Choices were limited to those old generator lights that used to rub against your rear tire or those AA battery headlamp models that can barely light up the inside of a Boy Scout tent.
With the advent of mountain biking and the requirement for more professional lighting systems, new technologies using powerful halogen headlamps and rechargeable heavy nickel-cadmium (Ni-Cads) and nickel metal hydride (NiMHs) batteries started making their way into bicycling.
Of course, people may still call you insane for tackling the roads or mountain bike trails on a moonless pitch-black morning or evening, but after just one ride with an HID (High Intensity Discharge) light, you'll smile knowing that riding a bicycle at night is no different than driving your car at night.
Light & Motion ARC Li-ion
Consider the Light & Motion ARC Li-ion Lighting System, with a single 13.5 watt HID (High Intensity Discharge) lamp, which is three times brighter than halogen and generates a super clean and powerful white beam pattern with no holes. This light is so powerful that if you aim it too high, automobiles will literally flash their high beams at you.
Over the past 3 1/2 years, I've logged over 25,000 miles, most of it to and from work and much of it at night. I've experimented with single and double halogen headlamps and become pretty comfortable with the idea of nighttime riding.
When I received my ARC system a year ago, I was somewhat skeptical how a single beam of light might outperform my dual beam halogen headlamps. All it took was one ride. Wow. The clean, powerful beam was much "whiter" than halogen light and allowed me to make out even the smallest pieces of glass, sand or rocks on the road. Even at 45 mph descents, I could never outrun this powerful beam.
Most impressive is how the bright spot beam evenly transitions and spreads to a very wide area of ambient light, allowing you to point the light at almost any angle and still get enough "fill" to easily see everything in and around your path.
I've had motorists stop and ask what kind of light I had, and when I pass runners that are running opposite traffic in the bike lane, they're literally blinded and always jump out of my way. Yes, I get sort of a perverse pleasure in making runners move out of the bike lane as I approach.
This year I decided to check out the same ARC headlamp, but with Light & Motion's new Lithium Ion battery, which they boast takes about a half-pound out of the old nickel metal hydride water bottle cage battery they marketed. For weight freaks, a complete ARC Li-ion system, including lamp, wiring and battery, dials you in at less than a pound!
Battery straps to frame
The Lithium Ion battery is designed to strap to your frame via Velcro and a buckle. While this is a great idea and frees up one of your water bottle cages, it's a little bit tricky to tighten securely.
According to Light & Motion's instructions, you're supposed to hold the buckle while pulling the strap back. With a little practice, I've got the battery strapping down. For simplicity, I end up leaving the battery strapped to the frame all week and simply charge the battery while it's on the bike. I take it off for hard group rides on the weekend.
Mounting and removing the ARC lighting system is one of the greatest benefits. Removing the light from my bike is about a 30-second process. And the reason it's 30 seconds is I take the time to manually unwrap the excess battery wire from the top tube. The lamp mounts by simply sliding onto a removable bracket and locking in place, much like any standard bike computer.
During the fall and winter daylight savings months, I just leave the mounting bracket on my handlebar at all times. That said, if I really wanted it off, it only takes a few turns of a tightening thumb knob and it's off.
The light can also be mounted on a helmet, which is more appropriate or necessary for mountain bikers. You could even use both a helmet and handlebar unit for mountain biking to truly have the best of all worlds.
Unlike Light & Motion's other lamps, the ARC only has a side-to-side swivel, which means you want to get the vertical height adjusted correctly when you tighten the mounting bracket. My trick is to leave the mounting bracket just loose enough so that I can twist the light unit up or down if necessary. That said, once you get the position correct, you really never have to move the light.
The Turbo Charger
As for battery charging, the Lithium-Ion turbo charger will recharge an empty battery to 80% in about 2 1/2 hours and fully charges in less than 4 1/2 hours. Light & Motion claims you get about three hours of light in high mode and 3 1/2 hours in regular. I've ridden about three hours in high, over several days without charging, and didn't even get to a low battery warning.
While I haven't witnessed this, Light & Motion claims the headlamp will flash a "low battery" warning by flashing on the back of the headlamp five minutes before losing power. With one minute to go, the light will dim and completely shut down in order to preserve the battery's life.
If I were the kind of rider pushing the charge to its limit by doing very long rides in the dark, it would be nice to get a little more warning than five minutes and then have an option for a very low output mode so that I could "limp" home. As it stands, the difference between high and low output modes seems very minimal. I can barely tell the difference and you get plenty of light either way.
Of course when riding at night, it's extremely important to be seen from behind as well, and I'd love to see Light & Motion develop a model that includes a rear seatpost-mounted red flasher as part of the same system. Today, I use two independent rear-mounted lights: a seat-posted mountain flashing light which uses AA batteries and a small clip-on light which I affix to the back of my helmet.
With the combination of the powerful ARC Li-ion Lighting System lighting the road ahead and two red flashing lights behind, I believe you're much more visible to motorists than during the dawn and dusk hours where visibility is low and most riders tend to not use lights.
While a suggested retail of $499 for the ARC Lithium Ion System seems pretty hefty, the safety and security you get with this top-of-the-line system is well worth the price.
A less expensive option from Light & Motion is the Solo Logic Mv (read Active's review), which is geared toward commuters.
For more information on Light & Motion, visit their Web site or call (831) 645-1538.