Myth 14: More Lumens Make a Better Light

As the days get shorter, many cyclists are thinking about lights. How do you measure the quality of a headlight? It’s tempting to look at how many lumens the light puts out. After all, brighter is better, isn’t it?

On the road, what matters is not lumens, but lux. What is the difference?

Lumens looks at the source: how much light does the headlight emit?
Lux looks at the result: how much light arrives on a given surface area of road.

In the image above, the circle on the left is the wall projection of the beam. Its brightness multiplied by its size give you an idea of how many lumens the light puts out. The side view shows where the light is going. The plan view illustrates how many lux arrive on different parts of the road surface.

Lumens can be expressed as a simple number, but lux depends on where you measure it. This makes lumens easy to measure, while lux are difficult to quantify.

The headlight shown above is a typical high-powered bicycle headlight. It’s got an impressive bright spot with a lot of lumens. But when you look at the road surface, you see that not much of that light arrives on the road. The symmetric beam shines almost half the light into the sky, and there isn’t enough left to illuminate the road. In addition, you are blinding oncoming traffic, which isn’t just a bother, but can be dangerous on narrow roads.

What if you orient the beam downward? Now you have a super-bright spot right in front of the bike. Why is that bad? It makes it difficult to see into the distance. Your eyes adjust to the bright illumination, and you can’t see the darker parts of your field of vision.

It’s like walking out of a brightly-lit room at night – you can’t see until your eyes have adjusted to the darkness. On the bike, the bright spot just ahead prevents your eyes from adjusting to the darkness. You feel like you’re peering through a layer of fog. It’s difficult to see the darker road surface in the distance.

This is especially tiring when descending mountain passes, where you need to see far ahead. In the city, you can’t see potholes, debris and other obstacles until the last moment.

If we make the beam square and even, it gets better, but we’ve fixed only part of the problem. The wall view looks great, but looking at the side view, you notice that the beam hits the ground at different angles: steeper near the bike, shallower further away.

The dashed lines split the beam into thirds. Notice how the lower third illuminates about 15% of the road surface, while the upper third spreads its light over a much greater area (~50%). With an even beam, the area in front of the bike is three times brighter than the distant road surface. You’re still peering through a fog of brightness.

The way to solve this is to use a layered beam – shown above is the SON Edelux II headlight. The wall projection (left) shows how the light intensity increases upward. This compensates for the different angles at which the beam hits the ground (side view): The lower portion of the beam is darker, because it illuminates less of the road surface. The upper portion of the beam is brighter, because it spreads its light over a greater surface area. This ensures an even illumination of the ground ahead of the bike (plan view).

At the top, the beam is cut off. This eliminates any wasted light and ensures that you aren’t blinding oncoming traffic.

With a light like this, all the light goes where you need it. None is wasted, and the ground is illuminated evenly, making it equally easy to see objects near and far. You aren’t peering through a bright ‘curtain of light,’ so your eyes adjust to the darkness. This in turn allows you to see outside your narrow beam, for example, when deer are about to cross the road.

There are very few headlights that use a layered beam. The two best known are the SON Edelux II (above) and the Busch & Müller headlights.

Layered beams are used by car headlights, so why don’t more bicycle headlights use them? The answer is cost: The complex reflector takes much R&D to develop – the cost is in the $100,000s –  and to work properly, the LED must be located with great precision. If you ride at night, you’ll gladly pay a bit more to get a light that illuminates the road evenly.

So what matters isn’t how many lumens your light puts out, but how brightly and evenly it lights up the road surface. When we descend gravel mountain passes in the middle of the night, we need lights that show what’s ahead without fatiguing our eyes. It’s fair to say that the SON Edelux headlights have revolutionized how we ride our bikes at night. That is why we sell them at Compass Cycles, and why we distribute them to bike shops, too.

More information:

  • Lights in the Compass program
  • Other posts in this series:
    Myth 1: Wider tires are slower
    Myth 2: Titanium is lighter than steel
    Myth 3: Fenders slow you down
    Myth 4: Stiffer frames are faster
    Myth 5: An upright position is always more comfortable
    Myth 6: Tread patterns don’t matter on the road
    – Myth 7: Tubeless tires roll faster
    – Myth 8: Modern components are lighter
    – Myth 9: Fork blades don’t flex
    Myth 10: Stiffer forks steer better
    Myth 11: Rear tires should run at (significantly) higher pressures
    Myth 12: Disc brakes work better than rim brakes
    Myth 13: Leaning without Countersteering

Illustrations of beam patterns courtesy of Schmidt Maschinenbau.

