Newbies to night riding, you don't know how good you have it now!- Mtbr.com
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  1. #1
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    Newbies to night riding, you don't know how good you have it now!

    Today you can buy very bright bike lights with long runtimes and lightweight for very cheap prices. I see many posts lately on people getting into night riding and spend very little money for 2 bike lights.

    When I began night riding in the early 1990's things were a lot different. Back then I didn't have much money, but eventually managed to scrape up about ~$300 for a nice 30 watt halogen light. It had two bulbs, a 10 watt flood and a 20 watt spot. It was a Cygolite and very nice for it's time actually. You could turn on the bulbs individually or together. When running the full 30 watt setting you could get maybe 50 minutes runtime so you had to choose between using one or the other bulb during your ride. There was no battery life indicator so you hoped for the best and eventually the bulb would start dimming and you knew you had to step up the pace or else ride home in the dark. Even though the equipment was limited then I still enjoyed night riding very much and was hooked from the start.

    Eventually I progressed to a Niterider HID early when HID's were starting to catch on. Hid's were great in that that gave you a much longer runtime at brighter output. It even had a battery indicator. The only issue was they had a warm up time after you pushed the power button and when running over some rough bumpy terrain you could get sometimes get flickering on occasion. Plus most of them had too cool a beam color looking slightly blue even a tinge of purple and replacement bulbs were expensive. Still with the much longer runtimes they made it worth the switch from halogen.

    Then when Led bike lights started coming out it was another huge advantage as they were instant on, you could have many brightness settings leading to even longer runtimes, crazy long runtimes even on low settings, they were more robust, lighter weight, etc. There were a lot less limited option back then and you had to spend some good coin to get a LED bike light. This was before the Magicshines and later the Chinese Clone light invasion struck.

    Jump to current times and we can seemingly have any size, shape, any brightness, runtime, color tint, ranging in price from nearly free to the price of the typical bike. There must be a thousand different Chinese bike lights out there now and then of course the other brands which are generally considered a lot more reliable and of course more expensive. Pretty much anything you want in a light you can have now so please enjoy it because it wasn't always this way. Be safe and enjoy the night.

    P.S. I almost forgot to mention how much easier it is now to purchase a bike light. Go online, browse, see reviews, beams shots, use forums, etc., then order online and it's shipped to your door. When I bought my Cygolite halogen early 90's I had to go to the local sporting goods store and browse though their catalog, choose one (no beam shots or anything) and they ordered it and called me when it came in so I could go pick it up.

  2. #2
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    I remember the lights of old lol. I used to live out in the country which is where I grew up (not far from where I live now).

    During the 90s, riding my huffy 10 speed "mountain bike" as a teenager was a trip anywhere. School was 10 miles away almost, best friends place was 4, nearest town with anything was 7 and closest big town with big box stores etc was around 20.

    I had reflectors and one of those d battery powered halogens, that's it. Most I ever rode at night was to my friends place, or to the "town" we lived in which had a 1 pump gas station and a church which was only about 2 miles away. I only road the dirt bike trails during the day (get lost easy when its mostly corn fields all around you).

    That light I though was great, fast forward to about 1.5 yrs ago, got a 808 clone for commuting around where I live now and the "bigger town" (10-12000 population). Thought it was awesome the light I got for such a run time (even on the cheap batteries it came with). Never thought of trying night time trail riding.

    This year I had to replace my light on my commuter (got tired of locking my nice trek 29er up outside) and came here looking in the spring...

    OMFG the options. Many of which existed when I got my 808 clone and TONS MORE!!!

    The internet has done wonderful things for this sport, created a demand and thus a market for good lights. Now they feed my addiction/fascination I have for LED lighting.

  3. #3
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    Huh, my first bike lightning system back in school years was a semi-DIY: it was difficult to buy full set, and I obtained the incandescent light head only - so, I've managed to make "a dynamo" from DC motor extracted from old toy...
    Last edited by -Archie-; 10-01-2015 at 03:43 AM.

