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Old 09-29-07, 06:40 AM   #1
ericy
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Lighting questions...

The days are getting shorter, and I am forced to leave work earlier than I would like in order to be home before the sun goes down. So the question is, what is the optimum lighting solution? When I was a kid, I had one of those dynamos that ran off the side of the tire, and I haven't really had any kind of a light since then.

I went into both an LBS and REI. Both told me that if you want to actually illuminate a path (like I plan to do), you need a better and brighter (and more expensive light). Both had the NiteRider brand - I liked the Solmate with the LED bulbs myself (greater battery life). The question of helmet vs handlebar mounting is one that I have never even contemplated however, so I don't have a good sense. For the most part I will be on either an MUP or on city streets.

In terms of a taillight, some sort of red blinking light - the LBS had the Mars 3, which seemed OK.

Are these products reasonable for commuters, or should I be looking at something else?

Finally a question about riding on an MUP at night. Technically our main MUP (WO&D in Virginia) is closed at night, but apparently they rarely enforce it. I have heard stories about people *without* lights getting pulled over, but what about people *with* lights? Will I get hassled by the police (or anyone else), or am I worrying about nothing? Or should I find an alternate route on city streets (which would actually be considerably shorter)?
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Old 09-29-07, 06:47 AM   #2
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So the question is, what is the optimum lighting solution?
Ultimately, that's up to you. Here's a good site with a lot of good - and detailed - info:

http://www.nordicgroup.us/s78

I built one of the systems he outlined. 35 watt headlight, large rear taillight (5 watts, I think) and a xenon amber flasher: materials for two bicycle light systems ran about $170 ($85 each) - but bear in mind I generally go overboard on projects *grin* and these are definitely overkill.

He talks a lot about commercial systems, different types of lights, and their pros and cons, also.
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Old 09-29-07, 07:06 AM   #3
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Have you checked out Electronics, Lighting and Gadgets... ???
there you will find more info than you could possibly ingest at a single sitting. Personally, I'm totally psyched about DiNotte. They are small, bright and elegant. Rear light strikes me as especially important. In my own experience, cars started behaving much more responsibly around me after I put those little dynamos on. And whatever you decide, my humble advice is Don't scrimp on lights esp. if you are commuting. I think they are almost as imp. as the bike.
Watch out for the night rider. Lots of posts lately describing wiring problems.
But get thee to Electronics, Lighting and Gadgets... and have fun.
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Old 09-29-07, 07:13 AM   #4
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A lot of the high performance lighting systems are designed for night-time MTB riding and are completely over-specced for riding along a bike path at night. 10 watts should be more than enough.
I use a modern 3-watt dynamo style front lamp* powered by a battery instead of a generator. I find the illumination sufficient for riding along paths that I know in complete darkness. More light is always nicer to have but you have to manage the battery carefully. I get about 5hrs burn time with my low spec system.
*Note that high-end systems often use generic sealed-beam lamp units whereas dynamo lamps are optimised for cycling and put the light where you need it most: a central rectangle with a peripheral star pattern.

If you do want to use a generator, the most reliable form is the front-hub style such as the Shimano ones. You have to get these built-up into a front wheel.
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Old 09-29-07, 09:01 AM   #5
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Originally Posted by ericy View Post
The days are getting shorter, and I am forced to leave work earlier than I would like in order to be home before the sun goes down. So the question is, what is the optimum lighting solution? When I was a kid, I had one of those dynamos that ran off the side of the tire, and I haven't really had any kind of a light since then.
There are a few people out there that still use dynamos but, realistically, even a cheap halogen system like the Niterider TrailRat puts out far more useable light then any dynamo system. You can get very expensive hub dynamos and build a wheel around them but they still don't have a light output that's much better than a $50 Cateye light run on AAA batteries. Their advantage is that you don't have to worry about batteries but I'd rather have light output then convenience. I can always carry more batteries if I want to have longer run times. Batteries aren't that heavy.

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I went into both an LBS and REI. Both told me that if you want to actually illuminate a path (like I plan to do), you need a better and brighter (and more expensive light). Both had the NiteRider brand - I liked the Solmate with the LED bulbs myself (greater battery life). The question of helmet vs handlebar mounting is one that I have never even contemplated however, so I don't have a good sense. For the most part I will be on either an MUP or on city streets.
Your LBS and REI are correct. An inexpensive light like the a Cateye HL520 is about the minimum you should use for keeping your 3rd dimension validated if you ride MUPs. Here is a beam shot of an LED that has an output a little higher than the Cateye



Even on a dark MUP, you are going to be pressed to see much more than just a few feet in front of you. It works but I find it very stressful because you have watch that little swatch of light constantly to avoid stuff in front of you.