Posted in Lighting | 45 Comments

BQ 65 Preview: Traversing the Sawtooth Range

The Autumn Bicycle Quarterly take you on a trip across the Sawtooth Range. Long-term BQ readers know that it’s been a bit of a holy grail for us to find a passage across this mountain range, with our first attempts ending in washouts and snow. This time we take the affordable Masi Speciale Randonneur and the Frances Farfarer trailer on the search for a route that crosses these beautiful mountains. Will we make it this time?

The full story (and tests of bike and trailer) are in the Bicycle Quarterly 65. We are finalizing the mailing lists tomorrow, so subscribe today to be among the first to get this exciting edition! Click here to sign up online – it’s easy and takes just a minute or two.

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

International Mysteries of Cycling History

The history of cycling has brought us many useful things. If old randonneurs hadn’t talked so fondly about the supple, wide, handmade clinchers of the 1940s, we might never have developed our Compass tires along the same lines. Without photos of mid-century riders scaling unpaved passes in the Alps, we might never have been inspired to seek out remote gravel roads ourselves. These are important reasons why we study cycling’s history.

But sometimes, cycling history just provides wonderful mysteries. In the current Bicycle Quarterly, Aldo Ross examines why, during the 1949 Tour de France, dozens of riders converted their bikes to bar-end shifters – like Louis Caput (right rider) in the photo below. Neither Aldo nor I can think of another component that suddenly was adopted by so many riders, not before or after, but during a big race.

The mystery deepened when we discovered that these riders used a downtube shifter for their rear derailleur and controlled only the front with the bar-end. Say what?

Aldo documented this amazing story with photos from his incredible collection of sepia-tone cycling magazines. I dug into Bicycle Quarterly‘s archives and found that Daniel Rebour – who else? – provided the explanation: Front derailleurs used to be controlled by a direct lever. At the start of a sprint, racers had to spread their legs and reach down to shift to the big ring. A bar-end shifter allowed them to shift without interrupting their pedal stroke. Why not a second downtube shifter? Racers always used their right hand to shift, and they probably didn’t want to learn a new move in mid-race. So they put both shifters on the right side of the bike – one on the down tube and the other on the handlebars.

The BQ archives also showed that Tullio Campagnolo adopted the bar-ends when he introduced his first derailleurs the following year. Campagnolo didn’t even offer downtube levers at first. And Jacques Souhart, the inventor of the bar-ends, turns up again as Campagnolo’s Paris distributor. Talk about an international mystery!

In the same BQ, we look at the history of shifting. Many readers will be surprised that the first derailleurs were indexed. And why did racers use chainrings that were just 4 teeth apart? This article illuminates quite a few mysteries in the history of derailleurs.

To set the scene for these mysteries, we relive the early Tours de France through the evocative drawings of Pellos, a cartoon artists who accompanied the Tour for decades. Pellos’ pen turned the race into a human drama of Homeric proportions. You don’t need to be a fan of racing to be drawn into these stories.

Expanding on the racing theme, we feature Harry Havnoonian, the builder of racing bikes from Pennsylvania, whose iconic machines have been ridden to more than 100 national and international championships. We discover why HH mounts the rear brake on the inside of the stays and other mysteries.

To round off our racing theme, our editor Natsuko Hirose talks about her Di2-equipped, custom-built, steel-framed racing bike. She reflects in how it makes her ride differently than when she is on her cyclotouring bikes.

This year’s racing season is almost over, but there is still time to get the Summer Bicycle Quarterly with these exciting articles – click here to subscribe today, and your subscription will start with the Summer edition!*

*U.S. subscribers only. The last international mailing of the Summer BQ has already left Seattle. Please order the BQ 64 as a back issue instead.

