Saturday, April 17, 2021

Crazy Lights

Raveman lights purchased for test/review on
 We have it easy these days, we do. Especially when it comes to lighting for our night time bicycling excursions. I never cease to be amazed by each new generation of LED lights and Lithium/Ion battery technology that seems to come around about every 3-4 months. Last year's lights? Ancient! Old technology! 

I think the term "planned obsolescence" has never been better defined than by the pace of LED light tech. It's stupid, really, and you get more for less all the time. 

This has me thinking about old technologies for lighting which we thought were fine. Perfectly usable stuff, that's what we thought, and we raged through the night with lights not much brighter than birthday candles. We were crazy, that's what we were. There is no way we'd do things like we did with that poor lighting now, especially since we 'know better'.  

This may sound completely bonkers now, but back in the mid to late 00's, we didn't have much for lights. Well, not self-contained lights. You could get rad battery pack lights, but we gravelists didn't want to have to deal with dangling wires and we didn't want to have to deal with battery packs, which typically weighed a ton.We could have gone the hub dynamo route, but that was very expensive. So we had to hack, make-do, and what I ended up using were some less than stellar lights. One I used and had three different iterations of was this home made bodge of a camping head lamp with an external battery pack. (Light, three triple "A" batteries) But I had 100 Lumens of light for thirty hours!  So there was that. 

I dredged through the archives and found some examples of what I used to use. So sit back, grab a cup of coffee, and be amused at what it was I used to use to bomb down hills at night on gravel at 30mph.....

The venerable Cat Eye EL 500

 This was a light we used to recommend for Trans Iowa. Yes- really! It was rated at 1000 candlepower and ran off 4 AAA batteries, easily found at convenience stores and you could pack extras. The unit was light, fairly durable for gravel riding, and threw an okay amount of light. It was also pretty inexpensive going for around $25.00 in its heyday. It had a magnetic switch, so theoretically it could never fail. The major downfall of this light was that the lens screwed off to reveal the batteries and that usually fouled up the housing at some point, which was made of pretty flimsy plastic. The lens also wasn't what I would call great either. 

Blackburn came out with a "better version" of an EL 500 in the late 00's and I used one for a while.

 After the Cat Eye EL 500 came out and was wildly popular many companies went to work to make a better version. I had a Blackburn light around the time we did Trans Iowa v5 in 2009 which was definitely an improvement. Gone were the separate AAA batteries and it was a true self-contained unit. The trouble with this one was that the handle bar/light mount was finicky, (a very common issue with lights), and the thing was heavy for the minuscule amount of power (compared to today's lights), so off it came. It also had pretty poor run times on its higher setting, as I recall, making it a bit of a problem when it came to riding at night for a long period of time.

My hacked camp head lamp with external battery pack. This was from 2012

 Longer run times meant you had to compromise on light power. Battery technology wasn't quite being applied at the time so one could have a light weight, portable, self-contained, long run time light. I ended up scouring department stores and hardware stores for options. I ended up finding these Eveready camp head lamps, you know, the type you wear around your head so you can set up your tent at night? 

I hacked three of these, but my best attempt was the last where I found this adjustable lens light with a metal casing and bezel which ran at 100 Lumens for thirty hours off a three AAA battery pack. With the lens bezel set to maximum flood, I had a light I could putter around out in the country with for as long as I liked. Trouble was that it was too floody, and there wasn't that 'punch', that strong beam you need to see when you are flying downhill at warp speed. So I supplemented this light with one of the forerunners of the new vanguard of self-contained LED lights, a Lezyne Super Drive, circa 2012. 

The Lezyne Super Drive came out at the end of 2011.

 The Super Drive was top of the line at the time for Lezyne and had a 450 Lumen output with a run time of 1.5hrs. A piddly amount compared to today's lights, but back then, it was something, being so small and powerful as it was compared to the competition. By the way, it would run at 100 Lumens for 5 hours. Six times less than my hacked camp light! 