I don't believe in having just the barest minimum if you are riding on streets, however. Streets have lights and you can probably see to ride but streets also have so many other light sources that a low output light like the HL520 (or a dynamo light) get lost in the noise.


The Solmate is going to put out a little more light then the beam shot I have above...not not a whole lot more. It has a great burn time and, if you need it, it's a great tool. However having longer burn times is a kind of trap if you only need the light for an hour per day. Let's assume the light has a 4.5 hour burn time and you ride to work 5 days a week and use the light an hour each night. You'll have to charge it on the four day but, being the busy guy you are, you forget on Thursday to put it on the charger and you rush out on Friday forgetting all about it. Half way home on Friday, you are going to be riding in the dark You can be careful but riding in the dark without lights is the number one reason for bicyclist fatalities in this nation. And I won't even go into battery self discharge which lowers your useful battery life even further.

As silly as this may sound, it's better to have a light and battery system that is pretty closely matched to longest daily expected ride time...plus a little margin of safety. That way you are forced to charge the battery at the end of each day's ride (into work and home again). A fresh battery is a happy battery

LEDs and HID have good outputs and good run times, however you pay a premium for them. On a lumens/dollar basis however halogens are still pretty hard to beat. (A lumen is a measure of light output) Cygolite Night Rover, Niterider Trail Rat/Head Trip and Planet Bike Alias are examples of fairly low cost halogens. The prices range from $100 to $170 and their light output is very good. The Night Rover even has 2 lamps. And you could buy the Trail Rat and a Head Trip for about what you'd pay for the Niterider Sol. There are even some tricks you can do to the halogens to get better light output like putting in a higher wattage bulb and running them at higher voltages. Here's what you can get out of a 20W halogen



A helmet mount lamp has some advantages over a bar mount. The light from one goes where you are looking. Since a bicycle banks a turn, the light on a bar shoots off in a direction that you don't need. Your eyes follow the bank of your turn and the light on your head goes the same direction. You see things on the road that you might need to avoid. I personally would use a helmet light before a bar mounted lamp but I'd also have both. Something may go wrong with one and you'll have a backup. And advantage of the Niterider system is that the helmet mount uses the same attachment as the bar mount. You can easily swap them if you need to.


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In terms of a taillight, some sort of red blinking light - the LBS had the Mars 3, which seemed OK.
The Mars 3 is about as good as any. I would suggest, however, having multiples. I personally carry 5: one on the rack, one on my rack bag, one on my Camelbak, one on my helmet and one on my left leg. The one on my rack is set to steady so that cars have a way of judging the distance to me and the others are set to flash to get attention. Five may be overkill but carry at least 2 and consider having one on steady mode.


Quote:
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Are these products reasonable for commuters, or should I be looking at something else?
See the long winded response above

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Originally Posted by ericy View Post
Finally a question about riding on an MUP at night. Technically our main MUP (WO&D in Virginia) is closed at night, but apparently they rarely enforce it. I have heard stories about people *without* lights getting pulled over, but what about people *with* lights? Will I get hassled by the police (or anyone else), or am I worrying about nothing? Or should I find an alternate route on city streets (which would actually be considerably shorter)?
I ride through places that are 'closed' at night too. For the few times I see a patrol officer, I fain ignorance. "It's closed at night? Really? I didn't know that. Well I guess I can go ride on that multilane arterial over there. Can you tell me how to get over there? I'll keep off the MUP and go fight that traffic from now on. Thanks for the warning. Have a good night!" Don't be too sarcastic and they'll just tell you to be careful It's worked for me for the last 20 years

Good luck!
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Old 09-29-07, 09:14 AM   #6
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Lighting is a matter of personal preference. There is univerdal agreement that you need lights, though. I suggest you research what is out there. For me, the only acceptible solution is a hub dynamo. People like/need different things.

