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Category Archives: Bicycle Lighting

Reviews of bicycle lights, taillights, flashers and reflectors

The Eye Beam Front Lighting System

In my final post for 2011 I listed the Fire Eye 2.0 Helmet Light from Illuminated Cycling as one of the five best cycling products for 2011. The folks at Illuminated Cycling have recently enhanced their product line with the addition of the Eye Beam front light system. While there is no shortage of good headlights for cyclists already on the market, the Eye Beam has several nice features that make it worth considering. Erik Shaffer, president of Illuminated Cycling, was kind enough to loan me an Eye Beam headlight for a few weeks so I could review it and I really don’t want to send it back!

Illuminated Cycling's Eye Beam Front Lighting System

Eye Beam Front Lighting System from Illuminated Cycling

The Eye Beam is a lightweight 400 lumen headlight that offers a five-hour battery life while on high beam. Thanks to the carbon fiber and aluminum construction this unit only weighs 4.1 ounces and there is no external battery pack so you don’t have to route cables or have a battery pack hanging on your bike frame. This unit uses an LED that provides a 6500K light (a pure, white light). The housing on the Eye Beam is sealed so it is completely waterproof. With just one push-button switch on the back of the housing this light is extremely easy to use. The body of this headlight is six inches long and just one inch in diameter.

The Eye Beam has five operating modes (High, Medium, Low, Strobe and Slow Flash) and it always remembers the last mode you used. With a five-hour battery life I imagine most people will use this light in the high beam setting. However, most of the time when I used it I had it in the strobe mode since most of my “daylight” rides were on days with either heavy cloud cover or fog. The strobe mode is awesome and on days with low visibility it could easily save your life (it really helps keep cars from pulling out in front of you).

Illuminated Cycling Eye Beam on a bike handlebar

The Eye Beam mounted on the handlebars of a mountain bike

On the side of the Eye Beam you will find a Mini-USB port so you can charge the battery by connecting the light to a computer USB port or plug it into the wall with the included adapter.

While every other headlight I own is designed to sit on top of your handlebars, the Eye Beam is intended to mount under the handlebar. I don’t know why someone hasn’t thought of this before! When a headlight is mounted on top of the handlebar it is prone to tilt, but since the weight of the Eye Beam is hanging below the handlebar I found it to be very stable.

At the time of purchase Illuminated Cycling offers you the choice of four different lenses (Narrow, Medium, Wide, or Elliptical) for the headlight. You can see their Website for the way different lenses impact the light pattern. This choice of a lens is especially important if you are going to be wearing a helmet mounted light as well. While riding at night I prefer to have a wide light pattern on my handlebar light and a narrow light (spot light) on my helmet. Unlike many other lighting systems, the Eye Beam uses lenses, not reflectors, to shape the light beam and this provides a very pure light that is free of optical impurities.

The Eye Beam front lighting system is hand-built in the USA and is available from the Illuminated Cycling Website for $135. Illuminated Cycling is an American company and their lights are designed and manufactured in the United States.

 

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ADVmonster Waterproof Bicycle Headlight

If you ride your bike at night you probably already have a decent headlight or two. However, if your lights are more than a few years old you might be pleasantly surprised by how headlight technology has improved over the past few years. Eighteen months ago I replaced my old headlights with new ones that  were eight times brighter, half the cost and offered a longer battery life than my old lights. Two months ago I bought a new ADVmonster Waterproof Bicycle Headlight and in my opinion it is the best value in a cycling light you are going to find this year.

ADVmonster 1,000 Lumen Waterproof Bicycle Headlight

ADVmonster 1,000 Lumen Waterproof Bicycle Headlight

The ADVmonster Bicycle Headlight provides a blinding 1,000 lumens of light. This light works in four modes: High, Medium, Low and Flashing. While I do not have the equipment necessary to do an official test, I can tell you that the medium beam on the ADVmonster light appears equal to that of the high beam of the JetLites A-51 720 lumen headlight in both brightness and light pattern. I was able to get a full three hours of light (High Beam) out of this unit with the included 8.4v battery pack. The manufacturer claims your should be able to get 50,000 hours of use from the LED light, and that the battery can be recharged between 500 and 800 times.

