Saturday, August 14, 2010

How brightly lit are you? Tail lights and other stories

My friends and I in Zendogs try to ride safely and probably since I spend the most time in heavy traffic, I am the most concerned. My getup reflects this:

Bright, flashing lights - front and rear

Amongst other factors and some good luck, lights are a significant part of keeping safe in both day and night. I have always been willing to fork out cash for lights which help keep me safe. And I have been surprised when some cyclists are hesitant about doing likewise. I am puzzled when cyclists on expensive racers speed by on an early morning ride, just as poorly lit as the foreign worker on some ramshackle bicycle, who is always held up as the epitome of the unsafe cyclist.

The lack of demand for good lights by local cyclists has meant a limited range in neighbourhood bicycle shops. We used to travel to specific shops from word of mouth recommendations just to get a particular type of light. Eventually, more of us travelled overseas for work and internet purchasing became easier and good lights were no longer inaccessible.

I suspect with the greater effort at highlighting road safety advocacy in recent years (see this SSC booklet), there has been an improvement and more cyclists have geared up with lights. And with the greater demand, some local shops are stocking pretty good lights. An example can be seen in this recent discussion on rear lights in local cycling forum Togoparts.

My staple light for about a decade now has been a Planet Bike Blinky 3H Helmet Mounted Rear Light - we bought extra for most of my cycling kakis, the Zendogs, as a helmet-mounted light significantly improves a cyclists' visibility. Variously I have had a 4-LED Sigma Cuberider and a 5-LED Cateye TL-LD610, happily replaced by a friend when the previous one went kaput. Add to the mix fully charged batteries each time I emerge for a ride and I'm visible!

SIGMA SPORT® online - Bike Computer, Heart Rate Monitor, Lighting
Planet Bike Blinky 3H Helmet Mounted Rear Light - Mountain Equipment Co-op. Free Shipping Available
Cateye - Tl-ld610

I read with great interest that Sigma Cuberider now has a version II with five LEDs and 2 x AAA batteries instead of single size N battery. I have to get that!

Weak batteries can eliminate the effectiveness of your best lights, so my kakis and I will report on each others' roadworthiness, e.g. my comments here:

"Ladybug had her three rear lights on the way down to ECP last Sunday and she could be easily seen from far She had on a Planet Bike helmet rear light and that really great Sigma Cuberider with the odd-size N battery that was popular about four years ago plus *drum roll* a "no-brand" red flashing light on her back from a retired Citicab driver, courtesy of his daughter - Citicab apparently gave it to drivers in case of breakdowns and it's very bright!

In contrast, I could not see another rider who had just one weak light on her seat post. Guess she needed to change the batteries!"

A Zendogs conversation

On 20-21 Mach 2009, I chatted with my fellow cycling kakis about tail lights which I reproduce here for a quick impression on rear tail light options (US$ values link to the relevant Amazon Store pages). If you have recommendations, know of local shops selling such lights and local prices, do pitch in with comments - thanks!

Sivasothi wrote:
"I've been looking at bicycle tail lights and was thrown off by the lingo which prevents direct comparisons, candlelight, lumens and wattage.E.g. this Cateye chart uses candlepower.

Without any consideration for weight, battery life, battery type or cost, these top contenders emerged very quickly:

NiteRider Cherry Bomb
Great reviews, a new light on the market. US$25.
NiteRider Cherry Bomb

Planet Bike Blinky Super Flash
Also very popular and has a white version for the front - US$19.
Blinky Super Flash

Other contenders

Blackburn Mars 4.0
LED's: 1w Ultra Bright Red, 2 amber side. US$25.
Blackburn / 2009 / Mars 4.0

Marpac Foxfire
LED's: 26 "Super Bright", 360┬║ Illumination. US$25. - products

Chi wrote:

"Hi Siva,

The units measure different things (lm, W, and cd) and conversion between lm and cd is possible if you know the solid angle of radiation. Between lm and W, you can also convert but this may not be an entirely realistic conversion as it is based on one wavelength only and may be affected by other items such as efficiency and optical characteristics of the housing/lens.

Anyway, with lights, if they can give the units to you in cd (or mcd – thousandth of a candela), that would be sufficient. The one below is a good one. Guaranteed that you would be seen from far away as the leds are spaced out over several angles.

For lights with LEDs and units in Watts, anything more than ½ W to 1 W is bright enough. However, this unit just refers to the power required by the LED to generate the brightest possible output. Does not take into account the optics of the plastic housing or lens. So if your lens or housing is badly designed (or say scratched), that maximum brightness seen by an observer will be reduced accordingly.