I ride the WO&D at night while going from Arlington to our car dealer. Lots of commuters on it in the winter, all with lights. On the other hand, if the street route is shorter and there are no particular dangers, why not use it?
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Old 09-29-07, 10:21 AM   #7
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I ride the WO&D at night while going from Arlington to our car dealer. Lots of commuters on it in the winter, all with lights. On the other hand, if the street route is shorter and there are no particular dangers, why not use it?
Getting to Fair Lakes from Vienna is in theory possible on city streets. Most of them that I have driven don't look to be very safe for bicycles however, but I haven't ridden them on a bicycle so it might not be as bad as I describe. My impressions are that there are lots of winding roads with no shoulder, no trail along the side, and some that have heavy traffic at times. Right now I can really use the exercise, so the fact that the WO&D route is longer isn't that much of a disadvantage.

If I had to, I would scout around and test some of the city streets on a bicycle to see how they feel from the saddle.
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Old 09-29-07, 10:29 AM   #8
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don't let others discount dynohubs effectiveness. true they are not a bright as the HIDs but they are more reliable (IMO). i went from a HID to a B&M dyno-light and now use a inoled 20+ (another dyno-light). mounting the light low on the fork really improves the light's usefulness, and cars see it just fine. i also use a battery-powered flasher on my handlebar for added security (it can also be used as a backup headlight).

i too am totally sold on the dinotte tail light...i have seen nothing that compares to it. it is so bright that i feel obligated to aim it down a bit; don't want to blind the passing cars. but redundancy is the key to taillights (more than headlights IMO), and i am about to purchase a B&M dyno-taillight. blinking taillights get driver's attention but i feel that adding a steady light may help drivers judge my position/distance better. also, i keep a PB super flash in my trunk bag as a backup taillight...along with extra batteries.

http://www.peterwhitecycles.com/ is a great resource for info...good luck

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Old 09-29-07, 12:17 PM   #9
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Here's an interesting thing I haven't seen mentioned anywhere but that Rob at DiNotte told me... Some police believe using blinkers only in the rear can be dangerous since folks who are high tend to get sort of fixated on it and drive right into it! I keep my DiNotte on full blast and have a Mars 3 blinking near it. The Mars is a faint light by comparison, but eye-catching. The DiNotte gives a steady point reference for drivers to gauge distance and really does have that "give me a wide berth" message. I think good lights convey seriousness and inspire seriousness in drivers.
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Old 09-29-07, 02:22 PM   #10
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I also ride a pitch black MUP for part of my commute. The Sammamish River Trail is right at the riverside, and the fog makes it even more difficult to illuminate well.
My current setup is an L&M Solo headlight mounted to the reflector tab on my front rack. It puts the light low enough to keep it from lighting up all the fog, but high enough that I can get a nice wide beam out on the MUP (without having it blinding oncoming riders.) I get about 2.5 hours per charge up on the battery, and it was about $120 at REI.
I use 2x PB SuperFlashes in the back. One set on solid, mounted to the fender, near the top of my mudflap. The other on my rack trunk (I'm building a solid mount extender to hardmount it to my rack) and set to blinking. I took that advice from the RUSA (Randonneurs U.S.A.) side, where they have rules that you must have at least 2 rear lights with at least one set to non-flashing mode.
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Old 09-29-07, 03:48 PM   #11
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I've ridden the W&OD at twilight and a bright headlight or 2 is definitely useful - some sections are DARK! I'm more concerned about drivers seeing me (a flashing helmet light in addition to the bike light is useful).

As to enforcement, I have only heard reports of it in the evening around the Rt 28 overpass in Sterling. Check the commuter and Northeast regional forum archives, the Bikewashington Yahoo group, and the PPTC forums and "pedalers" google group for threads on this. What I recall is the commuters riding with lights were warned but not threatened with citations; maybe the reason was the alternate (Waxpool) is high traffic and not really suitable for bikes. I have never had a problem but my W&OD commute is only a few miles in Reston/Herndon and I do have alternate routes if it became an issue.
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Old 09-29-07, 07:03 PM   #12
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Have you checked out Electronics, Lighting and Gadgets... ???
there you will find more info than you could possibly ingest at a single sitting. Personally, I'm totally psyched about DiNotte. They are small, bright and elegant. Rear light strikes me as especially important. In my own experience, cars started behaving much more responsibly around me after I put those little dynamos on. And whatever you decide, my humble advice is Don't scrimp on lights esp. if you are commuting. I think they are almost as imp. as the bike.
Watch out for the night rider. Lots of posts lately describing wiring problems.
But get thee to Electronics, Lighting and Gadgets... and have fun.
I just got back from my first ride with my new DiNotte 200L. I used a DiNotte Ultralight 5W for a year or two, and the 200L is a lot better. I've always run my headlight on high---and the 200L illuminates the road very well. The beam is wide enough that it covers my lane and part of the adjacent one, and projects down the road. Burn time is supposed to be two hours on high, which is 30 minutes longer than the old 5W. I like the AA version as opposed to the Lithium Ion version(even though I have a DiNotte 600 L coming) because AA battery technology is only going to keep improving. I'm using 2600 mAh batteries now, but the 5W initially shipped with 2300s. Since AA batteries are the most commonly used size in digital cams and such, those batteries will continue to improve--until they can't anymore.

