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Bright lights for dark nights

Bright lights for dark nights

Way back in January I bought myself a new set of cycle lights for commuting in the dark, namely the Dinotte 400L Road Rider’s experience. It was a wee bit more than I really wanted to pay, due to the weakness of the Pound against the Dollar, but I am really pleased with the lights. Whilst I have commented on these lights a few times in this blog, I just realised that haven’t posted a photo of them in action, until now…

Dinotte 400L Road Rider's Experience

Note that the front wheel has turned towards the wall, so you are not seeing the full throw of the light. I find that I use the rear light (tail light) the most, as it bright enough to make a difference in day light. Used in flashing mode, I am reliably informed that it can be seen for over a mile (1.6Km) in full sunlight. Everyone I know who has seen it in action has commented on it. Also, I know at least one person who has been so impressed he also bought the same light set. They are without doubt the brightest cycle lights I have ever owned and well worth buying.

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Cycle helmets

Cycle helmets

There was a thread on a cycling forum recently on how often a cycle helmet needs to be replaced. The person who starting the thread wrote that his helmet was now three years old and still in perfect condition but the manufacture recommends that cycle helmets should be replaced every three years. There was a sentiment expressed that this was a marketing ploy by the manufacturer to sell more helmets. This set me wondering about peoples understanding of the safety of using helmets and their motivations for wearing them.

Conversations with colleges at work show that at least one had suffered injury directly as a result of wearing a cycle helmet. The helmet was not properly fastened and a glancing blow caused the helmet to twist on his head leaving him with a gash across the forehead. He was of the opinion that had he not been wearing a helmet he would not have been as badly injured and consequently he no longer wears a helmet when cycling. One cycling expert has stated that apart from racing cyclists either off or on road, he, hardly ever sees a cycle helmet being worn properly. Research has also shown that a badly fitted cycle helmet can double your chances of a head injury in the event of a crash.

Do cycle helmets actually increase cycle safety anyway? This is rather a contentious question…

The manufacture and sale of cycle helmets is a highly profitable multi-billion pound international business, dominated by a few large companies. These companies have given money to campaigning organisations that seek to boost helmet use and introduce legislation. In Europe, industry campaigns to boost helmet sales in countries where helmet use is low (such as The Netherlands and Denmark) have been driven by purely commercial considerations. The claims made by helmet manufacturers for their products are very modest compared with those made by lobby groups and they do not claim that a helmet will protect from death. However, the industry has been active in promulgating the results of pro-helmet research by others, even where this predicts benefits from helmet use well in excess of what manufacturers feel able to justify.

As John Franklin, the author of “Cyclecraft”, concludes: “Although there has been much research into cycle helmets, too much of this is suspect with regard to assumptions made and control groups used. It does not relate well to real-world circumstances. Most research has been predictive in nature and based on small samples. Little has looked at the results that have actually been achieved in large population samples when helmet use has increased significantly. No research has put the risk of head injury when cycling into perspective with the risk from other common activities and the overall effect on life expectancy and health.

It seems reasonable to expect that reductions in injuries brought about through the wearing of cycle helmets would be reflected in the general accident statistics in places where helmet use has become significant. This should particularly be the case if the more optimistic predictions for injury reduction are correct. However, whole population statistics from Australia, New Zealand, the United States and Canada show no distinguishable change in fatalities, and statistics for London show no such change for any severity of injury, as helmet use has increased substantially.

This suggests that the real-world performance of cycle helmets may be falling well short of the predictions that have been made.”

David Jamieson the former Minister for Transport, acknowledged in 2004 when the UK Government considered introducing a law to make the wearing of cycle helmets compulsory, that the Government knows of no case where cyclist safety has improved with increasing helmet use. The Government abandoned it is plans for this law after failing to find a single cycling organisation which was prepared to back such a law. Even the NHS has produced evidence the compulsory use of cycle helmets has a negative effect on health of the wider population. Four papers, published in UK in 2005, found little evidence of helmet effectiveness. Indeed there is evidence the wearing a cycle helmet increases the risk of neck injury if you are struck by a motor vehicle (Rivara et al. 1997).

The more I look to this question, the more the evidence convinces me that cycle helmets are a waste of money and do very little, if anything, to increase cycle safety. If, however, you do want to use a helmet then it is best to get one that conforms the highest standard, a list can be found here. They may cost a wee bit more but then it again are you going to wear it for safety or as a fashion statement?

