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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.

pd30

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.

compact

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…

recessed lens

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):

pool

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:
light

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.

lockblock

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.

More on the “LightLane” Concept

Many of you have probably read about the “LightLane” concept dreamed up by the fertile minds at Altitude, Inc. of Somerville, Massachusetts. The concept has been covered on a wide variety of cycling and design blogs, but there wasn’t a whole lot of information included.

lightlane

As a professional librarian, the quest for more information is near and dear to my heart, so I sent the designers, Evan Gant and Alex Tee, an email. Here’s what Evan had to say about the concept:

Thank you for showing interest in our LightLane concept. We are extremely excited about the response it has been receiving, which has spurred us to continue down the development path. The origin of the idea was purely conceptual, as Alex and I had entered a design competition to promote commuting by bicycle (editor’s note: the design competition was Bicycle Design’s excellent “Commuter Bike for the Masses” contest). Having witnessed several friends be hit by cars while in traffic, we felt the intimidation of sharing the road was one of the bigger barriers to commuting by bicycle.

However, we also noticed that our personal comfort on roads with bicycle lanes was much improved so we set out to understand what the differences were between these two situations. Clearly one of the biggest benefits of bicycle lanes is that there is an established common boundary that both drivers and riders respect and must stay within. However, this requires a great deal of resources and planning to implement, so we decided to focus on the fact that the bicycle lane establishes a safety buffer outside of the bicycle’s footprint.

After experimenting with physical ways of increasing the perceived size of the bicycle, we quickly realized all of these would compromise the rider’s safety by increasing the probability of accidental clipping. It was at this point that we decided to project a visual boundary onto the adjacent pavement using a laser. Although it doesn’t establish a clear and predictable path for a rider to follow, it does encourage a driver to provide the rider with a wider berth by capturing their attention in a different way.

Currently we are building a beta prototype where we will be experimenting with different laser colors and orientations. Once the optimal laser configuration has been established and validated, we will quickly develop a fully functional unit where we will focus our efforts on several aspects of usability including theft prevention, cleanability and corrosion resistance. Concurrently we will be looking for manufacturing and distribution partners.

It’s been truly remarkable to see the excitement that this concept has generated, especially considering it was just a fun quirky idea to begin with. What’s been equally interesting in my opinion is to see how the product has pushed the debate of who owns the roads. This well established debate has been a common point of discussion within my own family, and clearly the LightLane, nor any product, will solve it. Instead we hope that it connects with people in a new and fun way.

Thanks, Evan, for responding — there have been lots of great comments on the various sites that covered this concept, including different laser colors (green lasers for more daytime visibility) and even aiming the lasers into following motorists’ eyes (not such a good idea). Let’s hope this concept reaches a prototype soon, as the idea behind it is full of possibility!