Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Trans Iowa v14: Lights and Batteries

Lights are a big deal for Trans Iowa. (Image by Jason Boucher)
Continuing on with the Trans Iowa v14 advice for the Rookies, here are the next two questions. Both of these have to do with lights and batteries. Again- If you have good suggestions please consider leaving them in a comment. Thanks! So without further adieu, let's dive in here. 

"I have a handle bar light I am happy with but have not been able to find a helmet light. Any helmet light suggestions to make seeing your cockpit easy?"

Answer: One of the more recent innovations useful to night time cyclists is the explosion of LED lighting technologies. In fact, things change on a year by year, and almost month by month, basis anymore. I find it amazing, and if you dig in to the LED light market, you might come away with a glazed over look in about half an hour. There is so much out there I cannot possibly cover it all in one post, or a week's worth.

Certainly it is entirely possible for anyone to build their own lights from scratch, but prices for Asian sourced lights make it almost not worth your time to even pick up a soldering iron. Cheap lights are one thing, but getting something that works without annoying issues is another. So, thinking along the lines of what actually works in a no fuss manner, here are some features I would require in a helmet light.

  • Light weight, fully self contained system. No external bateries.
  • Fully capable of illuminating the road/cues for 9 hours with no battery changes.
  • At least 150 Lumens of power.  
That may sound like a tall order. However; it shouldn't be impossible with today's LED light choices and most will come with helmet mounts. (Be sure to check before you buy if the mount is included or a separate purchase)

 So, let's break this down- First off, 150 Lumens is what I consider the lower threshold of where a rider can use the light emitted for navigation. Any less and you'll have a difficult time seeing anything and you will certainly "outrun" the light on downhills. So, what I usually look for is a higher powered light that has a medium or low setting that is at least 150 Lumens or as high as 250 Lumens. (NOTE- I might use a higher powered light on my handle bars, but 250 Lumens is plenty there as well.) By the way, a helmet light is more than something you'll use for just seeing cues with. You'll need it to read signs on corners and to "shoot your light up the road" or side to side as you negotiate down hills and as you try to find good riding lines at night. Usually you can find a light that will run for several hours at the power levels I'm suggesting that aren't too heavy and cumbersome.

Jeremy Fry heading out into the night during T.I.v7 (Image by Wally Kilburg)
Secondly, you don't have to run that helmet light all the time. This may allow you to get a lighter light with less run time and still make it work for the entire evening. Also, and it is something else to consider, but if you are running in a pack of riders, or with a small group, helmet lights become a bit superfluous. You may as well shut them off until you hit a high speed down hill or are approaching a corner you need to turn at.

There are generator lights that are amazing, but..... That requires a special wheel, wiring, and special high end lights need to be considered here. Rain and mud could be a factor, so inexpensive generator lights may not be a good choice. A great system would also have a USB port for charging techno-gadgets, so there is that advantage to consider here. A generator system is a viable choice, but they are expensive and they aren't necessary to see well in Trans Iowa. Choose what you think is best here.

Finally, I know I haven't addressed seeing your cues, but it shouldn't be an issue with a helmet light. Generally speaking, most lights have enough "spill" that you may not have to look downward anymore than usual to get the bars illuminated to see your cues on the cue sheet holder. (More on cue card holders later)

The next question is based on power for devices and lights. Here it is: "What is the best way to keep your light and computer charged for 30 hours? Best external battery pack?  Dynamo hub?"

This Lezyne light can be purchased with an external battery pack which doubles its run times, easily encompassing a Trans Iowa.
Answer: Well, again, finding an LED light that will go for the entirety of Trans Iowa should be easy to do nowadays. The light you choose may have run times suitable to go the 9 to ten hours you'll need light without a battery pack, or you may need an extra battery, but this is getting to be less and less of an issue these days.

If you insist on using a high drain computer, (GPS), then you probably should look into an external battery charging device.  (Or the generator hub idea discussed above.) There are tons of choices out there. Dirt Bag Tip: Turn OFF your cell phone until you need it. Most smart phone batteries will hold a charge for days when turned off and do you really want to get all those social media updates while you are trying to ride 300 plus miles? Yeah.....I don't think so. 

The GPS computer on the left might last you all of TI- The one on the right will definitely do it!
 The bottom line here is that you can make choices that won't require you to worry at all about batteries or device charging. So, to answer the question in a snarky way- "Just choose components that don't need charging!". You can thank me later for this brilliant advice to avoid energy draining techno-gadgets. Sarcasm aside, the fact is, you don't need that stuff to ride Trans Iowa and it makes life a bit easier if you don't. In the end, it is your choice to make in regard to how much complexity you want to add to your stress levels.

