Sunday, October 21, 2007

Two Planet Bike Headlights Compared

I've been using a couple of Planet Bike headlights lately and I think the above picture conveys some useful information.

The light on the left is the Planet Bike Beamer 3. This little light runs on 2 AA batteries, comes with a nice handlebar bracket and so far seems quite waterproof and well-built.

The light on the right is the Planet Bike Blaze. The Blaze is slightly larger than the Beamer 3, seems similarly well-built and comes with both a handlebar and a helmet bracket. Like the Beamer 3, it also runs on 2 AA batteries.

Planet Bike lists both lights have having run times of "up to 100 hours". In practice, I've been running both lights with NiMH rechargeable AA batteries and I usually remember to charge them up about once a week or so. Depending on when I go to work, that means I may have logged a dozen hours of night riding in that week. For me, any light that can get me through a solid night of riding has a long enough battery life.

Basically the difference in the two lights comes down to beam pattern and price. I'd expected to prefer the pricier Blaze. As you can see from the above photo (shot in normal office light BTW) the Blaze has a stronger, more focused beam. The Beamer 3, which has three lower-powered LEDs compared to the Blaze's single 1/2 watt LED, has a more dispersed beam. The Blaze lets me see further down the road, while the Beamer 3 gives a broader view.

Now here is where I should put in the disclaimer that I have very good night vision. Some of my friends claim that I can see in the dark and while that isn't strictly true, I am comfortable with lower powered lights than what many of my rando buddies use.

I'm happy to navigate my commute with either of the two lights above, but my favorite set-up is what I have on my green bike right now: I have both a Blaze and Beamer 3 on that bike. On my little red Dahon, I've ridden the commute with a just Beamer 3 but I think I prefer the further reaching Blaze. Compared to my other favorite light, the Princeton Tec EOS, the light output of the Planet Bike lights is right on par. The beam of the EOS is probably about halfway between that of the Beamer 3 and the Blaze. The EOS has various power settings and more sophisticated circuitry,but the later generation LEDs and good optics of the Planet Bike lights seem to make very good use of the power they have. The EOS is super weather-proof, but the fact that it takes an odd number of AAA cells is still a little bothersome. The EOS and the Planet Bike lights can both be set to either flash or solid modes, but I find the faster flash rate of the Planet Bike lights to be better for riding.

Planet Bike has sent me fenders and nifty beanie in the past and they gave the Bicycle Alliance a good deal on Beamer 3 and Blinky 3 lights for our "Get Lit" program, but I've spent my own hard-earned bucks on the lights in this review. But I guess I am kind of pre-disposed to think favorably of a company like Planet Bike that not only makes good stuff, but also gives 25% of their profits to causes that promote and facilitate bicycle usage.


Jim G said...

The beam from the Beamer 3 reminds me very much of the Cateye EL 400: wider round bluish beam with fuzzy edges.

Interesting that you report that these two PB lights are weatherproof; I've had the exact opposite experience with a PB Super Spot, but these lights are later/newer products so maybe they're improving the water resistance. It'd be great if they upgraded the Super Spot also.

Also, you report that these two lights only use 2 cells each -- is there any current-boosting circuits in these lamps, or is it just the dumb cells + resistor + switch circuit?

Kent Peterson said...

Yeah, I had a SuperSpot that was less than super in the rain. Both the Beamer 3 and the Blaze have O-rings and the light units are sealed plastic pucks. I figure I've recently done enough destructive light testing recently what with busting my Reelight, but I think there must be some kind of a voltage booster inside the plastic pucks to power the LEDs off of 2 AA cells. When you do the simple batteries-switch-resistor circuit, the lights usually have at least 3 cells.

Revrunner said...

Thanks for the review! Riding home later than usual this evening--at dusk--made me think again of getting a headlight. In fact, I almost swung by the LBS to do just that. I know I've seen a Cateye for sale. I'm not sure whether I've seen a PB there.qp

beth h said...

I have truly bad night vision (technically I probably shouldn't ride at night but they will have to pry my bike from my hands on that one). I use the PB Beamer-5, which has 5 led bulbs and uses AA batteries. It's noticably brighter than the Beamer-3 and still throws the light farther down the road, making it a nice alternative.

Tim K said...

These lights are a great deal -- I can't get over how much better these things have become - just in two years or so -- especially when you consider how the commercial manufacturers are a generation or two behind in LED technology.

Taking that into account, the hackers and modders are showing what is possible (check out the bike lighting section on candlepowerforums or MTBR to see what the early adopters are doing) right now.

I think it's going to keep getting better -- within about two years I bet we'll see fully contained, rechargeable, tiny LED bike lights with HID-like brightness and 12-hour run time for under $100 (and maybe like around $50 in 3 years).

Finally some influx of technology in the bike world I can get behind!

Wayne said...

I also have a Beamer 5 that I am happy with. Anyone happen to know if mounting brackets for these are available separate from the lights? I'd love to have a bracket on each of my bikes this winter.

beth h said...

Mounting brackets for the PB Beamer series of headlights ARE available. Your local bike shop should have them or be able to get them for you, at around five bucks each.

steve said...

I liked the Beamer 3... Right up until the temperatures got down to around -10C or so, and then the plastic mounts started snapping when I tried to take the light off. I went through 3 of them before I gave up and ended up with the Nite Hawk Emitter AL-X - pricey at $80 or so but extremely bright (works as a to see light) and runs off 4 AA batteries for a long lifetime.

Tai-po said...

Those beamer lights are really impressive. I run the beamer 1 and 3 models but only use them in flash mode as running lights. My real headlight is a Cateye EL500 that uses 4 AA's, which is set up to illuminate the pavement 20 feet ahead. The best part of the PB beamers is that they will drain a battery until there's nothing left in them. I end up buying disposable li-ion batteries for my digital camera occassionally when I'm out and about. After my camera says they're dead, I throw them into the beamers where they keep going strong seemingly forever.

The Blaze model definitely has me intrigued. I like your comparison there. I wouldn't count on the Beamer 1 or 3 to work well enough as a backup light (because I don't have Kent's super night vision), but the Blaze looks like it puts off enough light for that. A helmet mount for that light, or any of the beamers would be excellent as I've found the running lights work better on the helmet than on the bars.


Tony Licuanan said...

howsit compare to the EL-510?
or, the EL-500?

Tai-po said...

Hey Tony,
Since the last post, I've bought a Blaze and have a week to compared it side by side with my EL500.

The dual cone optics of the EL500 creates a spot and a flood pattern. The spot section is just a bit brighter than the Blaze's spot pattern. The EL500 also has a decent flood light pattern that spills light off the sides, which the Blaze doesn't have.

The Blaze isn't quite a replacement for the EL500, but it's close. If you can live with only having a spotlight, then then Blaze will work.

I'm a big fan of redundant systems, so I'm running both. The EL500 gets more use in the darker months and the Blaze makes for a nicer backup light than the Beamer 3 I was using before. I took the helmet mount that came with the Blaze and am now using it with the Beamer 3. On these foggy mornings when I can't tell if drivers can see me through their wet windows, I've been running both the Beamer 3 and Blaze on blinky modes. It's a good deterrent for getting right-hooked.


Anonymous said...

The flashing mode is good. I live in suburbs with street lighting. Don't use bike tracks that much.

What I need mostly is for cars not to run over me. The flashing is really good for that.

As others have said, The Blaze IS NOT WEATHERPROOF. Even in mild rain, not enough to even annoy me, water got into the light and would not operate correctly. It can take 3 days for it to dry out enough for it work properly again.