  4. #4
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    Oh yeah, In the 90s I did some 24hr races with my sons and some friends. Spent over $1000 on 4 light sets and batteries. 2 hour max runtime on a battery that needed a bottlecage to mount and was heavy enough that you had to duct tape it or strap it in to keep it from bouncing out. All that to get maybe 400 lumens.
    GoPro adapters for bike lights http://www.pacifier.com/~kevinb/index.html

  5. #5
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    Lights today are indeed incredible.
    My first set was an old Vistalite (VL-500?) 10 watt halogen and 15 watt halogen.
    I mounted the 15 watt flood on my helmet, and the 10 watt spot on the bars.

    Batteries were huge, heavy, and did not last long. We often, times ran low on battery power. I used to be very good at very low light trail reading, as any uphill or relatively "safe" sections I would just use the guy's lights ahead of me. See what he's seeing, and just map it in my head until I got to it!


    I still absolutely love the bars and helmet combo. Now I throw on my Lupine Wilma on the bars for massive output, and a Lupine Piko on the helmet. That way, the bike lights up wherever it is pointing, plus I can get filler light where I am looking in the really tight twisty stuff! All that, and for something like 8 hours on the Piko, and 3 hours on the Wilma, wide friggin' open! Used to be 1-1.5 hours was all you got, and that was SKIMPING on the lights and turning them off like I used to do!
    Last edited by DethWshBkr; 10-03-2015 at 09:44 PM.

  6. #6
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    My first season night riding (summer '89) was with a Maglite clamped to the bars! From there I upgraded to the same dual beam cygolite. 4 years ago I got my Pugsley and riding in the snow at night became the thing to do, so I purchased a magic shine and man was I blown away! I paid right around US$100, for at least double the output of the cygolite. I still run the Magicshine (1 on the bar with an orange peel reflector and a wide angle lens, and 1 on the helmet with a smooth reflector), I don't really know what the lumens are, but it is plenty of light! I just got a Nitefighter BT21 for the helmet, and am waiting on a BT40S for the bars. So it looks like a bright future ahead!

  7. #7
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    I've used the old white Wonderlite A Short Dark Ride Down Memory Lane | Commute Orlando the tire-drive generator light, the silver metal can light from the 70's. Currently running a CygoLite 720 and two Hotshot flashers. I don't run much above 20 mph on anything at night and always have enough light and battery for up to 4 hours of commuting with a mid-ride charge (uses a USB cord). Love the flash settings in traffic.

  8. #8
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    I'm 47yrs old and been riding both moto and mtb for decades, and 3 nights ago, I did my first ever night ride........ Doubt I'll ever ride in the day again! I have since gone out 2 more times (all 3 rides by myself) and can't believe how much fun it is.

    I bought a new Serfas TSL-550 (for $70 from my LBS), swapped lenses to the flood lense and mounted it to my helmet. It's all the light I need and is unbelievably bright.

  9. #9
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    We started riding in the woods in '83. Sidewall generator on the fork. Because when you skid with a rear generator, it goes dark. Union globes with 1.5 watt bulb until we found 3 then 6 watt tungsten bulbs. You pick up the front of the bike every time we stopped to spin the wheel to see where to aim before we wobbled off. Every year since then lights have been getting better. Really it's only the last few years where the improvements are small. Pretty amazing what's available these days.

  10. #10
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    Some really great replies here. I enjoy reading people's stories especially of the "old days" bike light solutions. Keep them coming please.

  11. #11
    Yeah!
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    Quote Originally Posted by someoldfart View Post
    Union globes with 1.5 watt bulb until we found 3 then 6 watt tungsten bulbs.
    I thought I was the cat's meow in '91, rewiring two Cateye D-cell bar lights to run a 6v, 6w halogen. Seemed bright as hell on my solo rides. My kids will never do a night ride with that much light, unless they forget to charge their batteries and must pull out a backup pen light.
    I will suffer no butt-hurt fools!

  12. #12
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    I probably got my first bike light when I was about 10 yrs old. Basically it was the old style teardrop/ D-cell self contained lamp common back in the 60's. Not much output with those ( 3W halogen ? ) but enabled me to avoid pot holes. Eventually I graduated to the cheap bottle style dynamos which were a bit brighter. Sadly, they usually didn't last long because they weren't designed for speeds more than 15 mph. I burned two of those out within two weeks just by doing downhills at 35mph. After that I gave up on the idea of using a dynamo because my Dad wasn't going to keep taking them back to the store. lol.