Again to recap- Lights are amazing these days and finding great lights for the helmet or bars that would run for the dark hours of Trans Iowa without recharging or plugging in new batteries is a definite, reasonably priced reality. It wasn't always this way, even five years ago. Battery charging devices exist that will keep a Garmin running for 30 plus hours easily. (But again- you don't have to choose that head ache. A wireless Cat Eye for 50 bucks will run forever and you won't have to turn it on and off. ) Side Note- Getting exact mileage is a game that you won't win. You'll be off on mileages considering that you'll be wavering, taking side trips for resupply, and possibly making wrong turns. You should think of mileage as a "suggestion"- to be a relative cue for your eyes to look for signs that will match up with cue sheet prompts. Or......hook yourself to a veteran Trans Iowa rider and don't let go! Sooner or later you'll get the hang of it if you pay attention.

Next: Cue Sheet Holders


Unknown said...

I used a Gemini handlebar light and was able to make it last the whole event. For my helmet I have a serfas light that I was able to recharge with my portable battery during a stop in the middle of the night on Saturday. The technology is much improved since my first attempt back at V5 that is for sure.

Michael said...

Light and Motion makes good stuff and it's made in America. Yay. I'm a fan of L&M's Urban series of lights, which can be mounted on handlebars or a helmet. The battery life on the Urban's maybe isn't quite long enough for The Trans, but their 500 Lumen version of the light is $60 and they're small and light so you could just pick up a couple. They're also USB rechargeable, so you can recharged them with an external battery.

jack said...

The gear decisions and planning is one of the many amazing things about TI.

For the last two years I used a pair of bontrager Ion 700 lights, so I could use one while I charged the other. I mounted both to my handlebar and I have a small 5200mAh battery pack that I used to recharge these lights (once each during last years 30+ hour epic). I used the same battery pack to recharge an older garmin device one time during the event and it still had plenty of juice to top off my cell phone post race - keep in airplane mode to conserve battery. I was able to charge devices from my frame bag and keep things reasonably waterproof.

Helmet-wise, I ran a super tiny adjustable LED light that I zip tied to front of my helmet solely to read my queue sheets last year. My first year I used a much more powerful ION light that was difficult to adjust and too bright for reading queues/mileage without killing my night vision completely.

Derek said...

Also see GT's 2 posts on this site from October!

I think lighting is one of the easier parts nowadays. But unlike clothing, reading past ride reports on the web is not that helpful if more than a couple years old due to changing technology. My personal opinion & experiences (based only on my DNF 15 hours into TI v.13 and a successful 6a-11p Spotted Horse 200 2017 race):

Battery. The GPS track for posterity, er Strava, is essential for me. My Garmin Edge 810 claims 17 hours battery but only lasted 13 hours at Spotted Horse (following a GPS track wich adds draw). A small 6700mAh USB charger restored it quickly and provides plenty of excess for addn recharges or other devices.

Budget was a factor. I didn't want to carry extra batteries so I looked for a setup that would go 14-15 hours. (4-7am first morning & 7pm-7am Sat night). I also went cheaper on lights than clothing etc. I chose a front handlebar light and a helmet light and will use them again. 150-200 lumens for bar is indeed enough, especially if the beam pattern is good.

I used the 150 lumen "all night" low setting on a Cateye Volt 1200 at both races and was very happy. The Volt 1200 claims 17.5 hrs on this setting. The mid setting is super bright; I seldom use it. I never use the high. I *think* the dual beam is more effective than a single beam. See links above. (For higher speed road riding, I currently use a single beam Volt 800 usually on medium or high (400/800L).)

I use a helmet-mounted Volt 300 on low (50 lumen, 18 hr battery) for cue sheets. Anything brighter (i.e., my 800) is too intense for me.

Derek said...

Also, I'm a big fan of dual computers. I use my Garmin Edge for the posterity Strava track, but I use an inexpensive Cateye (Velo 9) for the cue sheets. If one dies, I have a backup. Also you can reset the cyclocomputer to match the cue sheets without messing up your GPS device or having separate activity files. They only downside is cockpit space.

Michael Lemberger said...

Has anyone finished with a dynohub? If so, I'd presume a SON most likely?

Guitar Ted said...

@Michael Lemberger- The answer would be a yes there. As early as T.I.v3, actually. And yes, it was a SON dyno. Others have used them since then, but I have not made any notes to remember who or if they finished or not. Greg Gleason mentions in "Gravel Cycling" that he used a dyno hub in V13, but I do not know what model he used, so there is at least another example.

Michael Lemberger said...

Thanks Mark. Yes, they're expensive, but mine will go onto my camping bike following TI. Really wished I'd had one for my recent long tour.

Steve Fuller said...

@michael Lemberger - Both of my TI finishes have been on dyno hubs. First time was with a first gen SON, the second time was with a thru axle SP-PD8X

Justin Schuetz said...

I successfully managed a finish with a dynamo hub as well (15mm thru SON). I'm big and dumb and don't notice any extra drag.

I paired it with a Busch & Mueller Luxos U headlamp that has a usb charger and some pretty fancy technology for beams and speed. For cue sheet reading and street signs, I just used a cheap little hiker headlamp that has a red light setting. The red light works awesome for reading cues and I can turn on the white light to reflect off of a street sign if I need it.