If you’re like most of us, you have a job. And your job, as much as you wish it didn’t, tends to get in the way of riding now and then. In the summer, this may not present a huge problem. When the sun sets at 8:15 in the evening and the temperature rarely dips below 75 farenheit there’s still plenty of time to get a spin in after the 9-to-5. Summer can’t last forever, though, and as you get closer to the winter solstice than you are distant from maximum summer fitting that time in gets harder and harder. Before anybody knows it, headlights become permanent fixtures of our bikes, arm-warmers make way for long sleeve jerseys and winter jackets, and thin cotton gloves get covered by lobster mittens.
… and after that? Yeah, no. Nobody needs to talk about indoor trainers today.
Short days do mean rides at night, though, and nobody should be caught without a decent tail light. Whether you’re riding on a bike specific or multi-use trail, or turning the pedals down a public road, you can’t risk being caught-out without some sort of blinking don’t-even-think-about-hitting-me appartus on your back. One could be excused for surmising that you don’t need to spend an arm and a leg on a light if you’re only going to use it a couple hours a week, but even an expensive tail light is cheap when weighed against the possibility of an unfriendly interaction with a two ton car.
[And if you’re only on a bike trail, your fellow trail users will thank you for not being invisible.]
Don’t misinterpert: like everything else lately, lighting technology has come a long way in the past ten years or so. You can reasonably expect to pay $20.00 for a set-it-and-forget it blinky light that will last you a good long time. It’ll be plenty visible, and do exactlty the job you bought it for (and the shop has a bunch of different models to choose from), but that doesn’t mean you can’t find something that will do it better.
Enter winter pick #1: the Light & Motion Vis180.
The first thing you should know is that this little bugger is seriously bright. Like, don’t-look-directly-into-it, S.O.S. signal bright. It uses a rear-facing red L.E.D. that has several different modes, which range from “on” to “not on” and some in between. It also lights up orange from the sides, because it’s unrealistic to expect you’ll only encounter traffic from directly in front of and behind you. The second thing you should know is that it’s USB recharagble. That’s right, the guys over at Light & Motion stuck a Li-ion battery IN A TAIL LIGHT. They report a four hour run time on the “high” setting, and eight hours for the pulse (truth be told, the effective difference between really bright and really really bright is basically nil). We haven’t found any reason to doubt their claims… in fact, they may be a little conservative.
By the way, did we mention that it’s bright?
You can head over to Light & Motion’s web site if you’re interested in luminosity tests and gram counts, but the important bit of information to take away is that the Vis 180 is between 5 and 10 times brighter than almost everything else on the marketplace. That’s 500-1,000% for the number challenged.
Luminosity has a tendancy to turn into the bench-racing number in the light world, and all the cool features that the light boasts would be for naught if they weren’t built into a good, effective product. And we’re happy to report that the all the quality, ease of use, and function we’ve come to expect from Light & Motion has been retained. Charge it up, strap it to your bike, press the power button, and you’re set. I lost the owner’s manual to mine before I left the shop. And I don’t miss it.
The human eye is really good at seeing in natural light conditions. In fact, you might say that it was optimized for them. And you can take “natural” to mean “during the day” and “during the night.” What it was NOT optimized for was seeing in a darkness that’s overrun by oncoming headlights, neon signs, and paths lit constantly by 100-yard high beams. When the eye is confronted with a situation in which neither photopic (day) or scotopic (night) vision can fully function, it uses a mixture of the two that’s referred to as mesopic vision. The catch is that neither your rods nor your cones are very effective at functioning in partially engaged states, and overall vision quality suffers. Our ability to distinguish colors and shapes without high-contrast is significantly compromised, and our eyes tend to note what draws their attention the most dramatically. Bad news for cyclists.
Those wimpy 3.5 lumen, AAA powered tail lights don’t do much to get riders noticed when they’re compared to modern, 25 watt automotive brake lights (nevermind the newest crop of obscenely bright L.E.D.’s that are being stuck in brake light housings these days)… and when competing for attention with thousand-lumen H.I.D. headlamps, a cyclist can pretty much forget about being on drivers’ radars. When the local Steak & Shake turns on the neon special sign? Game over.
The Vis 180 does it’s best to aid riders in combating these road distractions, and it does an excellent job. It only took one ride to convicne me that the light was worth it’s weight in gold. On the same roads that I’ve ridden in the dark a hundred times before, I was instantly given more room by drivers (who often fully leave the lane when passing now) with the 180 on. Other cyclists take note of how bright it is when they tuck in behind (there is a “peloton” mode that shuts off the main red L.E.D. while leaving the side-facing orange lit), and generally put one on their wish-list pretty quickly. Never having to worry about buying batteries again is a bonus, too.
The light isn’t without it’s shortcomings, though. The mount has a pivot point that allows the rider to ensure that it’s aimed rearward most effectively; unfortunately, the pivot tends to muck-up after riding in bad weather. Keep it clean and you won’t run into any issues. The other is that the light isn’t fully waterproof. It is water resistant, and rain rides don’t phase it; however, you’re best off not storing it on the bike on the roof of your car during a thunderstorm. Functionality isn’t compromised, but you might develop condensation on the inside of the clear casing.
All in all, the Light & Motion is easily one of the best investments you can make for night time riding. At $99.00, it’s not cheap, but first-hand experience informs me that a trip to the Emergency Room in an ambulance is a lot more expensive (and really inconvenient). Do yourself and pick one up, or consider giving one to the cyclist in your life for “the holidays” (we lost track of how many different religious holidays we’re supposed to acknowledge this season… instead, make somebody’s life happy by giving them a gift because it’s too damn cold outside).