    As an adult I rediscovered night riding when I took up the sport of MTB'ing in the 90's. My first "Decent" set of lights were a Marwi 12watt halogen bar lamp and a Niterider 10Watt halogen spot for the helmet. Each lamp would only run about two hours on the supplied NiMh batteries. Still, I cut my teeth on these lamps and had some of the greatest fun at night I've ever had while mountain biking.

    Big game changer came when DiNotte introduced their first LED bike lamps particularly the 600 L, first LED lamp to produce a 600 lumen output. A couple years after that the Chinese started to enter the market place and everything changed price wise. That was a good number of years ago. Now you can buy a decent set of Chinese made lamps ( including batteries ) for under $100 and turn the night into day. Yep, back in the early days with halogen lamps you might have had 400 lumen total output combined from both lamps. Today you can easily afford a single lamp with a 1200-2000 lumen output for about $40 ( including battery ) The quality factor does remain an issue with the Chinese lamps but there are lamps that work with a good reliability. Of course if you get a lamp that doesn't work usually the next purchase will be a good one.

    Sadly, the biggest problem now is that not all mountain biking venues allow legal riding at night. A lot depends on where you live though as to the legality issue.

  13. #13
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    Agree - got my first nice set of lights in ~1995 - Vistlite set with 3 lights - 2x10w and 1x15w....$250 if I remember correctly. they were killer and got me riding at night all he time and got me through two 24-Hours of Canaan. Now you can get a set of ~$100 that will blow those old ones away. Cray.
    Geologist by trade...bicycle mechanic (former) by the grace of God!

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  14. #14
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    I remember as a young teenager (circa 1990) having a sidewall generator powered incandescent light. The light was a rectangular shaped aluminum case (I think it even had a lens hood as if that was really needed lol). I bet it only put out about 10 lumens! It was more of a toy than a real light.

    Then I remember riding the C&O Canal trail from Cumberland, MD to D.C. (3 day bikepacking trip circa 1994). There's a tunnel (Paw Paw tunnel) which we knew we needed lights to get through. I had brought a 2xAA Maglite (Xenon) and was simply holding it by hand. I probably only made it in about 30 feet before I came to a halt because I couldn't see anything! I ended up walking the bike through in the dark barely able to light up the dead animals laying inside the tunnel as I walked by.

    I caught the LED lighting addiction years later (2011) when I was using a 3xAAA XR-E LED flashlight from DX mounted in a homemade flashlight clamp using conduit clamps during another bikepacking trip (the GAP Trail & C&O Trail - Pittsburgh, PA to D.C.) It was about 150 lumens and it seemed like I was turning night into day! From there I got hooked on LED flashlights and the Chinese offerings (was very little readily available in the US, at least cheap). Became an active member of Budgetlightforum.com and all hope was lost! Funny it took me awhile to come back around to bike lights!

    -Garry

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by TiGeo View Post
    Agree - got my first nice set of lights in ~1995 - Vistlite set with 3 lights - 2x10w and 1x15w....$250 if I remember correctly. they were killer and got me riding at night all he time and got me through two 24-Hours of Canaan. Now you can get a set of ~$100 that will blow those old ones away. Cray.

    That's them! I said NiteRiders in my post - but it was VistaLite! 10 watt on the bars, 15 on the helmet. That was them!
    I had the battery on my seat post, and one of the curly wires running up my back to the helmet (good neck workout too!) and the other curly wire to the bars. When you'd crash, the wires were all a tangle from being attached to the bike and me!
    Ha!!

  16. #16
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    I just ordered a cateye volt 300 because it seemed like a great value and I really want to start riding at night...with 3 kids and a busy job, it's hard to find time to ride during the day. If I find that I need more light, will adding another volt 300 be a good choice or should I step up and get a light that's rated at 600+ lumens?

    Initially, my night riding will be mostly through the woods and not very technical XC trails. I'm not looking to set PR's, just get out more often to ride. thanks.