Posted in Bicycle Quarterly Back Issues | 1 Comment

Great Times at the BQ Un-Meeting 2018

The 2018 Bicycle Quarterly Un-Meeting brought together a great crew of old and new friends. We want to thank all for making this a great weekend!

On Saturday morning, about 60 riders met at the Seattle Ferry Terminal to catch the boat to Bremerton. As always, the crowd was varied – all kinds of riders on all types of bikes. Some were BQ readers, some follow this blog, and others had heard about the Un-Meeting from friends. More than a quarter were women – Natsuko was especially happy to meet so many other female cyclotourists who share an interest in cycling off the beaten path.

As we rolled into the countryside, we fell into small groups. Most of the participants had only met this morning, but already felt like friends.

There were riders from all over the U.S., even Canada. Jennifer and Lance had come all the way from the Mississippi River. They were smiling all weekend, and then they extended the Un-Meeting into a five-day tour of the islands and peninsulas that make up the central Puget Sound.

The Tahuya Hills offered three routes. No matter which option riders chose, they raved about the great roads and beautiful surroundings. The clouds lifted, and the sun came out, making this a perfect day on the bike.

As we reached our campsite, everybody shared their day’s experiences, full of enthusiasm. “Wasn’t the stretch along the inlet beautiful?” – “Did you also suffer on Old Holly Hill Road?” – “Isn’t it amazing that there is such great riding just an hour’s ferry ride from Seattle?” There was much to talk about as we pitched our tents, bivvys and hammocks.

Reed had brought his ultrasonic metal thickness measuring device. “Want to know the wall thicknesses of your bike’s tubes?” In fact, I did. We found that 1940s Vitus tandem tubing has a lot more going on than we’d have thought. Inevitably, this led to much discussion about bike frames, but also many other topics, as we found that we shared many interests beyond bikes.

Conversations continued deep into the night.

On Sunday morning, most riders headed to nearby Seabeck for breakfast. We enjoyed comparing the different approaches to the same question: How to carry the gear for a weekend camping trip on a bike without detracting from its fun ride?

The large deck of the espresso stand turned into an impromptu bike show as everybody leaned their mount against the railing.

At this point, some opted for a leisurely breakfast, some headed back to the ferry, and others extended their trip to Bainbridge Island and beyond.

We’ll have a full report in the Autumn Bicycle Quarterly, including a look at many of the unique bikes at this year’s Un-Meeting.

Posted in Rides | 4 Comments

New Parts from SON

SON has introduced a few useful products that have us quite excited. First, there is the 12 mm Thru-Axle Adapter.

You may know the dilemma: As the days get shorter, you really want to equip your bike with generator lights, but you don’t want to invest in a hub that soon may be obsolete. Your current fork has quick release dropouts – with or without a disc brake – but your next bike probably will have a thru-axle.

Enter the adapter: Simply slide it into your thru-axle hub, and you’ve effectively converted it to a quick release. You can use it even on a rim-brake bike. And when the time comes, simply remove the adapter and install the hub in a new fork with a 12 mm thru-axle. This ingenious widget works not only with generator hubs, but with all thru-axle front hubs.

Traditionally, SON lights have connected to their generator hubs with two simple flat spade connectors. These connectors have been trouble-free, and if they ever loosen, they can be fixed by the roadside.

However, some cyclists remove their wheels frequently and prefer a simpler, more elegant connection. SON’s new coaxial adapter (above) has been engineered to provide reliable service for decades of hard use under the toughest conditions. That means that we finally don’t have to worry about electrical connectors any more – in the past, they were the most failure-prone parts of a randonneur bike. The adapter (top) plugs onto the spade terminals of the hub, and then you connect the light with the neat coaxial connector (bottom).

SON’s Edelux lights are available with the coaxial connectors pre-installed. The adapter for the hubs is included, too, so it’s a plug-and-play solution. (And if you ever feel you’ll want the spade connectors instead, they are easy to install.)

The new coaxial connectors are such a breakthrough that you’ll want to use them wherever you need to make removable electrical connections on your bike. That is why we offer them separately, as males, females and complete sets.

