Drive My Bike

Ready For The Dark Side Of Bike Commuting
September 5, 2008, 1:28 pm
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I had a good 21 mile round trip ride last night when I met a friend for dinner. The first half of the ride was before sundown, but the ride home was around 9:30, and it was really dark. Previously this darkness might have intimidated me, but no more… because I recently got a serious headlight for my night time riding!

Electric Tunnel

I’ve written about my night riding before… bad experience here, but good experience here, and you can see that my attitude towards riding at night has changed. Early on in my bike commuting I purchased a very cheap (around $5?) bike light “just in case” I ended up having to ride at night. Well, now that my biking rhythms have somewhat stabilized I realized that I actually end up riding at night 2-3 times each week. That cheap little bike light did it’s job as best it could, but it just wasn’t intended for serious night time riding. It wasn’t very bright, and it had a very focused beam, so that you only ended up with a circle of light about 3 feet across, about 20-30 feet in front of you. That is not a lot of light when you are moving 15mph down a dark stretch of road. The other frustration with that cheap light was that it went through four AA batteries every 3-4 rides, and it was only good and bright for the first ride. I grew quite tired of buying batteries and then adding them to landfills within a few days.

With all of that in mind, I started looking around at “serious” bike headlights. I checked some things out online, and found out that REI was having a Labor Day sale, and had 20% off all of their NiteRider headlights. I went down to my local REI and was able to look at a couple of the NiteRider models and talk to a sales guy who owned one. I finally settled on the NiteRider MiNewt Mini-USB Plus LED Light. The “MiNewt Mini” part comes from the fact that this whole setup is extremely lightweight, around 175 grams. The “USB” part is a cool feature which lets you charge the battery either from the included AC charger, or by plugging it into the USB port on your computer with a standard USB cable (included). The “Plus” part is because this package includes a helmet mount kit so that you can easily mount the battery and light on your helmet, if desired. With the 20% off this package went for $99, which is a substantial investment, but I felt like it was a worthwhile expenditure given the amount of time I’m spending riding at night.

NiteRider MiNewt Mini-USB Front View

Other than a quick trip around the block when I first got it, last night’s big commute was the first time I was really able to test out the light on a good dark night. I have to say that is was great! The difference really is… wait for it… night and day. (groan) Seriously, I can’t believe the difference from my old light. The MiNewt not only has a focus point of brighter light in the middle, but it also creates an extremely useful bigger circle of softer light, probably 50 feet in diameter, which subtly illuminates peripheral elements. The effect is much more like a car headlight versus a simple flashlight. It is certainly not as bright as a car headlight, but the MiNewt still puts out over 110 lumens. Even with all of that brightness, the light should run about 3 hours on a single charge. I’m also very excited about the rechargeable part, so that I don’t have to keep buying batteries, and the fact that I can charge it at work from my USB port is a nice convenience.

NiteRider MiNews Mini-USB Side View

The MiNewt is super easy to mount, in fact I take the whole thing on and off as needed. The battery pack has a velcro strap and I just put it on the gooseneck, and the light itself has a fancy rubber band (NiteRider calls it an “O Ring”, and that is what it is like) that you use to quickly strap it to your handlebars. One of the side benefits of this mounting hardware is that it is quiet. Huh? My old light had a mounting bracket that clamped onto the handlebars, and then the light itself clipped onto that, so that you could remove the light if needed. Well I never realized how much that old light rattled around in the mounting bracket until it was gone. There is no rattling with the MiNewt, and I never realized how nice and quiet a bike ride can be. I’m sure that sounds silly, but seriously, I hadn’t heard just the hum of my tires on the road until I took my old light off. Ahhh… how peaceful.

I realize that spending $100 on a headlight might not be an option for everyone, but if you find yourself doing a lot of night time riding I would encourage you to look at some of the more serious lighting options that are available out there. For me it has made all the difference in the world, and now I feel prepared to really enjoy “the dark side” of bike commuting.

4 Comments so far
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Myself, I got the Bell Dark Flyer light set. It’s not as bright as I’d like, but it gets the job done. I’m normally riding in residential while it’s dark and the primary need I have is to be seen more than I need to see. I get about 5 hours of time out of the lights before they start going into low-power mode (first the incandescent goes out, later the LEDs start blinking). I solved the battery problem by purchasing NiMH batteries for the set. I try to charge them every day but if I miss a day it’s not critical.

I’ve been considering getting a second set so that I can run duals up front and different blink patterns in back. Maybe I’ll just hold out for a better light and figure out a way to make a red lens for my current front light and remount it on the rear.

Comment by Aaron Eidinger

Summer is certainly running out of sun. Glad to hear about your light. I went with a CatEye front light and a planet bike rear blinky. I don’t ride alot at night (but do early morning). The rear light gives me a bit more security about being seen.

Comment by tom

That was a good buy on the NiteRider light. I use two headlights. A blinking Cateye headlight for making me stand out in city traffic and a JetLite for lighting the road.

Comment by Bob

I’m living in Germany where normal bikes have to be equipped with generators. I am happily turning night into day with my Lumotec IQ Fly from Busch & Mueller.

Comment by Louis

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