Wednesday, February 13, 2008

One Watt Planet Bike Blaze (and some other lights) Reviewed


OK, first off, here's the disclaimer. For quite a while I've said that I'm just an ordinary guy who bikes around and writes some stuff. But by riding more than a lot of folks and writing more than a lot of folks, I find myself, more and more these days, in situations that don't happen to normal folks. I call this the Jerry Pournelle Syndrome.

Back in the early days of personal computers, Byte magazine was the magazine for computer nerds. A guy named Jerry Pournelle (yeah the same Jerry Pournelle who writes science fiction novels) wrote this column that was supposed to represent the "normal" user's view of computers. But his column became popular, people sent him stuff and when he'd have a problem, he could make phone calls that "normal" people couldn't. I remember one instance where he had a problem with some Microsoft product and Jerry's solution was something like "so I called up my buddy Bill Gates and he flew a couple of techs down from Redmond to look at my system..." OK, maybe it wasn't quite that extreme, but it was close.

Anyhow, these days if you have a blog and a point of view and a reasonable set of eyeballs that show up on your web pages, folks will send you stuff. I turn down a lot of stuff that doesn't interest me and I sometimes do spend my own money on some stuff I review. And, as the folks at Accelerade will tell you, freebies don't guarantee a good review. It really helps if you actually have a product that the reviewer likes.

Another factor that adds to the moral fog of the blog review process is that some bloggers, like me, make some money off sales that come via blog links. So if I say good things about Planet Bike and the link goes to Amazon and you buy a Planet Bike light there, I do get some money. Which I then spend on still more bike stuff and the cycle repeats.

So, as I've said many times, I may be biased. Let the buyer beware.

Which brings me to Planet Bike. They make good stuff. They donate 25% of their profits to Bicycle Advocacy. For example, they donate to my employer, the Bicycle Alliance of Washington and have helped us out with programs like Get Lit. And sometimes they send me stuff. For free. Sometimes being a blogger is pretty dang cool. The freebies (along with red cape and goggles and getting to hang out with Xeni and Cory in the Boing Boing hot air balloon) are definitely up there on the list of blog perks.

Monday I wind up signing for a package at the Bikestation. Inside the box was a nifty "Global Cooling Machine" t-shirt from Planet Bike and their brand new, first sample batch off the boat, not availiable is stores yet, One Watt Planet Bike Blaze Headlight.

Initial reaction among the folks at the Bikestation was "Wow!"

The Blaze One-Watt is bright. Low beam is brighter than what is put out by its half-watt sibling. I've been happily commuting with two of the half-watt lights this winter. At 6:00 PM, I set off for my 18 mile commute home in the 48 degree rain. The new light uses the same mounting bracket as both the Beamer and the half-watt Blaze but the light itself is about a centimeter longer.

I played with the light on the commute home. This is a very nice light. I have good night vision, so I mostly ran it on low. Low beam doesn't seem much lower than high, but the difference is noticeable. The flash rate is rapid. I have mixed feelings about flashing lights, they help drivers notice you, but it's hard to gauge the location of a flashing light. Because of my mixed feelings and an appreciation for the value of redundancy, I'll probably stick to a dual light set-up, but the one-watt Blaze would really be all the headlight I'd need. Still, I think a Blaze as the main light and a slightly lower powered Planet Bike light, possibly set to flash, makes for a real nice commuting set-up.

The new one-watt Blaze uses a very efficient Cree XRE Power LED and when I got home at the end of my hour and half commute, the light was still cool to the touch. The extra centimeter of length on the light is taken up by an aluminum ring which seems to do a fine job as a heat-sink.

As you can see from the pictures, the new light is iMac white. I'm not wild about the color scheme, but the light works well enough I'd use it even if the case were purple with green polka-dots. And, since the back part of the light is identical to the grey half-watt light, I can swap back portions to make a couple of unique white/grey and grey/white lights.

I haven't ridden with the one-watt Blaze enough to test the battery life claims, but in general Planet Bike seems to be in the right ballpark with their claimed battery life. The light works fine with NiMH rechargeable batteries.

