Lights

So it’s mid November again.  We all know what that brings..  chilly mornings, dark commutes home, and G.I. bugs.  I used to get GI bugs maybe once every 3 years.  Ever since I had kids, I seem to catch them all the time now.  I’ve often joked to myself that if I only rode on days when I didn’t have a mild GI bug, I would never ride between November and April.  Anyhow, I’ve got my first one of the season now, and was seriously dragging for this morning’s ride.  Still glad I did it, though, and glad I’m able to resist taking the car even on days when I’m not feeling 100%.  After awhile it just becomes routine.

I’ve had two commutes home in the dark now with my new headlights.  I have a Planet Bike Blaze 2w and Blaze 1w mounted on the bars on either side of the stem, and a Blaze ½w on my helmet.  So far, I’m liking the setup.  The bar-mounted lights illuminate the road out to a pretty good distance.  They light up reflective signs that are several hundred feet ahead.  They have a low setting for twilight, high for full darkness, and flashing mode for visibility during the day.  The helmet light does a great job lighting up the road closer to the bike, or wherever I happen to point it.  This is my first time riding with a helmet-mounted headlight, and I think it’s a good addition.  Without it, I was constantly adjusting my bar-mounted headlight up or down to illuminate farther out or closer in, depending on conditions.  With the helmet light, I have the best of both worlds.  I can also use it to read my cyclecomputer in the dark.  If there’s a drawback, it’s that the light dances around as I move my head, which can be a little distracting, particularly when climbing hills out of the saddle.  But all in all, I’m happy having one.  Other great things about these lights: they take standard AA batteries, they’re self contained, and their mounting brackets allow for easy removal to move them between different bikes.  What remains to be seen, is how well they will stand up to bad weather.  I’ve taken them out for a couple of rides in light rain and drizzle, with no problems, but I’ve yet to test them in a downpour or a soaking mist, so the jury is still out.  I’ll report back on them later in the season.

Outfitting for Winter

Labor Day is less than a week away, summer is mostly behind us, and thoughts are turning towards the coming fall and winter.  To avoid the rush, I’m getting my shopping done early for the cold-weather biking season.  After a bit too much excitement with icy roads last winter, I took the plunge a few weeks ago and bought a set of studded tires.  After careful consideration, I went with the “Marathon Winter” tire by Schwalbe.  These tires have been well reviewed, and seem to be best suited to the type of riding I’ll be doing:  mainly paved roads, with occasional icy patches.  I got the 26″ size and will put them on my mountain bike.  I plan on putting the tires on in early to mid November, and riding them all winter.  I’ll be sure to post my experiences.  If they work out well, it’d be nice to get a set for my single speed, which should be able to take 700cx32 tires with studs.  However, there wouldn’t be enough room for fenders.

For the past 3 winters, I’ve been using a NiteRider “Sol” headlight.  It’s not super bright, but good enough for commuting.  Unfortunately, the cable that plugs the light into the battery pack died recently.  I can make the light come on if I flex the cable just so, but as soon as I let go, the light goes out.  I’m a bit disappointed that the light didn’t last longer.  I’m now in the market for a new light.  Quality issues notwithstanding, I was thinking about going in a different direction for my next headlight anyhow.  The NiteRider, while functional, isn’t the best for commuting.  It has a proprietary battery pack that’s expensive to replace, and the o-ring handlebar mount is difficult to deal with when you want to move the light from one bike to another.  After 3 years of night commuting, I have a very clear list of things I want in a light:

  • It must use non-proprietary batteries, preferably NiMH rechargeable AA or AAA cells.
  • It should be as bright, or slightly brighter, than the Sol.
  • It should include a daytime flashing mode for visibility, something the Sol lacked (though most of NiteRider’s newer lights include this feature).
  • It should be easy to transfer between multiple bikes.

I researched lights, and quickly turned up the Planet Bike “Blaze”.  On paper, this looks like the headlight of my dreams.  Self contained, takes regular batteries, has a flash mode, has a quick-release mounting bracket, extra brackets available for other bikes, and best of all, ridiculously inexpensive.  I actually ordered 2 of them, a 2-watt and a 1-watt model, plus 2 extra mounting brackets, all for less than I paid for my NiteRider back in 2008.  I’m already a fan of Planet Bike, but I’ll be an even bigger fan if all this gear works out for me this winter.  Stay tuned.