Rear View Of The ADVmonster Cycling Light

Rear View Of The ADVmonster Bicycle Headlight

This light can be mounted on either your handlebars or helmet with the included mounting hardware. The handlebar mount is basically an oversized O-ring, but it functions quite well and I’ve not had any trouble with it. The helmet mounting strap works, but it is not as well-designed as some of the other light mounts I own.

The ADVmonster light is not very heavy, especially considering how powerful it is. The headlight itself is under five ounces and the battery (with mounting bag) weighs nine ounces. The unit has a durable black anodized finish and is 100% waterproof (not just water-resistant).

Battery Pack For The ADVmonster Bicycle Headlight

Battery Pack For The ADVmonster Bicycle Headlight

On the back of the light is a sealed illuminated rocker switch. Once you plug the light into the battery the switch turns green to let you know it is getting power—it is very easy to see this switch in the dark! The cord between the light and the battery is 50 inches long, so if you want to mount the light on your helmet and put the battery in your jersey pocket you will have plenty of cord. I mounted my light to the top tube of my bike by using the included battery pouch (it attaches with two Velcro straps).

During the past two months I’ve used this light mainly for daylight rides with the light in flashing mode. We seldom have nice bright sunny days during winter in the Upper Midwest, so most cyclists just kind of blend into the background as they ride down the road. The flashing mode on the light is so incredibly bright that oncoming vehicles have no trouble seeing me from over a mile away! Even if you never ride your bike at night you will still find a lot of use for this light if you ride on cloudy or overcast days.

The ADVmonster Bicycle Headlight retails for $120 and is available from the company Website. The kit includes the 1,000 lumen LED light, battery, charger, handlebar mount, helmet mount and storage box. This product comes with a one-year warranty.

 

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Lightweights Hi-Visibility Scotchlite Reflectors For Bicycle Wheels

I have a horrible confession to make: Every time I buy a new bike the first thing I do when I get home is remove the wheel reflectors (and in the process probably violate numerous State, Federal and Intergalactic laws). I have a few bikes that are never used on the roads and my Trek Madone is not allowed outside after dusk. However, on my bikes that I do ride at night I have installed something far better than standard wheel reflectors—Lightweights For Wheels.

Lightweights Hi-Visibility Scotchlite Reflectors For Cyclists

Lightweights Are Barely Visible In Daylight

Lightweights For Wheels are small reflective strips that are applied to your spokes one at a time and the installation process takes about 15 minutes per wheel. The self-adhesive strips will go on much easier in warm weather and make sure you clean the spokes with alcohol before attempting to apply them to remove any road grime. These strips are made of 3M Scotchlite™ and in my experience 3M makes that best reflective material you can buy.

Once Lightweights For Wheels are installed on your spokes you probably won’t even notice them in the daylight—the reflective material matches most silver spokes perfectly. However, once the sun goes down your wheels will be visible from all directions, and when the bike is moving these tiny reflectors really stand out! I need to point out that light needs to be directly aimed at these reflectors for greatest benefit (like the headlights from a car). If you want to test these strips out just take your bike into a dark garage and hold a flashlight at eye level and aim it at your bike (get ready to be impressed).

Lightweights reflective tape for bicycles and cyclists

Lightweights Really Pop When Light Shines On Them

One of the great things about Lightweights For Wheels is that they only add 2 grams of weight per tire, as opposed to the 16 to 32 grams that you would have with standard bike reflectors. In addition, these reflectors will never fall off and they are brighter than the reflectors that come with most bikes. You will also appreciate the fact that these reflectors are perfectly balanced (unlike the lopsided weight from a standard wheel reflector).

A package of Lightweights For Wheels retails for $15 and should be available at your local bike shop. Each package has 75 reflective rectangles for spokes, along with nine circles and two ovals that you can use on other places on your bike, helmet or seat bag.

Note: The white ring on the tire in the photo above is from the reflective strip that is built into my Continental Touring Plus Road Bike Tire.

