The Cheap Sweet Bike Light: more DealExtreme.com
I've been studying the problem of the cheap sweet bike light for awhile. I'm talking a light that really lets you see the road.
These can be readily had in the form of "HID" systems (dunno what that means) that cost typically $350. So there's that.
There's also these new Cree-type LEDs that I've been telling you about that are available for $75 from the high-end "tactical" folks...or for $20 from the "pretty darn good" folks at http://DealExtreme.com.
The weird thing about DX (and a few other outfits like them) is that they ship direct from Hong Kong and there's no shipping cost. I'm not complaining since this stuff is not available otherwise.
There's a big enthusiast scene in Flashlightville. Geeks galore. The thing is that most of the buffs seem to be into "throwers"---lights with quality, far-reaching spots. They talk on the side about "usable spill"---meaning light that's not in the hotspot.
So when you look for insider info on sweet new BUDGET light tech you'll tend to run into all sorts of reviews and comparisons of these SPOTlights.
The problem is that this is not what bikers need or even what a lot of everyday users might want.
These lights give you a 2-foot wide spot out there on the road when you're biking...and a faint glow elsewhere. Ugh!
What bikers need is FLOOD--a wide swath of bright, sweet light out 10-30 feet in front of the bike. Flood is also discussed in the scene, but you have to dig it out.
I bought my first nifty Cree after a fair bit of study---but I still didn't appreciate the FLOOD aspect 'til now. Hopefully my learning can help you out.
I wish I could afford to learn just a little bit more.
There seem to be a couple really nice FLOODY candidates out there. I'd love to give 'em a try. I'll put you onto them first, though, and maybe you can give us some feedback.
OK, my deal is that I like a 2-light set-up: a headlamp and a light on the handlebars (or fork or front-rack).
DX (DealExtreme) has a headlamp for $10. DX buffs go by SKU's, or item numbers. So, SKU 6149 is worth checking out: 3 watts, Cree, 3 mode, 3AAA.
You'll also want some handlebar mounts. DX has 3. One for $2, SKU 8274. And an adjustable one for $2, SKU 792, and for $4, SKU 15342.
Now we come to lights. Two have risen to the top for me. The TR-801 and the MTE P7.
The TR-801 apparently has the best flood in the 5-Mode model, so get that. 230 rockin' lumens. $20, SKU 15335.
Then there's the rockin' MTE P7 SSC. *900* lumens. $40. A bit larger light. No reviewer suggests that this figure is accurate for what you see coming out the end of the light. It must be a naked emitter lab test. But... They say it's truly the most powerful light in its class. The P7 emitter is said to have the best flood of all. SKU 12060.
The only snag with these 2 lights is that they use the 18650 battery (3.7 volts). It's an unusual battery. But it's how to get a good run-time and brightness over 200 lumens. I'm betting you only get a half-hour to hour max on the brightest setting. But that works for my bike commutes.
So you can get a couple of PROTECTED batteries (best for recharging) in that size (2 for $6) and a charger ($6 SKU 3499). (Their sweet charger is the WF-139 for $12.) Buying one of these batteries at Radio Shack will set you back $15 apiece, though, they say. The battery scene still freaks me out. It's a bit intimidating. Li-ion is the best in the cold...I think...but it needs a special charger...because it's apparently a dangerous battery...or was, before the most recent charger-tech. Or maybe it's the LiFe (ferrous) that's best in the cold. I suppose that amp-hour ratings mean how long they last---there's a wide range.
Here's a link to 18650 battery action (I'll let you sort it out):
Anyway, it looks to me like you can get set up with a DARN BRIGHT bike light system that gives you 2 lights and both a swath and some range for $50. This is a result that is likely FAR FAR better than any off the shelf bike set-up even remotely in this price range.
...Get a couple red blinkies for your rear and you're all set!
(And ankle reflector-bands.)
(And reflector vest.)
(And a reflective helmet.)