Wednesday Commuteblogging: Lights edition

The commuting randonnuer has the opportunity to try out new gear on those daily jaunts, and there’s no better way to put lights through the wringer than nightly rides through rain, cold and potholes. Like the rest of you, I’ve got a box full of lights and accessories that I used on brevets. For the last 12 years, however, I’ve relied on Niterider 15 watt halogen lights. They’re bright enough to cut through overhead lighting and the NiCad bottle batteries have lasted about three years before losing their 2+ hour capacity.

Randonneur Lights From Left: Cateye EL-500, B&M Ixon, Minewt X2 with battery, Niterider 15w headlight, DiNotte 200L with battery, Niterider NiCad bottle battery

It’s pretty clear that LED technology has pulled even with halogen in brightness and is far superior in runtimes. For PBP last year I ran three LED lights: the Cateye EL-530 full time, a B&M Ixon for occasional supplemental light, and a Cateye EL-410 mini-light on my helmet for downhills. All but the EL-530 made it through three 5-hour night rides without a battery change, using lithium disposable batteries.

The big news for 2008 is that rechargeable LED lights are ready for prime time. I’ve never felt confident using rechargeables on long brevets until now. I’ve come to this conclusion after testing two of the three hot new rechargeable lights this winter: the Dinotte 200L lithium-ion and the Niterider Minewt X2 lithium-ion. The third contestant out there, which I have not examined, is the Light & Motion Stella 180L.

There are extensive test shots and beam patterns at Lactic Acid Threshold. These guys dig bike lights and write good reviews.

DiNotte 200LDiNotte 200L with Battery

The Winner in my little test? The DiNotte 200L: quite bright, no hot spot, run times of 8 hours on high and longer on medium and low settings, with the larger 4-cell sealed battery. The charger is light enough to carry on the bike; LED lights don’t need a wall brick, it appears. With two batteries, the DiNotte would make it through a 1200K as a supplemental light to an always-on Ixon or the new Ixon IQ with lithiums.

Niterider Minewt X2Niterider Minewt X2

Runner up? The Niterider Minewt X2. It has a hot spot but is still plenty wide and bright for road use. It rivals the Dinotte in brightness, falling just short. Battery run times are rated at 3.5 hours on high and seven hours low, which is only a tad dimmer than the high. The rub against the Minewt is that the switch is on the battery, and spare batteries are more expensive than the Dinotte. A two-battery Dinotte package runs $270. The same setup, with half the run time, will cost the same or more from Niterider. The Niterider can be swiveled, but the Dinotte cannot.

If you can stomach the high prices, these lights offer a great advance in randonneuring lighting.

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7 thoughts on “Wednesday Commuteblogging: Lights edition

  1. Ed,
    You can build a DiNotte copy pretty easily for less than $50. I made a 3W red taillight for my traffic-heavy commute, and it’s pretty blinding.

    Michael

  2. Michael, I;m always intrigued by the home-brewers claims to duplicate premade lighting. I I’ve never bothered because I don’t want to scrounge up the parts and hope my soldering doesn’t fail somewhere inconvenient.

    I’m sure yours is good. How about this: send me everything someone would need to know to build their own taillight and I’ll post it, including the individual part and part numbers, sources, the prices, and detailed instructions with photos.

  3. Ed,
    I used the information from this site:
    http://www.racedaynutrition.com/features/bikelight.aspx

    Instead of making a three-LED headlight, I made a taillight with a 3W red Luxeon LED, flood lens, and one 500 mA current driver. I was going to use two drivers, but one is plenty bright.

    I made an aluminum housing with a lathe that is a blatant copy of the DiNotte.

    The housing is the only challenging part, and I’ve seen people just use a piece of copper tubing instead. So when I say easy, I mean the electronics aren’t hard; a little soldering and that’s it.

    The way to go would be to get a run of housings made at eMachineshop.com and provide the kits to interested parties.

    All I really cared about was being as visible as possible, since I ride down a busy road. The light is blinding, and works for 2-3 hours before I need to recharge the AA batteries.

    Michael

  4. The questions with the rechargeables, of course, is can you find a place to recharge them on a brevet, and if you’re carrying a second battery, how much juice will drain away in the second battery while you’re using the first. The DiNotte is impressive, all around. Perhaps in a generation or two we’ll be getting to 15 or more hours on one rechargeable battery.

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