I thought about cycling technology during the ride along the Shah Alam Expressway the other night. Specifically about how much bicycle lights have evolved since I last bought one. My thoughts were prompted by how the spot cast by my headlight paled next to that coming from Chon’s headlight. I had also noticed that Mark’s rear light was so bright that I had to avoid looking directly at it. Not an easy task when you are on his wheel.
The first bike lights I bought, in 2008, were from Cateye. They came in a set. They looked something like these ones.
I say something like these one because these are the current models. The HL-EL 135. I don’t remember my headlight having three LEDs (light-emitting diodes) like this one. What I didn’t realise at the time was that Cateye designed this headlight to be seen by others, and not to help the rider see what is in front of them. To their credit Cateye makes no secret of this in their 2012 Headlight Chart.
In 2009 I started riding regularly at night with the West End Bicycles 6.30 group. I needed a brighter headlight. So I bought a Planet Bike Blaze headlight and Superflash rear light. Again as a set.
The headlight and rear light were noticeably brighter that their Cateye equivalents. The only downside was that the headlight run-time on two AA batteries was only five hours at high output.
In 2010 I bought my first road bike. A second downside of the Planet Bike headlight became obvious. The headlight and mount were bulky. This wasn’t a problem on my hybrid bike because my hands were usually on the handlebar extensions. On my road bike however the headlight took up space on my bars where I wanted to put my hands. So before long I bought another headlight. A Niterider MiNewt Mini-USB.
The Niterider MiNewt had three advantages over the Planet Bike headlight. The MiNewt was one third the size of the Planet Bike. It could be mounted on my helmet, thus freeing up space on my handlebars. Lastly it was the first bike headlight that could be recharged via a USB port.
I must admit that the separate light and external battery pack is not as convenient as an all-in-one unit. NiteRider do provide a velcro strap for attaching the battery pack to the stem or head tube. They also include a 1 meter / 39 inch extension cord so it is possible to ride with the battery pack in a jersey pocket.
In 2011 I bought my second road bike. By then Niterider was selling the MiNewt Mini.150-USB. As the name implies, the output had increased to 150 lumens from the previous 110 lumens. There was also a flash mode. Best of all the run time was unchanged. Brighter being better, I bought one.
Note: Bicycle light manufacturers often use lumens as the measure of light their equipment produces. Some use candelas. A few use lux. Unfortunately there is no regulation or consistency in the bike light industry with respect to how light output is measured and reported. Caveat emptor applies.
Light output is not the whole story either. The shape of the beam is a big determiner of the effectiveness of the light. A broad beam may not properly light the road or path ahead. A focused beam may light up close objects, or those farther away, but not both at the same time. Beam shape and pattern are a function of bulb angle and shape, reflector shape and lens shape.
What is the current state of play as far as bicycle lights are concerned? Niterider sells the MiNewt Pro 750. It has five times the light output of my MiNewt Mini.150, four light levels and three flash modes. If you don’t want a light with a separate battery pack you can buy the Lumina 650. The Lumina 650 puts out more than four times the lumens of the Planet Bike Blaze, and it is rechargeable.
Systems with external battery packs put out the most lumens. Chon’s headlight is an SSC-P7. It can pump out up to 1,200 lumens, though at the expense of run time. Chon tells me that the run time at 1,200 lumens is ridiculously short, so he runs his headlight at 600 lumens. Still plenty bright.
What’s the brightest bicycle headlight on the market today? That seems to be the Lupine Betty R12. This light has a claimed output of 3,600 lumens. Better yet, in a review of LED bike lights, mtbr magazine measured the actual output of this light at 3,625 lumens. In comparison, the xenon bulbs used in High Intensity Discharge car headlamps (the ones with a bluish tint), produce about 3,000 lumens.
As with all things top-end, the Lupine Betty R12 comes at a price. About USD930 / RM2,900 online.
Finally, Mark’s rear light is a Cateye Rapid 5. The main LED looks to be just as bright as the one in the Planet Bike Superflash. However the Rapid 5 has five LEDs in all while the Superflash has three LEDS. The Rapid 5 has four modes. The Superflash has two modes. See what I mean about bike light evolution.
I am tempted by the latest bright and flashy. I think I’ll stick with my MiNewt Mini.150 and Superflash. I am going to pull my Tacx Lumos lights out of storage tonight though.
These mount in the handlebar drops. Each light has a white LED for forward lighting. There is a red LED for visibility from the rear. And there is a button-activated amber LED that is a turn-indicator.
I don’t need no high-output headlights!
* Title courtesy of Elton John and Bernie Taupin.