It's been a few years since I've talked about my bike lighting rig. It hasn't changed much in that time, but in the last year or so I've made a few tweaks. This is what's lighting my way these days.
At the front
As winter came on, we went out shopping for a better headlight for the Co-Pilot. I'd heard that the Cygolight was a pretty decent unit and a bit of a play into the dark corners of the LBS decided me, "We'll have two of those thanks." That's one for the schoolkid…and one for me.
I had some minor misgivings about the shape and mounting. As I've said previously, I don't have much confidence in a light that doesn't support its weight centrally. Although this unit is slightly front heavy, overall it is compact and light and the mounting (a half bracket closed with a stretchy tension loop) is strong enough to hold the light in place over general road bumpiness. I doubt it would stay in place for extended off-road riding, but that's not what this light is intended for.
The shape and intensity of the beam is what really sold me on this gadget. As well as a bright central beam, it also has width, presumably supplied by that row of four LEDs across the top of the housing. The result of the extra brightness out wide is easier cornering without the need for a super-bright head-mounted light. There must be better lateral visibility from that beam shape as well.
The single on/off/mode button is responsive and easy to use even through heavy gloves. A single continuous push douses the light and a single short push brings it back on in the last mode used, which is great for killing the brightness where it would dazzle approaching foot or cycle traffic on a darker shared path. There are possibly one or two too many light/flash modes for my liking but that's a minor quibble. The 'DayLightning' mode is particularly impressive—I'm sure on a few occasions I had drivers move over when they've had a flash from this in their wing mirror.
Like many of the latest generation of lights, it has an integrated battery and is charged through a USB connection. The rubber cap over the USB socket is small and a very tight fit, and I find it falls out easily. I have yet to discover if this is a serious problem or not.
Update (29 July 2015)
It's probably not the best design to put a fiddly little plug the drops out easily right where you grasp the trailing end of the mounting strap. I've managed to pull the plug completely out of it's mounting three times, and now it's lost. I guess I will find out if leaving a USB socket uncovered in the rain really is a problem of not.
I've only run this light to exhaustion once, and when it burns out you pretty much get no residual light. As the battery gets close to drained, the light switches itself to a less power-hungry mode and lights up a warning flash in the button light, which is helpful (provided you realise what's happening!) It seems to go with the the territory of these compact high-intensity lights that they burn brightly and when they die, they go out quickly and completely.
My secondary headlight is (still!) the BBB Alloyhead (see photo below). I have no idea how old this gadget is now, but it was not new when I talked about it five years ago—it just keeps going. OK, so the light output is meagre by comparison with what's available and affordable these days but it provides enough to 'get me home' in a pinch (which it has done a few times). And it's plenty bright enough as my static second beam.
It feeds on 4×AAA batteries once a week and has a dizzying two light modes: flash and static. Whoa!
At the rear
I've had the Ay Up for about five years and it's been another reliable performer, notwithstanding the need to replace some velcro straps and neoprene battery pouches.
Until this winter it's been serving as my main headlight and sometimes as helmet light, but for urban commuting purposes it has one little problem. As mentioned above, on dark paths I like to be able to quickly douse a headlight in order to not to dazzle. With a big, soft toggle button mounted on the battery unit, the Ay Up isn't easy to switch off/on quickly. That's actually a good feature in an MTB light that you want burning steadily all night—you don't want a random bump on the switch to plunge you into darkness.
So, being happy with the Cygolite as my main white light, I dug out the red 'Saxon' caps and turned the Ay Up into a bright "f—k off" taillight. I'm happy with that.
I bought the Serfas Thunderbolt last year to replace a succession of Blinky Super Flash taillights that kept shearing off their mounting clips after prolonged use, then one or two Knog Boomers, which were just plain fiddly to get batteries into.
Apart from the intensity of the red output by the Thunderbolt, I was really taken with the glow this thing produces. Wherever you mount this light, it also throws a red glow all over nearby bike frame, wheel, and the rider's legs and to my mind that's a good thing, greatly increasing the rear and side/rear visibility.
This is another one of these burn bright/die fast lights, and (of course) it's a sealed unit charged through a USB hole. Unlike the Cygolite, the rubber cap drops into the socket easily and is held closed because it's actually under the unit when its strapped to the frame with the (now almost standard) stretchy straps.
On the helmet
I don't remember what I bought the BBB Spark for (possibly it was intended for my standby bike or one of the kids' bikes) but I probably picked it up sometime last year. It had a short stint on the handlebars before going up onto the helmet as a compact visibility light.
As I've said before, in urban riding I think it's crucial to be able to 'flash' a driver through their side window or wing mirror to get their attention, and a helmet light gives you that ability.
Yet another USB-charged LED, with a half-bracket/strap arrangement, the Spark isn't really intended to mount on the helmet but I've got it so sit flat and point reliably where I want it to go.
Generic single red LED
Another never-say-die light is this single red LED, which is pretty much permanently buried in an air vent at the back of my magic plastic hat.
I (accidentally) gave the switch a bit of a jiggle last time a swapped in a new battery, and it's actually easier to switch on/off than ever. As this really is a supplementary light, I don't fuss about changing the battery too often and it just keeps putting out light.
I'm satisfied with this rig for urban commuting, and it's flexible. It would be pretty easy for me to Audax-ify it again for hours of nocturnal riding on dark roads: move the Ay Up back onto the front (keep or remove the Cygolite, depending on space), borrow a couple of 'standard' tail lights (each powered by a couple of AAA batteries) from the kids, and slip some spare batteries into the tool bag.
What do I think about the new (or is it old) trend for sealed units with non-replaceable batteries? On the one hand, it doesn't greatly bother me. I've had a succession of other lights (particularly relatively cheap-ish tail lights) that have become unusable long before the light itself burned out, usually through some kind of breakage or mechanical failure. But it also bothers me a whole heap because I know that I'll eventually have some perfectly good lights rendered unusable simply because their clapped-out integrated batteries won't hold enough charge. (Then again, that's the point at which I'll probably prise them open with a screwdriver—sealed body be damned.)
Other than that, I have my eye on a Cycliq Fly6 and may need to find a spot for one in the setup soon. What do you think, should I get it?