Thursday, 4 December 2014

Bike Lights and Headlamp

I do a fair bit of cycle commuting, in volume if not distance, travelling to and from work (almost) every day. Its only 4.5 miles which is an easy distance to do even when tired and pretty flat by West Yorkshire standards. Obviously at this time of year it entails a lot of cycling in the dark which means lights. I'm baffled by cyclists with one tiny flashing light, you need more that that in rush hour!

I use the superb Cateye TL-LD1100 on the rear of the bike - two independent bars of LEDs allows you to set all kinds of constant and flashing modes. The light is quite focused so if you are in the beam pattern you can see it a long way off at the expense of off-axis performance. So, I roughed up the lenses on the bottom row of lights with some wet and dry sandpaper. Looking at the spread of light on the inside of the garage door shows an improvement in the spread of beam.

On the handlebars I've got a Cateye HL-EL315 which is a good, compact "being seen" flashing light but it isn't great for "seeing" on dark roads. The batteries seem to last forever and a slightly lower than usual flash rate is a nudge to change them.

I decided to fit a head torch to my helmet because:
  1. it puts light where you are looking e.g. going round a corner, at the car that is about to pull out on you, etc.
  2. they are fairly cheap to buy/replace
  3. you potentially can take it off and use it for other things
  4. it gives you a light above the level of cars/traffic making you more visible
L bought me a Topeak Headlux as a present and, whilst her inentions were good the light turned out to be rubbish. The first one developed a fault within a week (it wouldn't easily turn on or off, probably a button malfunction) and when we eventually (I'm looking at you All Terrain Cycles) got a replacement that stopped working after a rain shower.

In addition, the battery life of 2 x CR2032 coin cell batteries is just not good enough for any serious commuting / distance. Wasteful as these batteries aren't rechargeable. Plus, you end up looking like a Tellytubby with it sat on top of your helmet. It's only defence was the selection of flashing modes was good but that's it. Avoid.

The first thing to do was to put some elastic headband clips onto the helmet using some Sugru... What do you mean you haven't heard of Sugru? It is marvellous stuff! I've been a fan since before it was cool (Hipster!) and met Jayne who invented it at a Maker Faire in 2010 in Newcastle. I'm really pleased to see it's popularity go from strength to strength.

My Petzl climbing helmet has simple clips to hold an elasticated headband in place (see below) so I shamelessly copied the concept onto my cycle helmet.


A single 5g packet of Sugru is enough to make the two decent sized clips and I relied on the lip at the back of the helmet to retain the battery pack of whichever head torch I was using.

I found myself leaving my headtorch on the helmet more and more until it became a fixture. So I bought a second Alpkit Gamma, chucked the strap away and cable/zip tied it onto the helmet for good!

The Gamma is a great torch. I usually just have the smallest white LED on when riding on the roads, but the large 1W LED comes into it's own when off road on the MTB or on unlit country lanes on the road bike. It is cheap, light and after, two years on the helmet through all weathers, surprisingly water resistant. The bonus is the rear battery compartment that houses a red LED (flashing or constant) so you get a rear-of-head light too.

Access to the twist fit battery compartment is OK when cable tied is easy but that is because of the geometry of the rear of my helmet. Your helmet may well vary. Also, I have broken one Gamma in the past by being too rough with the battery compartment lid when refitting it but that was my own fault. It is fixable temporarily as demonstrated here but take care and you need not worry.

The light pattern from the rear light is handily offset to point into the traffic rather than into the kerb. Bonus!

Front light pattern for the low and high beam are shown below

I normally keep the light on low beam for commuting as it is bright enough as a "being seen" light. You still can't account for drivers not looking though, even when you point it right at them! The high beam light is good for mountain biking at night as an addition to my main light. The Sanyo Eneloop AAA batteries are good enough for a couple of weeks of commuting before needing a recharge too.

So if you are after a headlamp for cycling, you could do a lot worse than a Gamma.

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