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I realise this question has been asked before, but as far as I can tell the last time was over a year ago, so I thought it might be worth asking again in the light maybe of newer products being on the market...

I’m having trouble finding a headlight. I only really started serious night-riding this winter, and pretty soon found that the headlight I already had (a Cateye running on 4xAA batteries and rated at 2200 candela) was fine for the city but not for dark country roads. So I started looking for a brighter headlamp and found that Cateye did a newer model, again running on 4xAA batteries but rated at approx. 4000 candela. I bought one and the light was not brilliant but certainly acceptable.

That was just 2 months ago, and on my ride home last night the front of this light just fell out. Fortunately I was carrying a spare but when I got home was unable to fix the new light. Possibly there was another part that got left on the road… Anyway, this is going back for a refund, and I need to start looking for a different headlight.

My requirements are:

  • Brightness: at least as bright as the light I’m replacing, although I see that higher-spec lights are specc’d in terms of lumens, not candela, so they are measuring slightly different things. But I am minded to go for something suitable for trail riding, even though I will be using it on a road bike, because the better the view I have of the road (and of the potholes) the safer my ride will be.
  • Battery life: will need at least 3 hours between charges, running at full power. Preferably more. My actual commute is normally around 90 mins per day, and I want to build some resilience against (a) unforeseen delays, and (b) forgetting to charge the light every night.
  • Size/Portability: I want to be able to put the light on one bike, to get it off in a matter of seconds, to be able to stuff it into my pocket while I’m on the train, and to then use it on another bike when I get off the train. I’d be happy to buy multiple brackets if necessary (which is what I did with the cateye).
  • Ruggedness: I don’t mind spending money on a headlight but I don’t want it falling apart after two months like the last one. I want something that’ll be good for a couple of years at least.
  • Mounting: I'm only interested in something I can put on the handlebars. (I already have a light on my helmet and like to ride with both sets.)

and a preference is:

  • that it runs on AA batteries. This is probably the most awkward thing, and I realise that most of the better headlights run on their own rechargeable batteries, so I may have to sacrifice this one. The reason for wanting this is twofold: First, my rear light runs on AA batteries so in terms of keeping spares in my saddlebag, I only need one variety of battery. Second, I find standard battery sizes reassuring because if push came to shove, I can walk into a shop and buy replacements on the spot.

Other things…..my budget is quite open. I’m quite happy to spend a few hundred (GBP). Obviously, the cheaper the better since ideally I will buy two of them, but by the same token I don’t want to sacrifice quality.

I guess my question at the end of all this is whether anybody had any suggestions for me? I know I can google to death, and read reviews all over the web, so I don't need peoples' help there. What would be good are answers based on peoples’ real world experience gained over a period of time. The kind of stuff that I'm not likely to see based on the short test e.g. Bikeradar would have performed.

Anyone got any advice? TIA

Update #1 (decided what to buy)

In the end I have sacrificed the AA aspect and today ordered a Niterider Pro 1800 headlight. This was the best my budget would allow and I figure I will be able to run it on med or even low to get the kind of runtimes I'd like. I bought it from a UK dealer - if I were based in the USA I would certainly have given the DiNotte lights more consideration. Thanks very much especially to Benzo and Glenn for pointing me in this direction.

Update #2 (first impressions)

Used the light for the first time today (6:30am, -1C, clear, no moonlight) and was very happy with the brightness (low setting, 400 lumens), and with the shape of the beam (width and depth). "Enough" brightness was a big unknown because some people have mentioned 300 lumens, others much higher values. Seems very well built overall. Battery was a little larger and a little heavier than expected, but not uncomfortably so and not noticed once strapped onto the top tube. Certainly worth it if I can squeeze 6 hours out. Minor issue was the velcro fastener rubbing against my tights, will need to watch that because those tights were expensive! But this will just be fine tuning. I now just need to ride to the station every day for the next 2 months to offset the cost of the light against car park charges!

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This is a difficult problem. Last I looked I could find no good reviews/tests of the various lights -- simple brightness ratings are deceiving -- no clue as to how the light is distributed -- and run time figures are often quoted only for reduced brightness or flashing modes, not full brightness. –  Daniel R Hicks Jan 9 '13 at 12:34
    
@Daniel R Hicks tell me about it! And especially because you're likely spending quite a lot on them too. What I'm hoping for is that someone can say "I've used x lights for y years and they're brilliant". (Which I know I'm not supposed to use SE for!) I'm currently checking out DiNotte as recommended in an answer to an older question. They're interesting because they have an AA range and an Li-ion range to stack up against each other. –  PeteH Jan 9 '13 at 12:43
    
I had an old incandescent/lead-acid setup which was really good -- 4-5 hours run time with good brightness. Had to replace the batteries (mounted under the seat) about every 3 years, and had the setup for maybe 10-12 years (two different bikes), until several parts just disintegrated from age. Bought a new NiMH setup with a bottle cage battery, but apparently the battery was defective from the start, and it never worked right until I had the battery rebuilt, but by then I'd given up most night riding. It's a crapshoot. –  Daniel R Hicks Jan 9 '13 at 16:13
    
A long long time ago I worked in science research and had a similar setup. I took a standard light casing, put a really powerful bulb in it and ran it off a lead-acid bettery which I would recharge simply by hooking up to a power supply in work. The results were superb until the (plastic) casing melted! Those were the days.... But very bulky in terms of both size and weight, would expect a much smaller footprint these days. –  PeteH Jan 9 '13 at 16:47
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This site has a good comparison of headlight beam patterns and relative brightness: modernbike.com/light-comparison.asp –  Johnny Apr 13 '13 at 19:41
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7 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

The best light I've seen on AA batteries is the Busch & Muller IXON IQ. It is a solid commuter light and can run on AA batteries and can run for 5 hours on high.

However, my opinion is that there are so many usb rechargable lights that are much brighter and that you would be better served with something like a cygolite metro or nightrider lumina and keep your AA powered light as a backup.

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Thanks @Benzo. Interesting that Busch and Muller quote their "brightness" in terms of lux. So that's CandlePower (Cateye), Candela (SI), lux (B&M) and lumens (most others) so far. Lovely... But yes you're right about ditching the AA batteries. Obviously I wanted to keep them for the reasons I mentioned in the question, but I realised when I bought the Cateye that I was pushing the boundaries with that. Incidentally I estimate that the B&M light is about the same brightness as the Cateye I bought. –  PeteH Jan 9 '13 at 15:10
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I recently purchased the Nightrider Lumina 650 with 650 lumens and love the USB charging and helmet mount. It is almost too bright. I've taken it on roads and trails, on roads I almost feel like I'm blinding drivers, but on trails it really shines (pun intended), fully lighting up the trail with plenty of distance to see and ride at upwards of 18-20 mph (wide gravel trails) and with the helmet mount, can look around when going slower on single track sections. Very nice all in one unit with no wires. –  Glenn Gervais Jan 9 '13 at 15:54
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yes exactly. I have seen some web sites in the past that show the width and focus of the beam of light, but cannot find it right now. The way the light spreads out makes a difference. The optics as well as the reflecting focus from inside the light. Some are more wide beam, some more focused. I think the NightRider Lumina series has a good beam of light not extremely narrow focused but not wide at all, enough to spread out across a lane of traffic, with ambient spreading a bit wider. –  Glenn Gervais Jan 9 '13 at 18:35
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I think for most road riding 300 lumens is pretty good for road and light trail use. I ride singletrack with a 500 lumen light and think that is perfectly adequate. You will never really do wrong with going brighter though. I've used both the USB lights I melted above and would recommend either for them. I do prefer my cygolite one due to the smaller size. –  Benzo Jan 9 '13 at 20:35
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I tend to run on medium for longer runtimes on the nightrider lights. And that link shows the light with the handlebar mount attached. –  Benzo Jan 9 '13 at 20:57
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I have been looking for a head light and a tail light as well. Last month I emailed DiNotte regarding their AA-powered lights, and here's what they told me:

=========================================

The 400R-Lithium ion and 400R AA only differ in a few ways.

It's different electronics inside to accomodate different power source, cable connections and safety requirements for lithium ion powered batteries.

It is also different because 4 AA batteries can only provide so much current, so THE 400R Lithium ion is 2X as bright as the AA model.

Thank you,

DiNotte Lighting USA
1 Merrill Drive
Suite 10
Hampton NH, 03842
email: Sales@dinottelighting.com
Tel: (603) 929 0123
Fax: (603 926 3597)

Original Message
----------------
Subject: Question
From:
To: sales@dinottelighting.com
Date: 2012-12-14 23:12:10

I'm looking at your 400R and your 400R-AA.

Functionally, they're the same, no? Same light, different power source?

Thanks in advance

=========================================

At this point-- even though I would have thought it absolutely insane just a few years ago-- I'm considering dropping around $500 on a DiNotte package deal 400R tail light, and 1200L headlight. The 400R is bright enough for day use, which is basically what I want it for, and as another wisely observed, "if you compare the cost of the 400R with the cost of an accident, the cost of the 400R is insignificant."

