Shine a light on me

December 23, 2012 § 25 Comments

I still see bikers riding at dusk, or just before dawn, or sometimes even at night, without a headlight.

They are stupid or cheap or both. They are going to get run over by a car. They are going to spend thousands to fix their stupid bones and their stupid bike, they are going to lose income from being bound to a hospital bed and peeing through a tube, their wifeband is going to fucking ream them to a fare thee well because s/he never approved of cycling anyway, and the jarheaded cop is going to assign them liability for the accident, cutting off a lawsuit and potential recovery against the offending driver.

They are going to spend tens of thousands to fix themselves, when they could have prevented the whole mess with a $150.00 purchase.

Oh, and of course they didn’t stint on the $2,500.00 racing wheelset, and no, they don’t race.

Stupid and cheap people don’t deserve death or horrible injury just because they’re stupid and cheap, but the world often disagrees.

The temerity of the review

I’m usually first impressed, then quickly contemptuous of, people who review new cycling products. It’s impressive because the responsibility is so enormous, and blogger/Bicycling Mag types seem to assume it for no more than a free shipment of swag.

When you review a product you’re telling people how to spend their money. This is like telling them how to do their job, or how to talk to their wife, or what school to send their kids to, or which religion to believe in, only way more personal than those things.

For cycling crap, reviews are more than telling people “buy this, not that.” Depending on the product, reviews are also saying “trust your life with this, not that.”

I’m thinking tires. Glasses. Brakes. Frames. Shoes. Wheels. I’m thinking any of those numerous items on a bike which, when they catastrophically fail, can result in catastrophic injury.

I get contemptuous of the new product review pretty quickly when the product is one of those things we depend on to keep us alive when we cycle. Why? Because there’s no way to review a new product on one of its most important qualities: Durability.

The reviewer may see his mailbox regularly fill with free crap, but most cyclist consumers buy shit and use it for a long time, often way past the expiration date. Shakes the Clown comes to mind, the only cyclist I’ve ever seen actually wear out the color neon yellow. He wore this hideous jersey for so many decades that the unfadable color finally faded.

Or John Saggyshorts, what about him? Dude wore out the stretch in his lycra such that the bottoms of his shorts look like flair jeans. He doesn’t care. he’s in his 70’s, and he knows that bell bottom shorts will be in fashion again someday. Not they ever were, of course.

These cheapskates, and millions like them, are going to buy the product you recommend after careful thought and comparison, and they’re going to use it until the end of time or until it falls apart, whichever comes first. So the reviewer who slap-happily gives a “two thumbs up” to some product that hasn’t been battle tested over thousands and thousands of miles, varying conditions, and preferably a couple of years, is doing a service to no one but himself (gets more free swag) and the manufacturer.

Which, by the way, is fine, as long as it’s disclosed, which it never is, with a disclaimer like this: “WARNING: This is a bullshit review of a bullshit product that has not really been tested against the conditions in which you will use it for the length of time that you will use it. I’m a paid whore for [—–] and my opinions count for shit.”

A quick overview on headlights v. taillights

Bike shops are replete nowadays with salamander lights. These are headlights and tailights whose beam is no bigger around than the rectum of a salamander. This is the kind of light I’m talking about, and the market is flooded with them. I’ve seen countless “serious” cyclists with these or their equivalent strapped to their bike. They are stupid and pointless and a waste of money and when seen from behind cannot be seen from behind. When used to illuminate what’s in front of you they don’t illuminate what’s in front of you. They do, however, identify you as a stupid cheapass.

Since there’s some confusion about what a bicycle light should do, let’s first cover the basics.

