Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Dark Horse In My Light Comparison

I forgot that I have one more small LED headlight kicking around my garage that wasn't included in the last test, so here's one more installment in the Great Lumen Shootout. After this one, I have to stop, since I'm boring my wife (a.k.a. 33-50% of my readership).

This isn't a bike-specific light; it's actually a Cree LED flashlight I got at Costco -- a store that turns me immediately into Navin Johnson of The Jerk: "And that's the only thing I need is this. I don't need this or this. Just this ashtray... and this paddle game. The ashtray and the paddle game and that's all I need... and this remote control. The ashtray, the paddle game, and the remote control, and that's all I need..."

Okay, where was I? Oh yeah, lights. So in a Navin-esque fit, I got a two-pack of these things at Costco (batteries included!) for something like twenty bucks. The cases are aluminum (unlike the plastic cases on most bike-specific lights), and the electronics provide two light levels plus a strobe. The button on the back of the case also doubles as a low-battery light, flashing red when power drops, a feature that none of my bike-specific LEDs share. Here are the low and high beams using the same test protocol as my last light showdown for quasi-consistency:

Low beam: Everybody's got a little light under the sun...

High beam: Under the sun... under the sun... under the sun

As you can see, we're still looking at a pretty focused spot beam, but the useful corona on this thing absolutely destroys even the high-setting 2w Planet Bike Blaze. See that "ring of Saturn" outside the main spot? That's at about the 1/3 point of the total diameter of the beam (which I couldn't capture because I couldn't back up far enough in our test lab without running into a wall), and while the perimeter obviously doesn't have the intensity of the inner blast, it's more than enough to light the sides of a trail, a tough corner, or an upcoming street sign.

Out on the commute, this light has come as close as anything I've seen in the self-contained, battery-powered LED space (short of some of Steve K's homebrewed retina-blasters) to a true "see and be seen" headlight. While the symmetrical, round beam probably wastes a lot of light, that LED/reflector combination is still putting out more than enough to ride my usual curvy trail at daylight speeds. At $20 for TWO of them (compared to $60 for one Planet Bike 2w Blaze), I am impressed bordering on stunned.

Of course, there are a couple downsides. First, it takes three AAA batteries. Ugh. Odd number, and a slightly less-ubiquitious size. Second is the big issue that all non-bike-specific lights share: How do you attach it to a bike? I started with a TwoFish flashlight holder but found that it let the light jiggle way too much on bumpy roads. The slighly-less-elegant-but-perfectly-functional solution? Two stainless steel hose clamps linked together at 90 degrees with some rubber shims for padding. One goes around the handlebar, the other goes around the headlight, and voila. Rock solid, albeit another bodged-together homage to my (ahem) "frugal" Mennonite heritage.

The Achilles' heel on this may be run time... I haven't used it for enough consecutive days to know for sure. I'll know soon enough, though, since the days keep getting shorter but don't seem to be getting all that much colder. 

THIS JUST IN: Don't miss my follow-up post where I learn the answer to that "run time" question (cue dramatic soap opera organ music...)


Anonymous said...

Have you ever tried a Busch & Muller Ixon IQ battery light? It's extremely bright and exceeds see and be seen standards. You can ride fast and not have to worry about riding into potholes etc. It's expensive ($110) but that includes a very good mount that allows you to quickly remove the light when you're parked. 4 AA batteries, rechargeables work well and I get over 10 hrs on high between charges. Low and high beams the low is about half the wattage but works well in lit areas and if you use the low setting you get longer battery life. The Ixon is the first battery bike light I've ever liked.

Anonymous said...

What model cree light were you testing and how many lumens was it rated? I'm looking for a couple and no Costco near by. Thanks

JeffOYB said...

Hi Jason... I like lights, too. Considering cheap vs. fancy and bang vs. buck, I'm still siding with the "$50 gets the whole kit" weird-battery (18650 Lipo) Seoul P7 lights. 900 floody bike-luvin' lumens, baby. As compact as your cheapy. It's not $10 and it's not $100 -- but I'd say it shines better than any $100 lite but its cousin the Magicshine 900 (and better than any $200 regular fancy bike lite). --JP of

Anonymous said...

I use the same light & it works great as a simple see/be-seen commuting light. The rubber and velcro mount from dealextreme is fine for road use, makes it easy to remove the light, and is only $2.50:

Jenni S said...

Nice info here. Keep cranking out these good posts!