 

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Pin Ups: Reflective Velo Pins from CycleAware

Pin Ups Reflective Velo Pins from CycleAware

Reflective Velo Pins

You’ve probably heard someone say, “There’s no such thing as being too good-looking or too rich.” We need to add one more thing: for a cyclist, there is no such thing as being too visible. I ride a lot at night and in low-light situations—this means I also own several headlights and taillights for my bikes. Unfortunately, batteries run out of juice, light bulbs die and mounting brackets break. Therefore, I also own a lot of reflective gear so motorists can see me even if my lights kick the bucket.

The good folks at CycleAware recently sent me a package of Pin Ups: Reflective Velo Pins for review purposes. This is a package of 1″ diameter pins with a highly reflective surface. You can attach these pins to your jersey (they’re great for the back pockets), jacket, socks, gloves, backpack, or messenger bag.

A really good place for these pins is on the back of your gloves! I wish every pair of cycling gloves had reflective piping, but most do not. However, you can easily fasten one of these pins to the back of your gloves so motorists can see you hands when you signal a turn. Another useful place for these pins is on the back of your cycling tights, just above the heel of your shoes (or on your socks in warmer weather). Reflective material is great, but moving reflective material is awesome—as you pedal these reflective pins move up and down and make it easier for motorists to see you.

These reflective pins have several different designs. Two of the pins have small circles on them, one has the Spanish word for care or careful, and another has the Portuguese word for look out. In my opinion the most interesting pin is the one that has the Mandarin word for look out (OK, I had to ask CycleAware for the translation).

A package of five Pin Ups retails for only $5. You should be able to get this product at your local bike shop, but if they don’t have it you can order it online from CycleAware’s Website.

CycleAware has been around for 20 years and they specialize in making products to keep cyclists safe. If you really want to add some reflective power to your bike, you need to check out the CycleAware Beamer Reflective Saddle Bag—a saddle bag that is made entirely from highly reflective material.

 

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Illuminated Cycling Fire Eye 2.0 Helmet Light

You already know that you need a good taillight if you are going to ride your bike at night. However, the biggest problem with mounting a taillight on your seat post or seat bag is that they are situated fairly close to the ground. While the motorist directly behind you can see your taillight, the cars behind them can’t. They best way to increase your chances of being seen (and staying alive) is to use a helmet mounted light like the Fire Eye 2.0 Helmet Light from Illuminated Cycling.

Illuminated Cycling Fire Eye 2.0 Helmet Light

Illuminated Cycling Fire Eye 2.0 Helmet Light

The Fire Eye 2.0 light consists of a lightweight (63 grams) control box and two flexible light pods. The control box attaches to the top or back of your helmet with Velcro (included with purchase). The light pods also attach to your helmet with Velcro. The Velcro attachment system makes it very easy for you to take the Fire Eye unit off of your helmet if you desire. Complete installation instructions can be downloaded from the Illuminated Cycling Website, but I think a trained monkey could put these lights on in just a couple of minutes. I have a special helmet that I use for off-road rides at night and, in addition to the Velcro, I secure the control box to the helmet with two cable ties (the trails are often rough and this way I don’t have to worry about the Velcro slipping). Just for clarification, I don’t have the cable ties on in these photos. You will also notice that this helmet also has a lot of 3M Scotchlite Reflective Tape on it.

The Fire Eye 2.0 is powered by two non-rechargeable 1/2AA lithium batteries (6.3 volts). You should be able to get around 100 hours of use from a pair of batteries. This unit is also totally waterproof—it still works even while sitting in a tank of water!

Illuminated Cycling Fire Eye 2.0 Helmet Light (side view)

Illuminated Cycling Fire Eye 2.0 Helmet Light (side view)

I bought the original Fire Eye 1.0 about a year ago and was fairly happy with it, even though I never liked the way the switch on the control box operated. Recently Illuminated Cycling came out with a new version, the Fire Eye 2.0, and this product not only switched to a rugged toggle-switch design but also doubled to brightness of the lights! The new taillight has three modes: High power solid beam, Low power solid beam, and High power strobe. The Fire Eye 2.0 is set to the strobe setting by default. Personally, I would suggest you keep it on the strobe setting since it draws a lot more attention than a solid light. The new toggle-switch is bulletproof—just one simple touch to turn the unit on or off. When I am on the trails I often turn the light off to conserve the batteries (no one is out there to see me anyway).

