Wednesday, January 9

Look both ways before you...

So I managed to get back on the bike for some commuting. I brought my bike to work in my car and then rode the bike home last night.

As part of my return to commuting (I haven't commuted since last year ;-), I am using a new helmet mounted light. Check the comments for details on how my first night ride with the new light went.

It's probably not what you would expect.


UnderDaHill said...

My new light is a Fenix L2D Premium Q5 LED flashlight. It uses two AA batteries and runs for about 1:45 on turbo mode which puts out about 175 lumens of light. I have it mounted to my helmet with a "lockblock" and velcro.

For the first night with the new light I decided to just use that light on it's own and see how it worked. The light is bright, and worked great at lighting up the road enough to see any potholes, debris, or ice. It even has enough throw to spot stuff 30-50+ feet out so that I can react in time when I'm doing 15-20mph.

Now last night was an unusual one for me. I usually head home on the bike at 5:00. So traffic on center street is fairly heavy. However, I've never really had much problem with drivers accept for the occasional highschool kid honking and telling me to get on a sidewalk. I left work at 6:00, so it was later than usual and traffic was not as heavy.

The hot spot on my new light is pretty focused compared to my halogen setup. I don't think it has the "I'm a vehicle, don't pull out in front of me" affect that the halogen lights do. I say that because for the first time ever, after commuting on Center Street for almost 2 year, I had a car pull out in front of me. Actually, I had 4 different cars pull out in front of me. I had to break HARD (picture my back tire coming off the ground) to avoid plowing into 2 of them. I'm not a fan of heavy breaking, especially when I'm riding on roads with patchy ice. All four times the drivers had obvious "what the?" reactions after pulling in front of me and realizing there was a bright light directly in their rear view mirror. One driver managed to stop right before pulling in front of me when I directed my light directly at her as she was pulling into the road from my left.

Now... I only ride about 3 miles on Center street between 114th and 78th, and all of these incidents happened within 1.5 miles of leaving my office at 114th. So I was getting a bit flustered.

With my frustration level high, and my safety in question, I decided to try the strobe mode on the flashlight. Wow... what a difference. I was suddenly the most important thing on the road. People were giving me second looks, stopping before pulling into the road in front of me, even if I wasn't even close yet. I even saw one car, coming the opposite direction, slow down and pull right until he realized I was not an ambulance. At the intersections, I felt like I was on a stage, because everyone was looking at me. So I started turning the light to constant while at traffic lights and then back to strobe when I started up again.

My observations? A flashing light just get's more attention than even the brightest steady light. A bright light helps get you noticed, it also helps you see what's in front of you, but it pales in comparison to a bright FLASHING light. However, I'm still concerned about how my bright flashing light is affecting other drivers. The last thing I want to do is get every driver on Center Street upset with that silly winter biker with the bright flashing light. It's hard the find a balance between "notice me please kind sir/madam" and "notice me you stupid BEEP". But I'll error on the side of being a bit obnoxious in favor of being considerate but dead. Hopefully I can strike a balance.

So what now? I'll be riding with the halogen setup on at night so that I can see all the road detail. But I will also be riding with the LED light on strobe mode to grab the attention of drivers. I might aim it down a bit more and see if it still keeps people from pulling out in front of me but without blinding anyone. Paved trail riding will just be the LED on a lower setting. Since it's helmet mounted, it's easier to just look down a bit when I pass people so I don't blind them.

1by9 said...

Omaha drivers just do not expect to see cyclist on the roads in the Winter. They expect to be able to talk on their cell phones and eat their burgers while steering with their knees.

UnderDaHill said...

Interesting... That's how I ride my bike. ;-)

I doubt that it's just an Omaha thing. Not many bikers commute during the winter in those areas that see sub 32ºF weather.

I typically ride with the assumption that anyone coming from the left or right will NOT see me. So I slow down when I see people approaching stop signs and such on cross streets so that I'm ready to stop WHEN they pull out in front of me. I've just had good luck so far that nobody has actually pulled out in front of me until yesterday.

dale said...

Nice bright flashlight.

I would leave it flashing so people see you. The more you use it, the less they will overreact while still seeing you.

But I would probably be looking for a backstreet option to center, at least on the way home to get some more hill work in! 8-)

Same with the tail light. The serfas tl2100 I use is bright but flash mode really grabs one's attention.

bryan said...

When I ride home at 1:30 in the morning, it's all strobe for me. Omaha is lit up far brighter than it needs to be, so stuff in the road is easily spotted. When I'm climbing, though, I put it on continuous, because the light moves side to side and blinks, and it kind of freaks me out.

UnderDaHill said...

Yeah... I use a bright sarfas flasher on the back along with a steady LED light on my backpack.

With 3 more commuting rides since that first experience, I'm finding that strobe keeps people aware of me (no more close calls). I'm using the halogen light, when it gets real dark, to see where I'm going. I use only the halogen on keystone but the halogen and the LED strobe when I ride in traffic.

When I get to the REAL dark neighborhood type streets, I have to turn off strobe because, like bryan, it starts to freak me out. Having the second set of lights does help reduce the strobe annoyance though.

RF said...

glad you are safe. strobe saves lives. And it makes you look like a better dancer.

LEDs are the future of bike lighting dude.

UnderDaHill said...

Better dancer. I'd need a 90% off 10% on strobe to even have a chance.

I agree about LED's. Maybe I will do the triple LED conversion thing on my dual head halogen system next year.

dale said...

I keep hearing LED is the future but I haven't seen anything that would make me change from my L&M ARC. Maybe in a couple more years?

Would I buy an ARC now? Depends on performance requirements and money available. I still prefer my ARC beam pattern and plugin and forget about it lithium battery and charger.

RF said...

Its the future of bike lighting... so you cant buy the ARC replacement now. But options will be abundant in 24 months.

There are already single LEDs that blow the Stella (180 lumens) away, and with smaller batteries. Ever replace your HIB bulb? Rox has. Niterider HID replacement bulb cost $100-$120 (no labor, just bulb). LEDs last 50k-100k hours.

Just in the last 18 months manufacturers have doubled the lumens per watt of their production LEDs and they are not done. Audi is designing car headlight clusters that utilize LEDs. All the tech/engineering buzz on is about LEDs.

BTW, my DIY LED got a new, slightly larger battery. it weighs 300g (much smaller than my HID) and I ran it at approx 400lumens in my basement for 8 hours then it switched to 250 lumens and ran for another 4 hours before dying out. I can run it at 600+ lumens but it overheats. Not an LED issue but rather my poor design engineering.

Like STROBE? You can never strobe an HID. I can strobe my DIY LED at 600lumens and give drivers a seizure.

Bob when you want to biuld an LED light let me know. Its a fun experiment.

Dont get rid of your HID right now. Its a great light and should be kept, but if the bulb runs in out in 2 years, you'll be able to buy a great brighter LED for likely LESS than your HID cost new.

My prediction: In 5 years, Niterider and L&M wont even be making HIDs anymore.