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Old 04-11-12, 12:17 PM   #1
Richard Cranium
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How do you define a bicycle lighting system?

After seeing another "best light for "x" dollars" posting - I have decided that at some point we could discuss what cyclists think of when talking about "all the lights" they need to be safe when out and about in any conditions.

I've posted "ultimate system" threads before - but this thread - I would just like to know what forum members think the "minimum light setup" for fool proof night riding should be.

It seems to me that no matter what devices you use - you need two for front lighting and two for tail lighting. And fine point to this "minimum" is four individual battery sources as well.

I know many would not agree, but just for kicks, shouldn't a good light system have a bar mounted as well as helmet mounted light? And shouldn't they use separate batteries?

And shouldn't you always have a "backup tail light", with a "backup" battery as well?

So if you happen to think this way, what kind of dollars are we talking for a "bike light" - now......?

You brilliant comments are requested.
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Old 04-11-12, 01:18 PM   #2
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Like everything to do with bicycle riding, it depends on the environment. People riding at night through a city have different requirements than people riding on country roads. People who can stick to residential streets during their entire ride have different requirements than people who have to ride on heavily traveled main roads with lots of distracting lighting in the area. People who can take MUPs have even different needs.

The lightest weight system would be one where people are riding residential streets with street lighting, and they just need to be seen. For that, a small flashing LED front and back, bright enough to be seen but not to see by, is probably fine.

If any riding on high speed roads is needed, I'd say the rider should step up to something like at a minimum a 200 lumen flashlight up front and a Cygolite Hotshot or one of the other premium taillights (PDW Danger Zone or Radbot, Cherry Bomb, Mars 4, etc)

If the rider will be in either an area where there are a lot of other lights to contend with and their light might get lost, I think front and back should be beefed up - one or two 400 lumen front lights, probably a couple of tail lights as above or one of the more serious ones like a Dinotte 400.

In dark rural areas (where I ride, so this is the only suggestion I've posted that comes from actual experience), a 400 lumen light is nice if you are on sketchy road surfaces (I ride gravel for a few miles), 200 lumens is find most of the time, and any of the above taillights is fine. I think a strong taillight is good because people are approaching your butt at 60+ MPH, possibly over blind hills, possibly sucking on a coffee or messing with stuff, you want to get their attention ASAP.

Doubling up on everything is nice if you can, for reduncancy. More important on the taillight since if it fails you may not notice. I think you should be RUNNING two taillights at night. Up front it's OK to just HAVE two lights, or maybe even just a spare battery if you trust the light to not actually fail.
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Old 04-11-12, 02:17 PM   #3
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My preferences: Dynamo hub, hardwired headlight and taillight. (best solution)

Alternate: Dynamo hub, hardwired headlight, battery taillight. (compromise, simplified wiring)

Dynamo alternate: battery headlight, battery taillight. (minimum, can usually transfer easily from bike to bike)

I don't feel a need for redundancies, but one can always add another battery light if you feel that way. Hard wired dynamo lighting, I don't feel it's necessary to have redundancy.

Legal requirements here in the US are typically Head light, tail light, rear reflector, front reflector, and spoke reflectors. Some require pedal reflectors.

I would consider a complete "system" to be lighting that meets the legal requirements in your locale.

Hub dynamo: $36 (Sanyo), Headlight: $38 (Spanninga Micro LED), Taillight: $20 (Spanninga Pixio), Wire, sundries:$10

The above will meet my minimum requirements. I have re-used spokes after cutting and re-threading them to the length required for the dynamo hub. The labor was my own. The proper comparison to this setup would be a Planet Bike Blaze front and Super Flash rear (as low as $38 for both online). The labor is a lot less on the battery lights.

My baseline for dynamo lighting is old incandescent lighting, 2.4w front, .6w rear. Anything modern and LED will beat this, easily.

