Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Stuff I like: Bicycle lights

If you're looking for a gift for the cyclist in your life, here's are the lights I've been using this year that have worked out well.

  • I really like the NiteRider Minewt Mini USB headlight. 110 lumens for 3 hours at under $100. You charge with any powered USB connection, the flexible band mount works, and the light has been rugged after nearly two years of use. the Minewt Mini is Nite Rider's best selling light ever: in their first year, this light outsold all of NiteRider's other lights combined. Drawbacks: No blink mode, and no battery charge indication, so plug it in each night to ensure a full charge because otherwise the light might stop shining with no warning.

  • If you want more light, battery indicator, and blink modes, I like NiteRider's MiNewt X2 Dual. $280 for 300 lumens of illumination. A friend owns this light and it's pretty blazingly bright.

  • For a taillight, I like both the Princeton Tec Swerve and Planet Bike's popular Superflash light. Both lights retail for about $30.

    Princeton Tec Swerve light I love the fast flashing pattern of the Planet Bike Superflash, which has a single half-watt red LED and two smaller LEDs. The apparent brightness up close is more impressive, but Princeton Tec's Swerve with its two half watt LEDs is more visible from a distance. Because I ride multiple bikes, I also prefer the Swerve's more flexible mounting over the screw mounted bracket required for the Superflash. I think side visibility is better with the Swerve over the Superflash.

    Early production of the Swerve apparently had some cold solder problems -- after enough jolts the light just stops working. Princeton Tec tells me the issue has been resolved, and my replacement light is still going.

    Princeton Tec started as a dive light company, so presumably they know how to make waterproof lights. I haven't put a working Swerve light through a California rainy season yet.

    I'm currently on about my fourth Superflash, two of which failed after water exposure and one that I lost when it bounced out of its bracket. That's over $100 out of my pocket for me :-(
Disclosure: I paid for the Superflash and Minewt USB myself. Princeton Tec provided a review sample of the Swerve for me to evaluate. I've also used lights from Cateye, Blackburn, Serfas, Knog and others. Cateye are solid and dependable but a little behind the curve in current LED technology. Serfas lights fall apart and stop working after only a few weeks.

Tell me: What are your favorite lights? I'm impressed with Dinotte's offerings, though I've never used them myself. I've also seen some interesting homebrew setups while biking around Silicon Valley.

Coming up: Bike Apparel.


James said...

I have a Planet Bike Superflash on my bike and one of their small blinkys on my helmet. I have a Supernova wheel light - which for the price is pretty awesome.

I have a Dinotte 200L which is also great. Very bright - although I don't know if it's actually 200 lumens, it's still adequate. I also like that it's easily removed and that it takes rechargeable AA batteries and not a special battery. I was sick of buying cheap headlights and having them break on me after a couple of months. I finally bought the Dinotte and couldn't be happier with it.

bite me said...

Howdy, Fritz--

I also had a Swerve stop working; or rather, it started working intermittently, mostly in response to jolts. I was very happy with the company's response. Not only did they send a new light, they also sent an alternate mount, which attached to the M5 braze-on on my rear rack.

Unfortunately, that light couldn't take jolts for an entirely different reason. The Swerve has a fatal flaw in that all of it's internal weight, including batteries, is contained in the lens, which is designed (like most lights) to be removed for battery replacement. Because all that weight is hanging out there, the lens can pop off, taking all the internals with it, when it takes a good jolt.

This isn't a problem if the light is clipped to clothing or a bike bag, but if it's hard-mounted, as mine was (before the business end of it disappeared), it won't last.
Happy Trails,
Ron Georg

Ron said...

Howdy, Fritz--

Sorry for the offensive tag. I'm truly not sure how I ended up as "bite me", but it surely wasn't intentional.
Happy Trails,

Yokota Fritz said...

@Ron no sweat about the profile name! Got kids in the house using the same computer as you? :-)

I've had problems with the lens popping off on some other lights, including some fairly expensive ones. Haven't seen that yet with the Swerve but I can see how it could happen, especially as the tabs wear down from battery changes.

Isolation Helmet said...