I would just like to give the final words to Laurence Howman writing in the British Medical Journal “Sirs I worked as a Health Care Worker for 24 years at the Local Hospital. 4+ years of that Time was spend on the Neurological Ward. So I had to deal with many Head Injury Patients. It may be of interest to those who promoted the use of Cycle Helmets that During that 4+ years I can’t recall any of the Patients who was a Cyclist. I believe it about time that those studying Cycle Accidents take a look at the Neuro Wards and not the Emergency Wards. It is the Neuro Wards where the really head injuries come. I bet they may just change their tune. You could also look at the Heart and Stroke Wards too because Cyclist don’t turn up there much either”.

New biking toys

New biking toys

I got a few new toys for the bike just recently.

Firstly a pair of Shimano A530 SPD pedals to replace the old M505 which came with the bike. The old pedals had SM-PD22 clip-on platform adapters, pretty ugly, but handy before I went clipless. I know there are purists out there who will tell you that once you go clipless you never go back, but find that I like having the choice of being clipped in or not, especially in town when there are a lot traffic lights. Anyway I really like the A530s they feel very smooth, and although they need a wee bit more force to clip in, when it comes to clipping out I find them much easier (I am still using the same old cleats). Overall I am really pleased with them.

Secondly and probably more exciting I have bought some more lights, oh yes more lights. Back before Christmas DiNotte had the 400L Road Rider’s experience on sale at what looked like a bargain price and in a moment of weakness I decided to go for it. The price was good as it was, but would have been even better six months ago when the pound (£) was worth $2, even at an exchange rate of $1.49=£1 it still looked a good deal. The bit I forgot is that the exchange rate the credit card company charges is never as good as the official exchange rate. The ordering process was very straightforward and I was sent the url of a page to track the progress of my lights in shipping. They crossed the Atlantic in good time, cleared UK customs and made their way to the local delivery office. Then it show delivery attempted, but as I had had them sent to my work address I knew it hadn’t been, what was going on?? After a couple of days of being told that my parcel hadn’t arrived yet every time I passed reception, I received a letter from Parcelforce (much to the relief of our receptionist) telling me that I had to pay VAT and Duty before they would deliver. Now VAT I had expected, I had forgotten about Duty, but I wasn’t expecting an extra charge (of £13.50) from Parcelforce for collecting the VAT and Duty. Oh well that is just one of the joys of buying stuff from abroad over the internet.

Anyway now that I have the lights, what are they like? Well the first impression as you open the box is, wow there is a lot of stuff in here! It is not just the two lights (front and rear) and two 2 cell batteries, there is a Worldwide smart charger, a helmet mount, numerous other mounts to mount the lights on handlebar, seatpost, rack, seatstay, chainstay or any other location you can think of, also a headband (for those like me who regard helmets as pointless), then there is the cabling and straps, and last but not least a lens kit is also included to add some beam pattern flexibility for the front light. The only thing that was missing was a word of warning, which should read: DO NOT be tempted to look at the lens as you turn on the lights for the first time. By the time you switch them on for the second time, you know why. If you were tempted then the thought of lying in a darkened room for several hours waiting for your eye sight to come back again is enough to put you off doing it again. Yes, these lights are SERIOUSLY bright.

Having got them home and played around with them for a wee while, the batteries started to go flat, so time to recharge. Now on the DiNotte web site it says the lights come with a “Worldwide smart charger (just add your country’s plug)”, from that I expected a laptop style inline power brick, instead it is a mobile phone type charger with a moulded in two pin American plug. So I set about digging out a travel adaptor, only to find that all our travel adaptors were to plug a British three pin plug into a foreign socket and not the other way round. Not to be beaten, I took it into the bathroom and plugged it into the shaver socket, and within a short time the red light on the charger turned to green telling me that the battery was fully charged. NB the batteries are only partly charged on delivery, so don’t expect to get the full run time straight out of the box.

Next puzzle, which of the ten brackets supplied to use to mount the lights on my bike? The range of options is wide, or on the back would be if I wasn’t using a Trek pannier rack and Karrimor EH20 Global panniers which limits the options to the seat post. Even so, I still had a choice of vertical or horizontal. At the front end, after trying a range of different configurations, I opted to use the headband for the first outing.

Ok, so what are they like on the road I hear you asking. Well, for the first test I only used the rear light, as I was cycling to work and it was just before sunrise and I didn’t need a light to see by (I did have my collection of old lights to be seen by). As I wasn’t sure how long the battery would last and wasn’t going to be able to recharge it at work, I set the light to flashing mode. Cycling through the rush hour traffic, I found that I was getting more space than I was used to, this has to be a good thing. On the return journey it was fully dark, so I deployed the front light. Having it on the headband is very handy when trying to unlock the bike and re-attach the battery for the rear light in a semi darkened bike shed. Getting on the bike, I found that I had set the angle of the light too low (adjusting the angle of the light needs a screwdriver) and had to tilt my head up a wee bit more than I would usually do when looking straight down the road, but this was only a minor issue.

