Utilitaire Curiosities: How We Light Up the Night
In order to officially complete the Utilitaire 12, at least two rides must be completed in the dark and thus, require lights.
What do people use to ride in the dark? Some people, not part of this challenge, use nothing. Boo. Bike ninjas are all over. At least, I think they are. I have a hard time picking their silhouettes out of the darkness.
Most people who commute and utilitaire, however, end up adopting some type of front and rear lighting system to get them through dark times. Literally dark, I mean.
I have a front lighting around-town system with which I am quite satisfied. Prior to my current setup, I used an older Nite Rider MiNewt X2, a bright front LED light with a rechargeable battery. I liked this light, except:
- The cord had some issues which eventually caused some of the wires to become exposed and I ended up covering them with electrical tape; and
- One day it stopped working, never to work again. It gave me three good years of service, though, so I can’t complain too much.
In the interim, Felkerino loaned me a rechargeable Ixon IQ from the Dining Room Bike Shop. We use the Ixons a fair amount on brevets. That light was bright and worked well, except it took a little effort to remove the attachment system from one bike to another.
Fortunately, I did not wait long for a new light. Soon after the death of the MiNewt, I won a Light ‘n Motion Urban 180 Commuter that is my go-to, go-anywhere light. This light is fantastic because:
- I won it.
- It easily attaches to any of my bikes. It’s also easily removeable.
- The light does not have a separate battery pack and recharges via a USB port. This makes it easy to charge either at home or at the office.
- The run time of this light is several hours, supposedly up to eight on the lowest setting, which is still decently bright. I haven’t tested it over an eight hour ride in darkness, but it has lasted several hours in the dark, which is all I need from this light.
Neither Felkerino nor I have any hub generator lights. People love their generator lights, but we’ve found that, since we are jostling multiple bikes for multiple purposes, the portable rechargeable battery lights work well for us.
As for rear lights, I haven’t found a perfect system. I like to use two rear tail lights when riding at night, but many of the lights I’ve used have not been bright enough. I found an easily attachable runner’s light, but it doesn’t hold its charge well and the brightness of the light fades quickly.
I have a couple of older Cateye rear lights that serve both as a light and reflector, but I realized that the light they cast is rather dim.
On my Quickbeam’s Tubus rack, I’ve attached a German-made Spanninga rear light. This light is awesome and I’m totally satisfied with the brightness of it, but it does not move easily from bike to bike.
I probably should just bite the bullet and purchase another Spanninga, but I’d like to find a light that is bright, hold its charge well, and moves easily (via clip or something) from one bike to another. Also, things like lights fall into the “not much fun to buy” category of bicycle gear. I prefer to take from what’s in stock in the Dining Room Bike Shop.
This year, I finally got serious about wearing reflective gear when I commute. I realized through watching other runners and cyclists at night on the trail, that those who wore some kind of reflective wear in addition to lights were a ton more visible than those who only used lights. I figured, the brighter the better and, even if I look nerdy in my vest, at least I have a better chance of showing up in drivers’ headlights.
My current reflectivewear of choice for commuting is a bright orange fabric vest with two big reflective horizontal stripes. Felkerino picked it up for me when he went to PBP in 2007.
The vest closes in front with two smallish velcro patches, making it easy on and easy off. It also stows easily in my Carradice.
My backup system is the RUSA reflective sash. I feel a bit like a crossing guard when I wear it, but it’s easy to thrown on and takes up very little space in my bag or pannier.
I do not think the sash is as bright as the orange vest, but I like using the sash in the summertime because the vest can get a little warm, even though it is not a heavy fabric. I’m still searching for a better or brighter summer reflectivewear solution. I think I may have one, but I haven’t tested it yet, as it is not yet summer (ha ha!).
What’s in your nighttime arsenal? I want to hear about it.