October 22, 2008
For the past five years, during training time on long autumn evenings and in the depths of adventure races where my team would pedal through the night, the amber beam of a high-intensity discharge (HID) bike light served as the only reliable source for illumination on the nighttime trail. Flip the switch on a NiteRider or Light & Motion model, let the bulb ignite, and there’d soon be a bubble of virtual daylight arching out to carve the darkness beyond.
But HID, in the world of bike lights, is an expiring technology. In its place, another acronym — LED, or light-emitting diode — is now filling the niche of nighttime illumination, causing more than one company to drop the HID-based lamps we’ve long depended on completely from the product line.
An easily-attachable ratcheting rubber strap mounts the Seca to your handlebar
For Light & Motion, a Monterey, Calif., company, the development of bright and efficient LEDs this year prompted the replacement of all its high-end HID lights with LED models. The result, exemplified in the company’s Seca line, are bike lights that are not only brighter but stronger and more battery-efficient. Further, the company (www.bikelights.com) cites its LEDs as having 20,000 hours of lifetime run time compared to 500 hours of bulb life for its now-defunct HID models.
I tested the new Seca 700 Race, a $550 torch purported to blast 700 lumens of brightness from six LEDs stacked inside a beam-focusing reflective case. In my test, the light cut a clean, white beam ahead more than 100 feet on a trail, providing a window of light where I could see every root and rock to ride singletrack almost as hard as I would during the day.
The Seca 700 Race, which is shipping to stores this month, can be mounted atop your bike helmet or clamped onto handlebars with an easily-attachable ratcheting rubber strap. A cable extends back to a rechargeable battery pack stuffed in a jersey pocket or strapped to your bike’s frame. The system weighs just over 1 pound complete and recharges in about 2.5 hours when plugged into an outlet after a ride at home.
A single control button and three brightness settings let night riders shuffle through high, medium and low options to pick the appropriate light level and battery life requirement as per your ride. At its aforementioned 700-lumen setting, the lithium-ion battery will drain in 3.5 hours. You get seven hours of light in the medium mode, as per Light & Motion’s specs, and 14 hours in the low setting, which, at about 175 lumens, is still adequate illumination for slower offtrail riding.
Cinch the Seca onto a helmet to cast a beam of white whenever you turn your head to look
Shine this light into the night sky and it cuts a sharp beam toward the stars. It makes streets signs and reflectors blink at a quarter-mile. While riding, you can aim and swivel the head to best light up the trail, be it a focused beam aimed down and burning the ground white for 75 feet ahead, or a tipped-back lamp that busts a peripheral bubble of white into the air for 200 feet beyond.
The Seca 700 Race’s price (again: $550) makes it a stretch for all but the most flush gear junkies. But if you need to ride at night — and you want a small, strong, quickly-rechargeable light to do it — the Race is your pass to fast singletrack under the stars.
—Stephen Regenold writes The Gear Junkie column for eleven U.S. newspapers; see www.THEGEARJUNKIE.com for video gear reviews, a daily blog, and an archive of Regenold’s work.
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