LED bike lights

Advances in LED lighting, and Li-Ion batteries  have made BRIGHT lighting for cyclists reasonable and cost-effective.

The picture doesn’t do it justice; these lights are very very bright; I have been running them in daylight on their lower-power setting and they are quite visible.

The lights I stumbled on are sold on eBay “direct from China”; from seller “lifebike2011” for ~ $30 (the price has been going down) for a kit that includes a light head; handlebar mount; head strap (that i’ve never used or tried) and a 4-cell Li-Ion battery pack (which is wired in parallel, by the way; i.e. nominal voltage is 4VDC).

The build quality of the light head is excellent, though it offers only 3 “modes”: hi – lo – flash (the flashing is pretty scarey, it alternates between hi and off at maybe 300Hz). The actual emitter is a Cree XM-L at the T6 “brightness bin”. They claim a very inflated 1800 lumens of light output; 950 or 1000 is more realistic. Negatives about this package are the battery pack isn’t sealed against weather really in any way. the end caps are cardboard. Although the runtime is quite acceptable (e.g. lo power for over 8 hours), the light seems to “die” quickly; I mean without much warning. There is a pilot light in the clickey that is normally blue when the light is on; and switches to red when the battery power is low. (the clickey does a quick-flash blue when the light is switched offf). There is no manual or instructions whatsoever. Standard warnings and precations against Li-Ion explosions should be taken.

I currently run a headlight with a clear diffuser lens; the default beam is like a tight spotlight. For the taillight; i am running two red diffuser lenses (at 90 degree angle) to spread the taillight equally in all directions.

This light is very similar to the Magicshine MJ808 which apparently sells for around $80; The magicshine has a nicer, water-sealed battery pack; uses the same cree XM-L emitter, but at the next brighter U3 bin; and has more “modes” (5 modes as opposed to 3). The magicshine, by the way, uses 2 cells in parallel in their packs, so their nominal voltage is 8VDC.

bits and parts

Y-cable (to run 2 lights at once from one battery; at half the runtime, of course) action-led-lights.com ~ $5. This cable doesn’t have the same threaded plastic couplings; but the plug itself is the same.

Diffuser lenses, available in both clear and red, action-led-lights.com for ~ $4 each.

Power jacks are the most common DC-power plug style: 5.5mm OD w/2.1mm pin. Monoprice has them very reasonably: male is 0.26 each and female is 0.46 each. They, however don’t have any water protection.

I picked up some dedicated DC voltmeters on ebay for less than $2 each;  http://www.ebay.com/itm/380687977328. I built a quickie extension cable with one of the voltmeters so I could monitor the charging. The meter, by the way, sucks about 17mA so it would be a pretty big drain on the battery if it was left on all the time. I was hoping to find a DC LCD voltmeter that could be left on forever but it didn’t see any that were cheap like the led one.

Jelly / Tie-on Lights

The light I purchased (three sets so far!) come with two red jelly / Tie-on (they’re just like the big silicon rubber band) as a freebie. These use one CR2032 (these are VERY common size) cell and is easily attached to bike, and even battery replacement without tools.

These types of lights may be useful for give away lights at safety events. E.g. i saw a pair of the rubbery ones (one red, one white) with coin cells at dx.com for $5.20/set shipped. Though, that particular model uses two CR2025 coin cells. Two cells means a higher life-cycle cost, compared to one 2032 like the lights i mentioned above.  (i mean if they were to ever be replaced). hmm

Ascher Light Sets

This Chinese brand Ascher sells direct (ensure getting from seller AscherDirect) on Amazon; their current offerings besides a couple of bike-light sets are led “edison” bulbs. They were brought to my attention by a bike shop who found their prices so ridiculously low, and their quality so good they found it practical to purchase them on amazon at retail and resell them in their shop.

First set: on my roadbike:

Ascher USB Rechargeable Bike Light Set,Super Bright Front Headlight and Rear LED Bicycle Light,650mah Lithium Battery,4 Light Mode Options; currently (early 2020) $12.99

The front and back are same shape, only apparent difference is color; they are coin shaped and meant to be held on with included rubber straps. I couldn’t get the front to stay aimed (it rotated badly on my handlebar) so I ended up GLUEING it to the front of my stem — it’s ugly but it works. The rear I use the clip rather than strap and it clips nicely to a flap in my saddle-wedge bag.

Makes a good backup or in addition to the main lights. In occasional use since Nov 2018 (they were actually more expensive then: $15.99; the tariffs makes price volatile, i think)

Second set: on another bike:

The shape of these are completely different that the other Ascher set; in this one the front is traditional flashlight style held on with a mount which is strapped, and the rear is a strip; The front is one single LED

Ascher Ultra Bright USB Rechargeable Bike Light Set, Powerful Bicycle Front Headlight and Back Taillight, 4 Light Modes; I paid $14.99 in Dec ’19, currently $16.99 in Feb ’20.

The front stays pretty level. the back is strapped horizontally using the strechy strap to a seatpost, I mounted it between another blinkie and a reflector. Brightness looks pretty good.

In all cases, they come with a USB-A to USB-micro (which has a bit more metal exposed, which is necessary as other cables i tried can’t be inserted deep enough to charge) and I used a nominal USB charger. The highest draw is the latter headlight at about 500mAhr. It’s rated at something like 1500mAHr. In all cases, there’s a charging indicator (the color varies) that then changes color when fully charged.

In all cases, I’m not really sure what happens when the power gets low.


Nighttime Lighting Requirements (#az)

Taillights are great, but please protect yourself legally if riding at night you are required to have a red rear reflector irrespective of having a taillight.
You can debate if that makes any sense or not– but in any event the law is the law and it will be used against you if at all possible.

Not only that, if the lights fail for whatever reason, a typical reflector is quite bright; also a (not legally required but nice to have) pedal reflector can provide additional visibility advantage because of the motion.

In the pic, there are two taillights on up by the seat; down lower left is a not great (it’s a CPSC) red reflector, and lower right can see the yellow pedal reflector… the pic was taken in a dim light, from pretty far away illuminated only with the little led on my camera/phone (it’s grainy because it’s zoomed in).

§28-817. Bicycle equipment
A. A bicycle that is used at nighttime [ “the period between sunset and sunrise” — §1-215 ] shall have a lamp on the front that emits a white light visible from a distance of at least five hundred feet to the front and a RED REFLECTOR ON THE REAR of a type that is approved by the department and that is visible from all distances from fifty feet to three hundred feet to the rear when the reflector is directly in front of lawful upper beams of head lamps on a motor vehicle. A bicycle MAY have a lamp that emits a red light visible from a distance of five hundred feet to the rear in addition to the red reflector.

5 thoughts on “LED bike lights”

  1. Seth Davidson has a lot of great stuff on his blog “Cycing in the South Bay” (LA area), including much good info about cycling savvy and how to properly position for maximum safety and visibility.
    However, in my opinion, he is an over-believer in lighting; yes being seen is good but seven (!) taillights seems overkill, and may even be too bright/distracting.
    He also doesn’t mention reflectors; I’m not sure if CA is like AZ where a rear red reflector is a requirement at night.

    In any event here is his setup:

    The four copies of the less-bright blinkies, “Apace Vision” brand are I think this item on Amazon:

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