Helmet Lights and Others
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While this method uses LED modified Maglite Minimag AA flashlights, it will work with any small flashlight. To make these size lights economical, I use AA rechargable NiMH batteries. ( Update: New on the market are the new NiMH hybrid rechargeables. These have various branded names as Hybrid, Eneloop, or labeled “Ultra Low Discharge”. These do hold a useful charge for months and are definitely preferred if the lights are stored and not used daily.) A good AA/AAA charger is necessary to properly charge MiNH rechargeable batteries, such as the Maha MH-C401FS charger, or the more versatile model MH-C9000 charger. These photos show the method of attachment. It probably will work only on certain helmets that have the ventilation slots aligned forward. On my Bell Metro helmet, the side slots align perfectly straight forward.
If the helmet vent holes do not align properly for “dual” side mounts, then maybe a top mount can be used for a single light. This method uses a shaped block of polyethylene foam to support the light. These photos show the details.
Handlebar Mount of Minimags Lights
This method of mounting also uses a block polyethylene foam to mount the two LED converted Minimag AA lights. It is mounted the same method as the 20 watt larger light. (Note: the red elastic holds the lights in the grooves while pulling the larger elastic over the lights. Without the red band, there is the danger of slipping and dropping the lights.) Of course there is no need for two lights, except that I already had two of them. This combination is included in the brightness comparisons.
Relatively Cheap Off-the-Shelf Alternatives
Of the new LED flashlights on the market now (2005), many are overpriced, too heavy or just not bright enough. One that seems acceptable is sold only by Lowes Home Improvement stores for $16. (The light is made by a subsidiary of Lowes) The flashlight uses the 1 watt Luxeon bulb with a excellent Fraen optics. This gives a very well defined beam. The light is whiter than the Cateye. It uses 3 AAA batteries and gives a stronger light than the Planet 1 watt bike light. The 'Task Force” light will only last about 1-1 1/2 hours to 50% output compared to the advertised 30 hr duration for the 'Planet' light. (With a 1 watt Luxeon bulb, I also suspect the 30 hr duration for the 'Planet' is exaggerated.) Using AAA rechargeable batteries this light could prove economically usefull.
It mounts nicely with a polyethylene foam block and elastic band. It is stronger than the Cateye 5 led. It is compared in the brightness tests with other lights I have. This light serves as an effective backup light, always carried in your bag along with your tools. It can be mounted on the bike helmet in the same manner as the "AA" MiniMag lights. Never keep rechargeable batteries in a backup light, always use alkaline which will properly hold their charge. It is o-ring sealed, so it is waterproof for rain and shallow immersion. The rear switch is a clicky type that is o-ring sealed when not being depressed. This light is shown in the brightness comparisons.
Update Nov. 2007: Lowes also sells a larger 3 watt Luxeon version of similar design, but powered by two "C" cells with regulated booster electronics that gives a relatively steady light for 2.5 hours, costing $29.95. The current draw is about 1 amp. The beam is narrower than desired, but very bright. I now recommend this 3 watt light over the 1 watt version. As of Dec. 2007 a new version using the Cree LED is replacing the Luxeon LED version. (The SKU is SKU225285 and it does NOT say Luxeon on the package.) Cree 3 watt LEDs (and SSC LEDs) as of late 2007 have about twice the Lumens output per watt (ie. twice as bight) as the Luxeon bulbs used in most current off-the-shelf flashlights. Below is a photo of the Cree version of the Lowes light and the packaging.
A 3 watt Luxeon light is being sold by Advance Auto Parts. It appears that it is the same as the Lowes Task Force 3 watt Luxeon flashlight, but with a slightly different body. It is also only $19.95, which is $10 less than the Lowes flashlight. Below is the packaging.
At this time many LED flashlights are coming on the market and LED flashlights will be the norm in the near future, but currently here is some useful information. Mag-Lite recently introduced their 3 watt "AA" in (2AA and 3AA versions) and 3 watt "D" flashlights. The large "D" cell Mag-Lite LED 3 watt Luxeon flashlight is unacceptable. It is just too heavy for a bike light and the beam adjusts between fantastically narrow and a large hole in the beam. But the Mini-Mag “AA” models are acceptable lights. It is a regulated light, but is weak for a 3 watt Luxeon LED using only 0.30-0.38 amp. For comparison, the 1 watt 'Task Force”, which is unregulated, uses 0.35-0.16 amp. To use a 3 watt LED effectively, the current drain must be about 1 ampere. The Mini-Mag "AA" adjustable wide beam (which is dim when adjusted wide) would be acceptable only on a dark bike path or for emergency use, but it will last for 5 hours. It will actually turn off at 0.9 v, to prevent dropping the voltage too low if using NiMH batteries. (As of the Dec. 2007, the 2AA model is already being discontinued. The 3AA is still available.)
Other suitable AA flashlights are being introduced all the time. One alternative 3 watt is the Ray-O-Vac Sportsman Exteme with a 3 watt Luxeon LED. The runtime is only about 1 ½ hr on rechargeable NiMH batteries. It is available at Walmart for about $25. It is sold at other sporting stores, all are based on the Nuwai flashlight. Brighter Cree LED flashlights that are inexpensive can be purchased from Hong Kong distributors such as kaidomain or dealextreme. A very good 3 watt Cree 2AA light that can be recommended for about $20 has a very bright narrow beam with some spill to the sides. It also has a duration of about 1 ½ hr with NiMH rechargeable AA batteries. For bike rides of longer than that, just carry a pocket of charged NiMH batteres. Avoid lights that use the CR123 or CR-2 lithium batteries, unless you use the rechargables versions. The non-rechargable versions are just to expensive for casual use.
For current information on almost any flashlight, look over the Candle Power Forums.