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Tag Archive: night riding

Review: Planet Bike’s “Blaze 1W” Headlight

A few months back, Planet Bike sent us two versions of their “Blaze 1W” headlight to test. Russ got the dynamo-powered version, and I got the battery-operated model.

blaze 1w

The light is only a bit bigger than many of its cousins; a slightly wider body and about 3/4″ longer than other PB lights. Much of this extra length comes from a cast aluminum heatsink that separates the head of the Blaze 1W from the rest of the body. Here’s a comparison shot of the Blaze 1W next to two other PB lights, the Beamer 1 and the Beamer 5:

comparo

The light has two brightness settings and one flashing pattern. The flash setting is the same one used by Planet Bike’s class-dominating “Superflash” taillight, and it sure gets attention…two half-power blinks followed by a full-strength blast. A friend riding in front of me stated, “it’s like being chased by the paparazzi!”

Other similarities between the Blaze 1W and other lights in the Planet Bike line include power from 2 AA batteries (I use NiCad rechargeables) and the exact same handlebar mounting clamp. I’m not a huge fan of the mounting clamp; while it is adjustable to fit a wide variety of handlebar diameters, I’ve found the mount can slip if you don’t get it as tight as it’ll go. I learned a trick from our longtime reader and friend Quinn McLaughlin…his suggestion was to add a strip of hockey-stick griptape to the handlebar just under where the clamp sits. This works like a charm and eliminates any of the slipping gripes I have with the PB mount.

I was excited to try this high-powered light — having used only low-power LED lights for years, I’ve often “outrun” the beam as I ride home from work in the dark. And, truly high-powered lights can be tremendously expensive, keeping me away from them. PB intends this light to to split the difference between “to see” and “to be seen” lights on the market…with a 1-watt Blaze LED, this light cranks out an impressive blast of light.

Let’s compare that beam to the other PB lights I have on hand…my nighttime picture-taking skills leave a bit to be desired, but I hope you’ll get the idea. In the following photo, I have the Blaze 1W, the Beamer 5 and the Beamer 1 arranged from left to right. Using freshly recharged batteries and a white backdrop, I’ve got the following beam comparison:

beam comparison

Hard to tell which is the brightest, isn’t it? I thought so, too, so I set up another comparison between the two I considered brightest, the Blaze and the Beamer 1. These next two shots are from a distance of 25 feet in near-total darkness. First, we have the Beamer 1:

beamer 1

The bicycle the light is aimed at is barely visible (but my “yard art” shines nicely!). Now, let’s take a look at the illuminating power of the Blaze 1W:

blaze 1w

Perhaps still a bit hard to tell, but in real life the difference is pretty impressive! Details are far more visible than with lesser-powered lights…and this extra visibility is crucial for dark commutes on poorly-lit routes where cracks and road hazards loom.

It is possible to “outrun” this light, too…but you’ve got to be traveling pretty fast to do so. And, of course, this light isn’t suitable for offroading or 24-hour racing…it’s not THAT bright. For around-town riding, though, if you really need more light than this baby puts out, you’re looking at big bucks for another brand’s HID/LED lighting system.

For bike commuters on a budget, this light is totally worth the price and should be at the top of your list for affordable nighttime riding. It offers impressive performance at a fraction of the price of a really high-end light system. Even if you only use the Blaze 1W in flashing mode, you WILL get the attention of motorists — this light is well-neigh impossible to ignore.

Check out more information on this light and the rest of the line of commuter-friendly products by visiting Planet Bike’s website.

Foglights for Bicycles — Update

A couple weeks ago, we discussed foglights for bikes. It was decided that low-mounted lights would be perfect for cutting through thick fog.

Well, our man in Reno (Quinn) decided to do some real-world testing of this setup. Based on his experiences setting up the original system, he did some tinkering and added another light to his bicycle. Here’s the setup:

The foglight setup

The fork-mounted lights are Cateye HL-EL 410 LED lights with rotational bases. The handlebar-mounted light is a Cateye HL-EL 220 with 5 LEDs. The mounts that come with the 410s tended to slip a little on the fork blades, so Quinn wrapped the clamping areas with cloth-based electrical tape (“friction tape”). Alternatively, one could use a dedicated fork mount such as those sold by Terracycles.

Quinn provided us with a series of test photos that showed the light pattern and intensity against a freshly-painted white garage door. These test photos were shot at a variety of distances. I could discern no difference between the test photo of all three lights on and the photo with just the fork-mounted lights on. Those little fork-mounted lights are BRIGHT!

After riding in some crappy weather, Quinn reports that fork-mounted lights are the way to go. The light is further away from a rider’s eyes, reducing distraction and helping preserve night vision. I’d still run a small “be seen” light up on the handlebars, though, to help motorists determine what that weird oncoming shape is. Two low-mounted lights might confuse a motorist, especially since that’s an unusual place to see lights (hovering mere inches from the ground)!

Here’s another shot of the two mounted lights:

Fork mounts

Quinn is running regular disposable batteries and he reports that with five 1/2 hour nighttime commutes and 2-3 weekend rides, the batteries in those 410 lights last about a month. That’s pretty good!

This (or similar) setup might be a good thing to try if your nighttime commute often includes rain or fog. Heck, this might be a great setup for ANY nighttime riding, and really maximizes the potential of those inexpensive LED lights on the market. If you can’t afford something high-end like NiteRiders or DiNottes, this might be just the ticket to being able to see the road at night and in bad weather.

Thanks for the pictures, tests and setup information, Quinn — you’re advancing the science of nighttime bicycle commuting!