Midnight Rambler's Ride

Outside magazine, September 1999

Midnight Rambler's Ride
If there's one sentiment all cyclists share, it's the melancholy that comes with autumn's shorter days: There are fewer and fewer hours in which to ride, until finallyùwoefullyùthe end of daylight savings time puts an end to the season. That is, unless you're acquainted with high-powered bike lights, halogen lamps that, in most cases, get their juice from rechargeable nickel-cadmium batteries and light up your route like a runway. Many of the latest models have conveniences like low-battery indicators and handlebar-mounted controls. All five systems below are good for commuting, and many can illuminate a midnight ramble down your favorite singletrack.

Of course, wattage indicates brightness, though it doesn't give you the full picture. What's revealed along your path is dictated by a given light's design. Fifteen watts from one light can look like 20 from another, depending on the beam angleùthe degree to which the bulb's dish-shaped reflector is canted toward the bulb. As a general rule, eight to 12 degrees throws a fairly narrow spotlight, while 13 to 19 is more of a floodlight. You'll want the former for flying down narrow trails and the latter for riding on roads, both paved and dirt.

THE ARRANGEMENTA single lamp clips to the handlebars, throwing 9, 12, or 15 watts with each push of a remote, bar-mounted button. It's powered by a water-bottle-shaped, six-volt, nickel-cadmium battery with a handy low-charge indicator.The five-ounce lamp attaches to a helmet bracket so that the beam (6, 10, or 15 watts) points wherever your noggin does. The unusual nickel-metal hydride battery weighs less than 11 ounces and has a 15-minute "reserve tank" to keep you from winding up juiceless in the back of beyond.Handlebar mounts secure a 12-watter and a 20-watter, which swivel independently for micro-tuning. Turn on one or both with a separately-mounted handlebar switch. A single 12-volt nickel-cadmium battery runs the lights from a water-bottle cage.One 15-watt light mounts to the bars and runs on a six-volt nickel-cadmium battery that slips into a water-bottle cage; another 15-watt unit affixes to your helmet and uses a separate but equal battery that fits into a hydration system or saddlebag.Lavish. You can mix and match two 15-watters and a 10-watter between handlebars and helmet. Two six-volt nickel-cadmium batteries supply power, one in a bottle cage and one in a satchel that hangs from the frame.
WEIGHT2 pounds, 5 ounces15.9 ounces2 pounds, 13 ounces3 pounds, 11 ounces5 pounds, 4 ounces
BURN TIME1.5 to 4 hours1.5 hours to 3 hours, 10 minutes50 minutes to 2 hours, 20 minutes2 hours, 6 minutes each1 to 3.8 hours
RECHARGE TIME16 hours16 hours10 hours15 hours12 hours
SHINES BRIGHTEST...around town. The 14-degree beam reveals wheel-stubbing potholes, speed bumps, and carousing cats, and alerts drivers coming from the side. Just the right balance of spot and flood for a dusky final mountain-bike stretch, but not bright enough for a midnight epic....as a featherweight supplement to a handlebar-mounted floodlight, for anticipating the next stretch of singletrack. The 12-degree lamp pinpoints a line 30 feet ahead of the front tire, but not what lurks in the margins....when navigating suburbia at night or slowpoking on familiar off-road routes. Since both beam angles are set at 12 degrees, dive-bombing the abyss will feature strong patches of light but scary dark corners....in just about any setting. The 19-degree beam on the handlebar floods peripheral coyote dens while the 12-degree beam from the helmet spotlights the path ahead. If you ride faster than the speed of this light, maybe it's time to slow down....with one 15-watter on the helmet and the other lights on the bars. Your riding partner may not even need a light while climbing ahead. All three beams have the same angleù18 degreesùbut together they cast enough light to flood every root in your path.

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