Sometimes you have to ride in the dark…

My name is Preston and I am a bike light addict. One time my wife pointed out the three headlights and four tail lights scattered around my bike and body and suggested that I had more money in lights then in my bike. She was right. My excuse/rationale is that I really want to be seen when riding at night.

At the end of this blog is a review of a new lighting product from Magnus Innovation.

I have some strong opinions about lighting and reflective materials as a means of making cyclists visible, at night to other road users. Most of my opinions have been formed by riding a lot of miles in the dark but also by taking groups out to evaluate lights and reflective materials in over 50 LCI Seminars.

Head Lights

There are two types of head light,

  • one so a cyclist can be seen by other road users, primarily those turning left across the path of the cyclist and those turning into a roadway in front of a cyclist, and
  • one so a cyclist can see the road and hazards ahead.

Be Seen

A be seen light can be relatively low power, about 50 lumens will meet the legal standard in most states. Riding in urban areas generally makes the be seen light critical and normally doesn’t need a see light as the ambient light is high enough to be able to see most hazards. In my opinion a head light brighter than 200 lumens is overkill in an urban setting and can be aggravating for other road users. In this case brighter isn’t necessarily better.

Most modern LED lights meet the minimum standard for being seen. However, many of the smallest, simplest head lights use non-rechargable watch batteries (those little silver discs) which can be pricy. While many organizations give away cheap lights, after the initial battery dies I suspect very few of those lights ever get used again.

See

A see light is a different animal. It is hard to have too many lumens riding in suburban or rural areas or on off road trails. Over the years I’ve tried lots of lights and find that something over 600 lumens is good. I have hit a deer riding on a winding downhill in a suburban area. It came off the curb and was in the road before I saw it. With more light and a broader beam it is likely that I would have seen the deer in time to avoid it. A see light should start at 200 lumens and go up. Some modern lights are in the 800 lumen range. I believe this is too much to use in an urban area but works well out side of downtown.

The technology of lights and batteries has evolved to the point that most are LED of some form with lithium ion batteries. The older tungsten bulbs and HID use too much power and have been almost completely supplanted by LED with superior brightness and lower power draw. Many of the newer lights are also rechargeable using a USB cable.

The move to LED and USB recharging is making more and more lights available to people who need to ride to earn a living but who cannot afford the old technology and having to purchase and replace batteries frequently.This is a case where technology is supporting equity.

Reflective material on the front of the bike or the rider has some use, but like reflective materials on the sides, it generally is not effective in allowing a motorist or other road user to detect and recognize a cyclist at a safe distance. Lights in the front are crucial.

Tail Lights

Tail lights have one purpose; someone coming up from behind can see the cyclist and recognize that it is a cyclist in time to avoid a collision. Tail lights don’t have to be bright but they do have to be placed where they convey the proper information. Two similar red light placed side by side gives the wrong information. It looks like a car a long way away.

Stack your tail lights. Place one low on the frame, one under the seat, one on the rider at the waist and one on the helmet. Have at least one of your lights blinking but most of them solid.

Reflective material on the back of the bike or the rider is very effective in allowing a motorist or other road user to detect and recognize a cyclist at a safe distance. But, all reflective material is “retro-reflective” which means it only bounces light directly back to the light source. If a motor vehicle is behind you then the reflective material should work. But if the road is curvy or hilly, the reflective material is not nearly effective.

Most people who go through the night ride on an LCI Seminar ride away planning to get more light but lots more reflective materials.

Blue Lights

Many states allow the use of blue lights on the back of the bike. Blue lights are generally three times as visible as a red light of the same power which is the reason they are frequently used on emergency and law enforcement vehicles. In states where blue lights are legal they are a good option on the back of a bike.

Full disclosure: I have a financial interest in a company that sells blue lights.

Product Review

Magnus Innovation Vision II

When a start up company in Austin presented a new light I was pretty ho hum about looking at something “new”. But I agreed to review the light and talk about it, the good, the bad and the ugly. Full disclosure, the company presented me with the first example of their new light for review. I didn’t purchase it.

The company is Magnus Innovation and the light set that will be available later in 2015 is marketed as Vision II. And it is a light set. In the good looking box is lots of fun stuff. A head light with mount, an extra battery for the headlight, two tail lights with unusual mounting systems, a converter and micro USB cable with dual outlets. One other nice touch is a wrist strap that can be attached to the back of the head light if it is used as a hand light.

Here is the technical part. All this information is from specs on the Web site.

