by Stan Purdum
In “Living to Ride Another Day” in the Road Bike Rider newsletter about daytime running lights used by cyclist Dave Cardarella on his tandem bicycle, I said that one of his taillights is a “1200 lumen import.” I added that Dave had mounted it “on the left side of the left end of the stoker’s handlebar, on the bottom of the drop so as not to interfere with riding.”
Seeking to follow the advice of my own article, I went online looking for such a light for my bike. Dave hadn’t specified a brand, but had mentioned that his light, which he purchased two years ago, is good in strobe mode for only about three hours on the rechargeable battery that came with it. Thus, he purchased a second battery, and on rides lasting longer than three hours, he changes the battery in midride to have the light functioning for the whole time. Deciding that was inconvenient, I hoped to find something with longer battery life.
It’s not common to find bicycle taillights putting out a whopping 1200 lumens, but Dave told me that what he used was sold as a headlight. He’d replaced the clear lens with a red one, which he’d purchased separately.
The Bright Eyes light
With that information, I found on Amazon a waterproof 1200-lumen rechargeable bicycle headlight made by Bright Eyes with a 6400 mAh battery. That mAh stands for “milliampere hour”; a 1000 mAh battery is supposed to last about an hour, so the 6400 mAh battery should run for somewhere around six hours. The Bright Eyes product description on Amazon says it runs “5+ hours on bright beam.” That sounded good to me, especially since in strobe mode, as I planned to use it in daylight, it should last longer than that.
When I searched for “1200-lumen bicycle headlights,” several choices and brands came up, but searching for the red lens pointed me to the Bright Eyes light, since the only lens pack I found with a red lens was made to fit the Bright Eyes. The product description said the lenses could be used with “other similar bike lights,” but after reading the Bright Eyes info, I settled on that light. On Amazon, the headlight had a 4.5-star rating (out of five stars), with more than 2,900 reviews.
I bought the light and the lens pack together for slightly less than $50. They arrived within two days. The light came with a clear lens installed and a clear diffuser lens that could be swapped in if preferred. A plug-in charger was included, as well as a small LED taillight with a rubber mounting strap (it’s bright, but there’s no indication of how many lumens it puts out). The headlight kit also included an expansion strap that allows wearing the headlight on your forehead or mounted on the front of your helmet.
Adapting the bicycle light
Changing the lenses required removing four small screws with a provided allen wrench, but nothing in the printed directions explained that. I finally found the screws by peering down at the headlight from the back and seeing the screws — one in each corner, recessed in what appear to be baffles. Once found, the swap was easy.
As I expected, the bracket on the base of the light was positioned at a right angle to the light beam for mounting it on the handlebars, but since I wanted to mount mine on the outside end of my left handlebar drop — the leftmost and therefore most visible spot on my bike — I needed the bracket rotated 90 degrees to be parallel to the light beam. When I peeled back the gripping tape in the bracket, I found a single screw, which when loosened, allowed me to rotate the bracket. After that, mounting the light where I wanted it, with the light pointing directly to the rear, was a simple matter, using the provided rubber fasteners.
For now, I have used a cable tie to route the cable up my handlebar, past the left brake/shift lever. Next time I rewrap my bars, I’ll put it underneath the tape. I mounted the battery by its Velcro straps on my top tube where it meets the head tube. The battery cable reaches easily from there to join the lamp cable in a waterproof socket. The kit also includes an extension cable if you wish to place the battery elsewhere on your bike.
After each ride, I recharge the battery by running an extension cord to my bike and plugging in the charger. I’ve not had time for a five-hour ride yet, but at the end of the three-hour rides I’ve done, the light was still going strong.
How Visible is a Bicycle Taillight?
The taillight is visible from a long way off, perhaps as much as a mile. I’ve only had time for two rides since mounting the light, but my anecdotal experience so far is that when riding on roads where lack of a shoulder forces me to ride in the traffic lane, vehicles are slowing down sooner as they approach me from behind, and when passing me, they are are giving me wider berth. Even one guy in a sports car who passed me doing at least 60 in a 35-mph zone, moved over into the other lane.
As you know, there are no safety guarantees when pedaling on the road, but there’s now no excuse for a driver coming from behind not seeing me.
Ready to Use Ultra Bright Bicycle Taillight Solutions
In the meantime, several manufacturers have come out with ultra bright rear tail lights that do not require any DIY work. Here are some brands you can consider. The lumens are lower, but they are very visible.
Stan Purdum has ridden several long-distance bike trips, including an across-America ride recounted in his book Roll Around Heaven All Day, and a trek on U.S. 62, from Niagara Falls, New York, to El Paso, Texas, the subject of his book Playing in Traffic. Stan, a freelance writer and editor, lives in Ohio. See more at www.StanPurdum.com.