Now for the best part: these lights are incredibly bright, even in full sunlight. My photographs or the videos you can find online just don’t do justice to how bright these lights are! It has been my experience that the pre-dusk hours are the most dangerous time of the day to ride. Visibility is declining but most motorists don’t have their headlights on yet. If cars don’t have their headlights on then all the reflective clothing in the world won’t do you any good—you need something like the Fire Eye 2.0 to protect your life!

I have a pet name for cyclists who ride at night with only one taillight—I call them “future organ donors.” Even under the best of circumstances batteries die unexpectedly, electronics fail and mounting brackets break for no apparent reason. Even with a light as powerful as the Fire Eye 2.0, I always ride a standard taillight like the Planet Bike Superflash Turbo on my seat bag. And, if I plan to ride on a really busy road, I will also add a Portland Design Works RADBOT 1000 to my seat post.

Fire Eye 2.0 helmet lights are hand-built in the USA and are available from the Illuminated Cycling Website for $60. In my opinion, if you ride your bike at night this is one of the best investments you will ever make. If you have any questions about this product you can call Erik Shaffer at 1-888-406-7626. Illuminated Cycling also offers a light designed for use by bicycle patrol officers—a Fire Eye unit with fiercely bright blue lights (only available to Law Enforcement agencies).

 

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Portland Design Works RADBOT 1000 Bicycle Taillight

Portland Design Works RADBOT 1000

Portland Design Works RADBOT 1000

The Portland Design Works RADBOT 1000 Taillight is an excellent product and one of the brightest bicycle taillights you will find. While most people think taillights are only for when they ride at night, the RADBOT’s 1-watt LED light is powerful enough for daylight use as well. This taillight offers three different flash patterns: always on, zZz, and my favorite, the cornea blitz (also known as zZzPOP). The RADBOT 1000 comes with clips so you can mount it to your backpack, seat bag, seatpost, or seat stay.

Portland Design Works claims this light will run for 15 hours in steady mode and up to 30 hours in flashing mode. This has not been my experience, but I don’t think anyone actually gets the battery life that most manufacturers claim. However, this does not mean they are trying to mislead you. Battery life is dependent on many factors, including the age of the battery, how it has been stored and weather conditions. While I have never been able to get 30 hours of flash time out of a set of batters with this light, I am not the least bit disappointed. The RADBOT 1000 is an extremely powerful taillight and I think my life is worth considerably more than the price of a set of batteries (your opinion may vary). By the way, I never run a taillight in the solid (always on) mode—I’ve found the flashing light pattern to be far more effective.

I bought two RADBOT 1000 taillights over 18 months ago and they are both still going strong, even after a couple dozen sets of batteries and a really bad Chicago winter.

Any review of the RADBOT 1000 would not be complete with a mention of it’s main competition, the Planet Bike Superflash Turbo Taillight. Both of these lights are made by excellent companies and I honestly could not claim that one is better than the other. I’m sure you have heard of Murphy’s Law (“Anything that can go wrong will go wrong”). In my opinion Murphy was a flaming optimist. Riding with only one taillight will eventually mean a ride home with no taillight at all. Batteries run down, mounting brackets break, and a taillight is probably the easiest thing for someone to steal from your bike. I use both of these lights on nearly every ride I take at night. Since the Planet Bike Superflash is fairly lightweight I attach it to my seat bag. The RADBOT 1000 has a great built-in reflector and I keep it on the seatpost. Because these two lights use different flash patterns it really makes it easy for motorists to see you a long way off.

The RADBOT 1000 retails for $32. Portland Design Works guarantees their products for life against defects. Their Website has a rather humorous explanation of what constitutes a defect, i.e., “Defect does not include damage caused by a drunken bicycle crash, ghost riding your bike off a bridge, act of God or normal wear and tear.”

