I'm new to the sport and i everytime i talk to local riders about the "systems" i'm reading about on this board that require specialized external battery packs, they tell me i'd be crazy to buy one and should stick to headlights that use off-the-shelf batteries due to weight/complexity.
Can someone help explain the disconnect. Are these guy just wussies? Are there headlights that use regular batteries that are as bright as the others?
I don't mind recharging every day and so i only really need 2 hours of battery time.
It's the cost involved when using off the shelf disposable batteries. If you're just doing an hour or so a few days a week disposables and a standard light are just fine. If your like me and do hours in the dark you really need rechargeable batteries and brighter lights. I built a hybrid lighting system. I use a dynamo to power a 1-watt LED headlight, 5000 MCD 30mA taillight, and recharge my Ni-MH battery pack. Below is a drawing of the circuit I use.
When my speed is 10 MPH or higher 120mA of excess current is recharging the batteries. This happens to be the suggested slow recharging rate for Ni-MH batteries. Below 8-MPH the batteries keep both head and taillights on. I also have the luxury of being able to disconnect my dynamo when climbing hills and keep my lights operating. I need to do that every now and then to prevent overcharging the batteries. In the event my speed is slower than 8-MPH and my batteries die I can open S1 and rapid recharge the batteries with 500mA, which happens to be the suggested rapid recharge rate. Switch S2 is only used with hub dynamo systems to disengage the dynamo and not needed for bottle or BB type dynamos. My Ni-MH battery pack is rated at 2.4 amp hours and can power my lights for almost 3 hours.
There is nothing wrong with using a light that runs on "off the shelf" rechargables but the run time will tend to be shorter and it narrows your options a lot. Designing a system around a proprietary battery back allows the manufacturer to maximize run time vs. power and weight (good thing for you) and locks you into buying a new one from them (bad thing for you) should it fail.
That said, even a proprietary battery should last for 2-5 years depending on type, frequency of use, and how you take care of it. For many people the battery will outlast the usefulness of the light (either they will upgrade, quit riding, or lose parts of the light). I don't think it is reasonable to say it's stupid to buy a system with a proprietary battery pack.
It's always a good idea to poke around online to find out what the best way to take care of the type of battery you get is. LiIon batteries are different from NiMH and SLA. If you only use the light during a certain season you should pay particular attention to the directions for storing the battery.
There are a few good (bright, well-made) front lights that will run on the AA or AAA's though, check out Dinotte for starters. Most taillights (including the forum favorite Planet Bike SuperFlash) run on standard rechargables.