Year in Review: Bicycle Lights

Truck Lights near St. Louis, MO[Editor’s note: This is part of a series of year-end reviews of reviews I’ve written throughout the year.]

I have “friends” who claim that my Surly Long Haul Trucker is lit up like this 18-wheeler Bro Mark saw in a St. Louis truck stop last year.

I wish.

I love lights

Half a century ago, when I got my driver’s license, Missouri pushed a safety slogan, “Lights on for safety.” The campaign must have worked, because I run with my car and my bike headlights on.

I started out with a NiteRider Trail Rat

When I first started riding at night, I bought a NiteRider Trail rat for about a hundred bucks. I liked the size, weight, output and the plug-and-forget charger.

What I didn’t like was running out of battery power on a long ride.

Next light: NiteRider Pro-12E

The NiteRider Pro-12E used a bottle-cage battery and had longer run time on low power settings. It powered the brightest taillight I’ve ever used. But, it, too, left me stranded in the dark and having to rely on a backup light on long rides. A ride’s not fun when you see the battery charge indicator dropping and you have a bunch of miles yet to go.

A SON generator was the answer

Wayne lacing spokes into SON generator hubA generator hub was the perfect solution. I had light as long as I had legs. I never had to worry about charging batteries or whether I remembered to pack the charger or the cost of replacement batteries. (That’s why I finally quit using the NiteRider Pro-12E: the battery pack needed replacing and I didn’t want to put the money into it.)

I used the SON on my Trek 1220 and then had a wheel built to move it over to the Surly Long Haul Trucker.

You can see the wheel being built here.

DLumotec Oval N Plus

Lumotec and DLumotecI used several different types of lights with the SON. I started out with two halogen bulb lights and found them “OK.” I was happier when I switched the primary light to an LED version, the DLumotec Oval Plus.

  • It came up to full brightness almost immediately.
  • It had a standlight that would glow when you stopped pedaling.
  • Because it was LED instead of halogen bulb, it didn’t darken as it aged and bulb life wasn’t a factor. You could run it all the time.

B&M IQ Cyo R N Plus

Surly Long Haul Trucker with Cyo IQ and Flare5 headlghtsWhen I read a review of the Cyo IQ on one of my favorite bike blogs, EcoVelo, I just had to try one. It’s the best generator light I’ve owned. I didn’t even consider trying to hook up a secondary light with it. It’s just not needed.

Here’s a description of how I installed the light, including a video.

Cheap be-seen light

I bought a couple cheap Viewpoint Flare 5 LED Headlights from Performance before Kid Matt and I took off for a cross-Florida trip. I figured they’d be good backup lights. We were about 20 miles around and he had about a 1/4-mile lead on me. Just for the heck of it, I put the Flare in strobe mode. He was really impressed with how visible it was.

I’ve kept it on the bike as a be-seen ever since. Battery life is excellent. It pops off its mount quickly if you need a flashlight, too. Matt and a lot of other reviewers have had problems with the switch. I wouldn’t count on it for a primary light.

How to be seen from behind

Three taillightsEven though statistics show that the odds from being hit from behind are less than most folks would guess, I still like to be highly visible.

I use passive relectors and taillights.

I moved my RealLite, NiteRider taillight and generator-powered B&M 4DToplight Senso Multi from my Trek 1220 to my LHT, even though I quit using my NiteRider when the battery died. One of these days I’ll get around to stripping it off.

Here’s how I have them mounted and a full description of each.

Flashbak Safety Light

When I get over the cold that’s laid me low, I’ll be doing a review of the Flashbak Safety Light that the vendor was kind enough to send me. I had hoped to have someone shoot it in action on this week’s Freakbike Militia Ride, but the skies opened up two blocks up the road and I had to cover it with my bike cape. The thing was bright enough that it lit up the whole back of the cape from underneath. I was impressed.

UPDATE: Here is the review of the FlashBak.

Slow-moving vehicle triangle and Flash Flag

Slow Moving Vehicle sign attached to Camelbak MULEI have a Slow Moving Vehicle triangle on the back of my Camelbak and one on my left rear pannier when I’m using one. It’s just another way for me to send the message, “Treat me like a tractor.”

I experimented with a Flash Flag for one ride. The jury’s still out on this. I may fool around with a better way to mount it.