Riding with such a bright light spoils one.
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Old 09-30-07, 03:26 AM   #13
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G'day

Just to throw in another option - Ay-Ups. These seem very popular with the MTB crowd and are something I am considering for next winter (we are coming into spring here).

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Old 09-30-07, 04:12 AM   #14
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Stay away from the Mars 3. While bright, it's a major pain to change batteries due to the fact it uses three tiny screws to access the battery compartment. The Planet Bike Super Flash is a good alternative.
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Old 09-30-07, 05:42 AM   #15
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I live in Maine where it gets dark earlier and soon my commute will be in the dark both ways. My commute is entirely on the roads, so I can't comment on the MUP question, but my bike has pretty much everything on it as far as lighting goes. More is better.
I have a hub dynamo which drives an LED headlamp, and a small tail light, I see this as my backup which is always there, for when I find myself in the dark without having expected it. I have a Dinotte tail light, Dinotte head light, and a second Dinotte head light mounted to my helmet. These are bright, and the tail light especially makes it impossible to approach me from behind without noticing me. I also have a small planet bike blinky on my tool bag.

The Dinotte batteries are recharged at work each day, and have a long enough life to get be home and back each day.
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Old 09-30-07, 09:51 AM   #16
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Stay away from the Mars 3. While bright, it's a major pain to change batteries due to the fact it uses three tiny screws to access the battery compartment. The Planet Bike Super Flash is a good alternative.
The Mars 3 is like the old Vista taillights (same maker with a different name). The threaded compartment isn't that big of a deal, however. I don't use rechargeables in my taillights because of the self discharge of rechargeable batteries so I only have to change mine about once a year. Not a big deal, really.
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Old 09-30-07, 09:59 AM   #17
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A few weeks ago I bought a NiteRider Sol from REI (they had it on sale for Labor Day). I did my first longish ride in the rain this past Thursday night, and the light died on me about 15 minutes from home. I stopped, fiddled with it, got it work again, then it died again, I got it back on... and so forth. When I actually got home it was working, but wouldn't turn off. Being tired and somewhat buzzed at the time, I unplugged it, left the battery out to dry, and then plugged it in the next morning to charge. When I got home the following evening the light only kind-of sort-of worked; I could get it flicker to life for a few seconds, then it would die again. I think the button may have shorted out in the rain.

Before it died, I liked the Sol due to the small size of its lamp, and rather impressive brightness for its size, in addition to its run time. The fact that it died so quickly leaves a rather bad impression though.

I upgraded to a CygoLite DualCross 300 when I returned the Sol to REI. I tried it last night for a short ride to a cafe and the light itself is bigger, bulkier, has a bigger battery that is more difficult to mount, with a cord that is too long, but is definitely a better light. Brighter beam, larger surface area, very easy to see by. It was sprinkling last night, so I haven't really tested it in the rain yet, but I probably will this week as the club I've started riding with rides rain or no two times a week.
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Old 09-30-07, 01:19 PM   #18
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A lot of the high performance lighting systems are designed for night-time MTB riding and are completely over-specced for riding along a bike path at night. 10 watts should be more than enough.
I use a modern 3-watt dynamo style front lamp* powered by a battery instead of a generator. I find the illumination sufficient for riding along paths that I know in complete darkness. More light is always nicer to have but you have to manage the battery carefully. I get about 5hrs burn time with my low spec system.
*Note that high-end systems often use generic sealed-beam lamp units whereas dynamo lamps are optimised for cycling and put the light where you need it most: a central rectangle with a peripheral star pattern.