I like the Light and Motion Stella 200L. It is easy to mount the battery is small and I get two weeks of commuting between charges. I commute 30 miles a day so that says alot. On the back of my bike I have two large reflective triangles that work much better than any blinking light.

murphstahoe said...

the dinotte rear light is ridiculously bright...

Yokota Fritz said...

@James: I'm a big fan of standard batteries as well after too many instances where I can't replace proprietary battery sizes/shapes when they eventually die.

-S- said...

I also like the convenience of USB charging with the Minewt. I think that soon everything will be charged with USB.

I recently ordered a Cateye CE-LD500 for my rear light because I like the idea of the built-in reflector. Haven't had a chance to try it yet.

Jeff Moser said...

I got to try a Nite Rider on my last two night mountain bike rides that I'm told has the same bulb as the Minewt. It has a very wide and full light pattern. I liked it a lot and plan to buy the $120 Minewt kit that includes both the handlebar and helmet mount. Should be REALLY bright for commuting!

I've been using the Superflash for a couple weeks now. You can't even look at the flasher when it's's blinding! We'll see how it holds up to the coming winter snow...

spudz15 said...

I second the NiteRider Minewt Mini USB headlight. I LOVE mine! Durable, bright, and long lasting for under $100 you can't beat that.

Haven't used the USB charger yet, but imagine one day I will.

KDT said...

I like my Reelight front and back flashers. Instead of a dynamo, they use high-intensity magnets on the spokes to charge the light while the wheel turns so there is barely any resistance. And I ordered the "Power back-up" version, so the lights keep blinking for several minutes even if I come to a stop. Universal Cycles has them, as does Amazon; about $50-60 for a set.

jasonk said...

I love my Dinotte set up. I have an 800L headlight, and a 400L helmet mounted light. On the rear I have a 400L. Yesterday on my commute, there were joggers covering their eyes.
Brightest lights by far, and extremely high quality.

Tinker said...

The NiteRider Minewt Mini USB Headlight LED Li-Ion, now come in a new model, all the fetures appear to be the same but it now come with a charge indicator. (See 2010 NiteRider Minewt Mini USB Headlight LED Li-Ion at Amazon.) Yes, its $5 more.

Yokota Fritz said...

On the Dinottes -- I've come up on Dinotte equipped bikes thinking they were motorcycles in the shoulder with their brake lights on. Very bright indeed.

@Isolation: I've never seen L&M outside of a bike shop, so good to know real life experience on them.

@-S-: My son has the Cateye LD500. The light is pretty good, but I've had to use tape to ensure the lens stays on.

@KDT: I'm a Reelight fan as well. I reviewed them here.

Yokota Fritz said...

@Tinker: Thanks for that updated info! I didn't realize NR made that change.

SiouxGeonz said...

Cheap Chinese Flashlights are $3-5 apiece, and a rubber band or the cute velcro thingies from Twofish will hold one on my handlebars.

Walgreen's or Meijer or who-have-you have strings of LED lights for the holidays for similar prices. They go great on the Christmas Tree on the back of the bike.

I have a flashing blinky from marpac on my helmet and a BIG BIG BIG flashing blinky (21 LEDs, amber) from marpac on my back end.

SPokeLits do a nice job on the wheels... oh, and I do have a dynohub and a busch-muller light on the front of the xtracycle.

Anonymous said...

Aye Up lights from Australia are fantastic highly recomended.

Jennifer said...

I really, really want to love my CatEyes, but they are slowly breaking themselves to bits. Too many tiny plastic tabs subjected to too much repeated stress. Or is that something they've fixed in recent years?

Everyone complains about Blackburn's tiny screws, but I rather like the assurance that they won't break apart and spill batteries everywhere (see CatEye above) when I drop them.

The ideal DIY mount for a big honkin' Maglite still eludes me...

Anonymous said...


DIY mount for a maglight = two hose clamps linked together - one round the bar and the other round the light. Once setup and cranked down they don't move around much and less than a buck to do it.

Another vote for Dinotte 800L on the bars. Ordered mine with two chargers - one for the office, one at home. On the back I'm liking the Knog Bullfrog as it uses three AAA batteries. I use rechargeable Lith batteries and keep a rapid charger at the office for that.

Rapid Robert said...

