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4-AA LED Bicycle Lights

There is a well-populated class of bicycle headlights that use 4-AA batteries. This is a very popular category of lighting for commuting and long-distance cycling.

AA batteries are convenient to carry and easy to find at many stores. In this class of lights, the battery compartment tends to dictate the overall shape and size of the light. The choice of 4-AAs results in convenient all-in-one packaging.

I've decided to compare four lights of this type (that I own) under reasonably controlled conditions. As stated above, weight-wise and overall size-wise, they're all about the same.

[For the record, I own many more bicycle lights of different types and cost levels, including a 10W HID and quite a variety of halogen and LED lights of different wattages. However, none of the other lights I own work on 4-AAs.]

From left to right:

  1. Di Notte 5W LED light. My newest purchase for nearfield use during commuting.

  2. Cateye HL-500II Micro Halogen (2.4W). I own about 7 of these at last count.
    Used mostly for brevets in overvolted mode with Energizer Lithium AAs.

  3. Cateye EL500 1W LED light. My previous commute mainstay.

  4. Brand new Cateye EL530 1W LED light. Successor to the EL500. Supposed to be much better.

Here is the test scene:

I positioned three objects of interest:
  1. A red exercise ball at 64 ft (about 2.2 seconds away at 20 mph).
  2. A white floor lamp at 40 ft (about 1.5 seconds away at 20 mph).
  3. A white water bottle at 26 ft (just under 1 second away).

I would characterize the two closer objects as being "nearfield" in the sense that we react relatively instinctively and immediately to them in terms of steering input.

The furthest object (and beyond) I would say are "distant" in the sense that we can recognize and plan for those objects but we do not need to process them immediately.

So how do they compare? Beam patterns are shown below.

[Link to elements here. Adjust your monitor. You should be able to distinguish between A, B and C, and also X, Y and Z.]

[To see a larger image, click on a picture.]

From left to right:
  1. The scene as illuminated by camera flash only. Overexposed in postprocessing. (Duplicate of above.)
  2. Cateye HL-500II Micro Halogen. Overvolted. Lithium AAs.
  3. Cateye EL500 1W LED light. Lithium AAs.
  4. DiNotte 5W LED light. NiMh AAs.
  5. DiNotte 5W LED light. Lithium AAs. Since the DiNotte is regulated, this is just a check.
  6. Cateye EL530 1W LED light. Lithium AAs.

The Bottom Line

For commute use, I have settled on the DiNotte 5W. It is a fairly wide beam, which has considerable nearfield advantages with respect to signage and shoulder debris illumination. The other lights tested here are useless for detecting peripheral objects outside their narrow cone of illumination. Yes, I can notice and read peripheral street signs. At 20 mph with the Cateye EL500, I never noticed those things before.

For brevet use, there is a two light minimum for this category of lighting. I've used two Cateye Micros (one nearfield and one for distance). A helmet light is really also necessary for street signage illumination. The DiNotte 5W can improve on this as long as it is supplemented by an instant-on light that can serve to illuminate deep into a descent. However, I am not yet sure how long the DiNotte 5W will last on a set of AA lithiums.

Sandiway Fong

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Last modified: Mon Jan 29 17:02:41 MST 2007