The PDW Lars Rover 650 is typical of the latest generation of battery operated headlights, and it is interesting to compare it to the lights that I was testing a couple of years ago. Almost all this type of light now recharges with USB, and use an internal battery that may or may not be removable. I have mixed feelings about this; I still prefer removable NiMh AA and AAA cells since the lifetime of these batteries is not infinite. However I understand the convenience of USB recharging; you don’t have to have a separate charger, and you don’t have to open up the light to get to the batteries, which means that the light can be designed to be more resistant to breakage.

I will point out that this is probably also the last headlight review that I’ll write for the blog since there is a website called “the bike headlight database” that has a fantastic amount of information on all sorts of lights for all sorts of riding. However, they haven’t looked at this particular light in detail.

The Lars Rover offers a bright (650 lumens) at a price point (US MSRP is $110) that seems to be pretty competitive. For example the L&M Urban 500 offers 500 lumens at $100, and the Cygolite Expilion 720 is nominally brighter for slightly more money. What makes this light a good deal in Canada is that MEC sells it for $85.

DSC04882 In the package, you get the light and three different mounting brackets: a helmet mount with Velcro strap, a standard clamp on handlebar bracket, and a quick detach handlebar mount that uses an elastic strap.

You also get the mini USB cord to recharge the light.

Here are a couple of pictures comparing the light to the earlier generation PDW Cosmic Dreadnought. The new light is slightly bigger than the old one, although it is slimmer in profile.
DSC04883 The bluish front half of the housing is metal, which I assume helps dissipate heat from the LED.

Looking from the side, I guess they decided that throwing light directly to the side is no longer important. DSC04884 The elastic strap works surprisingly well on a range of handlebar diameters, but in practice I would wrap enough electrical tape on any given bar so that the light doesn’t get moved by riding over bumps.

In terms of performance, the quick summary is that the 650 lumens mode is much brighter than any of my other lights, to the point where it is almost stupidly bright for use in the city. I can imagine that the light would be pretty blinding to on-coming car traffic, and would be insanely annoying on flash mode. There is a good summary of advice on the bikelight database that can be summarized as follows: during the day, there is no harm in using a very bright light in flash mode to grab attention, but at night it is inadvisable to use a very bright light in flash mode as it runs the risk of disorienting drivers.

However the Lars Rover has one nice feature to address this issue: it has a slow pulse mode that is much less annoying than the flash mode, and this is now my preferred mode at night since it still attracts more attention than a steady light, but it shouldn’t induce anyone to go into a epileptic fit.

One situation where the high intensity would be useful is in trail riding. I didn’t get a chance to do any trail riding at night with this light, so I can’t comment on this application, but this is what the helmet mount would be for. I wouldn’t use the helmet mount in the city unless I deliberately wanted to blind drivers.

Here is a timelapse video showing the runtime of the light on steady high intensity mode, and the slow flash mode.

The high intensity runs a little longer (2:15) than the claimed two hours, but the pulse mode runs shorter (7:20) than the claimed 10 hours. In both modes, there is a low battery/low intensity mode that will let you limp home without totally losing all light. It lasts about an hour, which is much longer than the 15 minutes stated on the PDW website. These run times were measured indoors at room temperature. Run times out in the cold seem to be shorter, but again, it is helpful to have the red LED to indicate that you are running on fumes.

Here is the beam pattern of three different lights (all taken at dusk, 10 m from the garage, 1/6 sec, F 1.8, ISO 1600

The PDW Cosmic Dreadnought, which had the brightest hot spot of my older lights, with not much light outside the hotspot.

The Ixon IQ Premium, a German light that was state of the art a year ago. Nominally 80 lux.
DSC04892 Note that the beam pattern has a sharp horizontal cutoff, and lots of light spread out evenly below the cutoff.

However, it should be pointed out that the Ixon IQ is quite a bulky light, taking 4 AA cells. It is also heavy enough that I found that it would often rotate downward when I rode over bumps; it looks like it is too much light for a handlebar mount that is barely bigger than the PDW mount.

The Lars Rover. Lots of light all over the place.DSC04890

The one thing that would make this light (or any of its peers) a segment leader would be if it had better optics so that the light would throw a beam pattern with a sharp horizontal cutoff, similar to that of the Ixon. I was disappointed to see that the Lars Rover has essentially a round beam pattern. It throws a lot of light on the road, but does it in such a way that it can also blind oncoming traffic. I see that B&M has a new light called the Ixon Core that is USB rechargeable and much smaller than the Ixon IQ Premium, but it appears also to be less powerful at 50 lux. The market awaits a more powerful, more widely distributed version of this light.

In summary, the Lars Rover 650 is a light that is powerful and has some nice features, but is not necessarily ideal for the city.

