Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Lighting Up The Phone Lines

The flood of responses (both on-blog and off) to my last post would seem to indicate that a) more people read this thing than just my wife, and b) those people are more interested in bike lights than my wife is. So, I'll pander one more time at the risk of boring my better half. Sorry, honey!

Several people mentioned that either they don't have a Costco near them or their Costco doesn't have the light that received such high praise. I don't see it on the Costco website either, but a helpful reader from the Internet BOB list found what appears to be the same light with slightly different cosmetics. I can't say for sure if it's the same, and I can't vouch for the site, but there you have it. And, to sprinkle some link juice on that helpful reader, he's the brains behind the Bicycle Geometry Project, a database of road bike geometries over the years. Had a bike you loved and want to compare it to a different bike? The BGP might be able to help. Just want to geek out on bike geometries? The BGP can definitely help.

It seems like everyone has a favorite light, and as the suggestions rolled in, it dawned on me that I hadn't really put down my criteria for these tests before I started. So in no particular order, here's what I find important in a light:
  • Self-containment: I've done the "lamp on bars, long wire to separate battery pack the size of a cinderblock" thing. Not going back to that.
  • Replaceable batteries: No rechargeable battery lasts forever. When it's finally used up its charge cycles, I want to be able to buy a replacement at a regular old store and pop it in there without firing up the soldering iron.
  • Common battery size: This goes along with "regular old store" above. No weird cell sizes, please. If the corner convenience store doesn't have it, I don't want it in my light (a lesson I recently re-learned... more later).
  • As long as I'm griping about batteries, use an even number please: So many lights use three cells (usually AAAs). It's not a deal-breaker, but my charger holds four. Add in two for my tail light, and I have to run two cycles to get everything juiced up. It's why I keep trying to love the 2 AA-powered offerings from Planet Bike.
  • Less than $100... much less, if possible: The emitters in these things seem to be leapfrogging each other in output every few years. Unless you're going to offer me an LED upgrade at a reduced price (and I know some companies do), I don't want to drop large coin on almost certain obsolescence. Even my test lights have to be cheap since I'm buying them with my own bucks (though any manufacturer who wants to ship a megabuck, megalumen kit my way for a test is more than welcome).
  • Reliability: No connections that jiggle loose, switches that fail, mounting brackets that crack, seals that let in water and short-circuit the electronics, etc. A metal case  is preferred, since I ride in temps that aren't always plastic-friendly. Bottom line, I want to know that as long as I have juice, I have light.
  • Decent run time: I don't ride all night, and I don't intend to start. Just give me a few predictable days of commuting (2-3 hours of darkness) at full oomph and we'll do fine.
Having said all that, here's an update on the winner from my last post. With universe-defying casual hubris, I said, "The Achilles' heel on this may be run time... I haven't used it for enough consecutive days to know for sure." I can now say that yes, run time is something to be aware of with the Formerly Perfect 2 for $20 Light (FP2F20L) -- not a tragic flaw, mind you, just something to keep in mind. Yesterday morning, about 15 minutes into my commute, the low-battery light started flashing. "No worries," I thought. "I'll just switch to low power to save what I have left." About thirty seconds later, I was in total "who flipped the switch?" darkness. "No worries," I thought. "The moon is out, so I can still see the trail... the trail that suddenly feels very soft under my tires... I wonder why the surface would have changed like... OH CRAP! I'M NOT ON THE TRAIL! I'M IN THE VERY DARK WOODS! AND I KNOW THERE'S A CREEK AROUND HERE SOMEWHERE!"

I did manage to bring the vehicle to a stop without becoming an unintentional duathlete, and I was able to ride very gingerly to a convenience store just a couple blocks off the trail for some fresh AAAs (see "common battery size" above) -- and in the light's defense, those rechargeables had been running on high for just under two hours total when they gave out. Still, the "low battery light" that I was so happy to have? Not much of a feature, really. It would be like a low fuel light in your car that came on right when the engine started to sputter on fumes.

This little hiccup gave me pause, but it hasn't changed my overall assessment of the FP2F20L all that much. It still beats all challengers in my stash for brightness and beam pattern. It would be nice to get more time on a charge, and I'd rather run 2 AAs instead of 3 AAAs, but I'll manage... and not just because I don't want to futz with those hose clamps again.


Anonymous said...

Nice update!

In addition to your worthy criteria, let me toss out one of my own:
"needs to be able to be charged with a simple wall wart, and not require battery removal".

I had this rigged up for a modified Niterider many years ago. A suitable wall wart was close to the bike's parking spot, and I simply plugged the wall wart output cord into the battery pack to charge overnight. Very little effort or hassle.

Of course, being a very lazy person, I have a hub dynamo now!

Steve in Peoria

Steve Fuller said...

If you want a couple of other lights to test, I have a MiNewt (USB chargable) and a DiNotte 200L (2 and 4 cell Li packs) that I'd be willing to let you use for a while. Still not riding enough to use them. LMK.

Julia said...

I'm glad to hear that I'm not the only goofball interested in bike lights! :)