Edit: I only use dynamo lighting equipped with standlight circuits.
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Old 04-11-12, 02:18 PM   #4
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It's been years (and now, two dyno hubs on the commuter and spare commuter bikes) since I had problems with a front headlight. Even then, it was an old battery early in the winter that didn't hold its charge. So personally, I don't see the need for two up front. The reason for two rear lights is that you won't see it when one's batteries go flat -- believe me, you'll see it up front!
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Old 04-12-12, 09:45 AM   #5
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While not a randonneur myself, I think that group has pretty much honed in on optimum lighting systems, which they need for riding for hours at night on unlit roads under all weather conditions. The 'randonneur system' seems to have converged on dynamo powered Schmidt headlamps (sometimes in pairs) coupled with a dynamo powered taillight, possibly with a backup battery taillight. Not a cheap system, by any means, but optimal for both city and country riding.
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Old 04-12-12, 10:25 AM   #6
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I see the lighting requirement being split into two different types of lights - there are the lights to see by, and the lights to make you be seen. I believe that the most effective lights in the 'to be seen' category are flashing lights, and in my ideal world, those would be powered by a dyno-hub. Unfortunately, I am not aware of a dyno powered headlight or tail light which offer a blinking mode. The lights to see with could be either battery or dyno powered, and there, the brightness and beam pattern will depend on where you ride.

My commute bike has as it's lighting complement:
Dyno-hub powered always on headlight and tail light (Schmidt and Supernova)
Battery powered tail light (Dinotte 140)
Battery powered front blinky (Cateye Loop).

Not ideal, but it works.
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Old 04-12-12, 11:40 AM   #7
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I'm a little surprised that most of the responses come from dyno-users.

But I can't get real responses because of my reputation on the forums.

I guess the auto industry had it all wrong about the "twin headlight" deal....... But even the toughest torch or dyno can fail - and even so - I've never thought a dyno-hub helped much for changing a flat in the dark - but hey -
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Old 04-12-12, 11:47 AM   #8
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I guess the auto industry had it all wrong about the "twin headlight" deal....... But even the toughest torch or dyno can fail - and even so - I've never thought a dyno-hub helped much for changing a flat in the dark - but hey -
I love dyno lighting systems for the "forget about it" factor. I also own a DiNotte battery set. They have different characteristics for different uses. You can't easily swap dyno-powered lights between bikes.

My "around town" bike used to use cheap AAA powered lights. I didn't have a backup, but I was never far from home either. If I'm riding distance at night with dyno-powered lights, I'll either have a battery light also, or carry a flashlight. That's handy for any bike repair.
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Old 04-12-12, 12:10 PM   #9
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I'm a little surprised that most of the responses come from dyno-users.
There seem to be a small number of dyno users that have been jumping in to every lighting discussion and saying "Get a dyno."

Honestly, I've looked at dynos, and I've never been impressed. I ride on roads where people typically drive 60+ MPH and there's no shoulder and no alternate route, and I want a light that someone half asleep and sucking on the first coffee of the morning can see from 1/2 mile away and say "Whoa, what the hell is that?" not from 100 feet back "what's that, a firefly?"

Many car drivers have said that they really appreciate the MagicShine tail light, which is really quite bright.

I ride on downhills on gravel roads where there are arrays of potholes that can screw you over by thinking that you're avoiding one when they're just steering you into a minefield, and you should have gone the other way around that first hole. To ride those I need to see 50+ feet in front of me clearly in the pitch dark. I want a hell of a lot of light. When I get to pavement I can cut it to 200 lumens, but on that gravel I need to throw a beam 60 or 80 feet that's powerful enough to notice a series of dips in a brown gravel expanse.
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Old 04-12-12, 12:42 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by Richard Cranium View Post
I'm a little surprised that most of the responses come from dyno-users.

But I can't get real responses because of my reputation on the forums.

I guess the auto industry had it all wrong about the "twin headlight" deal....... But even the toughest torch or dyno can fail - and even so - I've never thought a dyno-hub helped much for changing a flat in the dark - but hey -
It is really hard to walk your car home. A bike, not so much problem. A lot of motorcycles have one headlight and one taillight. Certainly not all of them, but for a long time that was the standard.
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Old 04-12-12, 07:48 PM   #11
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I'm a little surprised that most of the responses come from dyno-users.

But I can't get real responses because of my reputation on the forums.