Planet Bike lists the battery life (probably assuming alkaline cells) as:

High beam -- 7 hours
Low beam -- 14 hours
Flashing -- 20 hours

The suggested retail price of the one-watt Blaze is $39.99 to $44.99

And Planet Bike is also coming out with a two-watt version (Even I don't have one of those yet!) They tell me the specs on that light will be:

High beam -- 4 hours
Low beam -- 8 hours
Flashing -- 15 hours

The suggested retail price of the two-watt Blaze will be $49.99 to $54.99

From left to right: Planet Bike Beamer 3, Planet Bike Blaze Half-Watt, Planet Bike Blaze One-Watt. All three lights are powered by 2 AA batteries and can run on NiMH rechargeable batteries. Note in this picture, I used the flash on the camera. This picture probably most accurately reflects the relative brightness of the lights.

The same shot, but with the camera's flash suppressed. You can see a bit more of the side light spill from the Beamer 3 and the Blaze One-Watt.

The light added to this picture is the Princeton Tec EOS. The EOS has been on the market for several years and is still a very good light. My original review of the EOS is here. The EOS is still quite a good helmet light, but in terms of a light to have on the bike, the new Planet Bike One-Watt Blaze with it's Cree XRE LED beats the EOS. The beam is better, the flash rate is better for cycling and I much prefer having 2 AA batteries instead of three AAA cells.

Finally, here's a fuzzy picture of some tail lights. Here's the short story, if your current tail light is more than a couple of years old, you owe it to yourself to check out the recent LED tail lights. LED lights have gotten much brighter and more efficient in the past couple of years and even the cheapest lights of today may be brighter and run longer on a set of batteries than an expensive light from a few years ago.

In the above picture, the light on the left is an under-$10 Bell light that I blogged about over a year ago. That cheap light is still working fine, although the cheaper lights are often prone to problems in the wet weather.

The second light from the left, the light that makes all others pale in comparison, is the Planet Bike Superflash. This is a very bright, some might say obnoxiously bright, light. Some folks, including me, have had problems with water leaking past the seal on the Superflash, causing the light to shut off. Dan at Planet Bike tells me they did have gasket problems with some of the Superflash lights and they've now changed the durometer of the rubber on the gasket. Planet Bike has a good warranty and will replace lights that have a problem or you can do what I did, which is wrap a bit of electrical tape around the outside of the light. Since I did that, I haven't had any problem with water getting inside my Superflash.

The other two lights are also Planet Bike products. The kidney-shaped light is my favorite tail light, the Planet Bike Blinky 3. The Blinky 3 is inexpensive and plenty bright. I've never had a problem with one and I have them on various bikes and clipped to my backpack. The final light is a little Planet Bike tail light with a pivoting bracket designed to go on the back of a helmet. I uses a single AAA cell as it's power source. The pivoting bracket is nice in theory and the single cell keeps the weight low, but the light may or may not work on your helmet.

Finally, about that green shirt the Planet Bike folks sent me. It's green, it's cotton and it's something I can wear to all those planet-saving eco fairs I wind up going to as part of my job. Of course, the green clashes with my red blogger's cape, but I usually don't wear the cape out in public!

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

while i'm all for supporting planet bike and all the things they do, i recently purchased a cree xr-e based flashlight from dealextreme for $16. i'm about to upgrade to the p5-based model, which comes to about $20, and is not only a newer generation of LED, but also can take two (instead of one, on the flashlight i got) AA batteries, or alternately the 3.6v nimh rechargables they sell.

$50 is pretty expensive for a bike light, and i'm betting that the supply chain is pretty much the same for the cree LEDs, obviating any concerns about, say, the marginal harm inflicted on the earth from either purchase.

Perry said...

Another Planet Bike supporter here. I don't always have the opportunity to support good companies when I buy stuff, so I take advantage when I can.

Doug said...

Hey Kent.

I use a couple fairly old 5 LED Vista Lites on my workday commute, one on my messenger bag and one on my bike. I set one to flash and the other to constant. Dumb question time. I get one or two new lights, apparently much better overall so that is great. What do I do with my oldies? Throw them away? Let them add to the clutter in my bike den? Give them to some poor schmo who is then sub-optimally lit?

Thanks, Doug

Anonymous said...

Whoo-hoo! Bike lighting shootout!

I hope Planet bike stuff gets better.
It looks like it. I get it but it doesn't last with me except for the Freddy Fenders Hardcore.

