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Wednesday, September 16, 2009
  Quick release for cheap headlights
By Yokota Fritz 
Last spring my family was caught out after dark on our bikes, and we were short by one working headlight. I ducked into a Walgreens and bought a small, inexpensive flashlight with 12 reasonably bright LEDs for something like $5. My daughter sacrificed one of her elastic hair ties to secure the flashlight on my son's handlebars for a decent "be seen" light.

Thin rubber bands work okay, but I find I'm continually adjusting the flashlight's aim as it jiggles around. Jym Dyer recently showed me another cool trick -- using a segment of old inner tube as a quick release for handlebar flashlights. Cut about a six inch strip of inner tube and cut flashlight sized holes at either end of the strip.

Mounting the $5 flashlight


Slide one end of the flashlight through one hole, wrap the rubber strip over the top of the handlebar while positioning the flashlight underneath, then secure by sliding the other end of the flashlight through the second hole for a very quick and easy mount for your flashlight.

Mounting the $5 flashlight

Mounting the $5 flashlight


It doesn't take too much imagination to figure you can do similar mountings around other bike parts if you want, and cheaper than Knog Frogs by far.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008
  Knog Bullfrog front light
By Yokota Fritz 
The days are getting shorter and my son had to cycle to his Boy Scout meeting tonight so I bought him the Knog Bullfrog front light. This is my new favorite front light!



It's very bright, attaches easily to any roundish protrusion, and has a very fast flash pattern that I like. I use rechargeable batteries and changing them is a bit of a pain -- you need to slide the whole silicone cover off to get at the batteries -- and I don't know how waterproof this is yet, but so far I'm impressed.

This is a "be seen" light -- it's good for being seen on lit city streets. If you need to light the way to see the road, the Knog Bullfrog isn't the right light for you. Otherwise, though, this thing looks cool and it stands out from the other lighting.

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Thursday, April 24, 2008
  Princeton Tec Swerve bicycle tail light
By Yokota Fritz 
The new Princeton Tec Swerve is my new favorite bicycle tail light. It features 2 half watt super bright LEDs, a multitude of mounting options, and a great big toggle switch for easy on/off operation.

Princeton Tec Swerve light


Princeton Tec introduced the Swerve light at the Sea Otter Classic last weekend. My biggest grip about most bike lights is lack of flexibility in mounting them. Princeton Tec has solved that problem with the Swerve, which has the best mountain system of any light I've seen, with a clip, brackets and multiple bands allowing you to mount the Swerve to just about any surface on your bike, your bag or your helmet. Princeton Tec even wants your photos of your unique mounting technique at the Swerve Your Bike website.

With a pair of half watt LEDs (either flashing or persistent), the Swerve is brighter than the Planet Bike Superflash, which has a single half watt LED along with smaller flashing LEDs. According to Princeton Tec, one of the keys to the Swerve's effectiveness and visibility is that the LED's have different collimators (lens) - one is diffused, while the other is focused. This creates two different beams patterns that the viewing eye has to juggle. Enough light diffuses through the transparent red case to provide effective side lighting, also. The LEDs are bright enough to catch the eye even in daylight and through fog.

A nice usability feature is the large toggle switch, which is very easily accessible and easy to operate while on the go. You can even flip the lens around to move the toggle from left to right if you want. I started my ride home from Monterey last Friday evening in daylight, but as dusk approached I reached around my seatpost and my fingers quickly found the toggle switch.

My only gripe -- and it's fairly minor -- is the relatively slow flash rate compared to most modern LED tail lights. I really like the super fast flash on the Planet Bike Superflash, for example.

The Princeton Tec Swerve will be available from outdoor and sports retail shops as well as bike dealers beginning in June for $29.95. Learn more at Swerve Your Bike and at Princeton Tec's blog. See also my review of the Princeton Tec Switchback headlight.

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Wednesday, October 03, 2007
  Reelight bicycle light review
By Yokota Fritz 
I installed a set of the popular Danish Reelight SL100 electrodynamic battery-less bike lights on my bike and reviewed the lights at Commute By Bike.

Quick summary: I like them. Handy, no batteries to fuss with, they work as advertised.

Reelight bike light on front wheel

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Saturday, August 18, 2007
  Cyclist jacket with brake light and turn signals
By Yokota Fritz 
Raise your arm before a turn, and a tilt switch activates big amber LEDs to signal your turn at night. An accelerometer detects when you slow down to illuminate a big patch of red LEDs on your back. This clever cyclist jacket is the invention of Michael Chen in London, who won a design competition with this jacket. He hopes a manufacturer will pick up his idea in time to make the jacket available in time for Christmas for UK£100 (about US$200). This cyclist jacket is demonstrated in the video below.



Hat tip to Cycle Dog, who wonders how the wiring and electronics will hold up under constant use and wet weather riding.

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Monday, March 19, 2007
  DIY superbright bicycle headlight
By Yokota Fritz 
"This page describes the construction of a bike light comprising three 3W Luxeon LEDs. This project had three main goals. 1.) Make a light suitable for use in 24-hour mountain bike racing. 2.) Use readily available material as much as possible. 3.) Offer the details to the community and invite any and all comments."

See the step-by-step instructions with photos and parts list. Some power tools and soldering skills required. Assembly required.