NiteRider MiNewt Mini vs Trail Rat

NiteRider Trail Rat versus NiteRider MiNewt Mini-USBSon Matt, who inherited my original NiteRider Trail Rat has migrated to a NiteRider MiNewt Mini-USB with Li-ion Battery.

He’s convinced it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread. [Editor’s note: sliced bread is great for sandwiches, but it doesn’t work very well to light the road.]

You can read his full review here.

Glo Gloves help my hand signals stand out.

Way back in 2003, I tested the prototype for the current version of the Spor Glo Glove. I liked it well enough to use it when I’m riding at night when conditions are a bit iffy.

You can read my full review here, but the thing you may find most interesting is the video of what I look like riding down the road at night.

Other Bike Reviews

You might like to read some of the other year-end reviews I’ve done recently;

Year in Review: MP3 Players and Speakers

There are some folks who think that listening to music while biking is unsafe or some kind of abominable crime against cycling purity.

I’m not one of them. There are days when you’re riding by yourself when the wind won’t quit blowing or there’s a long climb coming up or you want to have something to give you a little boost. Music does that for me.

I don’t ride with earbuds because I find them uncomfortable (and illegal to wear in some locations), so I’ve tried various combinations of amplified and unamplified external speakers.

The Active Tunes i-Ride Pro is my favorite

Active Tune i-RIDE Pro MP3 speaker

  • It’s small, 4″ x 1.75″.
  • It’s lightweight.
  • It produces acceptable quality sound with 4 watts output.
  • The built-in rechargeable Lithium Ion battery has long life and recharges from a USB port. If you don’t have a computer with you, you could use a USB adapter (not included) to charge it from AC. Active Tunes says it’ll play for eight hours on a charge. I went for a four-hour ride on a Sunday and forgot to turn it off. On the next Wednesday, I noticed the LED was lit and turned the MP3 player on. Much to my surprise, the speakers still worked.
  • Mick from Active Tunes says the battery should last for about 3,500 hours. If it fails within the first two years, Active Tunes will replace it free. If you play it while riding four hours a day, 365 days a year, then it should last 2.57 years. I think something better will come along before I need to replace the battery.
  • It comes with a carrying case that uses Velcro straps for multiple mounting possibilities. The case has a built-in MP3 player holder with a transparent front so you can manipulate the controls.

You can read the full review here. A video that compares all of the speakers is here, including a real-world test on the bike.

Byco WRX1 and i-Ride Classic are second and third

Active Tunes I-RIDE Classic with its Mickey Mouse earsUnfortunately, my second choice – the Byco WRX1 – may not be available any more. It didn’t show up on Amazon and all my Google searches hit dead ends.

The Active Tunes i-Ride Classic is about half the price of the i-Ride Pro, but doesn’t do a bad job. It looks like a pair of Mickey Mouse ears perched on the bars of my Trek 1220, but Kid Matt has been happy with it since I gave it to him.

Here’s the full review.

Als0-rans: Sansa Shaker and The Boostaroo

The Sandisk Sansa Shaker and The Boostaroo had some interesting features, but the former ended up with my grandson and the latter never made it on the road.

Read about them here.

iPod Classic vs Sandisk Sansa Clip

My 40 GB iPod Classic was growing some whiskers and remote controls were getting hard to find, so I decided to go small and cheap with a Sandisk Sansa Clip. The iPod cost me $483; the Sansa Clip was about $60. That made it a lot lighter on the wallet AND on the bike.

iPod, spare batteries, remote control and SanDisk Sansa Clip

What do I like about the Sansa Clip (other than price)

  • I loaded in a playlist I built in Windows Media Player that contained 188 songs and still had 2.4GB of free space.The built-in rechargeable battery will play for up to 15 hours
  • It charges through a standard USB mini plug, the same connector as my flash card reader, Olympus WS-500M Digital Voice Recorder, portable hard drives and Garmin nüvi 760 GPS.
  • It has a built-in FM radio tuner which works surprisingly well.
  • It’s tiny: about .7″ deep, 1.4″ high and 1.4″ wide. Like I said, just barely bigger than the remote control for my iPod.
  • Four-line OLED display that’s really bright.
  • Reasonable intuitive controls. All I need are pause, skip and volume when I’m on the bike.
  • It connects to my Active Tunes i-Ride pro with a standard miniplug.

Here’s the full review.

Bikes and Music: a recipe for pain?

