This is a “guest blog” of a sort, provided by David. Although married to the Velo Girl, he prefers not to be called the Velo Boy (for reasons we’ll relegate to a future discussion) and instead likes the title Safety Director. David has worked in EMS, search and rescue, and the fire service for over 30 years and has worked hard to improve the safety at many group cycling events including Mountains of Misery, Fletcher Flyer, Cycle to Farm, and the Bookwalter Binge Gran Fondo.
UPDATED MARCH 2016
I’m here to tell you about Light. Flashing lights for cycling. And for Safety. Two of my favorite subjects!
Flashing lights that could save your life. Yep, just that dramatic. And, avoid a traffic ticket. Read on…
If you’ve ridden with the Velo Girl or myself any time in the past couple of years, you’ve seen us with very bright lights. I mean, you’ve really SEEN us. We know, because we get constant comments.
Have you ever been flagged over by the driver of a car or truck, and told “I just wanted to thank you — your bike lights are great. I saw you from far away. I really appreciate it.”
Or heard other cyclists tell you “Wow, you get the best light award on this group ride!” or even “Would you consider turning that off? It’s awfully bright…”
We get that all the time. Really, we do.
After surveying the market, buying literally a dozen different light technologies over nearly 30 years… and most recently riding with our good friend and client Eric Morley who found them first, we realized we had to go big and we had to go bright. We went with an obscure manufacturer in New Hampshire, who only sells direct. We haven’t regretted it.
(although I’ll lay out a few disadvantages in a moment).
The most important reason for why we did this is that we want to be seen by vehicle traffic during the daytime, and these lights give us an extra edge.
We can hear vehicle traffic slow down behind us, after they come around a curve, or over a blind hill. After 10,000’s of miles on bikes, we know that the sound of a slowing vehicle is rare enough… that can generally be explained by just one reason: our Dinotte lights.
We’ve even been asked (twice!) to prevent an epileptic seizure in a bystander by turning off the lights (a highly unlikely possibility, according to medical experts here and here because the lights don’t flash fast enough to trigger a neurological reaction… but nevertheless an interesting measure of how “effective” our lights are).
What if you already have a trusty flashing red light on your helmet, or under your seat, or on some part of the frame of your bike? Isn’t that good enough?
Let me explain: I think I’ve nearly tried all of them, and for years. Starting with the tiny Cateye blinky light that mounted where your reflector used to be, then the increasingly bright LED lights. Some powered with AA batteries, others with AAA. A few even used watch batteries, they were so tiny.
The costs are down to $10 for a classic Cateye blinky, and as much as $40 or $50 for models that recharge with a computer USB cable.
Most of these were a steady improvement over the previous model, and every other year or so I upgraded.
But they all lack one basic capability that we find essential when we ride.
Truth be told, with a light powered by 1 or 2 AA batteries, you’re going to be seen from the rear only at night.
You can’t be seen in the daylight. That’s simply a limitation of the physics of a small battery like an AA or AAA battery.
I want to be seen during bright daylight, and from far away. How far?
It takes a car going 50 mph a minimum of 190 feet to come to a stop, with hard braking and reasonable reaction time by the driver.
So… I want 300 feet minimum of visibility during the day, from the rear.
To put this in perspective, in most states a car has to have tailights that are visible 1,000 feet away. Does your existing rear bike light do this? There is simply no way to achieve that visibility during the daytime with an AA battery, let alone a watch battery. Those tiny, light blinky lights cannot meet this need.
(if it is mounted on your helmet, it is pretty much impossible to meet the goal of 300 feet… in fact, on most group rides I can’t see a helmet light until I’m practically on top of the other rider (you know, the one I’m about to pass, up hill on a 20% grade). I’m joking. I rarely pass anyone going up hill.
Let’s talk about looking into the future. You know, being seen from the front as well as the back.
If you already have a headlight, set to flash so that people in cars can see you, you might have one of the nifty 1 watt model like this or maybe this 1/2 watt little brother. I know, I own several of both of these models (at one time, had them on every bike we own). Many bike shops offer them at a discounted price when you buy a new bike. Good enough?
These were great in their time. In fact, they were powerful enough to disrupt my wireless bike computer (a whole ‘nother story).
But they won’t show up more than about 200 feet in daytime, and even less with bright sun. It is simply a limitation of those two small, AA batteries inside.
Why do I care? Because people on motorcycles and bicycles are vulnerable to tragic head-on collisions in the middle of day, sunny, perfect conditions — when a driver in an oncoming vehicle either “doesn’t see us” or underestimates our speed, and turns left in front of us.