What I liked:

  • relatively small size
  • the choice of three different mounts
  • the fact that you had to keep the power button depressed for two seconds to turn it on
  • the light remembers the last mode that was used
  • tons of light
  • the slow pulse mode
  • looks more durable than than my older lights (such as the Planet Bike Blaze: all of mine have basically died at this point)
  • I’m finding the elastic mount very convenient

What I didn’t like so much

  • too much light all over the place for use on city streets?
  • inferior optics (related to the above)

On balance, the Lars Rover 650 qualifies as “tried and liked”, although I’ll be running it in the slow flash mode. I’ll note that some PDW taillights also have the slow flash mode, such as the Danger Zone.

Update: as noted in the comments, Light and Motion make an excellent line of bike lights, and they are made in the USA. Many of them (like the aforementioned Urban 500) are rated very highly on the bike light database.

Given that my biking is done for the year, it’s time to sum up some impressions of the new gear that I tried this year. I’ve had a Torch T1 Bike Helmet since May, when I posted my initial impressions. Since then, I’ve been quite happy with it. One thing that I’ve noticed is that I get a lot of questions about it. My impression is that people either think it is terribly geeky, or that they want one, and it is only the second kind of person that asks me about it. I steer them to the torch website, but now I see that they are out of stock for the moment, which I hope is a good sign for their company.

Here is me on Canada Day. The helmet has been accessorized with a really good bike mirror, for that full Fred look.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Here I am at Battle Mountain.

Sharp eyed readers will note that the colour of the helmet has changed. What happened was that that the rear light on the original helmet started to cut out intermittently. At the same time, the lens had worked loose. I contacted the company, and they were extremely proactive in getting me a replacement. I had had second thoughts about the black, so I asked for either white or red, and red is what showed up.

In Baltimore with the red one.

Added earflaps when it got cold.

Here is the helmet in its present state.
r2 You can see that it is a little worse for wear, and the transluscent layer that seems bonded over the colour bearing layer is scuffed up. Granted, this helmet has seen hard use. One thing that I’ve done is to pack it a couple of times into a suitcase with a bike, which isn’t the best thing for its health.

The other thing that I did was to crash this past week, and you can see some dents just forward of the rear lens, so I guess I did hit my head, in addition to breaking my collarbone.

All in all, I’ve been pretty satisfied with the product. I have just a few niggles:

  • for the next production run, I hope that they revise the dimensions of the triangular plastic pieces that bring together the straps before they enter the buckle. The straps get out of adjustment just a little too easily.
  • the lights still cut out occasionally when I’m biking in a strong rain, but after the helmet dries out, all is good again.
  • I have some reservations about the long term durability of the lights, but again, I haven’t exactly been babying the helmet.
  • The runtime for the lights might not be quite what it was, but on the other hand, this might be the effect of cold weather.

Here is a video testing the runtime of the red helmet as delivered.  The lights are on high, and they cut out around two hours, just as advertised.  I generally run the front on high or low solid, and the rear on rapid flash.

Thanks to Torch Apparel for a unique product, and for their very good customer support. It’s been a long haul since the beginning of their kickstarter project, but I’ve been happy with the result.

a day with ups and downs

Yesterday was another one of those days that I could have done without.

Highlight: Janet Joy winning Ward Captain of the year at the Cycle Toronto Volunteer Appreciation night. Absolutely well deserved. She brings so much energy to everything that she does.

Lowlight: the roads must have been pretty slick.
I was biking home in a light rain after the event and I crashed just while riding along. I very much appreciated the two motorists and one cyclist who stopped to ask if I was OK. As per my usual idiocy in these sorts of situations, I waved them off before checking to see if both the bike and I were OK. It turns out the bike was fine but something was definitely up with my shoulder. I rode for another km or so before pulling over and calling to be rescued. After a long wait at emerg, I was sent home after an X Ray, and a 7 am appointment this AM.
IMG_1875 Fractured clavicle. No biking for six weeks.

A postscript that will amuse my American friends: when I checked out of the Fracture Clinic, I had the following conversation:

“How are you going to pay?”
“I thought everything was covered by OHIP” (Ontario provincial health insurance plan)
“OHIP only covers the doctor’s visit.”
“How much is the bill?” (sinking feeling)
“Twenty bucks.”
“I’ll pay cash then” (much happier)

Here is a price list for these charges.

Ride safe, and keep the rubber side down!

mec_glovesMEC are selling a new line of light gloves that have touchscreen compatible pads on the thumb and index fingers, for today’s connected generation. I wanted to see if they worked for biking. I’ve been using a pair of the midweight “Söche” gloves for a couple of weeks now. In terms of warmth, they are on par or maybe slightly less warm than the neoprene gloves that I generally use this time of year. For my 30 minute commute, they’ll do down to about 0°C, but they are definitely cold at —5°C, meaning that they are slightly colder than the neoprene gloves.