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Yes comparing the AA and the Li-ion, there seems to be an order of magnitude difference. I saw that bundle too and it caught my eye, although I would probably only go for the headlight because (a) I'd want a spare battery which would add to the cost anyway, and (b) I don't need a new tail-light. The DiNotte lights do look really good but they don't appear to be sold in the UK. I'd sooner buy from the UK if I can because of (a) duty, and (b) hassle/cost if I need to return it for any reason. –  PeteH Jan 9 '13 at 16:53
    
I don't know about the duty you would pay, but at least one rider in the UK thought it was worth it: youtube.com/watch?v=eqRzMn1BUsQ –  Zippy The Pinhead Jan 9 '13 at 21:12
    
yeah, excellent tail light for sure –  PeteH Jan 9 '13 at 22:26
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You have some contradictions in your requirements that are physically impossible. A light that is bright enough to ride by on a dark road requires a large amount of electricity to run, even with efficient LEDs as a light source. Even rechargable AA batteries can not output enough current to drive a bright light for 3 - 4 hours.

I use a 3 Mode LED Bike Light. It consists of a light unit that uses rubber o-rings to attach to your handle bars. You can pop it off in a second. The power supply is a set of 4 rechargable 18650 batteries in a small nylon pack with a velcro strap. This straps anywhere on your bike frame. This light puts out around 900 lumens of light, basically the equivalent of a 75 watt light bulb. You also get a charger and the batteries last 3 - 4 hours at full power. This light runs around $45 - $55 when purchased straight from the site. Double that if purchased in the US on line, or triple it if purchased from a bike shop.

The 3 modes are full power, half power, flash, and off.

Finally, the amount of light you need (in lumens) depends on how dark the area is that you are riding in and how fast you are going. If you ride at 10 mph, you are traveling 14.7 feet every second. Realistically you need about 2 full seconds to detect, react, and avoid something, which means at 10 mph your light needs to illuminate 30 feet ahead of you. At 15 mph, you need to illuminate 45 feet ahead of you. At 20 mph this moves to 60 feet. Illuminating 60 full feet of road requires about 1,000 lumens.

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no I don't think my requirements are particularly contradictory and certainly not impossible. The Cateye HL-EL540RC ran on AA batteries and produced a light that was bright enough to ride with on country lanes. In fact its only "fail" was that it fell apart! But thanks for letting me know your setup, I will look into this if only because these lights seem to be low cost compared to others. –  PeteH Jan 9 '13 at 20:20
    
I'm an electrical engineer. AA batteries do not contain enough power to produce the light required for true night riding (at least for 3 hours). The light I mentioned and numerous similar ones are the equivalent to a motorcyle headlight. You can truely illuminate the road and ride in safety. –  Gary E Jan 9 '13 at 20:38
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For the past few months I have been using the cheapest light of around 1,000 lumens that I could find. It is made in China and sold in the US under the MagicShine brand. I actually got my light from a local guy, who sells a modified version of the MJ-808 with a quick release bar mount, that makes it a snap to remove and reinstall the light from the handlebars.

I run it on a 4 cell, 4400mAH, battery pack, and I recharge it every two days, which is probably about 90 minutes of light time. I once squeezed it to about 2 and a half hours, but had to run it on low for the last half hour for fear of running out of juice before getting home. One nice thing about this light is it has a color coded battery charge indicator incorporated in the push button to switch between modes: go to the low setting when orange turns red! They also sell a 6 cell, 6600mAH version, which should extend battery life by an extra 50%.

If you are not riding off-road, 1,000 lumens should be enough. The roads around San Diego are not very well kept, and a good stretch of my daily commute is on dark suburban streets with no lighting, and I manage fine. Even on the low light setting I wouldn't feel too uncomfortable, although by now I probably know every bump of the road by heart! They do make 2,000 lumen lights as well, which are mostly used by mountain bikers.

As for ruggedness, I have no complaints either. The casing is aluminum, which is probably good for it not falling to pieces. And in my limited experience of riding in the rain, it has stood to the challenge of a couple of downpours with no issue whatsoever.

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Yes I've heard of Magicshine but have never come across any reviews of them. The 808 looks very similar in spec to what @Gary E is using –  PeteH Jan 9 '13 at 23:14
    
I got to buy that light after reading user reviews on Amazon: amazon.com/MJ-808E-CREE-XM-L-lumens-light/product-reviews/… –  Jaime Jan 9 '13 at 23:50
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You should see various light comparison reviews on the internet now, this will help you answer how much light to you need vs how much can you afford. So see these sites: http://www.performancebike.com/bikes/Content_10054_10551_-1_HeadLightBuyersGuide

http://reviews.mtbr.com/2012-bike-lights-shootout

I recommend that you spend as much as you can afford, those light comparisons will give you a clue as to which way to go, one of the best deals on the market is the Cygolite ExpiliOn 600 which you will see tested on the Performance site, you will notice this light is quite bright and cost around $100. But I would save the Cateye you have and convert it to be used as a helmet light either in the steady mode or flashing mode to attract attention if it's not bright enough to see the road with. Never throw away a light, some how figure out how you can add it to the bike. I had a Cygolite ExpiliOn 350 and after buying a Cygolite Mitycross 480 for the helmet, and then later a Phillips Saferide for the bar, I took the ExpiliOn and added 3 layers of red reflector repair tape to it...it's now the brightest tail light I've ever seen and for significantly lower price then those real expensive tail lights.

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The front of the light fell off. I ended up picking 3 bits off the road, the reflector, the lens and a fixer. I suspect there may have been a fourth that was still on the road because I was unable to put it all back together even once I got home. The trouble is, it was dark... So I don't know about never throwing a light away, this one was only about 6 weeks old so will be getting sent back for a refund. –  PeteH Jan 10 '13 at 10:25
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Have you considered using old school dynamo and halogen lights? Virtually hassle free, no more forgetting to charge your batteries or bring the headlight with you. Modern hub dynamos are pretty efficient as well.

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No I did not even consider a dynamo arrangement. I could be wrong but I'd have thought that would be an immediate fail on my "portability" requirement. –  PeteH Jan 15 '13 at 13:12
    
That's true, I missed that one, however I'll leave the answer as it might be helpful to other people. –  Mladen Jablanović Jan 15 '13 at 15:33
    
semi-interesting, though. I did a quick search after I read your answer to see if there was such a thing as a removable dynamo, since with my little knowledge of them it sounded kinda counter-intuitive. There's a big gulf in prices - some Shimano hubs at GBP80 then a massive jump to a german company (Schmidt?) at GBP300. I couldn't help wondering what was so good about them that the cost so much more! –  PeteH Jan 15 '13 at 16:49
    
I wonder what would be the point of removing a dynamo? AFAIK, the point of removable headlights is to prevent them getting stolen. A dynamo hub is not that easy to steal (not easier than stealing a wheel anyways), and old-style bottle dynamo is not that expensive to be thieves' target. –  Mladen Jablanović Jan 16 '13 at 10:59
    
Re: Schmidt vs others, I believe that they were the first with hub dynamos (since decades ago) and only lately other manufacturers started making decent ones, so I'd say that the price gap is due to market inertia, not that much of quality difference. Not 100% sure though. –  Mladen Jablanović Jan 16 '13 at 11:14
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I had the same conundrum when replacing a light a while ago. My solution was to buy a flashlight, rather than a dedicated bicycle light; it's about the same size and specification, but you get a lot more bang per buck. Bicycle lights seem to be rather overpriced compared to flashlights.

The flashlight is a Fenix PD30, which costs £53.95. It can produce 257 lumens of light at its highest setting, which is masses - plenty for riding down an unlit country lane, in my experience - but will allegedly exhaust the battery in two and a half hours. I have never used it at that level for long enough to find out; i mostly use it for city riding, so i use the 10 lumen setting, where i go for months between battery changes.

You can also buy lights based around similar Cree LEDs made by no-name brands in China for very little - my backup light is an UltraFire WF-501B body with an XR-E R2 LED, which allegedly produces 250 lumens and costs a hillarious $16.15. The housing seems perfectly good quality, it produces more light than the Fenix, but it does get quite hot when in use.

I mount the light using a simple but very effective rubber and velcro Lockblock. It seems a bit dubious, but it actually holds the light far better than clippy things i've had on bike lights in the past. You can get cheap clones of this from China too.

This light, like most current high-performance flashlights, takes CR123A rechargeable batteries, which are shorter and a bit fatter than AAs, but store more power. They are available in various chemistries; i use LiFePO4 ones, because although they don't store as much power as some other chemistries, they last longer, and don't explode when over-discharged. To be honest, it was the not exploding that really sold me on them. They are reasonably cheap - i use Tenergy ones, which are six quid for a pair.

Based on the light you eventually bought, it seems you wanted more light than me, and were prepared to spend more. There are bigger, more powerful, and more expensive flashlights, made by Fenix and other brands, and by the fabulous workshops of the Orient. There is also the option of simply fitting multiple lights - i can carry two on my bars without difficulty. I think you'd be able to buy yourself as much light as you did for considerably less money this way. Plus, if you fit two lights, you can make your bike look like it's in Orbital.

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I use a Chinese CREE flashlight for my bike and I love it. The rechargeable 18650 batteries are cheap and make it easy to carry a spare. They do get a little warm, but I've never found it to be a problem in reliability. Plus there's lots of air flow when I'm riding so I think that helps to cool it a bit. I found the mounts that you can buy to be a little unreliable and the best solution is to get some hose clamps and loop one around the bars and the other through the first and then around the flash light. This makes a really sturdy mount. I Use a little hockey tape to increase the grip. –  Kibbee Apr 13 '13 at 17:18
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