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Lights

Review: Portland Design Works’ Spaceship/Radbot 500 Lights

A few weeks ago, the good folks from Portland Design Works (PDW) sent us a courtesy set of their Spaceship headlight and Radbot 500 rear blinkie for testing and to hang onto when we’re done putting them through their paces.

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Upon opening the box, there is a startling similarity between the Radbot blinkie and the perennial favorite — the Planet Bike “Superflash” — the LED lens looks identical to the main one on the Superflash. There are some similiarities in the attachment hardware, too, and I’ll get to that in a minute. The LED in the Radbot is rated at 1/2 watt, and it is as bright as anyone could ever need in a blinkie.

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As far as the light goes, the similarities end with that 1/2 watt LED and lens — in my opinion, the PDW Radbot is vastly superior to my old favorite in several ways. First, the case is held together with a screw…no more bouncing down the road only to hear batteries and case parts tinkling down behind me as the road bucks them off. An additional benefit is that the gasket seal between the two halves of the case is compressed better, giving it more resistance to water intrusion. I haven’t gotten to test this yet, but I’ve been dismayed at times by the ability of my old Superflash to let water past its gasket, and the PDW just seems more resistant to that. I hope I’m right!

Second, the body of the blinkie contains a largish DOT reflector rather than auxiliary LEDs. Having the reflector built in helps with legality issues — many municipalities require a rear-facing red reflector, and too many bikes don’t have ’em. Third, the light is actuated by a press on a real button, not a soft spot in the case. I like that…and that button has a built-in delay to prevent accidental turning on while the light is floating around in your pocket or backpack.

The Radbot 500 has three modes — an organic slow pulse (like a slow heartbeat), a slow pulse followed by three ultra-quick blasts, and steady-on. The pulsing with three blasts is my favorite mode…either flashing mode is different enough from other lights on the market that they should really stand out on dark streets. The light is powered by two AAA batteries.

The Spaceship front light has two modes — flashing and steady — and is powered by two AA batteries. As you can see from this photo, there is good side visibility and a neat feature…a lighted strip of blue along the top of the light’s body. What’s the purpose of this? Why, to look extra cool, that’s what!

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The light itself is not strong enough for a “to see” light, but it serves admirably as a “to be seen” light. The light pattern is a very tight spotlight with a strong blue cast at the center of the beam, and it just doesn’t light up the road very well. But, in flashing mode, cars can’t ignore that flash…it’s bright enough to do the job of alerting motorists to your presence.

The light set comes with lots of hardware…a traditional seatpost mounting clamp, a nice adjustable handlebar clamp for the front light, a seatstay loop to hold the light bracket if your seatpost is too short or too obscured to mount the light there, a bracket for standard rear racks (thank you, PDW — not enough companies include these!!!) and the stainless mounting nuts and bolts for affixing the bracket to the rack. If you already own Planet Bike front and rear lights, you’re in luck; the clip interface is identical for both front and rear holders and you can just clip on your new PDW lights and get to ridin’ without any hassles.

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The handlebar clamp is an improvement on the similar Planet Bike model…adjustable to fit 22 mm bars all the way up to 31.8mm “oversize” bars. It’s less likely to slip than the PB mount, too…although I had to add a wrap of friction tape under mine as my handlebars are an odd in-between size. Once the clamp is tightened down using the thumbscrew, it’s pretty solid.

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Overall, I really like this light set — especially the Radbot blinkie. It’s my new favorite and I look forward to many miles with this light. The Spaceship makes a good “second light”, especially when coupled with something a bit more powerful for rider visibility. This set goes for about $45.00, so it’s a good deal too.

Check out PDW’s other smartly-designed and innovative parts — they’ve got a lot of good things going on — by visiting their website.

Please click here to read our review disclaimer as required by the Federal Trade Commission.

Bike Brightz

I just received these nifty lights as a test sample from a fairly new company called Bike Brightz.

If you visit their website, you’ll notice that they have a glow very similar to a neon light, but in fact Bike Brightz are LEDs, and they don’t cost as much as the neon light company’s products. When you order, the package comes with a few zip ties, velcro, rubber gasket/grommet, batteries and the LED unit. The LED unit has 4 modes: constant, flashing-slow, medium, fast.

