Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Gear Recommendations -- UPDATED

Update #3

The DiNotte went for 9 hours yesterday and has now gone for 3 this morning.  That's two full Alaskan summer nights at ~100-150 lumens on a single $7.15 set of batteries.  It's still going, but I'm getting weary of monitoring it!

Update #2

The DiNotte 7.5 hours in on medium.  I see no loss in brightness vis-a-vis the picture at 3.5 hours.  We are approaching a full night's riding in the summer, with a blinkie to handle dusk and dawn (for being seen rather than seeing).

DiNotte XML-AA on medium after 7.5 hours

Update #1

I am testing the Serfas on the second-to-low setting, which in a beam-against-the-wall test seems comparable to the XML-AA on medium.  That is consistent with my understanding that the Serfas puts out 500 lumens on high, then 250, then 150, then 75, and the DiNotte puts out 200/100/50, perhaps adjusted upward by modern LEDs (per Sam's comment below).  The coloration is different but the brightness appears comparable.

Serfas left, DiNotte right

Starting with a full charge the Serfas has gone 3.5 hours before the indicator light started blinking red. (The light is still on, so the current question is how long the indicator blinks before the light goes out.  *15 minutes in and the beam is fading visibly.  *20 minutes from my first observing the flashing and the unit is all but dead.)

That is better than I had imagined, in particular given the unit's sitting unused since Last Chance.  It also may be plenty for a backup use model.  If the batteries on the DiNotte go at 2 am, the Serfas can get you to dawn, at least in the summer.

The next test for the Serfas:  charge fully, wait 24 hours, then test.

In contrast with the Serfas, now more than 4 hours in, the DiNotte on medium with AA Lithium Ion is showing no signs of slowing down.

* * * * *

Stuff to Consider

Damon blogs about electronics (and other gear) he used on our 400K at Remembering Jaron.  My two cents:

1.  The Garmin 810/iPhone link was pretty cool.  I don't know whether it is much more than cool, as a cue sheet plus find-my-iphone does the same thing with a little more effort on the follower's part.  But the software and output that he describes was objectively cool.

2.  Damon's helmet-mount lamp from Exposure was quite nice.  For reasons Sam points out in his earlier analyses of ergonomically attractive lighting systems, I would need to see more to be sure.  For example, Damon's NiteRider lamp performed like my Serfas lamp (which I did not bring) -- i.e., it didn't perform just when we needed it to.  But the Joystick did perform, so maybe somebody has cracked that nut after all.

3.  The 6000 mAh Morphie Juicepack is an elegant solution to a vexing problem.  It even makes the Serfas light (which uses a USB cord charger) a possibility again.  Envision the Serfas and Garmin both bar-mounted, both plugged into the battery pack, for all-night riding.  (Pack would fit easily in a basic bento box or frame bag.)  Charge the Juicepack at a control.  Rinse and repeat.  There is also a ruggedized version for $75 on Amazon.  One caveat:  I had a hunch on my aborted attempt at the Last Chance 1200K that nonstop downpours contributed to the failure of my Serfas lights.  An insufficiently sealed unit will flop no matter how well the batteries perform.

QUERY:  is 6000 mAh necessary, or is the (presumably smaller and lighter) 4000 mAh version sufficient for the use model I describe?


Now back to my own gear: DiNotte lights.  Based on my experience and Sam's recommendations, steady output at 100-150 lumens -- low to medium on most lights -- would be sufficient for nearly all night-riding applications; the sole exception is bombing descents.  (I hear that people bomb descents at night, but I can't personally recall ever doing so myself.)  The 200L with AA battery packs is still available, but you have to dig around DiNotte's website to find it.  (Mine is the XML-AA, which is the same light with the updated XML look.)

DiNotte does not make any huge claims on battery life -- 2 hours on high (200 lumens), 4 on medium (50%, per DiNotte -- 100 lumens), and 8 on low (25%, per DiNotte -- 50 lumens?) -- with AA NiMh or NiCAD batteries.  DiNotte is very explicit (same link) that the XML-AA should not be used with the longer-lasting lithium ion batteries.  This is inconsistent with Sam's experience.  Is the DiNotte 200L sufficiently different from the XML-AA that the permissible batteries have changed?  (Also note that Sam's information on the 200L suggests different output levels -- 100, 140, and 200.)

The 400 lumen DiNotte XML-1 with the larger lithium ion battery pack, $199 from DiNotte, boasts 5 hours use at 400 lumen output, 10 hours at medium, or 200 lumens, and a whopping 20 at low (100 lumens).  On those numbers, for a 1200K in midsummer in Alaska you would need precisely 0 charges -- the light first goes on at 10:30 pm on low, goes to medium around midnight until 2 am, back to low until 4 am, and off until the next night at 10:30 (when any sane randonneur is down for the second night anyway).  This has a huge negative of an expensive sealed battery pack that if lost or degraded needs to be replaced.  The beauty of the DiNotte AA systems is the ease and low cost of changing batteries.

If, as Sam suggests, I can use lithium ion with the XML-AA, I'm set.  If not, I need something that will give more light for longer, at least for night riding south of the 60th parallel.


sam said...

A few comments:

1. A lot of people seem to use GPSes successfully for navigation. I've had less success. Admittedly our routes are simpler and thus perhaps less need for navigation, but GPSes seem like one more thing to futz with. That said, when they do work it is fun for post-ride analysis.

