By Jeffrey Stern
A couple weeks ago we covered four great options for rear lights while riding late into the day and evening during summer adventures on your favorite backgrounds. Now that we have your tail covered, we want to make sure you can see everything in your path. There’s nothing worse than a flimsy, dim light with a short battery capacity.
In that light (pun intended), we went on the hunt for a few high-quality, USB rechargeable front lights to complete your cycling illumination package.
Featuring panels to emit light visible to motorists and other cyclists from the side, the Blackburn Central 200 front light is a powerful 200 lumen light in a small package. An LED charge indicator has four colors to let you know how much of the three hour (low mode) runtime you have remaining. A swivel mount allows for easy adjustment and the silicon attachment strap fits handlebars from 22-35mm and even doubles as a helmet attachment. The Central 200 comes in four different waterproof colors, weighs only 63 grams and will set you back $40.
NiteRider is known for making powerful lights with wired battery packs allowing you to run a near spotlight beam for hours on end into the night. Their Swift 350 front light is one of actually a few exceptions to that norm, delivering reliable performance in a compact and economical bundle. This light from the night riding specialists boasts 350 lumens with five different flashing modes. In high mode, you can expect 1.5 hours of illumination, but in low mode (70 lumens) the battery is estimated to last 6.5 hours. The body of the light is made of fiberglass reinforced plastic that’s water/dust proof. It also features a unique walk mode with 21 hours of battery life, just in case you find your bike inoperable in the middle of the woods and you have to hoof it home – all for just $35.
If you’re looking to step your light game up a few notches for not much more of an investment, the Cygolite Dash 460 offers more lumens with 5 LEDs, a maximum 63-hour battery life (in quad LED flash mode) and eight separate beam modes to cover all types of scenarios in the dark or low light settings. The lithium ion-charged, powerful package is a bit heavier at 75 grams, but takes only three hours to fill up completely. Enhanced cycling optics help to widen and lengthen the lights beam ahead creating a bright path. For additional safety, the day lighting mode emits lightning-like flashes for high visibility even during the middle of the afternoon heat. In the low light, night setting mode, the Dash 460 will last an estimated and impressive nine hours at the cool price of $55.
Some of the most lumens in the sleekest packages are delivered by the San Luis Obispo, California-based Lezyne. Their Macro Drive 800XL light is the heaviest, but stoutest of the list for good reason. The CNC machined aluminum parts and body create a durable construction for 800 lumens of power from this high performance front cycling light. At max power in the overdrive mode, the ultrahigh LED lights will blast for 1 hour and 40 minutes while in the conservative femto mode the light lasts for a reported 63 hours. A robust silicone strap secures the Macro Drive 800XL easily in place over many types of handlebars. Choose from silver or black, both so stylish they might become your favorite bike accessory for $70.
Once you’re covered from front to rear with the lights of your choice, get out there this summer and ride more miles than you ever have before without fear of losing the sun’s rays!Tweet Print
There must have been something in the water back in 1989. Along with the launch of our sister magazine Dirt Rag, brands like NiteRider, Camelback and Paul Components got their start.
But NiteRider didn’t start with bike lights. Tom Carroll was looking for a way to surf his favorite breaks at night, when the swell was up and long after the crowds had gone home. He built a few prototype helmets with waterproof halogen lights attached to a battery pack worn in a fanny pack around his waist. When a few bike riding friends tried it, they knew the waterproof, durable lights would be perfect for mountain biking. Fast forward a few years of assembling lights at the kitchen table and Tom was able to devote himself entirely to making the best mountain bike lights on the market.
The brand rose to prominence in the early 1990s when it was the first to promote and support the rise of 24-hour racing. The NiteRider van started showing up to races with complimentary tech support and charging services for its customers at races across the country. The race support continues today with a state-of-the-art van that can charge more than 200 batteries at once, including any NiteRider product ever made.
Today NiteRider employees up to 45 people during the busy season, a dozen of which have been with the company more than a decade. It’s a close-knit and casual workplace, tucked into an industrial park in San Diego. Tom would never be far from the surf, after all. While not every single component of a NiteRider light is made in-house (the LEDs are high-end CREE units, for example) nearly all of the assembly takes place just a few steps away from the front door.
NiteRider invited us down to visit for a factory tour and round table discussion about the industry, ranging from a light’s color temperature to tactile button feedback. A group of journalists and athletes met with NiteRider engineers and management to spitball ideas and gather feedback. We were constantly amused when we would come up with a pie-in-the-sky idea and someone would say “Hold on a sec…”, leave the room, only to return a minute later with exactly that product in hand.
For example, we were dreaming of a larger version of the popular Lumina series with dual lamps and an integrated battery, as customers now prefer the integrated one-piece unit. Sure enough, a few minutes later a 3D-printed prototype was being passed around the table. “But what if it had replaceable batteries, so we could carry spares?” someone asked. Sure enough, they thought of that too.
It was fun to daydream about products and technologies that could be coming down the line in a few years, or as far as we know are being tested in a back room somewhere—ambient light sensors, solar charging, accelerometers—ideas were burning bright.
We did get to see some other sneak peeks at products coming soon, such as a remote control for the high-end mountain bike lights and a battery pack with a USB port to charge your smartphone, GPS unit, or whatever other gadgets you might be brining along for the ride.
One big takeaway from the experience for me was the promotion of daytime running lights for city riding. Nearly everyone agreed that a blinking light during the day is effective at increasing visibility to drivers, while we nearly universally agreed a steady light is preferable at night to reduce distractions.
Another topic was why do high-quality headlights continue to improve and innovate, while taillights are largely seen as a disposable commodity? My take is that the task required of a headlight—seeing where you are going—is easily achieved with a single purchase, while the task of being visible to others is more complicated than simply purchasing a brighter light. It is a group of behaviors that will make you safer, including wearing reflective clothing, riding a certain way, drivers not being distracted, etc.
Back on the singletrack, however, we were free to revel in magic hour of dusk settling over the hills as we sped along the dusty trails. As the darkness grew, I was reminded how much I loved the focus and isolation of night riding—with no distractions, a tunnel of light and a trail leading the way.
Guess I better go charge my lights.
Riding at night has never been better. As LED and battery technologies continue to improve at astonishing rates, the products and price points just get better and better.
NiteRider knows a thing or two about going long—it’s celebrating its 25th anniversary this year—and its 2015 lineup focuses on boosting its lights’ runtimes rather than pumping out as many lumens as possible.Tweet Print