 

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Planet Bike Superflash Turbo Tail Light

A few weeks ago I published a review of the Planet Bike Superflash Tail Light. I started using the Superflash last year and liked it so much I bought four of them (one for each bike I own). Well, the folks at Plant Bike have not been resting on their laurels—they’ve come out with the Superflash Turbo, a tail light with twice the power of the original Superflash!

Planet Bike Superflash Turbo Tail Light

Planet Bike Superflash Turbo Tail Light

If you look at the two Superflash units side-by-side you will not see much difference at all—they are the same size and weight and the only difference you will notice is in the color scheme. They both run on two AAA batteries and the batteries will last around 100 hours (in flash mode). If you turn both units on and hold them at arm’s length I doubt that you could tell them apart (they will both just about blind you). The real difference is seen as you get further away from the units. At 100 feet away you can easily tell the two flash units apart, and at 1,000 feet the difference will blow you away!

The Superflash Turbo has two different operating modes: steady (always on) and turbo flash mode. I think the steady mode on any tail light is a waste of time—even a bright light gets “lost” except on the darkest of nights. I always run my tail lights in the blinking mode since it seems to draw a lot more attention. However, the turbo flash mode is not just an on/off mode. The turbo mode is intermittent—the powerful one-watt power main light on top flashes first, then the two LEDs in the lower part of the unit flash in an irregular pattern.

The Superflash Turbo comes with brackets that should allow you to mount this tail light on just about any bike. It also has a clip so you can attach it to you seat bag or jersey pocket.

The Superflash Turbo retails for $35, which is just $5 more than the regular Superflash. To me, the choice between the two is a no-brainer: just buy the Superflash Turbo. The extra $5 gives you twice the light and a better flash pattern.

 

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Planet Bike Superflash Tail Light

I love cycling at night, but I also like living, so when I ride at night or in the rain I always have a Planet Bike Superflash Tail Light on my bike. This tail light can run up to 100 hours on just two AAA batteries and the half-watt LED light can be seen from up to a mile away.

Planet Bike Superflash Tail Light For Bicycles

Planet Bike Superflash Tail Light

The Superflash has a steady mode (light on all the time) and a unique flashing pattern that really helps motorists see you (this is the mode I always use). Last fall I went for a long off-road ride at night but I forgot my water bottles, so I phoned my wife and asked her to bring them to me at a park I was going to pass through later. My wife said that when she turned down the road going to the park she saw my flashing lights from over 3/4 a mile away and thought it was a police car in front of her! I now own four of Superflash tail lights (one for each of my bikes).

From personal experience I can tell you that you should never look directly into this tail light (you will be seeing red spots for at least 15 minutes). Considering how bright the Superflash is it is an incredibly compact unit, measuring only 2.75 inches tall, 1.5 inches wide and 1.5 inches deep.

You can mount the Superflash on your seat post with the included mounting bracket or clip it on your seat bag. Over the past ten years I’ve probably lost a dozen tail lights (from several manufacturers) when they fell off my seat bag after hitting a bump. Though I’ve not had this problem with the Superflash I now secure my tail lights to the seat bag with a simple cable tie (see the photo above). Cable ties are really cheap and you can cut the cable anytime to remove the light (I use cable ties for all sorts of things on my bikes). Planet Bike claims this tail light is weatherproof. I’ve used the Superflash in both rain and snow storms and in temperatures down to zero without any problem. As you probably know, the battery life of any light will be considerably shorter when the temperature drops below freezing.

The Planet Bike Superflash has a retail price of $30, but you can find in on Amazon.com for around $25. I believe this is a very fair price for a quality tail light. You could buy a cheap tail light for about half the price, but it is truly a case of getting what you pay for. If you choose to take the cheap route please remember to always carry your driver’s license and an organ donor card (the driver’s license is needed to help the police identify the body).

 

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JetLites A-51 Bicycle Headlight

Have you ever purchased an item for your bike and after a few months wondered, “Why doesn’t everyone have one of these?” That is exactly how I feel about the A-51 LED Headlight from JetLites. I purchased my A-51 late last September when it first came out and I have not regretted it one bit!

