“ LED Cycle Headlamp „
My God, he's scraping the bottom of the barrel with this one, you may well be thinking. After all, a bike light's a bike light, surely?
Well yes and no really (I bet you guessed I was going to say that).
Most cyclists forced to ride after dusk make use of lighting that's more intended to let others see you coming (or going), rather than to light one's way - of course, most cyclists stick to lit roads so this is not such a problem. This lighting will probably consist of one of the rash of LED lights that have more or less been the demise of any battery/bulb combinations on economy grounds alone. A relaxation of the law now allowing for flashing lights has also brought LED lighting to the fore, since the simple electronics needed to flash a light in sequence can more easily be married to LEDs than it can to bulbs.
'Cost-free' dynamo lighting is all very well, but it created extra drag against pedalling, and in some cases, increased tyre sidewall wear. It still exists, but in many cases, riders back it up with at least an LED rear light, since dynamos have the unfortunate habit of ceasing to 'dyn' whenever you stop 'amo'.
(At this stage can I ask that motorists and pedestrians with an axe to grind against cyclists who don't bother with lights, jump red traffic lights and ride on pavements bite their lips? I'm talking about proper cyclists who regard themselves as being in charge of a road vehicle!)
The one thing that's been lacking from the affordable end of the bike lighting range is anything designed to actually light your way, when street lighting is either not present or inadequate. Yes, you can pay out £200 for rechargeable halogen 'off road' packs, and indeed Cateye will oblige by selling you one, but in the real world of trying to commute at all times of the year, 'proper' headlights are thin on the ground.
The Cateye HL-EL530 bridges this gap. You couldn't actually call it a headlamp, in the same way that a car has them, but it does indeed throw enough light out and down to light the road ahead, if only a few yards ahead. No-one said you could plough on at the same speed!
Thanks to the technology that now allows for The Holy Grail of economy lighting, brilliant white LEDs, this light is positively arc-like in power compared to most battery-powered offerings, throwing out some 1500 or more candlepower. Not bad for something with one LED running off 4 AA batteries. If you catch the beam full face, prepare for a white spot in your vision like in the bad old days of flashbulbs. "Hold it, flash, bang, wallop, what a picture!" Having to angle the beam down for fear of BLINDING the driver in front is a new concept for most pedal cyclists, but bear in mind that your handlebars do come almost level with the rear view mirror in many saloon cars.
There is one major drawback though - in creating a 'proper' focussed beam with little dispersal, it's not so visible from the sides, and this matters especially with pedestrians, who have that uncanny knack of seeing past you to the car behind, still managing to step off the kerb right in front of you despite apparently looking you straight in the eyes first. As a result, I also run one of those smaller flashing devices, as these seem more effective at attracting attention.
Coming back to the Cateye, it has some admirable features beyond its sheer power for its size. The on-off switch is entirely waterproof, being controlled by a magnet on the outside, which means that no breach of the casing is needed just to turn in on. The battery hatch cover is indeed the entire front lens, and this has a water-proof O-Ring when clicked back into place. It does indeed claim to be waterproof to 30 metres, but I'm not sure how many cyclists would be in a position to test this, unless an underwater bike is something Q has lined up for Bond in the next blockbuster "The Spy Who Had His Company Car Taken Away" - "Now pay attention Bond, this bike's lights could attract Great Whites at two miles".
The light is removable, which makes sense when you've got something worth 40-odd quid on your handlebars (oh yes, it's a might pricey - forgot to mention).
Its battery life is quoted as being 10 hours on full beam, with a further 80 hours of reduced output before needing replacement. Oddly, this doesn't mean that you have two switch-able light levels. It just means that it goes dim after 10 hours use, which seems like an odd carry-on.
If you needed it to light dark alleys on your way home, you'd be changing batteries rather frequently, maybe every week. If this were the case, I'd buy a set of NiMH batteries and a charger (may yet do so) and charge them at weekends. Having said that, 10 hours of needing bike lights could represent a few weeks use in some cases, mine included. I get to leave the school at which I'm working prior to 'chucking-out' time, so it's only on the really dull days in mid-Winter that I need my lights on the way home.
Fixing it to the bike is easy, using the mount supplied. This has the plastic equivalent of a 'Jubilee Clip', so you just hold it to the bars, insert the serrated strap (gosh even typing that makes your eyes water!) and do it up with the knurled knob. There is provision for a modicum of sideways swivel, but up and down elevation is entirely down to the angle at which you fix it.
Buying one turned out to be a slightly annoying experience. You should never buy something from the first place you find, with your back to the figurative wall as it were, driven by the fact that your old Tesco's light packed up on the way to work.
There it was in Richmond Cycles for a somewhat exotic £44.95.
On buying it and getting home, I find that it costs £10 less on e-bay.
So much for 'support your local independent store' (yes by paying through the nose to maintain the owner in the manner to which he has become accustomed!)
Features: magnetic switch, requires 4 AA batteries, more than 90 hours of runtime, side visibility, FlexTight mounting bracket, and highly water resistant.