If you do want to use a generator, the most reliable form is the front-hub style such as the Shimano ones. You have to get these built-up into a front wheel.
I agree with you; I've even discussed this to nausea in the past only to get those who think anything less the 45 watts is a waste of money...as if $500+ for a light isn't a waste of money.

I'm pushing 70 thus my eyesight is not as bright at night as you younger folk, and find 16 watts plenty for me, and in fact only ride in the city with just 6 watts burning. But there are those who seem to think you can't safetly go over 25mph without 45+ watts. Good god man, when I was young the lights we had weren't any brighter then a standard 2 cell flashlight and a standard bulb...halogen had not even been thought of!! And I could see ok with just that, not the ideal situation of course but that's all we had. And now we all try to be as bright or brighter then motorcycles and cars!

You should get at least a 12 watt light, those little selfcontained battery lights like the Cateye is more of a to be seen light with out much output to see the road with, almost as bad as the old 2 cell or bottle generator lights we had back in the day. I have the Cygolite NiMh Xtra that cost less then $100 and it has dual beams with the ability to generate 16 watts on high or 6 watts on low for up to 6 hours of battery life. I prefer dual beam lights over single beam because just in case a bulb fries you have another light you can use.

Bicycle lights are never going to be as optically seen as a motorcycle or car due to the very nature of the size of the physical light; we're limited to smallish 2 inch or less diameter light due to space and weight concerns. Knowing that you have to think of other ways to be noticed. Thus you have a light bright enough to see the road and a FLASHER to attract drivers attention to you before they notice your small light.

Taillight wise, I don't know anything about the Mars light, but I do like the Cateye LD600, and when mounted vertically puts off a lot of light to the sides.
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Old 09-30-07, 05:20 PM   #19
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I agree with you; I've even discussed this to nausea in the past only to get those who think anything less the 45 watts is a waste of money...as if $500+ for a light isn't a waste of money.

I'm pushing 70 thus my eyesight is not as bright at night as you younger folk, and find 16 watts plenty for me, and in fact only ride in the city with just 6 watts burning. But there are those who seem to think you can't safetly go over 25mph without 45+ watts. Good god man, when I was young the lights we had weren't any brighter then a standard 2 cell flashlight and a standard bulb...halogen had not even been thought of!! And I could see ok with just that, not the ideal situation of course but that's all we had. And now we all try to be as bright or brighter then motorcycles and cars!

You should get at least a 12 watt light, those little selfcontained battery lights like the Cateye is more of a to be seen light with out much output to see the road with, almost as bad as the old 2 cell or bottle generator lights we had back in the day. I have the Cygolite NiMh Xtra that cost less then $100 and it has dual beams with the ability to generate 16 watts on high or 6 watts on low for up to 6 hours of battery life. I prefer dual beam lights over single beam because just in case a bulb fries you have another light you can use.

Bicycle lights are never going to be as optically seen as a motorcycle or car due to the very nature of the size of the physical light; we're limited to smallish 2 inch or less diameter light due to space and weight concerns. Knowing that you have to think of other ways to be noticed. Thus you have a light bright enough to see the road and a FLASHER to attract drivers attention to you before they notice your small light.

Taillight wise, I don't know anything about the Mars light, but I do like the Cateye LD600, and when mounted vertically puts off a lot of light to the sides.
It's not about speed but about being conspicuous. 16W is okay for seeing the road (although more is always better) but 6W disappears in the background of an urban environment. I use a huge amount of light especially on the road because I want to be seen and noticed! I don't depend on a puny little flashing light to ask for driver's attention. I use 90 W pushing 2600 lumens to demand that they see me. We can be seen as a motorcycle or car with enough light. I regularly have people wait for very long periods because they can't figure out what the light coming at them is. I seldom have anyone pull out in front of me and, if they do, my helmet light sweeps across their eyes and they stop! I don't have a front shot of my bike but I can tell you that a flasher wouldn't even be seen.

Look at my pictures. Do you want to try stare at a 3 square foot patch and hope that someone notices, or do you want to illuminate the whole damned road? (That yard is 25 feet across...the width of a two car lanes.)
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Old 09-30-07, 08:03 PM   #20
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I agree with PaulH that a generator (actually a dynohub in my case) is the way to go, at least for the front light.