2. If this link ( ) is to be believed, the Garmin 500 battery is less than 600 mAH, so the 4000 mAH version should be plenty. On a multi-day ride, just stick a spare charged one in an overnight bag and swap out.

3. I'm really interested in the Arkel tailbag that Damon mentions. His comment on the Topeak beam swaying is definitely true, so the attachment point on the seat is interesting. It does require the beam to be close to seat height, which is ~4 inches higher than I'd like it, but still, very interesting.

4. Dinotte's comment about Lithium batteries is specifically about Li-Ion /rechargeable/ batteries. Energizer Lithium batteries are fine: "1.5V AA Lithium alkaline disposable batteries can be used safely."

The more I think about it, the more I like your plan for Lithium AAs. A sealed rechargeable light is only useful if you're using it frequently, and thus can trust the battery and runtime. Otherwise, as we've seen with our Serfas lights, you should assume they'll fail.

And for the cost of a nice sealed battery system you can buy enough lithiums to get you through dozens of nights of riding. Which is probably at least several years worth. And you can throw a cheapo Cateye in your bag as a backup, and it will be able to use the same AAs in a pinch.

sam said...

And, by the way, as we've already discussed the problem mentioned above with sealed rechargeable lights is also true of NiMH rechargeables. I have a couple dozen in a drawer and, to be honest, I wouldn't trust any of them on an overnight ride anymore.

Max said...

Then there's this:

Weighs less, costs less, and has more reserve.

And this:

Veritably tiny at 76g with plenty of charge for the Garmin on most rides. I just bought two.

I have just hooked up the DiNotte on medium with the Li-Ion batteries for a single $7.15 test run. Report forthcoming.

Any way to connect the DiNotte battery packs in parallel to double the life without having to futz with it?

Re: the Arkel, it does appear as elegant as Damon describes. It does not move on standing ascents. It does sit high, however. (Possible upside: allows a seatpost taillight, perhaps?) And between it and his handlebar bag, the bike is as unwieldy to handle when walking as you would expect. (One of my prime peeves with the rack setups is that the bike becomes impossible to handle when I am tired.)

sam said...

Those little battery chargers are cool. Could be handy for juicing up the cellphone if needed as well. And small enough to velcro onto the handlebars to charge the Garmin if weather permits.

It would be easy to wire up a couple battery packs in parallel to double the runtime, or build your own pack out of something like this:

Note that a little rewiring/soldering might be needed. Honestly, since they have little neoprene packs that fit their packs, the futzing might be minor enough to not be worth it.

I ordered the Arkel bag and rack. Not cheap, but if it works well, money well spent for 300KM+. Also ordered a Dinotte XML-AA. From what I read it's actually ~50% brigher than the 200L, due to a newer more efficient LED.

Unknown said...

Although the Arkel rear + handlebar bag does lead to a bit of a heavy setup when full, for me it's worth it for 400k+. I think it may be in the realm of "more than strictly necessary," but I don't view these events as time trials. I actually found myself on Saturday wishing that I'd brought more clothing, as I was quite cold. In an event that long, I'd much rather sacrifice 1 mph or so in exchange for comfort, the security of an extra tube or battery, and having food that I know works well for me. I had my strongest stretch of the ride from miles 190-260, and I think it's in part because I'd been eating well along the way. Maybe I'm becoming too much of a granola flower child, but I think there's something to the idea of avoiding, or at least minimizing, friend and processed food. Another side benefit is that your bike is much lighter at the end of the day, which gives the illusion of strength!

As far as the head-mounted lights go, I think it's firmly in the realm of something that can't fully be appreciated until you've tried it. A featherweight, high-power light like the Joystick is useful in any number of ways you wouldn't suspect. You can waive it back and forth across the road to reveal imperfections that otherwise would be flattened out, flash cars when necessary, highlight street signs, look around curves, etc. I think that, if one has two lights, it's a mistake not to have one of them be a detachable helmet-mounted model.

Speaking of light power, I wonder if there's something else to consider. One problem I find with riding at night in truly dark, wooded locations is that time tends to slow down. There's nothing to look at except the very narrow path of light in front of you. It's almost literal tunnel vision. I'm coming to think that the ideal setup is to have a high-powered primary light, i.e., something in the 400-500 lumen range, along with a secondary helmet light set on a much lower power. Especially given that the Alaskan nights are short and there will be time at the overnight controls to recharge, I think that's the setup I'll be adopting.

Max said...

I will be further testing the 500 lumen Serfas light with the small battery packs I bought. I think it is possible the light with a battery could go on full power for the whole night.

Battery packs take some time to recharge, so one would want a full one in each drop bag.

sam said...

The smaller battery packs you ordered are almost certainly the exact same cell (and therefore capacity) as the Serfas battery.

sam said...

Just saw a reference on the rando list to a new generator hub light, the B&M Luxos U.

Peter White has a glowing review:

There are two models. One, the 'U' model, includes a USB port. More interestingly, he also has a page with great beam pattern shots:

You need to scroll down a ways to see the Luxos U beam shot.

But the interesting thing to note about those beam shots is how narrow and long they are.

Most of the lights I've had throw light pretty much everywhere. That makes them anti-social to use on the road, and it means that you're wasting a lot of battery power lighting up the trees on the side of the road.

The beam patterns on most of the generator lights are much more like a car headlight. They light the road in front of you. So they don't blind oncoming drivers, and you don't waste energy lighting the area that you're not biking on.

I think it would be interesting to see what the runtime of a dynamo light would be if powered by a battery pack...