Archer AM Bicycle RadioA reader on a cycling group took me to task for listening to music on my rides:

I can’t see an experienced cyclist like you telling people to listen to music while they ride.  Diverting your attention from any of your senses while riding is a recipe for pain.  If you want to listen to music, take a ride in your car, or lounge around on your sofa.

Another reader took my side:

Audio if properly used, can add to enjoyment and concentration. Surgeons have favorite playlists for surgery and it is not a distraction. So during surgery, driving, working, running, walking, and riding, properly listening to audio can add to the enjoyment/concentration of/on the activity…Used properly (so you can hear surrounding sounds as well as audio), for some, audio can add to the enjoyment/concentration and at times provides motivation… If I find myself riding (or running) in a situation where I need to turn off the audio to improve my ‘concentration’ or “reduce distraction” ..I do so….

Just don’t make the assumption that just because I listen to music or an audiobook … that I’m an unsafe rider  or runner or surgeon.

Now that we have THAT cleared up, go here to see what I listen to on the road.

[Editor’s note: Mick at Active Tunes sent me a free i-Ride Pro speaker to review. I’ve been a satisfied customer and a past winner of an i-Ride Classic in the company’s monthly giveaway contest. If you’re wondering about our affiliate relations, product review policies and funding sources, please read our detailed review policy, affiliate relations and advertising page.]

Year in Review: Photo Equipment for the Cyclist

My Dad gave me the family Kodak Tourist II folding camera when I was 12 years old to take on our Florida vacation. Little did he know that he was going to launch me onto a career as a photographer.

Over the years, I’ve used Nikon, Kodak, Canon and Pentax 35mm cameras; 4×5 Crown and Speed Graphics; a Mamiya 2-1/4 x 2-1/4 twin lens reflex (hated it) and view cameras (REALLY hated them). I’ve owned lenses from fisheye to 500mm and just about everything in between.

Three generations of Domke bags
Three generations of Domke bags

My favorite camera was a 1969 Nikon F black body that I bought used from a guy who needed money more than a camera. I used it so much that the finish was worn down to the brass. It was my “crash camera” that was in my lap for every takeoff and landing. It went under water when I got pitched out of the back of a truck covering a flood; it went into smoke-filled buildings and through several hurricanes. I could change every setting by feel. It was a great tool and it’ll outlast me.

When I made the switch to digital photography, I started with a Nikon Coolpix 950 and then moved onto a Canon point-and-shoot. I was frustrated by the lag between pushing the button and having the shutter fire. I also missed the WYSIWG world of single lens reflexe

Nikon D700 and Nikon D40Surly LHT front showing Arkel Handlebar bag

Kid Matt bought a Nikon D700 DSLR and acquired most of my old lenses. (Acquired as in, I went on vacation and returned to find that there was a lot more room in my closet.) He paid me back by giving me a Nikon D-40 when I retired.

You can read his excellent review here.

Follow on down through the comments and you can read how I feel about the D40 and feedback from others. Bottom line on the D40: I’ve rediscovered the fun of photography.

It’s the perfect camera for me. It works like a REAL camera, it’s light enough that I can carry it my my Arkel Small Bar Bag and it works under low light. The Arkel bag comes with a carrying strap, so I use it for a camera bag when I’m off my bike.

Nikon SB-600 Electronic Flash

Wittenberg cavernThe only thing that’s really disappointed me about the D-40 is its inability to serve as a master to fire the Nikon SB-600 electronic flash remotely. I wanted to shoot a cavern used for beer storage in the 1800s while I was on vacation and needed a remote strobe to light the back room.

From what I had read, it sounded like the built-in flash would trigger the remote. It wouldn’t. You have to be up a grade or two in cameras to make that happen. My workaround was to put the camera on a tripod and use a slow – six-to-eight second – shutter speed. My wife would fire the camera; when I saw her flash, then I’d fire mine manually in the back room.

You can only do that when you have a long shutter speed, obviously.

It’s a great little strobe, though. I loaned it to Kid Matt to shoot some party pix and he was thrilled. (I make sure NOT to leave it in the closet when I leave the house.)

Domke Shooting Vest

Matt in Domke vest
Matt in Domke vest

If I’m going to be doing serious shooting, I don my Domke shooting vest. It’s perfect for carrying my video camera, Nikon SB-600 flash, tape recorder with lapel mike, spare batteries, business cards, extra flash memory cards, a couple of large ziploc bags in case of rain and anything else that comes up.