Then again, I like CatEye stuff and their products break too.

I got these (in white) two years ago:
LED X-mas lights and get many positive comments, both for visibility and festiveness and fun.

They last a long time and can be wrapped around bag straps or looped bandolier style around your chest.

Adds lighted AREA to approaching traffic. Bad thing is they take THREE AA batteries, and my charger likes four.

Keep up the good work, Kent!

Anonymous said...

White plastic is a very good base for using colored Sharpies or similar permanent markers upon. Go nuts!

Anonymous said...

Kent, just because you receive free stuff, does that mean we have to sit through a long commercial?

Kent Peterson said...

Hey Anonymous,

You don't have to sit through a commercial at all. Last I checked, you're totally free to surf away!

Kent

Jim G said...

Very curious about this new PB 1w Cree XRE-based LED headlight. You say it's driven by only 2AA cells? Two AAs only put out around 3 volts, while the required voltage to drive a Cree XRE is around 3.5 volts. That means that there HAS to be some sort of voltage boosting circuit inside the light. That's fine, but the inherent problem with boost drivers (vs. voltage-dropping "buck" circuits) is that as the battery voltage drops, the light is apt to go off suddenly. Buck circuits are generally better recommended for bike lights, because as the battery voltage decreases below the LED-required threshold and the driver circuit drops out of current regulation, the light goes into "direct-drive" mode and often yields enough light to get you home on. I am curious to see a future report from you with more info on battery life on this light.

A final comment, directed at any Planet Bike employees who may be reading this: PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE make us some lights with engineered European-style focused optics! (e.g. the Schmidt E6)

Thanks,
-Jim G

chatty cathy said...

Love planet bike. donating 25% to bike causes is so anti-corportate in these days of million dollar ceo perks and big layoffs only to boost profits even more. thats why i try to buy pb stuff anytime i can get. i love there plastic fenders. they work great. ive always been bored with bike lites for some reason which is why i still run some old incadescent headlite and tailite. must be 20years old. looks like time to upgrade and send pb some $$ (a company I dont mind sending $$ to). what should i do with my old lites? bat life is short so giving to some unlit rider doesnt seem like it will do any good. i hate throwing something away that works good.

Robert Leone said...

Dear Mr. Peterson:
Hello! I don't know if the pricing is less than the Planet Bike Blinky-3s you've been using for give=away programs, or if the quality is adequaate, or if the quantity purchase requirement is a killer (perhaps for a statewide program?) but
http://www.4imprint.com/Flashing-LED-Light/EXEC/DETAIL/SEARCH/~SKU004135/~CA4135.htm
seems to be superior to most of the promotional givelaway product grade LED blinkers I've seen in the past. Multiple batteries, commonly available batteries (AAAs), multiple LEDs, don't know about the flash patters, not that you need that many. Don't know about seatpost/rack mounting options either.
The more you know, the harder the decisions.....
Robert Leone

DrCodfish said...

Hi Kent;

White is fine by me. In fact I would appreciate if more bike bits were white or lighter, any color other than black. It is so frustrating to be fishing through the carradice in the middle of the night, or groping for tools laying about the side of the road after a middle of the night fix. and of course, all these things are black.

So, for me the white is a selling poitn thigh, it is pless probably that one might have trouble locating a light, at least while it is turned on and working.


Yr Pal Dr(looking for a bottle of radium watch dial paint)Codfish

Anonymous said...

Kent--

First let me say, I always appreciate the disclaimer. Biases are only problematic if they're kept hidden and can't be factored into our conclusions.

I am primarily interested in throwing in a comment about my own experience with the helmet-mounted light. The one I had fit easily on one of my helmets, but due to vent arrangements on another helmet, would never fit properly.

I also spent a lot of time searching frantically for the source of a very loud, alarming-sounding creaking from my bike that I eventually figured out what actually the light creaking against it' little helmet mount bracket. This wasn't present right away, but emerged over time. The sound was apparently resonating through my helmet and was not only being amplified as a result, but was also sounding like it was coming from everywhere at once. So if anyone gets this light, just be forewarned, you may find yourself needing to suppress a growing desire to overhaul your bottom bracket!

j.d. kimple said...