The last new product is for everybody who wants to charge cell phones, GPS and other devices while riding. It’s a simple splitter box that you wire into the lighting circuit, anywhere between the generator hub and the headlight. Plug in the included coaxial connector, and you are ready to charge. You can use whichever charger you prefer (not included). After you solder your connections, the box gets covered with heat-shrink tubing. Just make sure that you wire the splitter box so the socket points downward. Otherwise, water can run down the wire and into the connector, which won’t be so good in the long run.

All these new products are available now. Click here for more information.

Posted in hubs/rims, Lighting, Product News | 12 Comments

Bicycle Quarterly Un-Meeting Routes

road_forest

After last weekend’s ‘pre-ride,’ we’ve finalized the routes for the Bicycle Quarterly Un-Meeting. What is the Un-Meeting?

It’s simply a great weekend of riding off the beaten path: Everybody is welcome to join us. We publish a time and a destination. Beyond that, there are no services provided. No registration, no entry fee, no sag wagon, no rest stops. Just a ride with old and new friends. Click here for more about the 2018 BQ Un-Meeting.

We’ll meet in Bremerton, across the Puget Sound from Seattle, Washington. Most of us will take the 7:35 ferry from Seattle. Make sure you board the boat to Bremerton; not the ferry to Bainbridge that leaves from the same terminal.

ferry

When: Sept. 8-9, 2018 (Sat. & Sun.)
Meeting point: Bremerton, Washington, Ferry Terminal exit (Starbucks Coffee shop)
Meeting time: 9:30 a.m.
Ride distance: Day 1: 100 km (62 miles), Day 2: 35 km (22 miles) with options to go further.

From Bremerton, we’ll ride around the Hood Canal to Seabeck, where most of us will camp at Scenic Beach State Park. We have campsites reserved for about 24 people, but if you prefer, you can use other accommodations. Above is the suggested course. Click on the image to get the RideWithGPS page, where you can zoom in and check the course in detail. (A route sheet is at the bottom of this post.)

clouds_hood_canal

It’s a beautiful route with quiet roads along the waters of the Hood Canal, a fjord carved by the glaciers of the last ice age. We’ll enjoy great views of the Olympic Mountains. It’s a truly magic place.

 

Then we reach the Tahuya Hills, where we have three alternative routes.  To put them all on the same map, I pretended to go back and forth across the Tahuya Hills three times. That is why the distances seem odd… All three routes gain a similar amount of elevation, and yet they feel very different.

The easternmost route (right red line on the map) is the paved ‘River Route.’ It’s a great choice if you prefer to get into a rhythm on longer climbs.

The ‘Hill Route’ is in the center. The total elevation gain is similar, but it’s a different riding experience. The first climb is very steep, but from there, you have a wonderful rollercoaster. If you like to carry speed across rolling terrain, choose this route. The two routes converge at Mile 3.6, so you’ll enjoy the same ride back to the coast.

The western ‘Gravel Route’ is very different in feel. It’s longer, so in theory, it has less climbing per mile. In reality, it’s the hardest of the three. The climbs are short and steep, and there are many of them.

And most of it is on gravel. At the end of the summer, the gravel tends to be hard-packed, with loose aggregate on top. Even if you are a good bike handler, use caution, because the surface is tricky. And there is one steep descent where you need to watch your speed to make the turn at the bottom.

Which one to pick? They are all nice – you can’t go wrong!

After camping in Seabeck, there are many options on Sunday. The route on the main route sheet (top photo) is the shortest way back to Bremerton, and you could be in Seattle by lunchtime.

Many of us will extend the ride and go to Poulsbo and then take backroads to Bainbridge Island, and take the ferry back to Seattle from there. The above route is just a rough draft – I haven’t ridden all of it, and we may have to alter it as we go.

Some riders probably will use the Un-Meeting as a jumping-off point to explore further. There is great riding toward Port Townsend on the Quimper Peninsula. And the vast Olympic Peninsula invites exploring places like Bon Jon Pass…

We’re looking forward to riding with many of you in less than two weeks!

More information:

Posted in Rides | 11 Comments

Night Ride through the Tahuya Hills

With the Bicycle Quarterly Un-Meeting approaching – Sept. 8 and 9 – I wanted to double-check the course. I had never ridden the new route out of Bremerton that by-passes the busy highway. And in the Tahuya Hills, landslides and floods can wipe out roads entirely. Better to check that our routes are still rideable!