It was at about this time when companies started dedicating R&D to lightweight, self-contained, versatile lighting with decently long run times. That's when the whole deal went bananas and takes us up to today. 

So, now we have LED rear lights with brake sensors and light sensors to warn cars coming up from behind that there is a cyclist on the road. We have 1600 Lumen lights, which is supposedly 600 Lumens brighter than a car headlamp on high-beam, which run for an hour plus at that level. All self-contained, and priced well below $200.00. It's crazy. You used to have to spend nearly a thousand bucks for that sort of power and run time. This 1600 Lumen light I am testing will run at 400 Lumens for 7 hours. Quite a bit better than that Lezyne Super Drive at about the same power. Plus I have several modes other than that, and a remote!

Stay tuned for updates on these Raveman lights. 

Note: These Raveman lights were purchased at a discounted price for test and review on I am not being paid, nor bribed, for this post and I always strive to give my honest thoughts and opinions throughout.


graveldoc said...

After reading this post, a song came to my mind. That song was the 1973 song performed by Manfred Mann's Earth Band: Blinded by the light. One of the lyrics refers to "another roamer in the night". Maybe the writer was a gravel rider...

MuddyMatt said...

I am a big fan of the Ravemen PR1200 which I've had for about 4 years now. It (and the other models in the PR range) is about the only self-contained battery light with great run times and a dipped beam lens for riding on the road. It's really been fantastic - but I'll leave Mark to cover the other features and aspects of the light during his trials. His mileage may vary :)

As for old skool lighting - yes, been there, done that. Vowed off external batteries once when on a solo, foggy ride in the middle of nowhere and needed to get through a tight gate. Cable snagged, popped out of lamp and left me in total darkness. And I could hear something in the bushes..! That was a panic-y scrabble to relocate the cable I can tell you!

Lighting options these days are truly impressive.

Guitar Ted said...

@graveldoc - Now, I often use post titles with vague references to rock & roll hit songs, but this one was unintentional. That said, I am pleasantly surprised to find I inadvertently managed to make a reference anyway. That's a good one! Thanks for sharing.

@MuddyMatt - The model you refer to seems to have many of the same features as two of the lights I am to be testing. So far, I am fairly impressed. Glad to know that you have been impressed as well.

Your cable snag story sounds frightening. The prospects of having to get back to home base without any lights (and hearing strange bumps in the night!) would have made for a dismal experience. Glad to know you got that situation sorted.

Tman said...

I still have my frankenlight I cobbled together 20+ years ago. Used a cheap eveready flashlight for the housing. A Night rider high beam with a lead calcium battery from the hobby shop. I think it rocked 120 watts for 3 hours!

NY Roll said...

The weirder part is you are correct about lighting system development, and how easy and more economical they are. Then you ask others if they want to go on a night ride and then the looks you get like you are crazy. People are astonished i do a century at night every August. It boggles their minds. Since I can not handle heat well, I ride when it is cooler.
I sense a donut ride coming for you and I.

DT said...

I think we have the cell phone industry to thank for a lot of the li-on battery development, and LED's are used in so many industries as well. It's truly a great time to be in the Light market! That said, I remember when I was shopping for lights a few years back, and amongst other things (like beam pattern) you mentioned that 250/300 lumen was about perfect for normal speed nighttime gravel. You didn't want to go lower for obvious reasons, and anything higher would wash out the contours of the surface. Do you still agree with that assessment (if I'm remembering it correctly)?

Guitar Ted said...

@DT - Yeah, I still hold to that, but it kind of depends on situations and gravel type. Our more white gravel really reflects a lot of light so big, powerful beams wash out the details of where you should be riding to avoid deeper gravel, ruts, etc.

You might get away with a stronger light on dirt, for instance, where your reflections are less. You might want a big, long throw of a powerful beam on a fast down hill, as another example. You may even want less power on snow covered roads.

So,yeah, I agree that 250-300 is god for where I ride most of the time, but one needs to decide what is right for themselves based on their own territory and needs.