Which bike light?
October 2, 2006 11:05 AM   Subscribe

Help me pick a bicycle light

I've started riding again (YEAH!) and I'm trying to do an 9-mile each way commute. It's getting dark sooner, and I want to keep riding. I need to see where I'm going..
I ride about 15mph. I'm on a trail 99% of the time, so cars aren't a worry, but seeing is the darn trail where there are no street lights is.

I've seen lights selling from $5.00 to $600.00. ($600.0 is way way too much for me.)
Can you suggest a brand and model? (price matters)
Rechargeable? Handlebar or helmet mount? What's enough to actually light up road?
posted by cccorlew to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
This is what I use. You can always pick up a second headlight if it's not quite bright enough for the trail - the $$$ HID models generally have external battery packs and it's just more crap to deal with.
posted by kcm at 11:12 AM on October 2, 2006

I'm a big fan of LED lights, which are much easier on batteries. If this is a regular-type bike path you probably won't need a high-intensity light like might be used for mountain biking. The light linked by kcm above looks pretty nice.
posted by exogenous at 11:27 AM on October 2, 2006

I'm using one of these LED lights and a similar (older) halogen light. Both run on 4 AA batteries, are compact, and are on quick-release mounts. I'd suggest two of the LED lights (in case the batteries run down on one) plus NiMH rechargeable batteries.
posted by hangashore at 11:42 AM on October 2, 2006

I have a small LED light and I find it adequate to meet the law to have a light, but I mostly ride on the city streets so I don't need to light my path. However, if I were regularly riding on dark trails at night, I'd be more inclined to find a bigger light, I imagine a bigger LED would be ideal, but any reputable bike shop should have a decent selection. Bigger hardware stores/department stores might have some decent lights for cheaper than the bike shop though.
posted by glip at 11:49 AM on October 2, 2006

15 mph is a fair clip on dirt roads with no lighting, so more light is generally better. These are very nice (I use the 5w version)

The great thing is the fact that the light uses ordinary rechargable AA batteries, so you can easily carry spares. And the fact that they are LEDs (as are the above suggestions) means more power is converted to light, rather than heat.

'spensive though....
posted by Kiwi at 11:50 AM on October 2, 2006

partly in response to glip: My commute is all on well-lit city streets. I have an older 15W Niterider halogen headlight, as well as a smaller LED light that I use as a backup for when I forget to recharge the Niterider. I notice a big difference in how well drivers see me between the two -- when I'm using the Niterider, they actually notice me, whereas they don't seem to when I'm running the smaller LED light. In addition to making dark trails more visible, more light also means you're safer on the street.

To the OP: As with most things, if you have more skillz than money you can always DIY.
posted by harkin banks at 12:43 PM on October 2, 2006

For trail riding, I don't think an LED light is going to cut it, unless it is one of the really serious ones like Kiwi points to. I think you are probably going to want at least a 10w halogen light like this for example. (I've never used this one in particular, it's just the first one I found). Those small lights are fine if you need to be seen, but just won't cut it if you need to see by them.

Oh, and absolutely rechargable. Anything that is going to be bright enough to light you way will be dead in 1-3 hours. Unless it has some sort of humungoid car battery or something. Helmet vs. handlebar is a matter of personal taste. I like handlebar because you can put the battery in a bottle cage or on the frame and not worry about running a cable from your bag to your head. Then again, you can't aim the light except where the bike is going.
posted by Lazlo Hollyfeld at 12:45 PM on October 2, 2006

I use an expensive ($150ish) helmet-mounted NiteRider like Lazlo Hollyfeld links to. Keeps a charge reasonably well, and is very bright and visible.

I can tell you that I've found the extra expense to have been worth it over dealing with cheaper headlights offering less convenient charging and less durability.

I can't help but think one could do better with LEDs these days (I bought mine just before LEDs turned a corner on brightness/cost) but I probably won't be looking at current offerings until my NiteRider dies.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 1:34 PM on October 2, 2006

Yeah, inexpensive ($50-ish) LED light like a Cateye is great as a "be seen" light, to keep folks from turning left in front of you on well lit city streets. For unlit trails on moonless nights you're gonna need a bit more oomph like a 10w halogen. If price is no object the state of the art is a hub generator and halogen or LED light. No batteries, no forgetting to recharge, just pedal and go. They are expensive, but look around Peter White's web site for more lighting ideas.
posted by fixedgear at 1:48 PM on October 2, 2006

I've got a CygoLite dual cross (older model than on their site). I like it. I think I paid around $60 for it at PricePoint (they currently only have one - a $200 model). There's this one for $80.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 2:00 PM on October 2, 2006

agree with fixedgear and zed_lopez. If you are going to actually be using your light for *seeing the road* then you need more than a $12 cateye set.

trail riding can get *very* dark, especially in the winter. I would go with the niterider suggestion. My friend had one of these (until somone jacked his battery in Europe), and it produced enough light to see by. Very handy.

congrats on your commuting plans. I do a ten mile commute a little north of you in sacramento (partially using the trail), and it's been very pleasant, aside from when it's raining. I haven't driven a car to work in nearly 6 months (mostly because my cars have been broken, but I digress).
posted by fishfucker at 2:48 PM on October 2, 2006

Tell me more about the unlit portions of your route. Are you talking about dark gaps between street lamps? Or extended distances where there is no lighting at all? The tricky thing about picking the right lamp is that it can be too bright or not bright enough depending on the situation.

In areas with streetlights, you need a pretty bright lamp to fill the dark gaps, because without night-vision those gaps are like black holes. At least 10W (halogen equivalent)…more like 15W or 20W.

In completely dark areas, you should use a much fainter lamp so as not to overpower your night-vision. After a few minutes in the dark, you’ll find that a floodlight of at most 5W (halogen equivalent) is best. It’ll cast a faint glow over everything which you can see perfectly once your eyes have adjusted.

Lamps in the $300-$600 range are usually HID lamps (i.e. mini arc lamps, like those on recent cars). They are overkill for commuting and will blind any oncoming traffic. They’re mainly aimed at the nutcases who bomb down singletrack in the dark or do 24-hour enduro events.

LED technology is the most promising right now, as it offers similar energy efficiency to HID but are much less expensive. For your purposes, a rechargeable lamp with 3 to 5 Luxeon (1W LED) bulbs would be best – they usually cost $100-$200 depending on the feature. You use the low setting in the dark areas, the high setting in inconsistently lit areas, and on flashing mode for well-lit city streets.
posted by randomstriker at 4:16 PM on October 2, 2006

Once you've settled on the appropriate wattage / feature set, most lamp units except entry level offer both handlebar and helmet mounts. You can try them out and figure out what you like -- it tends to boil down to personal preference.

One thing -- I prefer helmet-mounted lights, and I've used Niterider, Jetlight, and Topeak lamps, and let me tell you that ALL of their helmet mounts suck. None of them are really secure, and if you a road bike you can never position the beam high enough to compensate for you being hunched over. I've resorted to making my own mounts out of Fimo (craft putty which you bake to harden).
posted by randomstriker at 4:26 PM on October 2, 2006

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