All Bike Lights Are Crap

Controversial title. All of them..? Really? OK, not all of them but most of them in my experience.

It’s fairly simple: I want a light that can be attached/detached easily, I want the battery to last a reasonable time with a fair amount of light thrown out and I want it to remember the last mode I used so I can get going with minimum faff.

Pretty simple eh? You would be suprised how many bike light manufacturers do not get these basics right. Oh and I’ll throw in one more – it should be easy to turn on and off while wearing gloves! Yes, gloves – because we don’t all live in sunny California. You might as well ask for a moon on a stick because this simple thing seems to be met with “…Wow, really? Thats crazy talk!” by most light manufacturers.

OK WG relax. So which lights would I recommend? Read on…

IMG_20190406_120059Lets start with the best first. The CatEye Volt 400XC is a fantastic front light that pretty much meets all my criteria. It’s also priced reasonably (I think I got it for £25 from Amazon). I’ve probably charged it just once since buying it a month or so ago with weekend use even during the day. It will flash the power button in red once battery is low which is very handy and it has a common micro USB charge port.

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It can be detached and re-attaced with gloves fairly easily and throws out just the right amount of light (400 lumens is the sweet spot for most suburban cyclists) to illuminate the path ahead without being blinding to others. I’ve tested this cycling through Southampton Common at night (there are no streetlights in that park so it gets very dark). It also has a visually pleasing day-pulse mode which saves battery when using it in daylight. The body is tough shiny plastic rather than alumnium but thats fine as it saves a bit of weight. I normally carry a laptop bag and bike lock so saving weight and being efficient is important to me.

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Following that is a decent and simple LED rear light from ApaceVision – again from Amazon. It has several light modes but I just use the blinking one to keep it simple. The LED light is bright and makes you feel safe that you are being seen. What I liked about it is the memory function and the “it just works” factor. Also nicely waterproof and comes with plenty of rubber mounting bits for different size tubes. ApaceVision customer support was also very good when I lost a rubber clip thingy and needed a replacement. It uses a Micro USB charge port. I would have liked some indicator of low battery though because it has mysteriously lost all charge sometimes…

I tend to keep this light attached to the bike when I lock it. The reason is that it does not stand out a great deal and unlike the Lezyne Microdrive below, it is not that expensive.

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Moving on we have a ViaVelo LED front light which I bought from Tesco for £15 some years back. Unlike the others this one uses 3 AAA batteries rather than USB charging. Now this light is not going to win any awards for the amount of light it throws out (maybe 150 lumens) but what it does have is a visually pleasing 3-flash pulse mode for daylight rides :) It also has a quick release handlebar clip which many other lights (even the CatEye) do not have. You could easily mount two of these for a kind of “car headlight” effect and get better light output, in fact I saw a rider have just such an arrangement this weekend.

I use this ViaVelo light on my fast training bike for daytime rides. The downside is the light it throws is pretty poor for dark areas with poor or no streetlights. The upside is that on/off switch is easy to use even with gloves, it has a positive microswitch-style button. This model seems to be made by generic Chinese manufacturers under the name M-Wave Apollon 1.3 1W Front LED Light and I have seen good UK traders selling them on eBay. A good choice for a simple no-nonsense, mainly daylight, front light.

Sidenote: I would love it if CatEye XC400 had a seperate quick-release bracket like the ViaVelo above. It has a clip and rubber mount which is pulled around the handebar to make a secure loop. It fairly easy to clip it on and off but not as easy as the ViaVelo one.

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Moving round to the final light is the Lezyne Microdrive rear light. This little guy is compact and solid with a metal case and USB charging. It has it’s own holder clip bracket which stays on the bike thereby allowing you to easily and quickly remove it. The on/off button is a large rubber blister which is easily accessed even with gloves. The button will briefly glow green, yellow or red depending on the charge level – very fancy! It has a Micro USB charge port. All this shows it’s premium Lezyne brand heritage but you pay for it in the price. It’s a fine light and I might use this rather than the ApaceVision is that one ever gets stolen.