I have mixed feelings about these for cold weather biking. You are paying a premium for the touchscreen compatibility. Also, in the back of my mind I know that electrical conduction implies thermal conduction (via the Wiedemann Franz Law) i.e. poor thermal insulation. I don’t know if it was my imagination, but I could feel the tips of my thumbs and index fingers getting cold faster than the rest of my hands. Also, I’m not sure if the midweight glove is a good compromise. When I do more than gross gestures on the phone, I was generally removing the gloves anyways. Perhaps the thinner Göto gloves would be a better compromise.

postcodeloterij bike

Yesterday, this really cool city bike was parked near the office.
DSC04806 Apparently this is a prize that is available from a national charity lottery in the Netherlands.

If you use the search terms “postcodeloterij bike”, you’ll see that these bikes are not uncommon over there. In fact, there are a fair number for sale for not very much money, but I’d have no idea how to get them over to this side of the pond.

There are a lot of nice details on the bike, such as fully integrated fenders, lights, lock and chaincase. Also, the extreme seat post angle puts the axis more or less in line with the bottom bracket, which is a common feature of one size fits all bikes.

DSC04807 I’m not sure the kid carrying function is standard; note the homemade wheel skirts, and the Yuba Mundo seat pad.

The front rack is frame mounted and looks very sturdy.

A very practical bike for the city. I wonder how it ended up in Toronto.

Hoskin Ave

My regular commute takes me down Harbord as far east as St. George, so it’s been a little while since I checked out Hoskin Ave. For the longest time, this stretch was taken up by sewer work on the south side. Today I saw that the construction was over, but the bike lane was mostly coned off by a movie production.

Reaching the intersection with Queen’s Park Crescent, I was very pleased to see this push button dedicated to cyclists.

From here, crossing and turning south, I see that the entrance to the separated bike lane is still coned off, so there hasn’t been much change.

A little further on, there is a gap in the concrete curb, and I surmise that this is so that cyclists that want to turn right into the U of T campus can merge with car traffic. If this is true, this is a potential deathtrap since the car traffic here is very fast. I can see that the placement of this gap in the curb is convenient for pedestrians, but it is the wrong place for bikes.

Further south, this is the intersection with segment of Wellesley that cuts across Queens Park.
You can see that car traffic is directed to turn in all directions, but the separated bike lane only accommodates one direction of turning.

Viewed from a different angle, you can see the path for pedestrians across the triangular island. I guess that it is possible that bikes could also use this feature.
A much better solution would be to have a gap in the concrete curb just north of the triangular island so that bikes could cross over to the car lane at a position just short of the stop sign, where the cars (if present) would either be stopped or moving slowly.

The bike lane markings on the Wellesley segment are still going in. It is getting close to too late in the season to be able to have the marking adhere properly to the asphalt.
East of Queen’s Park Crescent from this point, there is still much to be done on the separated bike lane along Wellesley, and the the segment between Bay and Yonge is at an even earlier stage of construction. It will be interesting to see if this construction can get done before winter descends for real.

Water resistance of bike pants

Over the years, one of my most popular blog posts has been this almost three year old entry on different kinds of pants that are specifically marketed to cyclists. There has also been a fair amount of traffic on my posts that are specifically about the Levi’s commuter jeans.

There are many claims about water resistance of bike clothing. I’ve noted over the past two years that the water resistance of some of these pants have degraded due to repeated washings. Both Levi’s and Outlier advise that the DWR properties can be “refreshed” but running the clothing through the dryer. An important point: with the jeans, you should only do this when the jeans are already dry to avoid shrinkage.

I had some time on my hands so I decided to made this video, that shows a comparison of an ordinary pair of 501’s, my commuter 505’s that are at least a year old and have gone through many washings, and my 2-3 year old Outlier Climbers. I also recently succumbed to the lure of a new pair of Outlier Climbers that have a merino wool lining. The old 505’s and climbers had their DWR refreshed by running through a hot dryer for about 20 minutes.

The performance of the 501’s and the 505’s were not that different. If you look closely, you will see that water beads up a little more on the 505’s and it is a little slower to soak into the fabric. The Outlier climbers are made from Schoeller Dryskin, which makes them very expensive. The performance of the older pair is still OK, much better than the jeans. The Outliers also do a better job of keeping you warm, even if they are soaked through. The performance of the newer Outliers speaks for itself. I’ll be reporting on the warmth of the wool lined Outliers in due course.

The M-back Outlier Climbers have been washed once, and I noticed while walking in the rain that drops were no longer magically bouncing off of them. The care instructions printed inside the pants recommended using a low iron to renew the water resistance. However, the website said to run them in a medium dryer. I originally hung these to dry, and so I ran them in a medium dryer for about 15 minutes after they were dry. Unfortunately, this appears to have shrunk them a bit. I’m estimating that the inseam is now shorter by between 0.5-1″. For both my slim dungarees and my older climbers, just drying them at medium heat after a wash never shrank them. It appears that the M Backs are a little more finicky; no more drying for them under any circumstances. On the plus side, the water resistance was largely restored by the heated drying.


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