Thursday, April 11, 2013

Lighting the Way #2

Is it possible to spend too much time researching and planning? Of course, if it becomes an excuse for not acting. Years ago I accepted "Car and Driver" as my definitive guide when buying tires and light and other devices useful for being highway scofflaw. Basically, at the time, there were two publications that talked about the things I wanted to know and only "C and D" spoke to driving faster than the speed limit on a budget. Forty years later I have no interest in exceeding the speed limit and my budget is much less than it was back then. There's also much, much, much more information available because of the internet. Researching a single item can take as long as a transcontinental tour.

Everything I purchase carries a definitive requirement. It has to remain within budget. Applying this single requirement while researching lighting eliminated many of the lights I would have liked to have. Both "Bicycle Times", which is my current-day "Car and Driver", and provided basic and deeper technical information, along with comparison pricing. After that I was left to read purchaser reviews on various on-line retailer sites.

Spending more time riding after sundown changed getting additional illumination from a want to a need. My 70 lumens Princeton Tec EOS is adequate as a be-seen light and is very useful when helmet mounted. It is less successful at lighting the path ahead, especially where substantial ambient lighting exists. At those times obstacles not visible under the ambient light are also not made visible by the EOS until quite close, requiring a dramatic reduction in speed. Where nearby street lights cannot cast ambient illumination on a tree lined bike path the EOS works ok at only moderate speed reduction. The variability of lighting is one of the issues needing to be overcome if one is going to ride typical urban streets and bike paths.

Eventually, Ben's Cycle made the decision much easier when I found a NiteRider Mako 150 on their ebay listing. The price was better than good and I ordered it immediately. Sent by USPS it arrived in three days. Nice price. Nice service. Why the NiteRider? Price, of course. Why the Mako 150? Because it was dramatically less than the Mako 200 or 300 I was considering, but, additionally, the price was such that I could view this purchase as an experiment if the Mako turned out to be significantly less than I hoped. The EOS had been my first venture into bike lighting and all I really wanted was something demonstrably better than it was.

Several night rides later I know that the Mako was a good purchase beyond price. It is not rechargeable, which was a requirement based on my touring experience. If it was going to serve me on a tour I knew that I could not depend on getting electricity at every stop. It mounts easily. Criticism of the mounting system being fragile seem to be unfounded. It's an unusual system, but does not appear to be a potential weak point. It is much brighter than the 70 lumens EOS with the beam presenting a narrow spot that easily overwhelm ambient light, illuminating potential obstacles that would otherwise be invisible. By using the EOS as a helmet mounted light I can scan left and right, supplementing the Mako's side lighting. Basically, it's pretty damn cool!

But I didn't stop there . . .

Bike Works, a local bike shop, relocated from Tioga Town Center to bicycle center where it is one of three within less than a mile of each other. Among the things they had not sold prior to relocating and wanted to sell was a pair of Stella 200s by Light and Motion. I didn't need two more lights, but sometimes there are offers you cannot pass-up. Now, instead of inadequate lighting I have exceeded my minimum daily allowance of lumens. I will probably try to sell the spare. Wanna buy a light?

Have I made two good decisions? I hope. There are some limiting things. The NiteRider is water resistant but not water proof like the EOS. The Stella is rechargeable with a proprietary charger and requires a battery pack to be attached to the frame. The cord on the Stella is too short to allow it to be used with the included helmet mount. The up-side? Light. Lots and lots of light. Below is a wholly unscientific representation of the patterns cast by the Mako and Stella.

Mako 150 on a white wall showing spot-like pattern
Mako 150 against white wall
Stella 200 against white wall showing broader pattern
Stella 200 against white wall

I plan to use the Mako on the Schwinn and the Stella on the Novara where the battery pack will mount more easily. When I tour I'll use the Mako. With both bikes the EOS is now a helmet mount and that might be the best addition to my lighting situation. Being able to look side-to-side is a big advantage. While riding last night I was able to alert a texting driver to my presence by turning the 80 lumens of the EOS onto his face. His response was positive, but I expect some people will take offense. Guess I'll see. And be seen!

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