In our riding conditions, after settling for the brightness of the light, I would also take a look at dispersion angle for visibility, environmental protection (IP rating or waterproofness), and battery life."

Sivasothi wrote:
"The angles on the Cateye TL-LD610 (3 x AAA) are why it is my sole tail light now (apart from the Planet Bike helmet-mounted rear light) - a wider view might be offered by the Nite Rider Cherry Bomb.

I have the Cateye strapped on to the left seat stay since the gear cable runs along the right. This light is thus viewable at a distance but only from left-approaching vehicles.

For rIght-approaching vehicles I am relying on reflection by my bright-coloured cycling jersey and ankle straps. Proximal alerts will otherwise come from the helmet light. So adding a below-saddle tail light angled to the right will help.

The other thing I am looking for is a small, white light for the helmet now. But that's another story."
Loh Tse-Lynn wrote:
"I have the Planet Bike 1/2 watt Super Flash and I love it. The flash pattern is very distinctive and draws attention. For a little one, it packs a powerful flash. The roads here (Wilmington, NC, USA) tend to be unlit and it gives me confidence to commute at night. Currently my front light is the Planet Bike Blaze 1 watt. Good stuff."
Sivasothi wrote:
"Planet Bike supports bicycle advocacy and their lights were good, so our lights were all Planet Bike when Ladybug got them in Canada. Busted most of them since! But they were not as strong as our current lights.

From what I read, the Super Flash is one of the lightest at that power rating, so the weight freaks will love it for this as well."
Note: There is some suggestion that the Taiwanese SMART light I have see on sale in several stores these days may be the OEM version of Planet Bike's Blinky Superflash. They certainly look alike! For sure this too strong for a group ride except for the "last man" to use.

What about headlamps?

There are two types of front lights - flashing front lights to alert others to your presence and constantly-lit headlamps which help light your way. I am rarely in significant darkness so have never really explored headlamps. Flashing front lights are a critical part of any cyclists gear and the light and movement help to announce your presence to other road users. I have been reasonably satisfied with a 5 LED, 170 cd (at centre of light) Cateye HL-EL210/220 which I bought for about $55 one night before heading into the Coastal PCN. It was real handy!

There are the much brighter HL-EL-320 (1004 cd centre) or the lighter and waterproof HL-EL450 (400 cd centre; 3 x A3 batteries so half the battery life) - the latter costs US$34 and has a swivel mount which you can direct sideways, a useful option when cycling past junctions with vehicles turning in sideways to cut across your lane. Cateye HL-EL450 Compact OptiCube

Besides Cateye, there is Sigma with Cubelight II and many others as well as Planet Bike's US$19 Blinky Superflash Tail Light (comes in white) or the US$65 Topeak WhiteLite HP 3-Watt Bicycle Light. Topeak WhiteLite HP 3-Watt Bicycle Light

WhIle I want to be able to grab attention adequately from amongst traffic, I don't want to blind fellow road users temporarily. I would like to evaluate my light coming from a distance amidst traffic to determine its effectiveness at alerting an oncoming driver.

On the other hand, already at this light's intensity, I am careful to prevent blinding pedestrians when I join a PCN by switching the light to constant mode (i.e. not blinking) and pointing it downwards.

For the rare occasions I do need a headlight to light up my path, this US$60 Cateye HL-EL530 LED Bicycle Headlight looks like an attractive option. It is 100g heavier than my current light but is waterproof and the centre of beam is about 10x brighter at 1658 cl. – gosh, why don't I already own this? Cateye HL-EL530 LED Bicycle Headlight

Ride safe everyone!

Links to reviews (do suggest)
  • "Bicycle lighting product reviews," by Jason Ng. Jay's Cheesy Website V1.1, c/ Aug 2009 - link.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Foldies on a National Day 45km PCN sprint from Changi Village to Fort Road

A couple of guys on their foldable bicycles sprint the 45km from Changi Village to Fort Road along the Coastal Park Connector after a leisurely breakfast on National Day. The reason for the pace? Car park coupons were expiring!

The blog post and video is by Kevin Lim on a Birdy, the "guy in yellow" is Kenneth Pinto on a Dahon. I love the smooth uninterrupted ride and the demonstration of the joy a foldable bike can bring to a couple of bus an car commuting dudes.

The video has been sped up to only take 10 mins. Click to read on...

Happy National Day everyone!
NDP 2010

Monday, August 09, 2010

Have foldable bike will travel (on PCN)

The Park Connector Network in Singapore has opened up safe route to cyclists like never before. These traffic-free paths are safe for cyclists who just need keep an eye open for pedestrians and the mostly few intersections with traffic. Their increasing pervasiveness provides not only safe commuting and leisure cycling opportunities but also the joy of touring Singapore much like you would as a tourist in a foreign land.

