both bar and helmet mounts) but for what your needs sound to be, it will serve you very well.

To the rest of you out there, there are 2 kinds of bike lights: The first kind allows you to be seen. These are the cheap $10-30 kind (blinkies, etc...) which are perfectly fine for casual urban/suburban riding and anywhere there's enough ambient light that you don't need augmentation.

The rest of the time (parks, river trails, rural riding, unlit roads, serious commuting, etc...) you need TO BE ABLE TO SEE; meaning a light you won't outride, which means it has a "throw" (visible beam pattern) of at least 30 metres. For that you need a minimum of 40-50 lumens and preferably 100+
posted by lonefrontranger at 8:56 PM on November 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

oh and Arthur Dent: I had a DiNotte, it is a very cool, very powerful light. Sadly it was also somewhat fragile and is currently back at the mfgr. pending a warranty replacement for an engine that pulled loose from the cable. I am not the only person who has had this issue; caveat emptor.

If they can fix their durabililty issues (something NiteRider doesn't have issues with fwiw) they'll have a market-killer with that system.
posted by lonefrontranger at 9:00 PM on November 6, 2008

I think this question really needs more info, what type of riding are you going to be doing?
posted by miles at 4:25 PM on November 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

I am doing road commuting, not trail riding. Yesterday, I ordered a Nite Hawk Emitter AL-- I will post a follow-up on whether it's performing like I hope it will.
posted by everichon at 8:51 AM on November 8, 2008

I purchased Nite Hawk's "Emitter AL" on sale at Nashbar. Report: It is much brighter than any sub-$30 light I've had. Problems include: The switch is wicked hard to depress; the beam, while very bright, is rather narrowly focused.

Problems aside, I am pleased enough with it.
posted by everichon at 3:00 PM on November 18, 2008

Excellent. FWIW the issue of beam spread was one of the reasons I spent more to get the dual X2 - two lights lets you control the spread by pointing the beams closer together or further apart. But it's debatable whether that's worth spending twice as much on a light.
posted by GuyZero at 5:00 PM on November 18, 2008

Nite Hawk is now out of business, FWIW.
posted by everichon at 10:11 AM on August 21, 2009

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