We don’t stand a chance in these head-on collisions. Ask around, the dreaded left-turn-in-front-of-cyclist (or motorcycle) is an all too-common “accident”.
A bright light isn’t a guarantee that you’ll be seen, but it is a huge advantage. I want at least 300ft of visibility facing forward. During a bright, sunny day.
I want the brightest light I can get, making my presence known (and I’ll ride defensively too).
So What Are These Lights?
Simply put, they’re heavy and weatherproof “commuter” grade lights for bicycles. We use them when guiding, when touring, just going for a spin, and whenever we’re on our bikes.
We are to the point that we won’t go out without them, just like we wouldn’t ride a bike without a helmet.
What exactly do we use? We have used the following for 10,000+ miles each for more than 3 years:
- Dinotte XML-3 Headlight with a 2-cell battery pack
- Dinotte 300R Tailight with integral battery
This configuration minimizes the weight, while maximizing visibility.
Dinotte insists that the XML-3 headlight be used with their 4-cell battery pack, but we use both the smaller/lighter 2-cell pack and the 4-cell pack depending upon the length of our ride. We join them in recommending the use of the 4-cell pack, more on that in a moment.
This is the configuration we and many of our clients use. The 300R tailight is no longer available, and has been replaced by the Quad Red tailight (at the same price) and the XML-3 has been upgraded for 2016. More about those changes in just a moment.
First, lets talk about the disadvantages of using Dinotte lights…
There are several. You don’t get this quality or visibility without a few tradeoffs:
First, did I mention that they’re heavy? It truly pains me to mount this heavy equipment on my light (very light) carbon fibre bike. Some might even say that they’re ugly.
Second, they’re expensive. More on that in a moment, but I doubt you can spend much more… on any other brand/model.
Third, you have to re-charge them, and currently (that’s a pun) the setup requires two different chargers (one for the headlight and a different for the taillight).
Fourth, eventually the battery will need to be replaced. The lithium-ion (“Li-ion”) technology in the Dinotte light systems have a far longer life than the previous battery technologies (the same type of battery is used in your smartphone and your laptop) but it is not infinite. This is not a limitation unique to Dinotte; all the higher-end lighting systems have this same issue. Based on my experience with other Li-ion batteries, I anticipate about 5 years of use, riding 3-5 times a week.
Yet we love them.
They’re heavy because the batteries last a long day in the saddle. When we guide and lead rides, it can be 6 hours, 10 hours, even 12 hours in length. These lights keep putting it out.
They’re also heavy because they’re rugged. You will notice that they’re made of metal, not nylon or plastic. All hardware is stainless steel. I have broken other lights by accidentally dropping them; we have never had an issue with our Dinotte lights.
We’ve had them in near-daily use for more than 3 years now — one defect (which didn’t actually affect the light) was repaired under warranty and back in our hands in 48 hours, no questions asked. Just like the best manufacturers of cycling equipment. We’ve dropped them, carried them with us, and left them mounted to the bikes nearly full-time. That’s 10,000+ miles (each), many of them rough.
The mounts are ingenious and rugged, holding the lightheads securely. Can’t tell you how many prior lights bounced off their mounting, and shattered in the road, after we bumped over a pothole or railway track.
They’re waterproof, so we simply wash them periodically to keep the lens clear of dust and mud. Easy.
We’ve worked out a system for charging: The taillight charges with the exact same cord as what we use for our Garmin GPS bike computers, so after we down load the Garmin we simply plug in the taillight, and by the time we ride again, both Garmin and taillight are ready to go. It is a mini-USB connector, so this means you can charge your taillight with your laptop or any other device that provides USB power.
We charge the headlight battery packs with the separately provided chargers. Note that the charger is proprietary to Dinotte, but it is very well made and reasonably compact. It works on all kinds of AC power, worldwide (we’ve tested that in Italy).
We keep a couple of these chargers in the Velo Girl Rides van (which has 117VAC electricity via a big inverter) and keep two more chargers at home. We simply make it a practice to plug in the battery packs when we plug in our Garmins.
Some Dinotte users place the headlight charger near the bike, and run the cord to the bike. We take the battery pack off the bike and bring it to the charger. Whatever method is used, being consistent reduces the chance of leaving the house without all of the necessary gear.
How bright are these?
It isn’t easy to measure in a “scientific” way which light is brightest. You can see in our photos, and if you’ve ridden with us you have experienced this directly, that these lights are bright. We urge you to make your own comparisons.