As usual, good review. Wonder how the new Blaze compares to the Super Spot? Probably brighter with the new Cree.

I, too, am a fan of the SuperFlash. Instead of electrical tape, I just cut a 1/4" wide piece off an old inner tube and stretched it around the light seam. Works like a charm. Thanks for the idea.

noc said...

Woooohoooo....

Bike lights for safety. This is good. Like Obama, don't matter the color is.

BTW, $50 bucks only expensive when you can't afford (or, Kent afford?).

Besides, what can you afford when you git hit by big brother bus?

B safe out there.

noc sez...


"What's your conscious choice?"

Mrs said...

Hey Dr. Codfish...

I had that same issue too of everything being black, until I discovered electrical tape in multitudes of colors! Wrap all your tool handles with neon colored electrical tape and presto chango! Easy to find tools, easy to identify flashlights (mini mags).

Just my 3c. :)
- MrsGrace

beth h said...

I like Planet Bike lights. They work, and they're pretty darned fuss-free. The fact that they donate a chunk of their profits to bicycle advocacy doesn't hurt, either. I also appreciate that they keep the "schwag" side of the operation to a minimum: A shirt, a cap, a banner for shop displays.

As for the guy who thinks 50 bucks for a light is expensive: Actually, compared to other systems (like DiNotte/Inox which start at 170 bucks for a basic set-up), it's not so much. And if it keeps a car from smacking me, worth every penny.

GhostRider said...

Good review...those new generation lights sure look brighter than my old Beamer 5!

My only gripe with Planet Bike's headlights is the cam-actuated handlebar clamp. I have a heck of a time getting the clamp tight enough to hold fast...and usually resort to cloth friction tape under the clamp.

Jeff said...

Planet bike lights look pretty good. I wonder if they are ever going to figure out how to make better optics for the road like the overpriced (and hard to find) European lights. It looks like all the lights in your review have a symmetrical beam. A better design uses optics to make the beam brighter at the top and dimmer at the bottom to give more even illumination on the road.

Anonymous said...

Hi use the three LED and the 'new ' 5 LED lite and its brilliant..great with 'AA's ' seem to last a bit longer than 'AAA's '.

The Cam actuated quick release is a good idea for swapping between the roadie, commuter and Mt Bike..just don't screw it up too hard or the ratchet will stuff up and pull thru losing grip ( happened to mates also)

The rear RED Flashing lite is AMAZING to, with extra centre HIGH power Red LED..blinding for my mt bike nite ridin mates and motorists hahaha

Very good lights - long time dirty ol' Cateye fan and converted now to Planet Bike..

Jeff - New Zealand

Matt said...

I got one of the 1W Blazes and am fond of it. I thought the 2W would be really fun, can't have enough light you know, but it hasn'd shown up in stores and has disappeared off the website, though it's still in the PDF of the catalogue. I emailed PB about this. They said "This light is still hung up in development. Hopefully, we will have it ready to roll in 2009.". Oh well. On the other hand, maybe it'll be that much brighter!

MagnoliaVillage said...

@GhostRider

Yeah, I just purchased a One Watt headlight/ Blaze Superflash tailight combo and am not finding any joy in cranking down the cam-actuated handlebar clamp. What's that all about?

You'd think for that kind of money they would have addressed that problem. Very disappointing.

John said...

Question, I have the planet bike 1 watt Blaze.

Is that water-proof? or just water resistant?

or not at all?

If i have it on in the rain (like you did), I'm assuming it'll be ok?

what about if i drop it in a bucket of water?

Kent Peterson said...

John,

While I wouldn't recommend keeping the light totally submerged, I commute year round in the Seattle area and by now have ridden with Planet Bike lights for hundreds of hours in the rain. No issues with the headlights. The SuperFlash taillights can have a problem with water seeping into them, so I add a layer of electrical tape or a home-brew inner-tube band around the seam to keep water out of those.

John said...

thank you very much!

Tommy Moore said...

I just bought the One Watt Blaze and it keeps turning off. I've swapped out the batteries, but the problems persists. I use this light as a "be seen" light during the day in an urban environment. It's hard to tell when it shuts off but I suspect it's the bumps in the road. Anyone else have this problem? I've requested a replacement from Amazon.