  • Head Light: 5 Modes: High Beam (860 Lumens up to 1.5 hours), Medium Beam (400 Lumens up to 2.5 hours) Low Beam (180 Lumens up to 7 hours), Breathing Flash (90 Lumens up to 16 hours), and S.O.S. Flashing (Hold for 3 seconds)
  • Tail Light(s): Aircraft Aluminum Rear LED Tail Lights with Built-In USB Rechargeable Port (25 Lumens, 3 Modes: Fast Strobe, Slow Strobe, Steady)

Now the results of usage.

Mounts:

The head light has a good mount that is widely adjustable. It consists of a long threaded strap and a circular piece that tightens it. This offers a great “quick” adjustment as the circular piece can be removed, the strap tightened and the circular piece replaced and screwed tight. It also offers a downside. If you lose the circular piece you can’t tighten the mount. The mount allows the headlight to move side to side about 45 degrees. It is also easy to push the light into the mount and to pull it back out and once in it is held solidly.

The tail lights have a dual mount. One mount is a simple clip so the light can be used on a backpack or belt. In the box is a couple of flexible straps that can be slipped into the clip and then wrapped around a seat post or other tube. The outside of the clips is sculpted so that when its wrapped around a seat post it can be positioned to point straight back. The downside of this sculpting is that mounting on a horizontal bar means the light doesn’t point directly to the rear.

Recharge:

The recharge port on the headlight is a micro USB on the opposite side from the power switch and is covered well by a flap that is well anchored to the headlight. The headlight has a single removable, lithium ion battery. The battery is a 18650 2600mAh at 3.7 volts and a second one is provided in the box with the light. This battery is available on-line for about $10.00. There are higher capacity 18650 batteries on the market but I haven’t tried any of them. I’ll ask Magnus Innovation if higher capacity gives more life.

The on/off button has a ring that lights blue when it is charging and goes out when it is fully charged. Nice touch.

The tail lights screw apart from the mount to expose a USB recharge port. This port is a micro USB. It doesn’t appear that the battery can be replaced in the tail lights. Tail lights glow red under charge and go out when fully charged.

Cases:

The cases for the headlight and the tail lights are all black aircraft aluminum. All of the threaded pieces have a rubber O-ring to insure that the seal is tight when screwed together.

Usage:

The four main modes on the headlight are sequenced well for urban riding. Low beam, one click to a medium beam, one click to a high beam and finally a click to the “breathing” mode. The breathing mode is a nice version of a flashing mode with a bright light and then a duller light pulsing or “breathing” which overcomes the problems with traditional flashing lights.

Turning the light on or off requires holding the button down momentarily. The button has a blue lit ring around it when it is on so it is easy to see to change the modes.

To turn the light to “SOS” requires holding the button down for about three seconds. This mode would get my attention if I was looking for you.

I ride routes in Austin that go from well lit to pitch black (trail) and the ability to switch easily from 180 Lumens to 860 Lumens in my headlight with a double click means I don’t need to invest in and carry multiple lights. Add in the fact that I can easily remove the light and use as a hand light or put it in my backpack to keep it safe and I am ready to buy one of these sets.

The two tail lights are really bonus items but add a lot to the value of the light set.

Conclusions:

Magnus Innovation has nailed it. They tell me that the box will retail in the $104 to $135 range on amazon when it is available. With all the parts and pieces in the box the price is going to be very competitive.

About Vintagengine

Long history in the bicycle safety world. League Cycling Instructor and expert witness in human behavior in traffic.
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4 Responses to Sometimes you have to ride in the dark…

  1. xiousgeonz says:

    If you’re rocking 200 lumens (IMHO in many places you don’t need *that* bright — 140 works well for me) you should be mindful that you can blind drivers & cyclists, so watch where you’re aiming. (You can also “flash your brights” with them when I car hasn’t turned down their brights and is blinding you, though…)

    I also advise getting spoke lights for my slightly urban riding. My circle of blue means from the side I”m obviously a bicycle and you can tell how fast I’m rolling — and when I’ve got the string of rainbow lights on the rack in the back I get many the favorable comment.

  2. Jake says:

    Thanks for the review. I wasn’t sure how to secure the tail light with the rubber strap. After watching your video I confirmed that I do indeed have it right!

  3. Mal Wilson says:

    Be careful here. I have ordered this kit on line and only the headlights arrived (tail lights missing) and one of the headlights has faulty charging circuitry. Magnus Gear do not return emails so I have paid for two headlights and 4 tail lights and received one headlight that works. Not looking like such good value now!

    • Vintagengine says:

      Hi, sorry to hear you had a problem. The company is right here in Austin so I usually don’t have an issue and get great service. I just placed another order and everything was good. I also got a promotional gift in the box. A tail light that I promptly put on my helmet.

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