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Friday, December 22, 2006
  Product review: 2007 Princeton Tec Switchback LED bicycle light
By Yokota Fritz 

Princeton Tec Switchback 2 Summary

Good for: Casual trail riding, epic five hour treks into the backcountry (and back), long training rides on dark roads, any kind of city riding. If you bike commute and actually need the 5+ hours of burn time, I salute you. Except you probably don't have time to read this review.

Probably not for: Competitive singletrack at night. The Switchback 2 provides enough light to illuminate the branch just as it thwacks you in the head. Get something brighter, like the Switchback 3.

What about the Switchback 1? Princeton Tec markets the Switchback 1 as "the perfect secondary light," but at $199 it's a bit spendy for that. A good LED backup is a good investment for those relying on high power HID systems, some of which are prone to sudden failure. The Switchback 1 is certainly brighter than the dim blinkies that most night cyclists use. If you need a primary light, I'd spring for the extra $70 and get the Switchback 2.

Princeton Tec has been selling lights for outdoor enthusiasts for 30 years. In 2005, Princeton Tec began marketing a couple of their existing headlamps to cyclists by modifying straps to make them helmet-mountable. Lights designed for 1 mph hikes, however, don't provide much visibility for cyclists.

For 2007, Princeton Tec has introduced several good bike-specific designs, including three versions of the "Switchback" LED light. The Switchback is a reincarnation of a now-discontinued incandescent headlamp; I happen to own one that I used for backpacking before the advent of LED headlamps.

Princeton Tec has designed the Switchback with endurance racers and commuters in mind. I don't ride singletrack in the middle of the night, so I'll give my views from my perspective as a year-round bike commuter.

Switchback bike light specs

Princeton Tec Switchback bicycle light comes in three models: Switchback 1 with one 3 watt LED, Switchback 2 with two 3 watt LEDs, and the Switchback 3 with (wait for it) three 3 watt LEDs. Each of these lamps features a quick smart charger with universal plug adapters, hours of burn time, lightweight lithium-ion battery, voltage regulated to ensure constant brightness, 12 volt car charger, helmet and handlebar mounts, and extension cords and cable straps. Here are the specifics of each model.


Model Burn Time Weight MSRP
Switchback 1 5.5H Flash, 4.5H High, 6H Medium, 10H Low 436 grams $199
Switchback 2 6H Flash, 5.5H High, 7H Medium, 16H Low 586 grams $269
Switchback 3 6.5H Flash, 6H High, 12H Medium, 50H Low 826 grams $389

Using the Switchback 2

Click on photos to see large.
Princeton Tec Switchback 2 bicycle light mounted on handlebar
The Princeton Tec Switchback 2 bicycle light mounted on my handlebar. Two 3 Watt LEDs provide illumination that can be seen even in light.

Battery pack for Princeton Tec Switchback 2 bicycle light
The battery pack mounted on the top tube of my bike frame. The battery can also be mounted on the handlebar or placed in a hydration pack or jersey pocket.

Princeton Tec Switchback 2 bicycle light
Battery and light connected. Instead of one annoyingly long cable, the headlight has a short cable. If you need the battery further away, use the included extension cable.

I've tried the two LED Switchback 2. I don't have any way to scientifically measure the lumen output of this light, but the two 3W "Maxbright" LEDs are comparable in brightness to 10W+20W halogen systems that many of us are familiar with. The lens focuses a fairly tight and round beam, easily illuminating obstacles and debris several yards ahead. I can comfortably ride about 20 mph on a dark road with this light at high power.

The flash mode is interesting and useful in my opinion. Most LED lights have a "blink" mode to preserve battery life and enhance visibility by motorists, but it can be difficult to navigate when the front light constantly strobes. The Switchback's blink mode blinks rapidly twice then stays steady for a second before cycling back to blinking. I haven't tried this yet in real conditions, but this seems to provide the "be seen" benefit of a blink with the "see" benefit of a steady bright light.

The battery has a built-in battery life indicator -- red and green LEDs shine through the transluscent case to show the level of charge. I've lost my lights in the middle of a ride from a yanked cable, so I appreciate the locking cable connectors.

Quite a bit of thought has apparently been put into the design of the Switchback bicycle light. The light itself has a sleek, low profile that I like much better than the bulky headlights I usually see from other vendors. The handlebar mount is a little large, but I like the design, it works on good range of handlebar sizes (unlike some mounts I've tried), and the quick-release works very well. If you need to change the direction the light points because, for example, you mount the light on a curving part of the handlebar, a small allen key is required to loosen a bolt to allow adjustment.

Velcro straps to mount the light to a bicycle helmet are straightforward. A unique rubber case with wide velcro straps allow the battery to be mounted on the frame or handlebar or even the saddle rails. A provided extension cord provides additional flexibity in battery location.

The Switchback 2 bike lamp probably isn't quite enough for singletrack racing at night, but it provides plenty of light for night time training rides and the evening commute home.

Buying the Princeton Tec Switchback LED bike light

Because Princeton Tec traditionally hasn't sold bicycle products, they do not have a presence in the specialty bike store channel. They say they're working to change that with an expanded sales force dedicated specifically to local bike shops, but right now Princeton Tec products are mostly available in sporting goods and outdoor shops such as REI. Currently, the only bike retailer selling the Switchback is ColoradoCyclist.com.

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