Price per unit is $19.99
Available in 4 colors – Red,Green,Blue,Yellow

I mounted the blue and red lights on my bike, and you can see that it’s pretty bright and it will get you some attention and will definitely be seen by motorists.
bike brights LED bicycle lights

I installed one on the chainstay and one on the down tube.

The Bike Brightz do not get in the way at all. I’ll be testing these lights out on both off and on-road conditions to see how well they do.

FTC Disclaimer

Product Review: Flashbak safety light

Just in time for “dark season,” we received a FlashBak safety light. I’ve put this baby through the paces over the last few weeks.  This includes freakishly warm temperatures at the beginning of this month, lots of rain earlier this week, and snowy slush yesterday.

Let’s take a look, shall we?

Construction is simple, and use is straight-forward. There’s a battery pack, an illuminated pushbutton remote to turn things on and off, and the light rig itself: 10 bright amber LEDs embedded in a nylon strap. Several alligator clips are attached to the rig with paracord, so it can clip onto pretty much anything from jerseys and hydration packs to panniers and bookbags.

When I said the LEDs were bright, I meant it.  Aside from cropping, this image came straight off my camera without any other manipulation. Other cyclists and a few motorists have also commented on how bright it is. You will be seen.

The on-off remote can be clipped to your backpack strap, to the front of your shirt, or somewhere else that’s easy to get to and see. It has a matching LED in it as well, saving you the hassle of doing that probably-familiar “is my light on?” neck-crane maneuver.

Here’s a video of it in action. There’s only one mode, and it’s a pretty eye-catching pattern.

I don’t know how many hours I’ve gotten out of it so far, but it’s still running on the original 3AA batteries that it shipped with. The battery pack also holds the electronics “brain” (embedded in waterproof epoxy) as well as a hard on-off switch to remove any possibility of accidentally turning it on when you don’t want to.

All in all, this is a solid-built rig that seems to hold up well in all weather conditions. It’s pretty much the brightest rear light I’ve seen on a bicycle before, and the amber color is a nice touch. I still usually combine it with a steady-lit red rear tail light and DOT reflectors, though.  Some steady, bright-red LEDs and/or reflective piping added to this rig would be a great addition to the product line, in my opinion. Distance is hard to judge by flashing lights alone.

MSRP is $45. It can be purchased at a few bike shops in Austin, TX or on the manufacturer’s website: FlashBakOnline.com

Although this product was given to me by the manufacturer, I tried pretty much everything I could do within the parameters of my usual commute routine to break and abuse this product. The above is my brutally honest and unbiased opinion.

Please click here to read our review disclaimer as required by the Federal Trade Commission.

Review: Fenix PD30 Flashlight

A couple of months ago, Michelle Lei, the marketing supervisor for Fenix Lights, sent me a courtesy sample of their new PD30 flashlight to test. While this isn’t a bike-specific headlight, it can easily be pressed into service as one.

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Here’s some of the information from Fenix:

• Cree Premium (Q5) 7090 XR-E LED with lifespan of 50,000 hours
• 2 modes with 6 types of output
• General Mode: 9 lumens (65hrs) -> 70 lumens (8hrs) -> 117lumens (4hrs) -> SOS
• Turbo Mode: 220 lumens (1.5hrs) -> Strobe
• Digitally regulated output – maintains constant brightness
• Low Battery Indication
• Uses two 3V CR123A batteries (Lithium)
• 118mm (Length) x 21.5mm (Diameter)
• Made of aircraft-grade aluminum
• durable Type III hard-anodized anti-abrasive finish
• 49-gram weight (excluding batteries)
• Waterproof to IPX-8 Standard
• Toughened ultra-clear glass lens with anti-reflective coating
• Push-button tail cap switch
• Capable of standing up securely on a flat surface to serve as a candle
• Included accessories: holster, lanyard, two spare o-rings, and a rubber switch boot

The light itself is solidly-made and feels like it…quality materials and finishing. All parts are sealed with o-rings, so it is weatherproof (I tested that by being caught in a couple of late-season downpours…no problems with the light). The light is compact, so it is easy to stow away in a pocket or bag when not in use.

