One week ago, I talked about the problem of “bike ninjas.” And while I’m seeing more and more DC area cyclists starting to use lights, some of them could use something beyond the “bare minimum” lights: the low-power “be-seen” lights that are small and unobtrusive.
But it’s the same unobtrusiveness that makes them less capable for real utility. They have tiny beam patterns that don’t light up the tarmac – and, to be honest, they don’t make most cyclists truly visible to fellow road users.
Last year I graduated from a basic blinker to a more powerful bike light. That light (a CygoLite Pace 400, FYI) is small, self-contained, and has a powerful CREE LED to provide a maximum 400 lumens of light. It can blink, it has multiple brightness modes, has a long battery life, can be recharged via USB, and its electronics don’t interfere with my tiny Cateye Wireless bike computer.
This light has been quite good over the past year. Its battery life at maximum power is about 2 hours, but at lower intensity I’ve managed to get over 6 hours of constant burn. The lower power modes are good for urban cycling and areas where ambient light is somewhat plentiful. The high power lights up the road in an even pattern, showing all of the holes, debris, and other anomalies that could cause me trouble. The beam pattern also adheres to modern European standards – i.e. if set up properly, it won’t blind oncoming motorists.
It’s not without faults. The cover on the USB port isn’t easy to seat. The mount isn’t always stable without really wrenching down the thumbscrew. But that’s about it.
I like this light so much that I bought a CygoLite Urban 500 as a complementary light for my commutes. It is a simple light, with fewer modes and a non-changeable rechargeable battery, but it’s a little bit lighter in weight, has similar battery life, has a better USB port cover, and has a wonderful “steady-blink” setting that mixes a 400 lumen steady beam with an intermittent blink to make me more visible to motorists. I’ve only had this new light for a couple weeks, but I’m quite happy with it.
Note that I’ve tried neither of these lights as helmet-mounted units, though there is a helmet mount available for each. Right now, they mount on my handlebar. However, I’m exploring a helmet mount, as the increased utility of illuminating where you plan to ride is well worth consideration.
There are similar offerings from NiteRider, Light & Motion, Cateye, Lezyne, Serfas, and others. I love my CygoLites, but the others have their good points, too. The comprehensive comparison reviews from MTBR (2013 | 2014) are a good place to start, and the road.cc light guide has a wonderful side-by-side comparison tool.
So if you plan to ride a lot at night – especially where streetlights are scarce – invest in a high-quality headlight. And be sure to match it with a high-quality taillight, too. You can thank me later…