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8.2 Advice on Lights for Bikes


This article is from the Misc Bicycles FAQs, by various authors.

8.2 Advice on Lights for Bikes

From: pamela@circus.camex.com (Pamela Wybieracki)

I've tried many different systems over the years. Because I do mostly
unsupported continuous long rides, I do not use rechargeable systems,
such as BRITE-LITES. These systems are great for commuting. I used
to commute to work (I still do but now I have a 1 hour train ride)
Since it was not my primary reason for lights, I just used what I had
for brevets. If you are only commuting you can look at things a little
differently. Keep one recharger at work and one at home, so you can
keep your batteries charged for the next ride. BRITE-LITES do a very
good job of iluminating the road. The charge will last a varied time
depending on which bulb you use. The higher wattage the shorter the
time. A complete brite-lite system runs about $100. I have heard from
electrically minded folks that you can buy the batteries and
rechargers from electrical supply houses for much less. The quick
release mounting brackets are worth the $$ if you remove your lights
frequently. There are lots of other rechargeable systems around - look
in the back of *bicycling* I have riden with people using brite-lites
and nightsun. Both had very good beams, while they lasted. ( the time
on these was between 3 and 4 hours) Unfortunately if you are riding
all night that isn't long enough. If you have a hour commute, it's
just fine.

Generator systems. I have used both Union and Byka generator systems.
Unions seem to be the most popular generator, and if you win a race
with Union lights, rumour has it they will give you $$$. A generator,
front and rear light runs about $20, and they are almost universally
available. One disadvantage is that when you stop moving the light
stops. This isn't so great when commuting in the city and stoping at
lights. The Byka has a neat additional feature of a battery backup,
for when you are stopped, or riding slowly. It also regulates the
power so that you don't blow out bulbs when flying down hills. I
bought my Byka about 6 years ago, and they aren't as universally
available as Unions. Both of these generators mount under the bottom
bracket. Sanyo makes a system that runs off the sidewall. I have
never used one of these.

One hint about buying halogen bulbs. They range in price from $7 to
$20+, depending on the wattage. Flashlight halogens ($2) tend not to
be bright enough or rated for 6V. Be sure that your bulb matches the
power output of your generator. Back to the hint. You may occasionally
see Union headlights in a grab box for $1. They have bulbs in them -
if they are good - you've gotten a bargain. I always buy them when I
see them, because the bulb is cheap and I have had a few bumps cause
my lights to dismount and go crashing to the ground. Another note on
Halogen bulbs is don't touch the bulb. Handle them with tissue or by the
base. I carry several spares wrapped in handy wrap in a film case in my
seat bag. I would recommend carrying a spare bulb. Bulbs can and do go
bad. Sometimes they burn out, sometimes they can blow on a rough road.

I used a lantern battery system for a long time . I had dual union
headlights with one high power and one regular bulb, plus dual
taillights. I did some extra wiring to put in swithes to easily be
able to turn everything on and off. Apologies for my slaughter of
thterminolgy here. Those of you who are electrically minded are
welcome to clarify what I say, or correct what may be wrong, but these
lights do work. A Union headlight comes with the power wire already
set up. It attaches (solder it for more reliability) to the spring
inside the light. The ground is provided by metal piece located on the
mounting hole. The ground wire should come in contact with this. I
have a ring lug soldered to the end of my ground wire. The bolt that
hold the bike to the light, passes through this lug, and the light.
On the other end of both wires I have alligator clips, which attach to
the terminals on a lantern battery. As I mentioned I have in-line
switches, but these aren't necessary. The alligator clips are an
extra two. You can just wrap The ends of the wire around the
terminals. The clip just makes things easier. I know people who don't
bother with the ground wire, but I've never had any luck without it. I
have run two headlights and two taillights off the same lantern

Mounting brackets. I use the quick release ones made by Brite-Lite.
Sanyo used to make a bracket that attaches to the fork. I found some
of these in a box of junk parts in a bike shop one day. They work very
well, but aren't quick release.

Where to keep the battery. - In a water bottle cage. Lots of
alternatives here. I have a over-the-handlebar quick release cage that
works well. The standard water bottle cages work, as does the new
behind the seat cages. Just think about where you will keep your
battery when you cut the wires. I also found bags - like tire bags
which I keep the battery in and attach it to the cage. I have seen
many unsecured batteries fly out of cages before. One of the bags I
found was designed to go around a water bottle and then attach under
the seat. You can also tape your battery in, but then it isn't easy to
change or get out. You can get rechargeable 6-volt lantern batteries,
so this system works well for commuting and long overnight rides,
because you can also use non-r batteries. While 6-volts are as readily
available a c-cells, you can buy them at K-Marts on your route. I
have found that in the past few years the length of time these last
has discreased :( I was racing earlier this year when my over the
handle bar cage broke and I had to find a place to put my battery - it
was still dark. The wires were too short to reach the other cages, so
I ended up taping the battery to my handlebars for the next lap.
Fortuantely it got light and I was able to remove everything then.
BTW, electrical tape has come in handy so many times for so many
different things that I now consider it an essential tool, like a
tube, and tire levers!

Up until this year I had great luck with this system, but despite what
battery companies say I don't think the *new* batteries last as long.
I used to be able to get 6 hours out of one and this year got only
2-3. But I had a backup - I had a new light called a NICE LIGHT. It
uses 4 AA batteries, and a Xenon bulb. One of those was brighter than
my TWO halogens, including the high wattage one. So on the next ride I
had two of these mounted, with one on, and the other ready to go on
when the first burned out. These lights are quite weatherproof and I
really like them and will use them until I find something better.
They also have a recharging system. There literature says they will be
coming out with a rear light soon. Currently I use a cateye rear
light. I find it quite adequate. I would not recommend the non-halogen
cateye front light. cateye does make a halogen front light now, which
is much better than the non-halogen. I think it runs off of 2 d-cell
batteries, but I didn't think it provided enough light.

I met a couple from rochester, ny a few weeks ago that seemed to have
car lights on their bikes. Someone there had designed the system and
while it was quite bright, it looked bulky. I think they are using
these lights as I type on Boston-Montreal-Boston.

For your headlight you want something that will enable you to see
the road. If you can see the road, then cars coming toward you
should be able to see you.

For your rear, you are more concerned with being seen. So in addition
to the taillight, I recommend a stobe of some type. If you are riding
with a group though, you should consider staying in the back, or not
using the strobe. Also reflective tape everywhere you can get it. I
also have SIDELIGHTS reflective tape on my rims, a rear minder - on my
rear, something that looks like a crossing guard would wear, and
reflective tape on my shoes, chain stays and seat stays, and forks,
plus neon handlebar tape. I also have reflective tape on my helmet.

Stop in your local bike shop. Look for one of the old ones that has
been around for years. Those new sterile looking ones haven't had time
to accumulate grab boxes. Ask to look through there boxes of *junk*.
I have gotten a lot of my lights parts this way, plus some other neat
things. BTW, This is one of my favorite things to do in a new city.


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