    ~just ride~

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by gigolfer View Post
    I just ordered a cateye volt 300 because it seemed like a great value and I really want to start riding at night...with 3 kids and a busy job, it's hard to find time to ride during the day. If I find that I need more light, will adding another volt 300 be a good choice or should I step up and get a light that's rated at 600+ lumens?

    Initially, my night riding will be mostly through the woods and not very technical XC trails. I'm not looking to set PR's, just get out more often to ride. thanks.

    ~just ride~
    300 lumens will really limit your night riding to slow basic trails. If that's your thing then I guess it will be good enough. If you want anything more out of your night rides you really need to bump up output. One example I have is the Gemini (Xera) it is very small, has a MTBR measured 935 OTF lumens, Quality smart charger, and Samsung battery pack. It is $109 at action-led-lights.com . By going external battery you will have longer runtimes and in most cases more output.

    If you prefer an all in one unit the Night Rider Lumina has several output models that are proven products.

  18. #18
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    Ya the 300 is meant for commuting type use on pavement. If you have good night vision it'll be OK as long as you take it easy know your trails well, and avoid any real tech sections.

    Something with 800-1000 lumens will be much more useable but may still limit your speed.

    Sent from my XT1565 using Tapatalk

  19. #19
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    thanks...so will adding another 300 lumen light give me a total of 600 lumens or are lumens not additive? I guess I was wondering if multiple inexpensive light would have the same effect as a single more expensive light.

    Perhaps I just need to ride a few times with the light and then try to figure out what my needs are.

    thanks for the helpful comments!

  20. #20
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    Adding another 300 lumen light having the same beam profile won't do much for you. You're not going to gain anymore throw for sure. As a general rule of thumb, it takes 4 times the amount of lumens for your eyes to register it as "twice as bright". So don't think moving up to a 500 or 600 lumen light will be a big boost.

    It's not all about lumens either. You can have a 150 lumen light that has tremendous throw, though it will have extremely little "spill" to the sides. If you combined a "throwy 300 lumens with a "floody" 300 lumens that could work for you.

    Yes, I agree. Ride with what you have first and come back with your findings. You may find your light doesn't throw far enough, wastes more light to the side, or vice versa.

    -Garry
    "My Bike Lights" Thread on BLF teardowns, measurements, and beamshots. Moving my photos, PM or post up if you can't see them.

  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by gigolfer View Post
    I just ordered a cateye volt 300 because it seemed like a great value and I really want to start riding at night...with 3 kids and a busy job, it's hard to find time to ride during the day. If I find that I need more light, will adding another volt 300 be a good choice or should I step up and get a light that's rated at 600+ lumens?

    Initially, my night riding will be mostly through the woods and not very technical XC trails. I'm not looking to set PR's, just get out more often to ride. thanks.

    ~just ride~
    The self-contained ( battery & lamp ) type light like the volt 300 are fine for commuter or paved trails but really aren't well suited for riding back in the woods at night on natural trails.

    I'm figuring you went with the 300 because you thought having an " all-in-one" system would be an easy and quick way to add a lamp to your bike. I highly suggest that you buy a good multi-emitter lamp. A two emitter lamp would be a good place to start. Lamps like the Solarstorm X2 can be had for a song. Just don't buy one off of ebay. I would suggest Kaidomain as the ones they sell will probably come with a better battery. Believe me, whatever you choose, with a brighter lamp set you will be more inspired to ride at night.

    Buy a good rear blinkie too. If you're looking for some quick exercise after work nothing wrong with a quick road ride if you have a good set-up.

  22. #22
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    Price means very little here. If it brand name but low cost that means it's a very low output and basic light.

    2 of those would be useable but a single nightrider 700 would do the same.

    Or there is a list of lights that are 100x better for trail riding like the xera mentioned above as well as a massively long LiST of others

    Sent from my XT1565 using Tapatalk

  23. #23
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    Ive caught the night riding bug as of late and also recall the cateyes lights circa 1991

  24. #24
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    I find myself not caring about getting home from work before it is too dark to ride or run now and I actually welcome the dark. Riding at night is great fun. I am normally out there for 70-120mins.