I guess the auto industry had it all wrong about the "twin headlight" deal....... But even the toughest torch or dyno can fail - and even so - I've never thought a dyno-hub helped much for changing a flat in the dark - but hey -
I actually posted a very detailed description of my own personal viewpoints a while back: http://www.bikeforums.net/showthread...r-s-experiment

At this point I can say "I'll see your DX or MJ and raise you a couple thousand lumen ..... and still be more waterproof and have more runtime."

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Old 04-12-12, 08:08 PM   #12
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I guess the auto industry had it all wrong about the "twin headlight" deal....... But even the toughest torch or dyno can fail - and even so - I've never thought a dyno-hub helped much for changing a flat in the dark - but hey -
I use a dyno headlight, which I'm very happy with. I also have a dyno powered tail light on steady, and a battery powered light that flashes. If I am riding long distances, I have a backup AAA battery powered headlight. I carry spare batteries. Never had to use the battery powered headlight, knock wood. I almost always have a helmet light, that's far superior to any headlight for flats. In fact, I am known to wear my helmet off the bike when the helmet light is useful to me. This has the added advantage of eliciting entertaining insults from my family.
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Old 04-12-12, 11:55 PM   #13
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I'm a little surprised that most of the responses come from dyno-users.
Why the surprise? I have used a dynamo hub since 2003 or so. I don't have to charge up the lights in my automobile. I don't charge them up on a motorcycle. I'd like the same convenience in my bicycle, since there has been a solution to this since the 1930s. Before the high efficiency, high power white LED, they weren't very bright. Shortly after the Luxeons came to market, I decided it was time to go dynamo. Before this, I'd been using a 15w halogen nite-rider with the water bottle sized ni-cad battery pack, with a battery powered LED taillight.

At the time, nobody had LED dynamo headlights on the market, so I made my own, with a voltage regulator, some super caps and a luxeon with optic. It was cobbled together with some perforated circuit board, in a plastic bag, zipped tied to the handlebars. The hub was a Sturmey Archer dynohub, typically rated for 2w, (though I've heard they actually produce less than this?). This was for my urbanized mountain bike. I used a battery operated taillight, because of the anemic power of the dynohub. That light lasted me several years, until I upgraded to a Spinninga Luceo. It failed me once, due to a wire that broke due to fatigue, because of the cobbled together nature of it. Chalk that up to bad implementation by me.

At the time, there was only the Schmidt Son and Shimano offerings in dynamo hubs, unless one went with the used market. I got the SA dynohub for $20 or so on Ebay. I had the LBS lace it into a new rim for another $100 at the time(price includes a Salsa Delgato rim). I've ridden a Raliegh with the SA and incandescent lighting, when I say that is my baseline, I mean my baseline for comparison. My theory is that if that was considered "good enough" at one time, then todays modern LED lights and dynamo hubs completely blow that out of the water.

I live in a college town. We've got lots of students that ride around with no lights. Some ride with just a rear blinky. Some ride with front and rear red blinkys. Thus far, I feel as though my lighting has been adequate, though I used to run twin amber "Red Alert" lights on my fork, one on each blade, with two magnets on the front spokes, which caused them to alternate, left/right. This was in addition to my front LED dynamo powered headlight. The Red Alert predates the Reelight (which was originally called the Freelight, both it and the "Red Alert" suffered by the name, try doing an internet search for them and you'll see what I mean). They both work with an induction coil driven by a magnet on the spokes. Red Alert had an amber front and a red rear model, with a standlight option. I'd say Red Alert lights predated the popular internet. I was never able to find them until long after they were discontinued, and only then from a fellow forum member located in the Netherlands. He only had the amber fronts, with the exception of a broken red standlight rear. I have the broken rear also, I've pretty much reverse engineered the circuit, but I haven't yet followed up, the market has caught up with the gap and I'm lazy.

These days, my main ride has a Schmidt Edelux headlight, with the Sanyo dynamo hub. I was running a Spanninga luceo on my main ride prior, with the SA dynohub. Both of these setups are with battery taillights. I had a sweet ride setup with fenders and a novatech dynamo hub, with a Lumotec Lyt headlight and a B&M Securilite plus taillight, that was a nice inexpensive setup, with the lights around $75 and the hub around $35. I think that the Lumotec IQ Cyo is the same as the Edelex, optically and circuit-wise, but I'm not 100% sure on that. It is packaged in plastic vs. machined aluminum.

