Thursday, October 24, 2013

Time for a couple of product updates.

I've been doing twilight to night rides over the summer.  With the shorter days of fall, more rides have been in low light conditions,  And too often, even on bright sunny days, drivers do stupid things.

For example, I was standing in a median, with my bike, as part of crossing a road.  A late model Suburban, with a high-strung driver, decided she wanted to use the median as a left turn lane, and came barrelling at me. There wasn't anywhere for me to  go, so I stared her in the eyes, and held up my arm to wave.  My hand literally pushed her side mirror closed as she passed, with two wheels in the median.  She had to hear the impact, but she didn't stop to see what happened.  All in bright daylight.  I could hardly believe what I saw.

All of the above has made bike-lighting more important to me.  I now have a Niterider Lumina 650 and a 700 (I'm not sure that there's really any difference between these models), and they've been good at lighting up the road (1 at a time).  I use these at the second (1/2?) power setting, both to avoid blinding drivers and to make sure the battery lasts the full ride.  And so far, they've been great.  Plenty of light and coverage for my needs.

A couple of lights (beyond the typical blinker) have been tried on the back.  Somehow, this end of the bike seems to be more difficult for lighting manufacturers, so we'll give them a little more depth examination.

My favorite tail light is a Light and Motion vis 180.  It's bright and visible.  On overcast days, its bright enough to be seen during the day.  Its rechargable via USB port - convenient and green.  I like the mount which is fixed with a larger rubber band.  Some reviewers and commentators have expressed concern about this band. Frankly, I don't think its more subject to wear and breakage than any of the other methods used to attach a rear light to a bike.

The mount only works on a seat post or seat tube, which is too bad.  But it adapts to any profile or size you can imagine.  So, if you have a traditional shaped frame (level top tube, with high-mounted seat stays), and a seat bag, you may not be able to fit the vis 180 on your bike.  But for the rest of us, its an effective solution.  It appears that an (optional?) seat stay mount could easily be developed, but so far Light and Motion has chosen not to do so.  More's the pity.

L and M claim an IP67 rating for limiting water and dust intrusion.   I believe it, because I can't figure out how I'd open up the case, if I wanted to.  Everything about the light, and its mount, is clearly designed, for this light, and its use on a seat post/tube.  Its a tight, high-quality design.

So, we have a very bright and high quality light. Add to that, it seems to spread the light out nicely (think of the 180 in its name).  In fact, at night, the light makes the backs of my legs glow red - its that bright - which should make me that much more visible on the road.

Its important to note that the light needs to be positioned vertically to direct its light where drivers can see it. In order to provide for different seat tube angles, there is a hinged frame on the outside of the light, whose position is manged by a sort of ratchet.  This provides a range of positioning, while securely holding the light in the chosen position.

To remove the light from its mount (while leaving the mount on the bike), its necessary to completely collapse the ratcheted frame towards the light.  When its open, the light is locked to the mount so that it can't fall off. All of this seems like the advanced design, that one pays for, with Light and Motion products.  And most of the time it is.

But, there's a fly in the ointment if you ride in the rain.  At least there was for me.  Some road grime got into the ratchet mechanism, and then the release button wouldn't work.  Without releasing the ratchet, the frame can't  be closed.  And without closing the frame, one can't remove the light from its mount. Oh oh.

The short term solution is to remove light and mount as one piece.  But, continued working of the rubber band, in this manner, does cause me concern regarding the band's life-span.

Further, I can't adjust the angle of mounting for use on different frames.

The first time this happened, I brought the light into the shop and found a way to release the lock, so it could be separated from the mount.  Heavily applied WD40 cleaned out enough grit, so that the ratchet mechanism partially released.  With the partial release, it was possible to carefully adjust the angle of the light, but not close it.  So it could be switched between bikes, but charging the light meant removing the whole mechanism via the rubber band.

Then next rainy ride, things got worse.  The ratchet release seems to move, but it doesn't release.  Period.

IMO there is a design flaw with the ratchet.  It's probably not possible to waterproof it.  So the design needs to provide a means to flush any contaminants out.  Probably an opening or channel where debris can freely travel.  But it doesn't have this feature.

Light and Motion customer support is working with me.  They been good about recognizing my concerns, and willing to stand behind their product. They have been slow to understand the problem, as I've described it, so its unclear what solution they'll offer.

It should be noted that replacement frames (with ratchet release) are available fairly cheaply on eBay.  It appears that a number of folks break these by trying to close the frame without pushing the ratchet release. Worst case, I could always buy one.  But its not clear how to remove or replace this piece (as noted above, I can't find a place to begin opening up the light). And nothing in the instructions (available both in the package, and on line at L and M's website), speaks to this topic.  When I look at trying to remove the frame, there is no obvious way, that doesn't present a clear risk of breakage.

Consequently, I'm waiting for L and M to get back to me.

I still like this light, but don't want to use it in the rain - which was part of the justification for buying such an expensive tail-light.  Color me frustrated. Maybe I'll try some grease around the ratchet to keep it clean.

Next up, the Cygolight.   Bright and floppy.

No comments: