An Ode to New LED headlights (Worn on Your Noggin)

I recently purchased a new headlight, and I’ve been so pleased with it that I figure it deserves a little write-up.  The light is the Niterider MiNewt.600 Cordless, and as the name suggests this model blasts 600 lumens (from a single LED) and does not require any wires to dangle from your bike or helmet.  I’ll go into some details about the light in a minute, but first a little synopsis of my experience with front lights over the past 7 years of commuting in Boston:

When I first started riding regularly, I purchased a series of $30-$50 headlights.  They were all of the “be seen” variety, and made of cheap plastic.  None were rechargeable and they all had a light output around 25-30 lumens.  They all sucked.  The batteries never lasted very long, the mounts were flimsy, and they were completely useless for displaying the subtleties of road imperfections or illuminating that one section of the J-Way bike path that winds through the trees at the bottom of JP and is pitch black at night.  I was originally unable to stomach the prospect of spending north of $100 for a light and never considered them.  Once I finally bit the bullet and bought a Light and Motion Stella (about $100, 100 lumens from a single LED) I was converted.  This light had a number of modes including a strobe that I once accidentally looked at from 2 feet and from which I was temporary blinded.  It was also bright enough to somewhat make out the road in really dark spots when set on a steady setting.  It was rechargeable so I wasn’t burning through batteries, and it was encased in metal and survived a number of trips home from the pub.  Recently however, the light became finicky, and the rechargeable batteries were not lasting as long as they were originally.

Thus began my online searching for reviews of bike lights.  I’ve spent more hours than I care to admit comparing models, light output, price, features, etc.  The most helpful place for comparisons (and from which I ultimately made my decision) was this article.  What I learned is that the recent advances in semiconductors have not gone entirely into making your smartphone faster: much progress has been made in the efficiency and output of LED’s (which are a form of semiconductor for the non-physicists out there).  In fact, in the span of just 4 years, the light output that I settled on was more than 5 times that of my L&M Stella and was purchased for roughly the same price.  The Niterider MiNewt.600 is bright.  Stupid bright.  Here is the review from mtbr.com that convinced me to choose this model.  With the MN600 I can easily see the road: this is my first “see” (as opposed to “be seen”) light, and it makes riding at night much more pleasant and safe.  A really slick feature that this light features is that it is rechargeable via a USB cable rather than a proprietary charger (as was the case with the L&M light). One nit that I can pick on this front is that the connection on the light is standard USB rather than micro USB.  Even though I carry an iPhone, my wife has an Android phone that takes micro USB (like almost all non-apple phones these days) and I can’t use her charger for the light, thus necessitating yet another cord on our kitchen counter.  Regardless, I’ve got plenty of old cords in the house so I’m able to keep one at the office, and one at home and never have to worry about charging the light.

The worst part about the MN600 is the mount.  It comes with both a helmet and a handlebar mount, both of which are very under-engineered and flimsy.  Because my old L&M Stella has a little life left in it I left the mount on my primary bike, and decided to try out the helmet mount.  While the helmet mount is not great, it has worked so far, and I have more confidence in it than the bar mount.  There is no better way to rock your dork cred than with a light mounted to your helmet, and while I generally pride myself on my dorkiness, I previously drew the line at the spelunking style of a light on my dome.  I’m here to say that I’ve been converted!  Particularly with a light this bright, everything is visible.  The on-ramp signs downtown explode with reflection when I look at them, and I’ve found that cars are considerably more aware of me when I’m riding.  There is nothing like giving a jerk driver a blinding 600 lumen stare down while riding.  People actually stop for me, and it feels like cars give me more space on the road.

Prior to this “winter” in Boston, I was a 3-1/2 season commuter.  I bought studded tires this year and installed them on a CL-purchased beater with disc brakes in anticipation of the snow and ice, but both have gone mostly unused.  Combined with our lack of snow this year, this light has turned me into the holy grail (for me anyway) of a 4 season commuter.  If you are still riding with a piece of junk front light (or horror, none) save your pennies and get some lumens for your ride.  If you can bear it, mount it to your helmet (you do wear one, don’t you?) and give those Beantown bruisers the lumen look.

cheers!

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I’m just now coming around to the necessity of a bright headlight. There are those $30 lights that get noticed when you have fresh batteries and they shine right in a mirror, and then there are those fancy lights that cause drivers to actually yield to you on the road.

http://weather.bostonbiker.org/2012/02/22/bright-lights-mean-safety-cool-and-dry/

Thanks for the review! I’ve been considering a brighter light, especially now that I’m not riding on the SW corridor anymore.

I use the Planet Bike 1 Watt Blaze light. It’s 76 lumens, which isn’t bad, but doesn’t do a great job of lighting up some of the dark roads I ride on now. They do have a newer 2 Watt version which is 146 lumens. It’s nowhere near the 600 lumens of the NiteRider, but not bad.

They do use AAs, thus the lumen ratings are only for fresh batteries, but you can get around that with some Eneloop rechargeables. One bonus of using Eneloops as opposed to the built-in LiIon battery in the NiteRider or L&M Stella is that I can replace the Eneloops when they get old and stop holding a charge, instead of having to buy a whole new light.

I am seriously tempted by the 600 lumens. I hadn’t through about the defensive aspect.

I wonder if the cars think you’re a motorcycle at night because you’re so bright…

I too had not thought about the defensive aspect when I purchased this light, and I’m still not sure whether it’s the brightness, the fact that I wear it on my head or (more likely) a combination of the two. All I know is that the effect is definitely noticeable and welcome.

I’ve gone through a few of the rear Planet Bike Blaze rear lights and I really like them. The problem is that I keep losing them. After getting this light I’ve begun to consider whether I should look into a new “nice” rear light. I’m wondering whether I will experience a similar phenomenon to that which I experienced when I switched from 10 dollar sunglasses to good ones: I would constantly loose the cheap pairs as I obviously wasn’t that invested in them, but once I had a nice pair I was so afraid of losing them they lasted 10 years.

I had not thought about using rechargeables, but that is a good argument that you make. Who knows though, maybe we’ll be getting thousands of lumens in a few years and we’ll appear like cars on the street. Then I’ll need to upgrade again…

The experience you describe in your post is precisely what I’ve been experiencing on a nightly basis. It’s a revelation! Bright lights for all!