I'll wholeheartedly agree that if you are riding on trails on your mountain or downhill bike and you want to go at daytime speeds, a dynamo solution will most likely not work for you. If you're mixing it up in traffic with a ~45-50mph speed differential, a dynamo solution might work fine for you, but I also understand that you might feel the need for more lighting. In my case, a lot of my riding is in a town with a speed limit of up to 45mph, a bright headlight like the Edelux is really more than adequate. I have cars wait on me to go by. I have used dynamo lighting on trails with no troubles, you just cannot go very fast. It all depends on what your riding conditions are and what is considered "good enough".

I think a lot of us with dynamo lighting didn't arrive there as a first solution. For me, it was freedom from having to be tied to a charged battery. This is less of a concern now with LEDs and Li-ion and NiMh batteries, you younger guys don't know how bad it used to be, with incandescents and Ni-cad batteries. Having your 15w nite-rider going flat on the ride home isn't pleasant. Having your Cree LED flashlight clamped to the handlebars step down to a lower level automatically with an additional 5 hours on the battery, not so unpleasant.

I can understand you guys in dense urban areas concerned about theft. A light you can take with you when you park is nice. On the other hand, an inexpensive headlight (I've seen Spinninga Micro's on sale for $25) bolted down with an inexpensive dynamo hub (Sanyo) and bolted down taillight, is somewhat theft averse. Unfortunately, if someone is intent on vandalism, they make easy targets.

As far as changing flats or making repairs at night on the side of the road, a keychain LED light is probably adequate. I myself always have a decent flashlight at hand, one that I could hold or clip to the brim of my ball cap and it can provide up to 100 lumens or so, good enough for a headlight if need be.

As a driver, I find blinking headlights annoying, but I suppose if you are annoying me, I see you. As a driver and a rider, I find blinking taillights annoying. As a driver, I feel that some blinking lights have a blink pattern that make them less safe, because it makes it hard to judge the exact vector that the rider is taking. As a rider, riding in a group with blinking lights is annoying, unnecessary and uncomfortable. I wish that more had the option for a steady burning LED with a blinking LED in addition, as well as the usual steady burning option. As a driver and rider, I also don't want to be blinded by a crazy bright metal halide "stadium light". The German market lights have good beams that respect drivers (along with pedestrians and fellow cyclists), as a good example. The Germans also have pretty strict regulations. It my town, we have existing laws that cover bicycle headlights, but I believe enforcement is next to zero. If you're riding off-road, I don't believe there is any legal issues, and generally no traffic to speak of (but fellow trail users).

I believe that a Schmidt Son 28 classic will saturate at around 7w*, so you can run some serious front and rear lighting with it. I haven't tried Supernova lights, they look well made. Of course, with a dyno, it isn't free, you're losing some speed and effort to make the light. (*I'll have to look that up, I'm going on memory)

Whew! that was long. Is there anything I haven't covered?
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Old 04-13-12, 07:52 AM   #14
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Here in Australia I consider the Audax Australia requirements as being the minimum. Furthermore we have minimum legal requirements for lights. Personally I run two rear Radbot 1000 with a Dinotte 400L up front on two bikes and a Dynamo system on the other.

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Old 04-13-12, 08:54 AM   #15
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There does seem to be an odd schism between some dynamo hub users and those that swear by battery lights and are certain that a dynamo solution won't work for them. There is a bit of dynamo evangelism for sure. I certainly have it. Once you've 'seen the light', you can't help but start knocking on people's doors and spreading the gospel. I think some of that strong advocacy comes from past criticisms of older dynamo lighting technology. Whenever I tell people about my odd obsession with dynamo lighting they almost always reference the bottle dynamo they had on their old clunker. It's even been parodied in The Simpsons.

I have a friend, a cycling nut who custom builds everything, who scoffs at the idea of putting a dynamo system on any of his bikes. It's just not for him. Fair enough.