The absolute best thing about the Lezyne though is the lighting modes – it has one mode which is like an angry red pulse and reminds me of the murderous A.I. “HAL 9000″ from the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey”

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Which Lights I had trouble with…

Lezyne Microdrive front light – I actually got this as a pair with the Lezyne rear light described above. I bought it from well-known UK bike retailer Halfords. It throws out a serious about of light, about 500 or 600 lumens. I bought it for evening and night mountain biking. However I found that attach/reattach was a bitch and the button did not have a positive feel so turning it on and off was not easy wearing gloves (you kinda have to hold it down hard). I think newer models have improved this but try it out yourself in-store. I also lost the rubber USB charging port cover at least once :/ It’s kinda this big hunk of rubber with no clip attaching it to the light body. It’s really just suited to mountain bike riding in my opinion where the lights need to stay firmly attached to the handlebars while subjected to large bumps and shocks.

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ApaceVision Eagle - on the face of this, this combo of front and rear lights looks like a winner. Waterproof with multiple light modes etc… However I found the battery life was just average and the lighting modes were either too bright or too dim. The pulse mode was also too bright and I remember passing one pedestrian who remarked “I’m glad I’m not epileptic!”. The on/off button was a bit fiddly too but at least had a memory mode. I found the light also got warm after 30 minutes use, not sure whats up with that.

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FWE Evans front light 450 lumens – I really wanted to like this :( It is keenly priced for a 450 lumen unit, throws out an excellent amount of light, has a smooth premium aluminum body and a nice microswitched on/off button which is backlit with a blue LED when it’s switched on. It even has a seperate handlebar clip so you can attach/reattach quickly… So what was the problem? For one the battery did not last very long or maybe I had a duff unit – this was a big source of annoyance because after charging it I went out for a ride and on getting on my bike in the evening… only to discover that the battery had died! I do not need to tell you how nerve-wracking it is to cycle on roads at night without a bike light. In the dark areas on the way home I actually had to let it accumulate residual charge and then switch it into pulse mode, after which it died after 30 seconds. At least my rear light was charged and OK… Anyway, that experience led me to return the light. A real shame as in all other areas this was almost up there with the CatEye XC.

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I later read in some of the reviews on the Evans website that newer lights have an upgraded Samsung battery so maybe I had a non-Samsung one? At any rate, it was bad quality control and put me in a dangerous situation so I was majorly put off.

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BTwin CL 500 LED clip light – as an additional/backup light you really can’t go wrong with these little bad boys! Keenly priced, waterproof and with micro USB charge port. They also have several clip options so you can attach them to BTwin brand pannier bags or your handlebars. The light has both white and red LEDs built in with two modes – constant or flash.

Financial Independance through Bad Ass-ity

I’ve been thinking a lot about financial independence these days.

One thing that has spurred these thoughts is the two periods of annual leave I took in August. During this time I didn’t go abroad, I did not go hiking to Everest and neither did I stay out late, ending every night in a drunken stupor (I don’t drink anyway). I pretty much stayed in Hampshire enjoying the simple things like walking, cycling, catching up with friends, personal projects, the odd spot of eating out and the occasional trip to London.

It was kind of bitter-sweet towards the end of each annual leave because sometimes it felt like another week would be good. Not that I hate my job, far from it, the thing I like most about my work is the people I work with – a bunch of well-balanced, talented, friendly dudes.

All this got me thinking… what would I need to do to perpetually be on annual leave? eg. have an income from something that pays ALL my expenses and simply allows me to live a fairly simple life as described above?

A bit of Googling turned up the blog of Mr Money Moustache – also known as “MMM” or “Triple-M”. I urge you to check out his “Start Here” post but in a nutshell, his idea is pretty simple: by living frugally and saving 50% of your take home salary you can be financially independent in 10 years.

OK so there is a bit more to that. For instance, living frugally might not sound like fun to some of you reading this: What about the latest iPhone I want to buy? And that car I desire? Or the latest videogames? Or that all-expenses guided luxury vacation to Veneuzela?

Well, there is nothing that terribly wrong with those things. But MMM’s point is that those things do not necessarily bring you lasting happiness. They bring short term happiness definitely but as someone who has owned a nice, fast car after a short while it becomes “just another car” – it stops being special. Then you need to save up for another more expensive, faster, more polluting car in order to get the same buzz! The scales to many things such as phones all the way up to houses and private jets (!).