There are numerous manufacturers to choose from, with a dizzying array of specifications including references to “lumens” and candlepower.
The metrics of lighting are not obvious, given that it isn’t just about lumens (brightness) but also spread vs narrow focus, the ability to be seen (flashing) vs the ability to see (the road ahead of you in the dark), and the method of mounting.
But bottom line, how bright a light is will be directly related to how big the battery is… as this determines how long you can use the light between charges, and how bright it can run during that use.
Daytime Headlamp Recommendation from VGR
[Updated March 2016] Dinotte now makes the XML-3 we use even brighter, at 2,000+ lumens. All the photos in this blog are of the older version, which was about 1,600 lumens.
Let’s put that in perspective: 1,600 lumens is about the same as a car’s headlamp on standard beam (aka “low-beam”). And if you consider older cars and trucks, they might not even be as bright as 1,600 lumens even on high-beam!
Dinotte now offers an even brighter daytime headlight: the XML-4. The ‘4 is the same physical size and appearance of the trusty XML-3 but it uses 4 LEDs in the lighthead instead of 3, and bumps up to an astounding 2,100+ lumens.
The XML-4 is a bit more expensive than the ‘3 and it will use the battery more aggressively, so we recommend that road cyclists seeking a daytime light use the XML-3.
The ‘4 is a great option for night mountain biking, placed on your helmet.
In either case, we strongly recommend that you operate the XML-3 and XML-4 in a flash mode that Dinotte calls “Steady with Pulse Burst” so that people driving cars will see you, even if they only glance for a moment (the steady light) and that you also really get their attention, if they’re distracted or looking elsewhere, with the pulse burst. This combination should run for about 7.5 hours for the XML-4 and a whopping 10 hours for the XML-3. We routinely run our XML-3 lights in this mode for more than 10 hours.
In fact, once we get on the bike, we generally leave the lights on all day — we don’t turn them off at rest stops because we don’t want to forget to turn them back on. And these awesome lights will run for those 10 hours, so why not?
Dinotte has another new innovation, the XPL-3 headlight. There’s a lot to like in this product: the battery is self-contained, the unit doesn’t have a separate battery pack, so it’s less clunky looking and lighter. It uses similar technology to the XML-3 (and even looks a bit like one). It is also less expensive than the XML-3 with battery pack. But: it isn’t as bright (“only” 1,200 lumens) and in the flash mode we recommend, it will only last 5 hours. Many of our days run much longer. So we don’t recommend it as a daytime headlamp for road cyclists on tour. It might be just the thing for commuting (who commutes for 5 hours?) and it could be a good choice for illuminating the pavement, to see where you’re riding. We would still encourage you to run an XML-3 or XML-4 so that people in cars can see you coming towards them.
Dinotte also offers an amber “headlight” to improve your visibility to people driving vehicles: the Quad Amber. It has the advantage of being amber, which is often more distinctive than white, so that you will be noticed. It is also smaller and lighter than the XML-3, as it requires no separate battery pack. It will run in the recommended flash mode for 12 hours. So all in all, this is a great alternative… but it is only 150 lumens. We want to be seen, and as Dinotte themselves say “brightness always wins” — so we’ll take the 2,000 lumen XML-3 instead.
Finally, I believe that Dinotte will sell you an XML-3 in amber, for daytime use only, which would be awesome — I would do it in a heartbeat, except that we guide tours on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Federal regulations require a white light facing forward on every bicycle on the Parkway, and common sense says that you want a headlamp you can run steady white when you enter one of the 27 tunnels on the Parkway (some are quite long). So we stick with the white version of the XML-3. Otherwise, I would use the amber — we have a friend that uses an Amber XML-3 and he is even more visible to people in cars than we are!
Daytime Taillight Recommendation from VGR
Dinotte taillights are the brightest taillights we’ve ever seen on the road. We have run the 300R red taillight, which is speced at 150 lumens and uses an internal battery. We’re very happy with these, but they have been replaced by the Quad Red.
The Quad Red is even better than its predecessor: it is 30% brighter, it is lighter, much smaller… and has a better charging port. Our one tiny complaint about the older 300R is that the plastic plug that covers the charging port (necessary to keep it waterproof) is forever dislodging, and hanging free. This exposes the electronics potentially to moisture, but mostly just looks sloppy. That issue has been fixed too. Hooray!
We are just beginning to use the Quad Red (since our 300R’s are still running strong), but we’ve helped clients install and use their Quad Red lights and they are a delight. On strobe pulse, we are seeing 12 hours of runtime, even better than the 300R.