Read the whole review of the vest here.

It was a little chilly when I was back in the Midwest in October,but zipping up the front make a good windbreaker. There’s mesh in the back to keep it from getting too hot in Florida.

We’ll talk about camera mounts and video in another review review.

Year in Review: Helmet Mirrors

Chuck Harris Mirror on helmetThe most useful bicycle accessory I own is my Chuck Harris helmet-mounted mirror. (OK, I guess I'd have to list my Giro Atmos helmet in first place. Without it, I wouldn't have a place to mount the mirror.)

You can read the complete review here.

The Chuck Harris mirror is made out of a piece of recycled mirror and a bicycle spoke covered at the helmet end with heatshrink tubing.

It's a wonderfully simple device that doesn't get knocked out of adjustment like plastic mirrors I've tried. It's strong enough that you can pick the helmet up by the mirror and it'll stay in place (not recommended).

I buy my mirrors from Hubbub Bicycles in Cleveland. If you order one, tell Diane Lees that I sent you. I've never met her, but we've become virtual friends over the years.

It costs $22.95 plus shipping, but they are frequently out of them because their supplier can only turn out so many at a time.

The mirror is also available in an eyeglass mount.

The Messenger Mirror


After I wrote my Chuck Harris review, Bruce left a comment that he had developed a light-weight eyeglass mirror that I might like to try. He would be happy to send me a free one to evaluate.

True to his word, a couple of days later, the MessengerMirror arrived and I set about to give it a shot. I had one strike against me to start off: I wear wire rim glasses with skinny frames, so the fit wasn't ideal. Still, it worked after a little fiddling.

You can read the full review here. It includes a video by Bruce that shows how to adjust it.

Bruce took a little umbrage at my description of it looking “Mickey Mouse” (although I HAD qualified that by saying, “OK, Mickey has been around a long time, so that's not necessarily a bad thing”).

MessengerMirror cycling mirror from side

If you've been wanting to try a head-mounted mirror, but didn't want to spend a lot of money, the MessengerMirror is perfect for you.

It costs $4.99 plus 88 cents postage.

It's a simple device that does what it's supposed to for a price that's more than reasonable. You can't get any better than that.

Rumors of a replacement for the Chuck Harris mirror

There have been rumors for several months that HubBub Custom Cycles may start producing their version of the Chuck Harris mirror because of problems with the supply chain. I don't know if that's REALLY going to happen, how much they'd cost if it DOES happen or when it might happen, but I'll be sure to post a review if it comes to pass.

Year in Review: Bicycle Storage

In the late 70s, we built a 10′ x 20′ storage building in our back yard. It was divided into three spaces: 10′ x 10′ for general storage; 4 ‘ x 10′ for yard tools and a pump for the sprinkler system and a 6′ x 10’ workshop.

John Perry installing windowIt was unconditioned and poorly sealed, particularly when the bottoms of the doors would rot out. Over the years, it became the home for squirrels, rats, a possum family, silverfish, cockroaches and, eventually, termites.

When I retired in September, 2008, I needed a place to store all of my prints, negatives and clips under controlled conditions. We had Brother-in-Law John come down to make the place right after everything was emptied out, triaged and termite-tented.

When he was done, the building was insulated, drywalled, air conditioned and had a hurricane-proof window in the workshop.

How do I store the bicycles?

The only problem was that I had five bicycles to contend with: my new Surly Long Haul Trucker, old Trek 1220, Wife Lila’s Trek Navigator 300 and Schwinn 3-speed. Finally, there was Bro Mark’s 40-year-old Sears Spyder that I had hoped to restore.

Those were all blocking access to the shelves that had my archived photos. Shuffling them around was going to drive me crazy.

That’s when I heard about the Cycle Tree

Harbor Freight Cycle Tree with four bikes on itThe Cycle Tree, from Harbor Freight, sounded like my solution.

  • It holds up to six bikes.
  • It’s on wheels, so it can be moved from one side of the room to another easily to get to the shelves.
  • It takes up four square feet of floor space.
  • Best of all, it costs $44.99 (plus shipping)

Read the full Cycle Tree review

The full review, including detailed pictures of the assembly, is here.

Bottom line: sometimes you really DO get more than you pay for. The Cycle Tree does everything I need it to and for a great price.