The things is, after absorbing some of his posts and listening to several interviews with him on YouTube (link below) – I feel I have arrived at some of his conclusions independently and know them to be true. I’m not financially independent though – MMM is well ahead of me on that front. He retired at age 31 and by all accounts has a very happy, fulfilled life with a wife and one child all living at under $25,000 a year (that is about £18,560 in UK money).

So what do I mean by “arrived at some of his conclusions independently”? Well, here are some things I do that are in tune with the “Moustachian Way of Life” (thats what fans of MMM call it)…

* cycle as much as you can to get around – it is good for you, fun, exhilarating and you can discover some amazing short-cuts and places not far from your home.

* do not spend more than you can afford (except on big, important purchases things like your home… and maybe your car)

* if you want something, try to make use of what you have – or sell something first to justify it (I did this with video-games, complete it and sell to fund the next one – I enjoyed games much more this way)

* eat a sensible diet, preferably home cooked/prepared with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables – minimize processed food

* keep eating out to an occasional treat, not an everyday things

* if you prepare your own lunch then you can save a lot of money in a year… and you will really value eating that cooked lunch at the canteen on a Friday when you allow yourself a day off from tuna sandwiches :)

* move more – walking to get your groceries, doing your own garden work and home improvement, do not employ a cleaner

* keep fit and active, you can get your own home gym (used weights from Gumtree/eBay etc) or fit exercises into your life in novel ways

* read real books by real authors – the internet is largely advert-driven and aside from authentic writings from blogs like MMM is not something to read for self-education

* realise that spending and consuming is not a long-term, sustainable recipe for happiness

* live life in balance – consume things in moderation, do not be overly frugal

* save money where you can, in other ways be generous, especially spending on friends & family

* avoid world news topics and worrying over geo-politics you have no control over

* try to avoid convenience (eg. take the stairs rather than lift)

Do you identify with any of the above? If not, then I would urge you to try some of these things even as an experiment.

If you want to get the MMM message in a nutshell then I recommend you listen to this fascinating 30 minute interview. The key thing is that MMM is not “anti-money”, he admits of his own weaknesses which in his case is a luxury home (but attained with hard-work and developed largely by his own hard work in doing it up!). His blog message is “anti-waste” and to shine a light on the problems of over-consumption in modern American society. He seems to be very authentic in his position of being very happy living on relatively modest means – and I believe him.

Anyway, the list above shows how I’ve arrived at this mindset already. Especially the idea that consuming more shiny things does not really bring lasting happiness. That is not to say you should go without basics. However the feeling of getting shiny new car will fade after a while into just a desire for something reliable to get you from A to B. Therefore it is best to go for something sued and sensible. For me a new car does not excite me unless we’re talking a BMW i8 – even then I know the “wow” feeling will probably last a few months or so and then fade into “just another car to maintain”.

I think as one gets older, we get wiser. We know ourselves and what we can sustain, what makes us happy and what does not. You can leverage this ability to focus on the what makes you happy/unhappy to cut out the crap and double-down on the stuff that truly brings happiness. Try to calculate how much you would save over 10 years if you cut out some “expensive indulgences” and replaced them with “bad-ass” versions of them – this can range from your daily £5 latte coffee, your new expensive mountain bike (which you hardly ride anyway) to your new VW Golf which you bought on credit thinking it a good deal and “just what everyone else does” ;)

You also realize that “less is more” and the relentless march towards “faster, more convenient, smaller, cheaper” does not necessarily mean “and better for you”. Case in point: I still use a dead music format: MiniDisc.

Yep – I really enjoy MiniDisc even though I can’t fill discs like an mp3 player and I savour the time taken in crafting a disc with music I sourced for free in legal, ways. Less is more. You’d never see me with a Spotify subscription ;)

I’m not perfectly frugal though, neither am I “mustachian” (a term that describes the teachings of MMM). I could do more of my own home improvement projects. I really admire people who do their own major home improvement like Mr Money Mustache. I am making some small changes in that direction though.

Over to you, give me examples of your own “bad-assity” in the comments!

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