Park Connector Network

Meanwhile, foldable bikes have offered space-scarce Singaporeans the solution to owning and transporting bicycles. Some are small enough to be allowed on the MRT during off-peak hours while others are simply convenient for storage. Foldables are so popular, neighbourhood shops are offering cheap versions for the casual cyclist.

This combination may help the rise of cycling as a leisure and commuting option for Singaporeans. Enough for me to spout, "have foldable bike will travel".

Ivan Chew, the Rambling Librarian, exemplifies this. I was heartened when he sent me news about his $135 bicycle purchase and subsequent exploration of Mandai:

"I bought foldable bike at my neighbourhood bike shop on 22 July 2010. The bike is a relatively cheap China production but construction and workmanship isn't shoddy. It cost me $182, including $47 accessories like a side handlebar mirror and 2 lights.

I suspect it's a blatant ripoff of a Dahon foldable bike but still, this meets my needs."


"I bought the bicycle because I saw the Mandai PCN from a bus one evening. I had thought to myself that I can finally cycle out of Yishun, safely on a PCN. So I took it for a test-ride the next evening at about 9.30pm.

I rode the Khatib Bongsu PCN, starting from Yishun Park to junction of Yishun Ave 1 & 2, and then rode towards a new Mandai PCN that is not yet reflected on the NParks map. I rode this all the way to the Seletar Expressway flyover.

Park Connector Network - Yishun-Mandai

Then I hit Mandai Ave all the way to the turning point towards Mandai Crematorium. By this time it was edging towards midnight (work day next morning) so I decided to turn home. I am crossing my fingers we'll see the PCN fully connected in 5 year's time.

I'm not confident enough to cycle on the roads. But I don't like crowding pedestrians on paths (I'm a pedestrian most times!) So the PCN is REALLY a boon. NParks really scored big with me. And you can quote me on this :)"
Ivan Chew's foldable bicycle tucked away
Happy National Day everyone!
NDP 2010

Ivan Chew's response here.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Bicycle rides in Pengerang, south-eastern Johor, Malaysia

Nestled in the south-eastern-most tip of the State of Johor lies Pengerang – a popular cycling getaway for Singaporean cyclists seeking kampung trails, offroad tracks, open spaces, low traffic roads and hilly roads amidst the quiet charm of a rural, lowly-populated area. Oh and some cheap and great food.

The Penegerang, Tenggara and Kota Tinggi areas collectively make up the Kota Tinggi District.
How well do you know the place names
of our immediate neighbour?

A $12 (one-way) 45-60 mins bumboat ride with your bicycle from Changi Point Ferry Terminal brings you to the new Tanjong Pengelih Jetty Complex and Public Marina which opened on 16 May 2009. From the jetty, a serene ride and Malaysian food awaits you - you'll just need your passport and some ringgit. But be sure to get back to this jetty by 2pm, unless you have chartered a boat.

Singaporean groups typically also visit the area for kelong stays and fishing. Many blog about their getaways from the rabid pace of life in Singapore and Arson and Arsenic has a great Pengerang post from 2008.

Tanjung Pengelih Jetty is merely the start of a ride of any variation of destinations and terrain which cyclists may simply refer to as "Pengerang". So find out exactly the sort of ride you are invited to before you embark on one! Examples of variations include:
  • Sungei Rengit 40km = about 2/3 kampung roads and 1/3 main road
  • Sungei Rengit 50km = 30km offroad + 20km main road
  • Tanjung Ramunia 60km = kampung roads and main road
  • Desaru 100km = main road loop
Pengerang, 2002

My cycling kakis, Zendogs and some friends, last rode there on Sun 13 Oct 2002. I remember a blazing sun and according to my old log, the distances covered were:
  • 11am - Pengarang Jetty to Sg Rengit: 26.11 km (1:34:51), Avs 16.5 km/h
  • 2.30pm - Sg Rengit to Pengarang Jetty: 17.71km (0:52:25), Avs 20.2km/h

The ride to Sungei Rengit was longer as we went offroad through some plantations, new roads, saw a spill or two and examined the belukar in the area. Definitely a ride to recommend cyclists from Singapore!

Pengerang, 2002

Despite the allure of the ride, it took me almost eight years before I returned. Meanwhile, the PCN arose in Singapore and foldable bicycles have become popular and may represent a space-saving commuting option which will make the bicycle popular once again - and see more riders head out to Pengerang.