I set off with the light on full blast, and cycling out past the Vet School where the street lights stop I found that I could now easily see the hedges on both sides of the road. Before the new lights I had had to slow down to avoid riding into the hedge on my side as the road curved. Even better, I saw the loom of the lights of an oncoming car dip before the car came round the corner! Normally they just come flying round in the middle of the road, but this time it had slowed down and was on its own side of the road, which was much safer. When I reached the street lit road again, I turned the light down to its lowest setting, as I didn’t feel I needed as much light, and still found I had plenty. I also noticed that car drivers turning out of side roads were far more aware of my presence, they all looked at least twice and none tried to cut out in front of me. As for the rear light, this time I had set it to high and constant. As with my morning ride, I found that drivers were giving me more room than I would normally expect to get, and none of them tried a last minute overtake or a close pass. Great result.

Having gotten home safely, I wanted to check to see what the battery levels were like, my commute is about 30 minutes out and 20 minutes home (not including time in the bike shed). So I followed the instruction manual (one sheet of A4) which came with the lights and found that the rear light was reporting 50-75% battery power and the front 75-100% battery power. Want to see them in action? See here!

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More about lights…

More about lights…

I was talking to a friend at work today about rear cycle lights and we decided to take a couple of photos as a comparison, of I thought I would post them here just in case anyone should be interested. First the DiNotte 140L v a Smart 1/2 W LED 3 Function light (which is said to be visible from up to 800 metres, according to the sales blurb).
Rear light comparison 1
And one with the Cateye TL-LD600 turned on, as you can see from the flare these photos were taken on a bright sunny day.
Rear light comparison 2

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Shine on you crazy ruby…!

Shine on you crazy ruby…!

With the days steadily shortening I decided that it was about time I got some new lights for my bike. Over the last few years I have been attaching more and more lights to my bike, mostly of the flashing LED variety, come to think of it most are made by Cateye. Among others I have a HL-EL410, a HL-EL220, a couple of old halogens which the model number has rubbed of (but they look a bit like the HL-EL220), a TL-LD270, TL-LD600 and a TL-LD120. How do Cateye come up with such exciting names? However I have noticed that despite having all these lights showing back and front (oh and a hi-viz jacket), drivers seem to have some difficulty in spotting that I am on the road at all. Ok so there are some that drivers think I shouldn’t be there at all, but these are really just a few sad individuals with below average IQs.

So I started to think that maybe these lights just aren’t bright enough. After all, until recently, most of my cycling (in the dark) has been in urban environments which are street lit. Some parts of my commuting used to take me along an unlit cycle path and I had noticed that, even when I switched all my front flashing lights to steady beam, there was only just enough light to ride by if I wasn’t going too fast. Looking around I also noticed that other well-lit cyclists didn’t always stand out in heavy traffic when there were a lot of other brighter lights about. I finally came to the conclusion that the lights I had, while perfectly adequate for use in light traffic and on minor roads, simply aren’t bright enough for heavy duty commuting in rush hour traffic.

Having recently (well not that recently) moved to a longer semi rural commute, I decided that this was a good excuse to get a decent set of lights. I have started with the rear light, as there is one obvious choice if you want to have a seriously bright rear light; the DiNotte 140L. Ok, the 400L is brighter still, but I don’t have that much money to spend [edit a year later I had changed my mind]. And if I did I am not sure I would want to leave it permanently mounted on my bike just in case some light fingered type decided to “borrow” it. There are two basic battery choices with these lights, the AA Pro Series, which uses ordinary AA rechargeable batteries (or even disposables in emergencies) or the Li Endurance Series, which uses proprietary Lithium-ion rechargeable batteries. After a wee bit of umming and aahhing I decided to buy the AA version as it was the cheaper option and replacement batteries are easier to come by.

First impressions: well I have had it for a few weeks now, but haven’t used it in the dark yet. In day light it certainly is bright. I did have a few problems with the light not lasting very long and then not wanting to turn off. At first I thought the light unit was faulty, but after a browse around the DiNotte web site I realised that it was a battery problem (or more likely that I need a better charger, as my rechargeable batteries don’t seem to last very long). With freshly charged batteries (especially if I have used the charger at work) the light is very effective, even in daylight drivers give me noticeably more room. I particularly noticed this the other morning. On my commute, the batteries died about 2/3 of the way there and I could tell when it happened, as the drivers started to pass far closer to me. So with winter coming, I am making sure I have two sets of fully charged batteries with me, as having a light this bright really does make it safer on the roads. Now all I have to do is to decide which lights to buy for the front. In the meantime, Shine on you crazy DiNotte ruby!!

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