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I especially like the recessed lens — since the lens is glass, it could use some protection, and the light head has a built-in “lip” that keeps the lens away from scratches and other potential damages. The only drawback to the recessed lens is that there is ZERO side-visibility of the light. Since this light isn’t specifically marketed as a bicycle light, it’s probably no big deal, but many municipalities require front headlights on a bike to be visible from the sides as well as the front. Something to think about, in any case…

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Let’s talk about the light modes…while there are six different settings, we’ll concern ourselves with the two settings in “turbo mode”. The first is the full-strength steady setting — a full 220 lumens (the Fenix website now shows that the lumen rating has gone up to 235). This intensity completely outpaces all but the expensive bike light systems on the market, and that light is easily enough to see clearly on dark streets. The beam itself has a fairly wide spread with a good “hotspot” in the middle for distance illumination. Here’s a shot of that pool of light (hotspot at top center of photo):

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I’m concerned that the wide spread of light may shine into oncoming motorists’/cyclists’ eyes — some of the more expensive bicycle lighting systems have lenses and vertical cutoffs that help eliminate that possibility, and again the Fenix really can’t be compared to them. No matter…I haven’t received any complaints from anyone yet!

Here’s another shot of the light pattern — the bicycle is about 25 feet away from the camera:
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The other “turbo mode” setting is the flashing strobe…and this is the setting I use most often. The Fenix PD30 flashes at somewhere upwards of 120 flashes per minute (probably closer to 200), and it flashes with the full 220 lumen wallop. The flash is so bright that it will illuminate a reflective street sign from two blocks away in DAYLIGHT. I use this setting in the mornings on my way to work and it definitely gets motorists’ attentions…nobody is turning in front of me! At night, the intensity and speed of the flashing can be disorienting as it lights up everything around me in stark relief. I used the light during a recent Critical Mass ride, and one of my fellow riders said, “wow, that light is obnoxious!” It gets attention, that’s for sure.

Fenix indicated that they may develop a mounting system for this light for bicycle/sports use. Since it didn’t come with such a mount, I used a Twofish Unlimited “Lockblock” with great success. The light’s body is hexagonal, so it won’t slip in the rubber Twofish cradle. Using such a setup means that the light is quite portable and can go from bike to bike without a fuss. And, it doesn’t take up much handlebar real estate.

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My only real gripe with the PD30 is the battery situation…the light uses two CR123A batteries, and they’re not as cheap and as easy to find as AA/AAA sizes. Also, good-quality rechargeable batteries in the CR123A size can be hard to come by. Luckily, I found some great online deals on disposable batteries for this light. Battery life wasn’t an issue with the light, at least — I used the strobe setting every workday for 3 weeks (25 minutes per ride) without seeing any degradation in the strength of the light. I haven’t been able to test Fenix’s claims of other runtimes as I don’t ride so much at night anymore (no more late hours at the library!!).

Overall, I like the light — it does what I need it to do and it provides enough light to handle fast rides on dark streets. I don’t recommend the turbo-mode strobe setting at night, though — there’s another lower-intensity flashing setting built into the light that is a bit more friendly on the eyes.

The Fenix PD30 retails for around $60.00 USD…that’s a pretty good deal for a strong, well-made light that would be a valuable addition to the nighttime commuter’s arsenal. Check out Fenix’s full line of lights for every possible need by visiting their website.

LED Valve Cap-Review

Makai Bikes sent me some LED Valve Caps to review.

Specs:

Bicycle Valve Light, 1 Red Led, Automatic Flashing, For A/V, W/Batteries (Ag10X3), One Pair

Cost: $11.89 includes shipping.

It’s a pretty simple install, place it on your tire valves and let the motion sensor lights do their work. Basically this thing will only work if there is movement.

I have it mounted on the Torker Cargo T.
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On the first night I used them, they were super bright. I was on the road for about 45 minutes. I felt great about the visibility they provided. After the second night of use, another 45 minutes on the road, the lights already started to dim. My rear LED was so dim that it was barely visible.

I was surprised on how fast the batteries drained. The LEDs use watch like batteries and the last time I checked these things can add up if you have to keep buying them. So I figured, if the batteries drained in 2 days, with a total of 90 minutes, that means I’d be replacing batteries on a weekly basis. To me this LED light isn’t worth it…You’re better off saving your money and getting a rear blinky from Planet Bike…