    My set-up is pretty simple and my preference is no wires or external batteries.

    Handlebar - Exposure MAXXD
    Helmet - Exposure Diablo
    Taillight - Lezyne Pro Strip

  25. #25
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    $6 Chinese 2000 lumen 6" flashlite on a $4 Chinese flashlite holder on the bars. WOW, night into day.
    2015 Giant Stance 2 - 1 X 10 11/42 30T
    2016 Diamondback Insight 2

  26. #26
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    And that's only about 500-600 lumens. Not even possible to get 2000 lumens out of a standard flashlight. The best of the best barely hit 1000.

    Ya their bright but nothing like what the rest of us ride. The little bit of light and run time on those lights is good for city streets, nothing more.

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  27. #27
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    Quote Originally Posted by tigris99 View Post
    And that's only about 500-600 lumens. Not even possible to get 2000 lumens out of a standard flashlight. The best of the best barely hit 1000.

    Ya their bright but nothing like what the rest of us ride. The little bit of light and run time on those lights is good for city streets, nothing more.
    I don't give hoot what the rest of people ride with, it's cheap and illuminates as far as I can see riding.
    2015 Giant Stance 2 - 1 X 10 11/42 30T
    2016 Diamondback Insight 2

  28. #28
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    Hey it works, for $6 can't go too wrong there. Just figured I would share a bit of info. Hopefully you do keep a spare on hand (pocket or something). At that price could have 2-3 and not care if one fails.

    A lot of us have already had bad experiences with really cheap lights (getting left in the dark, going out at the wrong time, etc) so we try to steer people away from being overly cheap about lighting for night riding purely to avoid possible serious injury if the lights fail.

    Sent from my XT1565 using Tapatalk

  29. #29
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    Quote Originally Posted by BADDANDY View Post
    $6 Chinese 2000 lumen 6" flashlite on a $4 Chinese flashlite holder on the bars. WOW, night into day.
    Yeah, if you're on a budget It will work. I have flashlights ( torches ) that I paid very little for that will work very well on a bike. Cheap single emitter torches that utilize a single Cree XML or XM-L2 emitter will generally emit anywhere from 500 to 800 lumen ( depending on what driver is used ). However, no six inch cheap Chinese ( single cell ) torch is going to emit 2K lumen.

    Regardless, doesn't make too much sense nowadays to run a torch as a main lamp when you can buy any number of cheap Chinese multi-emitter lamps for dirt cheap. Of course if you just want something simple and self-contained a torch will work. On the other hand if I were to use a cheap Chinese torch as my primary source of light *I would certainly have at least one back-up with me at all times.

    ( *FWIW, when I ride trails at night I usually have two cheap torches along for back-up purposes )

  30. #30
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    Never would think of riding with only one light. Old light is now used on the helmet.
    2015 Giant Stance 2 - 1 X 10 11/42 30T
    2016 Diamondback Insight 2

  31. #31
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    Quote Originally Posted by BADDANDY View Post
    Never would think of riding with only one light. Old light is now used on the helmet.
    One of my favorite night time set-ups is ( or was ) to use a good bar mounted bike lamp combo'd with a lite-weight Ultrafire WF-501-B torch host mounted on the helmet. Inside the cheap torch host I use a high quality XM-L2 ( neutral )LED Drop-in P-60 module. The module has all the good stuff, Noctigon Copper core PCB with Cree XM-L2 ( neutral ), brass pill, linear constant current driver ( 3A ), memory, 3-modes. The reflector on the module works very well off the helmet.

    Of course I have a plethora of dedicated bike lamps to chose from but if I'm planning a day / dusk ride I'll sometimes just use a two cell battery for the bar lamp ( Gloworm X2 ) and then go with the torch on the helmet ( with extra 18650 cell in the bag ). Now I have another lite-weight option for the helmet, Gemini Duo with two cell on the helmet. Makes it tough to choose the torch now because the Duo has the new wireless remote which I like very much. ( not to mention that the Duo has more luminous output vs. the torch and is programmable ). Yep, can't tell you how many good lamp sets I have sitting on a shelf right now collecting dust.

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