  1. Taillight: This should blind anyone behind you and alert them to your miserable existence. It should be so red, and so bright, and so screamingly obvious that the driver coming up behind you should wonder whether or not you’re an emergency vehicle. I’m talking about something like this. How do I know it works? Fellow cyclists beg me to shut it off when I meet up with the group and they have to ride behind me. Since getting this thing two years ago, on my nightly commute cars swerve wide to pass where they once used to pass so closely that I’d regularly get brownshorts. The taillights’s purpose is not to save weight, or to be aero, or to awesomely blend into the architecture of your frame. It’s to keep the fucking traffic from crushing and killing you. So, take a look at your taillight, and if it’s not the brightest, most annoying, badass beam of death out there, throw it in the trash and get a real one. Can’t afford the $60.00 price tag? Then how the hell are you going to afford the catheter that drains the excess fluid off your brain post-collision?
  2. Headlight: This is not really to let people know you’re there. It’s to light the roadway in front of you. So there’s no sense in having a “blinking” front light unless your eyes open and shut uncontrollably and everything’s a strobe to you anyway. The headlight should be a powerful beam. How powerful? So powerful that when a skunk or possum runs across your path, the beam clearly illuminates his spinal cord underneath the fur and skin. So powerful that if you leave it focused on one place for too long, it will start a fire. So powerful that when you plug it in for a recharge the entire apartment complex’s electrical system momentarily sags. In lightspeak, it should be no less than 500 lumens, which is basically the brightness of commercial aircraft landing gear. Can’t afford the $150.00 price tag? Sorry to hear that your brains and bones and internal organs and children and wife and job cost less than $150.00. Or rather, envious. “Green with envy” envious.

Down on Nite Rider stuff, possibly forever

A week ago I was planning this blog post and thinking about all the great things I was going to say about Nite Rider. First, I was going to castigate them for misspelling “Night.” Cutesy names chosen to avoid trademark infringement are nothing more than testament to a feeble imagination, and if you can’t think up a catchy, available name, how good are you going to be inventing something that actually works?

Quite good, apparently.

I’ve used Nite Rider lights for three years, starting with the MiNewt 350 and then, at the end of 2011, upgrading to the MiNewt 750. The beam is bright, and although the brightest beam never seemed to last very long, and certainly never lasted for the 1.5 hours bandied about on the web site, the lower beams were plenty bright to light my way.

I liked the MiNewt because the headlamp was tiny and aero, fit snugly on the bars, and was very solidly built. The $250+ that I paid for the 750 was a downer, but a few extra bucks for a whole lot of extra light was worth it.

The other downside to the MiNewt was the battery pack, which you have to strap to your frame or your bars. When I was riding with my stem jammed all the way down, I’d bump the battery pack with my right knee when climbing out of the saddle. And the lashing-down process with the velcro strap before each ride was a pain in the ass, but the baseline comparison for me was always the same: How much of an inconvenience is it compared to a spinal fracture at C2 and spending the rest of my life navigating a wheelchair with my tongue?

Exactly.

Planned obsolescence: Don’t get me started, or rather, please do

Two weeks ago the Bull and I were descending in the pitch dark on the way to the NPR. He was missing a taillight and the conversation got around to headlights. He was using the new Serfas TSL 500+.

“What’s up with the new light? What happened to your Nite Rider?”

He and I had used the same light for a while now. “The battery pack died.”

“Why didn’t you get another one?”

“Nite Rider has it conveniently set up so that the cost of a new battery pack is about the same as the cost of buying an entire new lighting system.”

“You’re fucking kidding me.”

He wasn’t. A new 750 MiNewt battery costs $129.00, and with shipping and tax is right around $150.00. Bottom line: Nite Rider sells you a product that is designed to wear out, then rapes you on the replacement part.

I’ve come to expect this from Shimano (replaced the covers on your brake levers lately?), and would expect nothing less from Campy and longtime cycling manufacturers who treat consumers like cows to be continually milked and given nothing in return, but for some reason it came as a shock that Nite Rider has also bought into this philosophy.

It’s a shock because the light market is competitive. Fucking over loyal consumers will send them elsewhere, which is what happened to me. I popped over to the LBS and bought a Serfas TSL 500+. It plugs into the wall, doesn’t have the clunky battery pack with lame velcro strap lashdown system, is super bright, is lightweight, and seems to work just fine.

The only downside is that it’s larger than the MiNewt atop your handlebars and doesn’t look as sleek. However, it easily unclips and fits into your back pocket after the sun comes up, something you could never do with the MiNewt.

So, fuck you Nite Rider. The Serfas may also be built to fail, and it’s only been given one test run, and I can’t vouch for the its quality, durability, or ease of use over time, but for now it has replaced you, who were as of a few minutes ago deposited in the garbage chute.

I don’t mind being screwed around by a light manufacturer…oh, wait a minute…yes, I do.

Good Nite, Rider.

Good Nite, Rider.

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