With respect to off road riding, Supernova makes dyno powered lights for trail riding and sponsors downhill teams, so they must be doing something right.
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Old 04-13-12, 11:04 AM   #16
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... It's even been parodied in The Simpsons.
I had to look that one up. Found a clip, but it is in a foreign language, still, one gets the gist.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i7kgzgcqe5s

This is why I'm a big dynamo hub advocate. I took off the sidewall dyno on a Peugeot, replacing it with a dyno hub. But it is LED lighting that really makes the difference.
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Old 04-13-12, 11:20 AM   #17
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I have to say that I usually try not to be too much of an evangelist, but for the kinds of riding I have done a dyno is the way to go. I can't tell you how many times I've gone for a ride and gotten back in the dark with no lights. It's not a pleasant thing. Nowadays, I always have lights and they are always ready to go. This could be true with battery powered lights, but I really don't think it's the same. When I only had one dynohub and I moved it from my commuter to my road bike, it was really annoying to try to keep ahead of the battery requirement on the commuter. I've gotten a dynohub and decent lights for the commuter, and I like that bike a lot more now.

I always had a bottle dyno on my bike BITD. Noisy, but they work. Glad I don't have to do that anymore.
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Old 04-13-12, 03:11 PM   #18
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There does seem to be an odd schism between some dynamo hub users and those that swear by battery lights and are certain that a dynamo solution won't work for them. There is a bit of dynamo evangelism for sure. I certainly have it. Once you've 'seen the light', you can't help but start knocking on people's doors and spreading the gospel. I think some of that strong advocacy comes from past criticisms of older dynamo lighting technology. Whenever I tell people about my odd obsession with dynamo lighting they almost always reference the bottle dynamo they had on their old clunker. It's even been parodied in The Simpsons.

I have a friend, a cycling nut who custom builds everything, who scoffs at the idea of putting a dynamo system on any of his bikes. It's just not for him. Fair enough.

With respect to off road riding, Supernova makes dyno powered lights for trail riding and sponsors downhill teams, so they must be doing something right.
There are several problems with dynos for all uses. First, part of the problem, is with the old incandescent systems. They flat out sucked. A whole lot of effort went into a little bit of light. They weren't worth the effort or expense. Output has certainly improved but so has output from battery systems.

Another problem is powering them. If you ride on roads and you keep pedaling, you have light. Stop pedaling and you need a battery backup or you are standing around in the dark at a time when you probably don't want to be standing around in the dark. For off-road use...and let's be honest, that's what has driven bicycle lighting technology...dynos are a nonstarter. On the downhill they would probably be adequate but on slow uphill climbs or in situations where you might get stopped by terrain or obstacles, you are either going to need that battery backup again or you won't have any light. If you are going to carry a battery backup system, why not just dispense with the dyno part. Plus it would be difficult to run a dyno system to a helmet mounted light...which is indispensable for off-road riding. And they are pretty handy for urban riding.

Another problem is utility. I have 7 bikes. I can envision using 6 of them for night rides. I have two 700C road bikes which could use the same wheel but I would need a headlight and taillight for each bike. Then I have four 26" wheel bikes. One has a disc hub but the others are rim brake. I'd need at least two more wheels and four more wire harnesses. That's starting to add up to serious chunk of change. On the other hand, I need 3 head lamps (two on the bike and one on my helmet), batteries and mounts along with some (relatively) cheap taillights which stay on the bike, helmet, rack bag and Camelbak. I can quickly and easily swap the lights from one bike to the next and go riding in less time than it would take to change the front wheel.

Being able to add more headlamps is also an advantage. I can run as many headlamps as I like as long as I have handlebar space for them. It would be difficult to add another headlamp unit to a dyno system, much less 2 or 3 more.

Yes, I have to charge batteries but after years of dealing with them, it's not that difficult to remember to take the battery off each and every night to charge. I also have more than 1 battery pack per light which are always charged (and I rotate through them).
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Old 04-13-12, 09:58 PM   #19
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you can always add a battery light to your dyno like I do with my taillights. Battery lights definitely dominate MTB uses. There are mtb dyno users though. The standlights on my lights are pretty good. Not super bright, but bright enough to stand around at a stop sign or traffic light for quite some time. My wife has asked me if the lights on my bike are supposed to be on a couple of times.
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Old 04-14-12, 01:57 AM   #20
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Fool proof night riding setup? I would think that would be two system lighting with seperate power source. One should be flood and one thrower. Same goes with the tail light.