JetLite A-51 LED Bicycle Light

JetLite A-51 LED Bicycle Light

This LED bicycle headlight puts out 720 lumens of beautiful light and runs for over three hours on a full charge. The JetLite Website only claims a three-hour battery life, but I have been about to get three and a half hours out of it on when running on maximum brightness. You can also run the light in low mode and should get five and a half hours of light from it, or get twelve hours in the strobe mode. The connector between the battery and the headlight is threaded and waterproof. I carry the 9 ounce Li-Ion battery in my jersey pocket.

The “smart charger” for the A-51 LED Headlight is the best I have ever seen. Once you plug-in the 7.4 volt Lithium Ion battery into the charger it quickly determines how much of a charge it needs and once the battery reaches full the charger goes to sleep. The charger also wakes up every twelve hours to keep your battery topped off.

You can buy the A-51 LED Headlight with either a helmet mount or a bar mount. I chose the helmet mount since I like to have my brightest light on my helmet and a secondary light on the handlebars. The first time I rode an off-road trail with this light I noticed that some bikes ahead of me were pulling off to the side of the trail when I got close—they thought I was a car or motorcycle. When I caught up with them everyone wanted to know where I purchased the light!

You will probably never see a JetLite product in your local bicycle shop. You are going to have to either visit the JetLite Website and buy one online or find one of their few certified dealers to buy one of their lights. I bought mine online for $249, but I noticed on their Web site the price for the light, charger and helmet mount is now only $229.00 (folks, this is a steal).

This light comes with a one year warranty and it is made in the USA. If you ride at night you really need one of these lights!

 

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CygoLite ExpiliOn 250 LED Bike Light

Riding off-road trails at night is a blast! I started night-riding several years when the Chicago area was experiencing an unusually hot summer and riding after sundown seemed like the only way I was going to get my miles without suffering heat stroke.

During my first few years of riding at night I purchased several underpowered headlights and I never really felt safe because I was outrunning my light, i.e., my headlights did not throw a beam of light far enough down the trail for me to safely ride at the speed I was traveling. It was like driving your car at 90 MPH down a foggy country road using only your parking lights. That all changed last summer when I purchased a CygoLite ExpiliON 250.

CygoLite ExpiliOn 250

The ExpiliOn 250 is one-piece compact unit that throws out 250 lumens of intense LED light and fits on either your handlebar or helmet (it comes with mounts for both). Since it weights a mere 130 grams you will probably never even notice it if you wear it on your helmet. Using the high beam I was able to get nearly three and a half hours of light out of it (CygoLite only claims a 3 hour battery life). It is powered by a quick release Li-Ion battery and it recharges in about 5 hours. How good is it? After my first ride with an ExpiliOn 250 on my helmet I ordered a second one for my handlebars!

This light has six different settings (High, Mid, Low, Daylight Flashing, Walking and SOS). The flash setting is very interesting—it sends out a quick pulse of light, pauses, then sends out two more pulses in rapid succession. This flash setting really grabs the attention of oncoming traffic. During the winter months in the Upper Midwest the sun never gets very high in the sky so our few hours of sunlight are accompanied by long shadows, but the sad fact is that most of our days are rather cloudy anyway. Riding with the ExpiliOn 250 in flash mode allowed cars to see me a long way off. I was having cars stop me at least once or twice a week to thank me for using the light. Some motorists claimed they saw me over mile away which gave them plenty of time to avoid a head-on collision.

Now the best part: I’ve had to call CygoLite’s customer service twice and I have been extremely happy with them. My first ExpiliOn 250 had a small problem (it was probably my fault) and when I called customer service they insisted that I return the unit for a new one—no questions asked. The guy on the phone made an interesting comment. He said, “We are really trying to protect the CygoLite name and we can’t afford to have dissatisfied customers.” WOW! It is wonderful to deal with a company that is trying to build a reputation instead of resting on one.

The CygoLite ExpiliOn 250 has a list price of $140.00, but I was able to buy mine for around $110.00 from Amazon.com.

 

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