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.