The amount of minimum lumens shall depend on the condition and rider preference. One should take note that it should also be bright enough to use during a downpour of wet rain. I find wet pavement eats up lumens light nobody business and those puddle hides potholes. So the minimum setup should include running the system on medium most of the time than crank it up when require.

A third minimum setup is a small flashlight as spare. Great for flat repair in the dark. A helmet light can do the same but not all riders wear helmet. The flashlight should also have something set up for handlebar mount like Twofish in case the main handlebar light fail.
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Old 04-14-12, 09:36 AM   #21
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Yes, I have to charge batteries but after years of dealing with them, it's not that difficult to remember to take the battery off each and every night to charge. I also have more than 1 battery pack per light which are always charged (and I rotate through them).
I have an 8 cell pack on my MagicShine system. I only have to charge every 4 days or so. I use a 4 cell pack to last that last day, so I only have to charge on the weekend.

I do have to swap camera batteries every day though. I'm working on that.
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Old 04-17-12, 06:32 AM   #22
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Wow - I think we have the answers - some people think "dyno" - some people think "china-shine" LEDs on steroids and some people just don't care.

Having been "around the block" - and being an "early adopter" of bicycle lights - my first light was $5.95 6V dry cell in a metal box hooked to some brand of a sealed beam from Western Auto.... - woah but the kid down the street had a "Scwhinn branded" bottle generator? - All I can say is - we've come along way baby!

I'm not sure there is anyway to understand how or why a cyclist will place their interest or confidence in one light system over another. Clearly there is a demarcation between the type of rider who will accommodate a generator and light permanently mounted on a bike while others accept the need to care for batteries on a regular basis. (or re-supply)

However, my intent was to discuss how other cyclists would define what I "believe" to be any "all night" cyclist's necessities.

That being:

Two independent front lighting sources - powered and operated in a way in one of which is usable as an all purpose light.
Two independent rear lights - powered and operated in a way that one of the lights could possibly remain lighted all night.
The next big issue - coming up
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Old 04-17-12, 08:10 AM   #23
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Good discussion!

As it has been said, time and time again. . Different kinds of riding, requires different kinds of lighting. Pure and simple. Unless you don't want lights. With me, all my machines, whether it be cars, motorcycles, whatever, has to be fast and sleek looking. That rules out battery packs, and no where even close to a dyno. However, others made find those solutions perfect for their needs. Somebody mentioned that "blinky" is annoying. Maybe so, but the same poster stated blinking gets his attention.

For myself, I have settled on using flashlight systems for my lighting. I like the way they look on and off my bike, and their performance amazing. I am learning too. With the flashlight system, you need be aware of the downfalls too.

I always have double torches up front, one goes bad, I got another..I carry extra QUALITY cells. ( a must). Also, I have a equally or almost equal helmet torch. The helmet light assists the two light up front as far as seeing and being seen. Also, on the helmet, I have a rear torch and on bike I have at least one strong rear light, with two lights on my person facing rearward.. Like somebody else has mentioned, dealing with traffic moving at 50mph+ on lanes with no shoulders, it is not time to be meek. You must have lights that will make you seen in that kind of surroundings..

So, it seems like everybody is doing the right thing, (ample lights front and rear), just that everybody's system may be different. Which is better? IMO, all of them are GOOD.
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Old 04-17-12, 08:52 AM   #24
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Old 04-17-12, 10:20 AM   #25
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However, my intent was to discuss how other cyclists would define what I "believe" to be any "all night" cyclist's necessities.
were we supposed to discuss, or just agree with you? I'm afraid this sentence isn't clear to me. In my view, there is a difference between what is necessary (and sufficient) and what is prudent under exceptional conditions. For some riding, I like to feel comfortable that I can recover from some failures, on my commuter I have no backups because I'm close to home.

Right now, the only battery light that I would consider using as my primary light is the Phillips. I don't really want to choose between blinding other road users and being able to see, so road optics are of primary importance to me. They concentrate the light where it is most useful to the rider, and don't waste a lot of light in directions that only serve to annoy others.
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