Like the 300R, the Quad Red charges with the ubiquitous Mini-USB connector, which means any USB port can charge your light. Dinotte doesn’t even provide a USB charger, because you’ve probably already got 3 or 4 of these. They do provide the cord.
We recommend the Quad Red for your daytime taillight.
You may want to consider an upgrade: the 400R tail light is offered at 240 lumens and is even brighter than our trusty 300R older model. And Dinotte strongly recommends that it is actually too bright for night-time use, and is a day-light only light. It requires ANOTHER separate battery, which is more weight and more stuff on your bike. Dinotte even makes you check a box when ordering to confirm you understand that it is for day-light only use!
You might consider it for a trailer with kids, a tandem, or other heavy bike that has a need for extra visibility.
As you probably know, we ride and guide trips on the beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway all the time. You may not know that there are 27 tunnels (counting from end to end), with several long and curving tunnels near our usual riding area.
Common sense says you want a good light to see where you’re going; safety says you want to be seen (front and back) by cars in the tunnel.
But it’s also a federal regulation for bikes on the Parkway, whether you’re with a guide or on your own. And yes, you can get a hefty ticket from a ranger. And yes, that’s in federal court, not a county traffic bench. So be sure you’re equipped correctly (the Dinotte lights exceed the minimum requirement for BRP bicycle lights).
Mounting these has gone more smoothly than any other light setup I’ve used over 25+ years, simply because Dinotte provides a large ziplock bag full of different size clamps, hardware, and padding. They know every bike is different, and that the rider’s position on the bike may limit the number of mounting locations.
My favorite spot is just below the saddle, but if you are of smaller stature on a bike with a short seatpost, that might not be an option. Dinotte has you covered, with a clamp that will fit on the rear stay (I recommend the street side stay). On the Velo Girl’s new bike, that’s where she has her 300R mounted… the street side (left side in the U.S.) of the seat stay.
Dinote also includes the gear to mount your XML-3 headlight on your helmet. I don’t recommend that, because any more weight on that helmet can make it unbalanced and awkward, but that’s exactly where I put it for mountain biking.
As I’ve warned you, Dinotte isn’t cheap. Check their website for current pricing. As of March, 2016 here are prices for the lights mentioned in this updated post:
XML-3 Headlight with 4-cell battery: $229 [VGR Recommended]
XML-3 Headlight with no battery: $149
Extra 2-cell battery: $65
Extra 4-cell battery: $89
XML-4 Headlight with 4-cell battery: $259
Quad Amber Headlight: $189
XPL-3 Headlight: $199
Quad Red Tailight: $189 [VGR Recommended]
400R with 4-cell battery: $259
So the combined price for the headlight and tailight we recommend is $418. Dinotte offers that exact setup as a package for only $389. Shipping is included, and unless you live in New Hampshire, there is no sales tax.
Yup, you can get a pretty good used bike for that price. But I don’t think you can get a better light, that will last longer and put up with more use, than the Dinotte. And besides, what is your life worth?
p.s. DiNotte has been kind enough to extend a modest discount to Velo Girl Rides and its clients. If you’d like to take advantage of that discount, send David an email.
Would it be possible for you to provide a video of this light in action? I am similar to yourself in that I use lights in the daytime, but I live in suburban Detroit and ride in suburban and Detroit proper.
It is not rare for the total number of lanes on suburban Detroit to be quite wide and have plenty of entry points onto travel lanes. Here is an example, with “Michigan left” turns, older grid street designs with plenty of side streets and plenty of small business parking lots. https://email@example.com,-83.1807021,3a,75y,347.61h,88.86t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1s3j-04IBo3rfmd7HmlxyofA!2e0!7i13312!8i6656!6m1!1e1
I am curious how noticeable and attention grabbing this light is in relatively bright direct ambient light (sunlight) when viewed more off-axis (say 45-65 degrees) from the direction the light is facing. I would bet that it is relatively, speaking, quite visible on-axis, even during the daytime.
I was traveling south on this road, in the intermittently used parking lane. Someone traveled semi-perpendicular to my line of travel, and I slowed down, but not before I slightly rode into their passenger side of their automobile. Albeit, this was w/ my Dinotte 200-L (which is now in need of repair and I may just trade it in at some point in the future).
I realize that perhaps an HD video may not be as comparable a picture as a human eye viewing the light, but it gives somewhat of an idea.
Dave, unfortunately we don’t have video of the Dinotte lights in action, but we may try to do that in the future. Please note that I’ve updated this post with new 2016 information, including the news that both our recommended headlamp and tailight are both even brighter!