Easy Light Setup for Short Events
Riding at night is probably my most favorite thing to do on a bike. Your world is encapsulated in a bubble of light. Everything outside of that beam doesn’t even exist. Trails look different, you can’t see the tops of climbs, and the rest of your senses are heightened.
Second only to tires and PSI is the question of “what lights do you run?” and “How long will the batteries last?”. Being alone in the dark in the middle of nowhere can be pretty terrifying but I have a pretty simple system I have adapted from a few years of experience and other mentors in the sport.
USB chargeable bike specific lights are awesome for short winter singletrack rides or when you might get caught out in the dark at the end of a group ride but when you are riding through the night or for an extended period, you need to be able to swap in more juice when the lights go out. I am a huge fan of the 18650 lithium cell for so many reasons. You can find them at any vape shop (had to do this at TransIowa in 2018), they are super light weight, the are extremely energy dense (3500mAh models available), and very cost effective….just to name a few. The light that I absolutely love (thanks to Brett Davidson) is the Fenix UC35. It is not a bike specific light but rather a tactical flashlight. Stick that guy on your bars with a TwoFish mount and you are good to go. It has 5 intensity settings and with a 3500mAh cell it will run for 9 hours on medium (150 lumens). The indicator on the top of the light will turn red when the battery is low. Swapping a new battery in is a 30 second process unscrewing the tail cap and sliding in a fresh cell.
Even if you are just going in a straight line it is a good idea to have two lights. One on the bars and one on your head. Going through a technical section? More light is better. Lots of twisty turns on singletrack? Nice to be able to see where you want to go rather than where the bike is going. Need to eat something or make a repair? Headlamp is nice. You get the idea. I started my headlamp journey with an Exposure Joystick ziptied to the side of my helmet but on super long rides I found that having just an extra ounce of weight on one side of my head would give me a bit of neck problems. I started following Chris Plesko’s adventures in 2016 and found that his system of strapping a hiking headlamp to his helmet seemed pretty simple so I gave it a go. And never looked back. A nice Black Diamond model was only $40 and ran on AAA batteries (same as my Spot tracker). Lots of light in a tiny package. I typically do not keep it on all the time but rather toggle it with the push button switch on top as needed. I completed the entire overnight on the Dirty Kanza XL this year with a single set of batteries.
Back to those 18650 batteries for a minute. Guess what else you can do with them? Charge your phone or Garmin? You guessed it! I have tried more USB cache batteries than you can shake a stick at but when I found this magical lithium cell….all of the stars aligned. There are countless battery packs/cases out there that accept these batteries and turn them into a regulated USB charging machine. My favorite one is only $20 and has lasted through countless adventures. Dual output (1A & 2A) and a micro-USB charging port. Boom!
One more note on 18650 cells…..they have gotten extremely popular. When things get popular markets get saturated. When markets get saturated half of it is usually crap. Don’t buy cheap batteries. If you find a real good deal on 10 batteries for $9.95….they are probably crap. I would stick to name brand (Fenix, Panasonic, Samsung) cells. Upwards of $20 for a 3500mAh cell is a good price for a quality battery. These batteries can also be charged/discharged upwards of 500 times.