It’s always dark

If you work office hours you may have noticed that it is dark during almost all of your free time. If you want to cycle during your free time this means you need some lights. This year I am fortunate enough to own more bikes than this time last year (when I only owned a single bike, a hybridised mountain bike at that). This has the added advantage of giving me more experience with different kinds of lights, experience I am happy to share.

Battery Lights:

Battery lighting I have used falls roughly into two categories; lighting for you to see with, and lighting to ensure you are seen by others.

Lighting to be seen by is sufficient to discharge your legal obligation, in well lit urban areas it will also be enough for you to get by. A popular example of lighting to be seen by are Knogs, also known as “Hipster Cysts.”

knog-frog-led-front-light[1]

The Knog lights are basically only as effective as the £2 blinkies you can get from Tesco, but do not require you to attach a mount to your bike.

Unlike lighting to be seen, lighting to see with used to mean halogen lamps. Halogen lamps are bright and produce a lovely warm light but because batteries run out, ideally it is best to use a more efficient method to produce light with batteries. At present this takes the form of LEDs. Halogen lamps powered by batteries are still available and may even seem like a good deal, but any money you save will be paid for with batteries and often shoddier build quality. Currently I am using Edinburgh Bicycle Co-operative’s Revolution Vision set:

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The front lamp is a 1 watt LED with a re-assuring aluminium exterior. The beam is  relatively wide for an LED, although the light it produces is a cold blueish-white which is harder to see by than the yellow of a halogen bulb. The lamp also has a flash mode for when you are more concerned with being seen than with illuminating the path ahead. Replacement mounts are available for the front lamp making it easy to share one between several bikes (as I do with my Yuba Mundo and Raleigh Twenty). The rear light comes with 4 flash patterns in addition to the steady state flash. Sadly replacement mounts are not available for the rear lamp, although the EBC catalogue currently residing in my bathroom suggests the rear light has recently undergone a redesign which may filter through to the shop stock soon.

I also have a permanent rack-fitted light/reflector on the Yuba Mundo which is useful if I am caught out after dark:

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Dynamo Lights:

Dynamo lighting is generally powerful enough to fall into the “to see by” category (apart from the rear lights for which being seen is the only purpose). Back in July I purchased my first ever dynamo lamp thanks to some advice from LC. I had owned a dynamo hub for a while before that, but I was initially more interested in the drum brake and the possibility of using the dynamo to charge my phone. The lamp I ended up with is a Busch and Muller Lumotec Retro (with standlight and switch):

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Shown here on the bike before I installed the new tyres, also conveniently doubles as a reflector to make the bike street-legal. 

Because the dynamo provides an effectively inexhaustible source of power, halogen lamps become feasible once more. Whilst they are less durable than LEDs, they do produce a warmer, yellowish light which I find easier to see by, and the brightness is generally greater than that of my LED battery lamp and the beam is cast wider which enhances my visibility to others. The lamp includes an LED standlight, which on its own is about half as powerful as my battery-powered LED lamp. This is designed to ensure you remain visible even when stationary or at very low speeds.

IMAG0578

This dynamo lamp is couples with a battery-powered permanent rear light which I originally considered replacing with a dynamo equivalent. In the end I decided to keep the existing light due to its low power consumption compared to a front light. So far I’ve had a few hundred hours out of the pair of AA batteries which came with the bike.

At present I do not have any experience with bottle dynamos, although Ian at Lazy Bicycle Blog has one on his new bicycle and seems positive about it. I am currently considering adding a bottle dynamo and lamp to the Yuba Mundo. I have become accustomed to the superior light level produced by the lamp on the DL-1 when riding in total darkness and after spending £4 on batteries a few days ago, the initial outlay doesn’t seem too bad anymore. It will also free up the battery lights for exclusive use on the Twenty. Whilst I am happy with my hub dynamo I favour the bottle dynamo approach on the Yuba Mundo because of the disk brakes. The only disk-brake compatible dynamo hubs are Shimano’s, and they use Centerlock mounts for the rotors. This would mean replacing my rotor with a Centerlock version (at an extortionate price for a piece of metal) or buying an adapter which may cause further problems.

Depending on the type of riding you do I would advise using dynamo lighting over battery lighting, at least for the front of the bike. A dynamo front lamp will be bright enough to illuminate the way when riding in total darkness. Whilst the initial outlay may seem high, the level of illumination provided is significantly higher than a £25 pair of LED lights, the battery won’t run out at an inopportune moment and you won’t have to continuously spend money on batteries. If most of your riding is on well lit streets and you are happy to have lights merely to be seen, cheap LED blinkies should suffice.

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8 thoughts on “It’s always dark

  1. I agree totally. When I got my new bike I could have specified a Son Hub Dynamo and while tempting I could not justify the cost v potential use (especially when I was laying out for a Rohloff Hub Gear!). I use my bike for both commuting and touring. When doing the former it can be in all weathers/times but is along an urban lit route. My priority is to be seen rather than see so two sets of good LEDs + lots of reflective apparel does the job just fine. When I am touring it is in daylight and lights are not a high priority item although I do still take a single set of LEDs.

  2. I've three knogs, two frogs and a bullfrog (large 5 led light). The big plus of them, to my mind, is the ease of swapping them between bikes – as I always have a main light in addition to these, I can lend them to friends caught out by the earlier nights.I've had no problems with the Knog legs (yet!)

  3. @DarrellThe SON hubs look amazing, but they are definitely in the Rohloff Speedhub price range; I've never even spent as much on a bike as the Rohloff costs. It is an impressive piece of kit, although if I was made of money I might be tempted by the Nuvinci, but for my type of riding they would both be overkill.@LC Shame about the Knogs, perhaps you just got a bad batch, seeing as John seems to have had a good experience with them. What do you use on your Dawes at the moment?@JohnBeing able to lend someone a light is a big plus, especially if you are in the process of persuading someone to ride again.

  4. On the Dawes I have LED, non branded, lights. They work really well, and as I don't wear cycling 'gear' (i.e. just my everyday clothes) I am disciplined in checking that the lights work everytime I use the bike. I don't want to be caught out without working lights… eeekkk!Maybe my Knogs were a bad batch. I now have similar lights from good old Decathlon with velcro straps, they work wonders!

  5. Yep, been pleasantly surprised with the bottle dynamo MrC. I wasn't looking forward to using it and thought it a bit retrograde compared with a hub dynamo, but what can I say? It works well. How well in really adverse weather – like snow for example I'm not sure – but as a technology, the bottle dynamo certainly isn't dead & buried!Fitting one to your Yuba makes perfect sense against a hub version, unless you were replacing the hub anyway.We have a couple of Smart LED front/rear lights – both of which are great for being seen. The only real fault with them has been the weak handlebar brackets, but that is easily improved upon with a cable tie.

  6. Pingback: Obligatory yearly lighting post | Chester Cycling

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