Most of all, I wanted to go for a long ride. Rather than head out for an all-day trip, I decided to ride at night. That is how I boarded the 10:30 p.m. ferry to Bremerton on Saturday night. My plan was ambitious: Ride two loops of the Un-Meeting course, exploring different route options, before taking the 11:10 a.m. ferry back the next morning.

250 km (155 miles) in 11.5 hours should be plenty of time – until you consider the terrain. The Tahuya Hills are famous around here. They are as remote as they are challenging. I knew I’d have my work cut out for me, especially since I’d have to stop and update my route sheet at many intersections.

There is one bike in my stable that is ideal for a ride like this: my René Herse Randonneuse. It’s light and fast. Its wide tires handle all types of roads. Generator-powered lights make short work of long nights on the road. The large handlebar bag carries clothes and provisions. The Herse is ready to go any distance, at any time, and to do so swiftly.

The ferry docks in Bremerton at 11:20 p.m., right on schedule. But my ride out of town doesn’t go as planned: What had looked good on the map turns out to be a maze of one-way streets and extremely steep hills. I find a rideable alternative, but it zig-zags more than I like. I decide to continue my ride, and fine-tune the route during my second lap of the course.

It is with relief that I turn onto familiar roads. Belfair is fast asleep as I pass, and then I am riding along the Hood Canal. After weeks with smoke-filled air in Seattle, it is nice to see the hills on the other side of the water in the moonlight – the smoke already has cleared here!

I really enjoy riding at night. Apart from the moon and the lights across the water, the world is restricted to the beam of my headlight. With little to see, I become more attuned to sounds and smells. A small animals is rustling in the bushes. Then, a few miles later, I smell horses. I doubt the horses just moved here, yet I’ve never noticed them before. When I pass a little bay, the briny smell of the sea wafts up to the road.

In between, I am just riding. Cycling is always meditative, but doubly so at night. I don’t think about my bike. It runs straight without attention, yet tracks the sweeping turns without conscious input. My hand instinctively pushes the shift lever to change gears, without thought. With my 46-tooth large ring, my cruising gear is in the middle of my rear cluster. Shift one way to go faster on a slight downhill, the other way when the road turns uphill or the wind picks up a bit. Only a long-ish rise interrupts my meditation: Shift to the small ring or increase my effort? I have a long ride ahead, so I shift to the small ring, then go down two cogs in the rear to end up in the gear I need.

While I am spinning along, I really appreciate how evenly my SON Edelux headlight illuminates the road. It’s not too bright, but it puts the light in the right places. Thanks to its complex optics that put more light into the distance, where the beam hits the road at a shallower angle, I don’t have to strain my eyes to look through a bright spot right in front of the bike. It makes a huge difference during these long night rides.

Suddenly, a young deer appears in the beam of my headlight. It is standing on the road, as startled as I am. I hit the front brake hard, and just as I come to a stop, the deer bolts and disappears into the undergrowth.

Then come the hills. Climbing at night is a different experience, as I can only guess at where the hill crests. I haven’t ridden the ‘Hill Route’ across the Tahuyas before. It’s great fun, with fast descents that have my eyes out on stalks as my headlight scythes through the forest, and steep climbs that require multiple shifts. Meditation is replaced with full immersion into the experience of cycling. My bike feels like an extension of my body. The French call it “the taste for the effort,” and I feel it to the fullest tonight.

Checking the clock, I realize that I have to keep the pace up, if I want to complete two laps before my ferry leaves at 11:10. I return to Bremerton at 5:25 a.m., after 6 hours on the road. My second lap will have to be faster than the first!

The refinements to my new route out of Bremerton work out great, and I am excited that we now have a pleasant alternative to the unpleasant highway.

Dawn comes gradually on this overcast day. By the time I am rolling along the Hood Canal for the second time, I turn off my lights.

The big question is: Will I be able to complete the second lap of my ride? I’ve calculated that I have to reach the foot of the Tahuya Hills by 7:40, otherwise, I should head back to Bremerton. Coincidentally, 7:40 is also when I’d have to turn around to get back in time for the ferry.

Today, I won’t have time to ride the gravel option, but Steve and I rode that a few months ago, so there should not be any problems. