These are NOT bike lights!

6 04 2011

MEC white Turtle light...

Update: I revived this year old post because I’ve been seeing a lot of these non-bike lights on bikes lately and realized something – in addition to all the problems I list below the fact their low power forces cyclists to use them on flash mode to try and get everyone’s attention. This works to a degree, but the result is a very obnoxious dazzling effect if you happen to be right in the narrow beam of one of these lights and not all that much visibility for the cyclist if you are not. That’s plain bad for everyone involved. Get something that uses rechargeable batteries, that’s got a reasonable amount of power and use it on steady mode.

I’m going to pick on MEC a bit here, but to be fair there are many versions of these cheap key chain lights floating around made and sold by various companies.  Note I called them key chain lights not bike lights.  They provide plenty of light to see something in a dark tent or to use while repairing a flat tire.  They absolutely do not provide enough light to be seen by at night in the city. Not even if you double up on them and have two on each end of your bike.

The sad part is that because stores like MEC sell them as bike lights lots of people assume they must work in that application and grab a red one….if they are feeling spendy maybe also a white one for the front…then they ride around town at night assuming they are visible to motorists…even though they are not.

This isn't a bike taillight...

Here is what’s wrong with them:

  • they use a low power LED with a small battery = poor amount of light emitted.
  • they dim dramatically as the small battery gets used which puts out even less light. Especially when it’s cold out.
  • the max amount of light is emitted along a narrow range of angles from the front of the light.
  • the simple mounting method of a stretchy band doesn’t maintain the angle of adjustment well and provides a limited range of angles you can set the light at…all of which means a car driver will likely get only a small amount of the little light that comes out of the unit.
  • batteries are expensive [for the power they provide], not rechargeable and hard to change so lots of people run them until they are dead even though the amount of light put out during the last 50% of the battery’s run time is pathetic.
  • they give riders the false sense of security by making them feel like they are visible in traffic when the are not visible at all.

Turbo Turtle light

MEC also sells the Turbo Turtle light which was two LEDs in it.  It’s still not a bike light.  It’s just a better key chain light.

So what would I recommend?

  • buy yourself a good red bike tail light like the Planet Bike Superflash and get some rechargeable batteries for it.  Not only will this be better for the environment, but you’ll save $$$ if you ride at night a lot.
  • buy yourself a decent 1w or 2w white LED for the front of your bike like the MEC Shark as well as some rechargeable batteries.
  • I would also recommend you get some reflective material on you in addition to a proper bike light.  There are lots of options, but my favourites are reflective leg bands.  They are cheap, never run out of batteries and keep your pants out of the chain!  I keep one or two permanently on the handle bars of each of my bikes just in case I stay out after dark unexpectedly.
  • Now assuming you’ve done the things I recommended above if you want to add some of these key chain lights to your bike or helmet as an emergency back up to your main lights and/or to add even more visibility go for it.  That’s an appropriate use for lights of their performance level.

$12CDN gets you these bike lights!

What if I can’t afford real bike lights?

  • well first off key chain lights are not cheap…the MEC Turbo Turtle lights run $4.50 each [$9.00 for a set white & red] compared to $12.00 for the decent MEC light set in the photo above.  Use both for a year and see which batteries cost you more to keep running…not even considering the fact you’ll get way more light out of the real bike lights.
  • okay so what if you can only afford $5 for one red MEC turtle light?  Save some money and buy one reflective ankle band for $3.25.  Then ride your bike assuming no one can see you at night.  You’ll be safer than riding confidently with one red key chain light on your bike.  The reflective material works with a car’s powerful headlights to illuminate you better than a key chain light.

The problem with perfection…

6 04 2011

My awesome LHT...=-)

I try out a lot of bikes and a lot of gear. That’s fun and I enjoy tinkering with different setups. It’s taught me a lot that I couldn’t have learned any other way, but it does have one downside – perfection. Now you’d think having a perfect bike would be great and in terms of riding it that’s true – where I get into trouble is once a bike is perfect or close to it I don’t want to mess with it. One perfect bike wouldn’t be an issue, but I’m starting to collect quite a few of them and that’s getting in the way of my tinkering!

Now I could sell them, but every time I did that [ie. Challenge Fujin SL] I regret it. Not only because I can’t ride that bike any more, but also because perfection was usually expensive and doing the same thing twice is harder to justify.

You could also say just keep ’em all. Sound advice in theory, but I am at the point with bikes, boards and gear that unless I get a 2 car garage I am at my limit for bikes. As it is two bikes live outside **gasp!** and our tandem lives in the dining room!

As a stop gap measure I am calling 2011 the year of the upgrade so I’ll focus on working on existing bikes rather than getting new ones – although one new one slipped in and I traded a single bike for a tandem. This is working, but it has it’s limits. Once I add the hammered fenders & dynohub + light to my LHT there won’t be a lot left to do as it will be freaking amazingly perfect…=-)

Here’s a rundown of my bikes that are perfect or near perfect:

  • Surly LHT
  • Surly Big Dummy
  • Surly Pugsely
  • Santa Cruz Nomad
  • Bike Friday Tikit
  • Bike Friday NWT

I’m not dissing my Bike Friday Tandem Traveller or my Boulder Bicycle All Road, but they are too new to get perfect status. They must prove themselves on the road and maybe next year they’ll be worthy!

For upgrades I’ve got the following projects on the go:

  • dyno hub & light for LHT
  • hammered VO fenders for LHT
  • put super hard B17 on LHT to break it in
  • put Jone loop H-bars on Big Dummy
  • put dynohub wheel in Big Dummy and mount light
  • put PR rack and Ortlieb O bag on Tikit

I’ve also got an Alfine 11 I need to build into a wheel and try out, but so far I haven’t decided which bike to use it on. If I could get a JTek bar end shifter for it I’d have a lot of options, but so far that’s not available.