Lights: Because The Night Belongs To Us

Those in North America were struck by the return of standard time over the weekend. Those of us in fair Britain have already been oppressed by its tyranny for more than a week. Because of our northerly latitude I’ve been riding with lights quite a bit for a month now–and with the return to Greenwich Mean Time, our sunsets are almost as early as the earliest sunset in the Lower 48 states–affording me a chance to try out some new purchases.

For a taillight these days, I’m sticking with the DiNotte taillight that has served me well so far. On the front, for simplicity’s sake, I’ve put aside the DiNottes–which require me to faff about with recharging AA batteries all the time–and have gone to the NiteFlux Vision Stick Photon 4 Enduro. It’s a fairly ingenious design. The rechargeable lithium-ion stick battery attaches to the frame with a bracket that screws into your water-bottle bosses, like a mini-pump. The bracket can hold two of the stick batteries, one on either side of your water-bottle cage. A partially-coiled cord then runs up the downtube to your light on the handlebars. And if you need it, you can screw the stick battery directly into the light, making it a very useful flashlight.

At its brightest, the four-watt LED lamp has a claimed runtime of six hours. With a second battery, that would be easily enough to get a rider through a full night of riding, making it a useful light for events up to 600K. I plan on using it in the 250-mile ultras-sportive I’m entered in next July, when the night hours will number only seven.

It’s a sad fact that winter nights curtail our riding so much. The good news is that we get to test out theproducts that make summer playtime so much fun.

Extending The DiNotte AA Runtime

I gathered the raw materials, not always in the most convenient fashion, for the project I mentioned here. It wasn’t too hard, except that I learned that I’m pants at soldering and therefore decided to dispense with the soldered part of the project. The wires seem pretty secure with several twists, and with some shrink tubing (or as it’s known here, shrink sleeving or heatshrink), it’s even more secure. The first one I secured with electrical tape, but the rest I secured with a second layer of shrink tubing and left well enough alone. Not sure how the whole operation would work in rainy conditions–would water creep in and short out my circuits?–but I made four, so I have some redundancy. If all else fails, I can revert to using the DiNotte as originally designed.

The Raw MaterialsThe Raw Materials

Half FinishedHalf Finished

Finished!Finished!

Batteries into the bento boxBatteries into the bento box

et voila! C’est un DiNotte avec deux fois la runtimeet voila! C’est un DiNotte avec deux fois la runtime

Lighting: About That DiNotte Runtime

A few days ago I wrote about my AA-powered DiNotte light, saying how much I liked it but expressing some doubts about its runtime. So I did the geeky thing: I actually tested it. Simple protocol, really: Fully charged batteries, the same ones that were supplied with it. The light was turned on high, installed as it would be on my bike, with a fan blowing on the light because the housing is a heat exchange device and gets very hot. And then I had a Timex Ironman watch with a continuing alarm going off every five minutes so I could check on the light’s status.

Results? The light lasted longer than I did. Between 115 and 120 minutes, the light went from high to energy-saving low mode, and then kept cranking until 255 minutes, at which point it was time for bed and I ended the experiment.

I assume that a fresh set of lithium disposable batteries would last at least as long as the rechargeables (though I have no evidence either way on that). But if nearly two hours on high and four hours 15 minutes of total life without changing isn’t quite enough for you, you can try tinkering (see here and here). I’ve laid in nearly all of the supplies necessary and plan to make it a winter project.

Night Rider

Unlike Ed, I’m not welcoming the onset of standard time. The days are far too short around winter solstice on this side of the Atlantic. But it does give me an excuse to try out some shiny new products that can help a randonneur, however.

My approach to safety this year is motivated by the following three names: Benny Vansteelant, Simon Doughty, and Vince Golding. One is a world champion, no longer with us. One is an experienced long-distance cyclist, coach and author, who, if I’m recalling correctly, had been moved to a nursing home at last report. And one is a top age-group triathlete, who we’re thankful is now on the mend. I have no knowledge of the role visibility or lack thereof played in their particular mishaps, but I think I’ve gone into the winter with the desire to make clear to motorists that they’re not to hit me, and if possible, not even come near me. In other words, if it shines brightly and can be seen from a long way away, you are likely to see it on me or my bike.

Like Ed, I’m trying out the DiNotte lights–in my case, the ones driven by rechargeable AAs, for their versatility. I’ve amassed quite a collection in a short time: Two headlights, two taillights, and the helmet light. I was persuaded by Peter White that having one on the helmet is a good thing to have when riding at night to “look back” riders coming in from the side. I think it’s probably also very useful to switch on in flashing mode while riding during gray days to alert drivers turning across your lane (right-turners here, left-turners there). Just that added bit of safety against drivers having a momentary lapse of attentiveness.

There are a lot of things to love about these lights. They’re simple to mount: No special not-compatible-with-any-other-light mounts, just two rubbery bands. They’re bright. The taillight is piercing. I run it on “steady pulse” mode, which is about medium intensity with a maximum-brightness pulse. Seriously, as Peter White says, if somebody can’t see you with this thing on, they may be legally blind. Lightweight and small, the headlight throws out a pool of light wide enough and bright enough for nearly any setting. Two, or a single with a helmet light, I think would be more than adequate for audaxes of 600K or longer. Since I started randonneuring using the venerable Cateye HL500II (and still have some knocking around my parts closet), these things represent a huge advancement in battery-driven lighting technology.

I have two concerns. One is runtime. I’ve read runtime ratings of 100 minutes or two hours with their rechargeable batteries. I’ve not tested their runtimes with either the rechargeable AAs they come with or lithium AAs. Assuming the lithium AAs have an equivalent runtime, stretch that over three nights of a 1200K, and you can see how you could run up some serious dosh using these lights. My other concern is the relatively open architecture of their power cell. After an hour of rain, I think these will be wet inside and out, potentially leading to short-circuits. It seems like you’d have a couple of options: Stowing the battery in a bag, or smearing the battery connections with dielectric compound. Or both. Or maybe wrapping it in plastic.

Another item I’m using is the Exelite Lumisash. It’s a lightweight, self-illuminating Sam Browne-style belt driven by AAA batteries. Its manufacturers claim the sash is visible for 800 meters, which, if true, gives a motorist plenty of warning you’re on the road. I don’t know how randonneur safety officials would feel about this, given that you could run down the batteries. For safety’s sake, maybe you can just put it over a reflective waistcoat.

There’s risk in anything, even getting out of bed (or going to sleep, for that matter). But whatever I can do to limit my risk and still enjoy this sport I plan on doing.