Bike lights that shine as much light up into the sky and other people’s eyes as they do on the road are a problem. The glare they produce is painfully blinding and potentially dangerous for everyone since you are making it hard for oncoming drivers and cyclists to see where they are going right when they are close to you. Germany mandates that bike lights don’t do this so they have some great lights with focused optics that take the wasted/blinding light and push it down in the beam pattern so it’s shining way down at the road the furthest away from the bike. This is handy since it adds light where needed most and doesn’t bother other MUP/road users as much.
Unfortunately North American light manufacturers don’t offer these types of focused bike lights. I assumed Dinotte didn’t offer such a light because of the expense and hassle involved, but I was shocked to find out when they posted on a related thread on BROL that they don’t think there is a problem. They even go so far as to say the German style focused lights might be unsafe because they don’t pump light out in every direction. My initial reaction was what planet do they live on? I get blinded by symmetrical unfocused bike lights every night ride and I have to cover or change the aim on my Dinottes every night ride to avoid blinding people. German laws are there to enhance safety and if anything the Germans are hyper-safety conscious when it comes to cycling. Given that many randonneurs sing the praises of the focused European lights after using them at high speeds on a variety of roads all night when extremely tired you have to wonder how dangerous they could be?
Have a look in the image above at the symmetrical Dinotte 600L light pattern compared to the Scmidt Edelux pattern. The difference is dramatic. Peter White has an excellent set of photos showing what various lights he sells look like when shone down the road. His images are also very instructive.
So the obvious solution is if you have $$$ to spend on a new bike light get one of the European style focused lights that Peter White sells. What about the existing lights you have that are still working fine, but you are tired of blinding people with? Well I faced exactly that problem with my 2 Dinotte 200L-AA lights. They work fine and are worth about $300 so I don’t want to throw them out. The discussion on BROL got me thinking and I tried a DIY vertical cut off using electrical tape. This blocked the upper part of the light beam.
In this video I did the following:
- pushed a bike away from camera with stock Dinotte 200L-AA aimed as I normally would and had Planet Bike Superflash on back aimed normally
- pushed same config back towards camera
- replaced stock Dinotte with same model light [same battery pack] that had a electrical tape vertical cut off covering 1/3 of the top of the lens
- replaced Superflash with Radbot 1000 on rear
- pushed bike away from and back towards camera
What I see in the video is:
- stock Dinotte is very bright in the camera with a lot of light pumped into the lens causing glare [easy to spot]
- Planet Bike Superflash is very bright [easy to spot]
- with 1/3 vertical cut off is easy to spot, but much less light at the camera
- is extremely bright
This simulates riding on a MUP…something that I do every ride in Victoria and given the lack of daylight much of this riding is at night. With this DIY cutoff I can ride the MUP and the streets without blinding anyone, but still getting all the light I need on the road to see and still enough light spilling upwards to be seen by. It’s not a great solution since I’m wasting a lot of the LED’s light, but given a focused optic isn’t an easy DIY hack this seems reasonable so I can use my Dinottes responsibly until they die.
The difference is noticeable and I’ll be modifying both my Dinottes in this way to reduce the blinding effect on other cyclists.
The downside is that you lose a bunch of light power from the LED by simply blocking it. The Euro lights like the Edelux take this light from the upper part of the lens and push it down below the cut off. This not only avoids blinding on coming riders/drivers, but it makes the top part of the beam below the cut off much brighter – ideal since this is the part that must light up the portion of the road the furthest away from the bike. This evens out the light beam so you get equal illumination far away as you do close up.
Are your lights a problem? Trade bikes with a friend on a dark street and see how your bike looks to others. You can also jump in your car and have a friend ride your bike as you drive past them. If you have no problem when passing your bike on the MUP or street than you don’t have anything to worry about. You can repeat the experiment on a street with cars and other light sources. If you don’t enjoy the experience of passing your own bike then it’s a problem you need to deal with.
Can’t you just aim a symmetrical light down so it doesn’t shine in the eyes of oncoming folks’ eyes? No. The reason is that the light beam from a symmetrical light is brightest in the center and fades to the edges. If you pointed it down to avoid blinding others the part of the beam you would have left to illuminate the farthest part of the road from you would also be the weakest part of the beam. This would result in a ton of glare off the road close up and very little light far away. It would be hard on your eyes and you would have to ride slow to not out run your light’s area of illumination.
The solution I propose in this post is not ideal since it wastes the light that is being blocked by the tape, but it does allow you to shine what remains of the bright part of the symmetrical light beam where you need it further down the road and it reduces the blinding effect considerably. The fact it’s free is a bonus. For now it will have to do.
It’s not surprising that a Dinotte light would be illegal for road use on your bike in Germany. The cops would pull you over and give you a ticket for being dangerous and a nuisance to others.
Just like they would in Canada/USA if you decided to drive around with your car’s highbeams on because they are safer for you.
Since Dinotte doesn’t care about this important issue I’m sad to say I won’t be able to buy any more of their products nor can I recommend them to other cyclists. If you want a good battery powered or dynohub headlight look at the European options sold by Peter White. They don’t cost anymore than a Dinotte, but they offer improved performance and safety.