Charge It

Maha Powerex MH-C401FS

Relatively inexpensive, low-powered LED lights, strategically located on the bike and rider, can dramatically increase your visual footprint and increase the probability of being seen by motor vehicle drivers. Considering the high quality and low cost of LED lights today, adding two or three to your lighting set-up may be the best investment you can make to increase your safety (assuming you ride at night, of course).

A bevy of small lights may be very effective, but if you’re like me, you tire of throwing away spent batteries every few weeks and polluting the environment unnecessarily. In addition to a SON generator lighting system, my set-up includes a 1-watt Luxeon headlamp, a Cateye white flasher, and a Planet Bike rear flasher. In all, it takes 8 batteries to keep the LEDs running. The flashers aren’t so bad, but the headlamp burns through batteries at an alarming rate. Somehow, throwing away spent alkaline cells doesn’t mesh well with the concept of riding a bike to minimize one’s personal impact on the planet. And if that isn’t enough, that’s a lot of money going into the trash can every few weeks. The solution? Rechargeable NiMH batteries.

If you decide to switch to rechargeables, you’ll need a good charger and a set of high quality NiMH batteries. A quality charger is at least as important as having quality batteries; some chargers over-charge and can damage batteries, others under-charge and require too frequent charging. One of the best deals on a quality charger for AA and AAA batteries is the Maha Powerex MH-C401FS. It charges four AA or AAA NiMH or NiCD batteries in either 100 minutes in “fast charge” mode or 5 hours in “gentle charge” mode (gentle charge mode runs cooler and is easier on batteries). It has four independent channels to charge and monitor each battery individually – this allows each battery to be charged fully without the risk of overcharging. Once the batteries reach full charge it supplies a trickle to keep them topped off. You can read a full review of the MH-C401FS at Imaging Resource.

For batteries, any high quality, name brand NiMH battery will work fine. Look for a high milliamp hour (mAh) rating (900-1000 mAh in AAA, 2500-2700 mAh in AA) – the higher the number, the longer the time between charges. It takes a few full charge cycles (fully charged to fully drained) for batteries to reach their full potential charge capacity. Once they’re fully conditioned, expect to recharge your batteries a little more frequently than you replaced your disposables.

My full set-up with charger, 12 AAA NiMH 1000mAh batteries, battery holders, and case, came to approximately $75. My calculations indicate it will pay for itself in less than a year, and in the meantime I have one less little thing nagging my conscience.

9 Responses to “Charge It”

  • Ian says:

    Ah yeah, the rechargeables. I understand.

    I’m currently running Dinotte lights front and rear on the bike, those too can chew through a set of for AAs fairly quickly. So far I’ve been using rechargeables, but just with the charger that came with my first Dinotte light. I’ve been looking for a ‘smarter’ charger, though I had an interest in something that could do eight batteries at once. Someday a SON generator will be added to my setup.

  • Michael Brisson says:

    I have a SON dynamo hub. I run a Lumotec IQ Fly Senso Plus headlamp and a Busch&Müller DToplight Plus taillight.

    I love this system! No batteries! The 1 watt LED headlamp is brighter and more directed that my previous halogen systems and the built-in photo-control means I can leave the switch on auto and it comes on only when it’s dark out.

    Although lately, given the longevity of the LED, I’ve been running lights in the daytime as well. Can’t hurt! Other riders have commented on the brightness (even in the daytime!) of the headlamp, though the taillight is pretty wimpy.

    The Dinotte taillight will be my next upgrade. Wish I could run it off my 6V dyno, though…

  • andy parmentier says:

    thebiketrailershop is a place to get a down low glow system.
    reflectivelyyours is a passive reflective lighting
    (these are web sites)
    spiders set up shop by lights.

    passive serendipity (p.s.)’
    is that after blogging about 1380 dollars being a glorious number to me, took a trip to milwaukee
    and checked out an old library. i asked to see some children’s picture books. being a connisseur and thrift store collage marcel duchampion.
    the librarian gave me a stack sandwich and i found serendipity. (i almost expected it, painfully anticipating it even, because my stomach was full of serendipity already and i could’nt countenence another serendipity bite)
    but it was completely painless-i did’nt even feel it-like an expert nurse at giving you a shot.
    so here tis:
    jon scieszka-
    seen art?
    a delicate yet hard working 1380 lb helicopter, designed by someone who paints
    like dumbo? like me on my bike, i feel like a real heavyweight on my bike, is something i’ve said. it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.
    the moma bell helicopter

  • Scott says:

    Also, for lights you never have to think about once they are installed, look at these:

    They seem pretty interesting, especially since I run my lights no matter what time of day it is.

  • Dolan Halbrook says:

    Funny, Michael, I have the exact same setup (SON with the same B&M lights) and i couldn’t be happier with it. Even got a colleague to make the plunge, and he likes it as well.

    If you have the long term mentality the SON is the way to go, but it’s definitely an investment. I love never having to think about batteries or even turning the light on, and I feel like the IQ fly is bright enough on its own.

    As far as batteries are concerned, I’ve been very impressed with Sanyo Eneloops, especially for those folks who don’t ride their bikes often, and ride them at night even less.

  • Roger says:


    I’m glad you have a link to Thomas distributing in your article, I purchased a quantity of the NiMh Powerex AA batteries from them aobut 2.5 years ago and have had very good service life from them. Some of the other more readily available batteries have not worked as well for me, some failed after a relatively short time. If one wants to get serious about using rechargeable batteries, having a battery charger analyzer is a must, that way batteries can be matched into sets with similar capacity. Thomas distributing sells a BC-700 analyzer that has worked well for me, without an analyzer you can have one weak battery that is the limiting factor on a group of batteries. I have no financial connection to Thomas distributing.

  • EcoVelo » Blog Archive » ‘Tis the Season says:

    […] Charge It […]

  • EcoVelo » Blog Archive » Planet Bike Blaze 1W says:

    […] A note on batteries: I love rechargeable NiMH AA batteries because they’re ubiquitous, small, environmentally friendly, and hold plenty of juice for today’s highly efficient LED lights. Please consider using rechargeable NiMH AA’s — the last thing we want to do is trash our landfills and pollute our waterways with spent alkaline batteries. Read more on disposable batteries here. […]

  • EcoVelo » Blog Archive » A Minimalist Lighting System says:

    […] I highly recommend the use of rechargeable batteries. You can read my article on rechargeables here. […]

© 2011 EcoVelo™