Nothing beats the Magicshine P-7 LED headlight on the bars. Too much light for the random pointing of helmet mounting. claimed to be 900 lumens but I've measured it to be only 375 lumens. Still, about the brightest light at the San Jose Bike Party for $85, with 3 hours run time on high.

Buy three for the bars and dump the inconsiderate helmet mounted lights. You'll be as bright as the cars. Use passive reflectors and reflective clothing for left turners comming toward you. Where's the turn signals?

Longleaf Bicycles said...

If you get around on your bicycle regularly there isn't anything that works nearly as well as a dynohub powered system. The IQ Cyo up front and either a Seculite (fender mounted) or something in the Toplight line (if rack mounted) from Busch & Muller are very good, though there are other comparable lights. You won't ever need a brighter headlight, and the beam is assymetrical and focused like a car's low beam so the light is where you need it--on the road--and won't blind oncoming road users.

I supplement those lights with a Dinotte tailight that I turn on when I'm road with cars going more than 35-40mph.

Tom said...

You can't beat the sub $30 deal extreme Cree Q5 or MC-E led flashlights shipping out of hong kong. They run on lithium ion rechargeable batteries and are often brighter than bike lights costing 4 - 5x as much. They run 230 - 700 lumens. For that sort of lighting you'd expect to pay a minimum of $300 for a bike specific light. Most good LED lights sold in the U.S. are severely OVERPRICED.

I have not witnessed an illuminated swerve, but I concur the superflash is an awesome tail light.

Yauchzee said...

The Blackburn Flea is the BEST tail light. It is USB rechargeable just like my miNewt front headlight and is ultra bright, supporting many flash patterns. The tiny USB charger magnetically mounts to the light when you want to charge it. It's got a real cool factor to it in addition to its practicality. What commuter doesn't want both lights plugged into their PC when they hit work?

John Romeo Alpha said...

I like the Viewpoint Flashpoint tail light because it's bright and reliable. I have two and both have worked for more than a year. Blackburn Mars 3.0 also works for me. I like the amber flashers on the sides. Niterider HID is the way to go for headlight for when it's important to see well on trails, or to be seen well on busy streets. For commuting sometimes, I use an LED flashlight that uses an RCR123 battery on a twofish lockblock. The LED flashlight works for me because it's tiny /easy to pack, and also works as a flashlight if I need one.

Miguel said...

I own a Dinotte 200L and 140L and they are plain fantastic. Bright as hell so I will see and be seen. I like that they don't use proprietary batteries. They have battery packs that take 4AAs and I use rechargeables. Excellent stuff.

Eric said...

A buddy of mine got one a

Magicshine 900

It says it's 900 lumen, but he said it's comparable to a 400 lumen light. It also had a wide beam.

For $89 it's not bad. The jury is still out on how durable it is. We'll see how it is after a season.

Eric said...

Here's the beam from that Magicshine

Yokota Fritz said...

I had never heard of the Magicshine before -- I might have to check that out.

@Rapid Robert: Agreed about helmet lights. I dislike 'em, especially when they're pointed at my face.

@Longleaf: My wife has a B&M bottle dynamo and light on her bike. Works very well and I should've mentioned that. Thanks for the reminder.

@Tom: My daughter built a nice bright Cree XR-E light for a school project earlier this week. Total cost was under $30 I think.

@Yauchzee: A friend was just bragging about his new Flea last night! I keeps his bike in a storage locker so I didn't see it, though.

Wuss912 said...

My magic shine is on order still i guess thats how free shipping from hongkong works (slow as hell)
the thing i like about the swerve is it's got a real switch / know and is tactile. though my current day to day rear blinky is a 3 buck red led one that has been really hard to beat esp at an order of magnitude cheeper.

Lief said...

I recently bought a Dinotte 400L setup. The flash option is awesome, bolt on mount to the bike is rock solid, head mount option is the best I have seen, and it comes with two LiIon batteries. Sweet.

I also have the superflash (x2) and I am developing a negative attitude because the thing can fall off. The faceplate and batteries together merely clipped on is a design that encourages it to pop apart when I hit bumps. I lost superflash #1 after it popped off for the second time. #2 popped off on a nothing bump. Now it has a zip tie safety measure. Not the best design choice for that result.