– No need to time your rides or commutes to make sure you get home before the battery goes dead. Autonomy is an even more serious problem when the temperature gets cold.

– Always there, always working. I need to change the light bulb once every 12-15 months.

– Because of good optics, I found that the 3 W round Lumotec is about as effective on the road as a 10 W MR-11 lightbulb. And the Schmidt E-6 I now use is even more effective.

– Because of the size of the light (around 75 mm for the Lumotec; 86 mm for the E-6), oncoming traffic sees me better. At least, I hardly have anyone turn in front of me nowadays.

P.S. I built my own wheel following Sheldon Brown's instructions.
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Old 10-02-07, 06:44 AM   #21
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I use 90 W pushing 2600 lumens to demand that they see me........... I seldom have anyone pull out in front of me and,
Wow That's a lot of light!! I agree about cars waiting to pull out when they see a bright light. I run a lot less and still get(and love) their waiting. I run 40W Halogens(home made).
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Old 10-02-07, 08:40 AM   #22
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I prefer my lights on my handlebars or lower; that gives me some ability to see potholes, washboard and other road irregularities.
Personally I use an HID, though I originally had a DIY Halogen system that I built for about $30 and was better than anything you can buy for < $100. I have an 11 mile ride in the country, pitch dark under tree canopy cover, with large downhills over rough gravel. Yeah, I need light.
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Old 10-02-07, 11:26 AM   #23
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The days are getting shorter, and I am forced to leave work earlier than I would like in order to be home before the sun goes down. So the question is, what is the optimum lighting solution? When I was a kid, I had one of those dynamos that ran off the side of the tire, and I haven't really had any kind of a light since then.
Modern bottle type dynamos are much better than the old ones. I purchased an Schwinn dynamo kit at target on sale for $7.20. I would equate the drag to be about the same as knobby tires on pavement without a dynamo. After a few minutes I forget I am dragging a dynamo.
Read my review of it here and my upgrade to LED lights for it.
Cheap Target Schwinn dynamo review.
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I went into both an LBS and REI. Both told me that if you want to actually illuminate a path (like I plan to do), you need a better and brighter (and more expensive light). Both had the NiteRider brand - I liked the Solmate with the LED bulbs myself (greater battery life). The question of helmet vs handlebar mounting is one that I have never even contemplated however, so I don't have a good sense. For the most part I will be on either an MUP or on city streets.
I use handlebar mounting as my headlight is wired to a battery pack so I would have to plug in a wire between my helmet and bike, not good!


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In terms of a taillight, some sort of red blinking light - the LBS had the Mars 3, which seemed OK.

Are these products reasonable for commuters, or should I be looking at something else?
Have at least one taillight that’s not blinking. Most people have depth perception problems when your light is blinking. If it's steady they wont have any problem figuring out how close or far away you are.
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Finally a question about riding on an MUP at night. Technically our main MUP (WO&D in Virginia) is closed at night, but apparently they rarely enforce it. I have heard stories about people *without* lights getting pulled over, but what about people *with* lights? Will I get hassled by the police (or anyone else), or am I worrying about nothing? Or should I find an alternate route on city streets (which would actually be considerably shorter)?
I've only been harassed by a cop for being on the MUP after dark once. I asked him if he preferred my being on the highway, as that was my only route off the MUP. He thought about it a moment and agreed I was safer on the MUP and just be careful of walkers and joggers without lights or even reflectors.
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Old 10-02-07, 11:41 AM   #24
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Wow That's a lot of light!! I agree about cars waiting to pull out when they see a bright light. I run a lot less and still get(and love) their waiting. I run 40W Halogens(home made).
It is kind of overkill but what the heck. If you got it, flaunt it!
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Old 10-02-07, 11:44 AM   #25
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I prefer my lights on my handlebars or lower; that gives me some ability to see potholes, washboard and other road irregularities.
Personally I use an HID, though I originally had a DIY Halogen system that I built for about $30 and was better than anything you can buy for < $100. I have an 11 mile ride in the country, pitch dark under tree canopy cover, with large downhills over rough gravel. Yeah, I need light.
With what I throw out there, being able to see road hazards has never been a problem. Heck, I can count sand grains if I want

I've tried the lights lower and never really liked it. Shadows are too long for off-road riding.
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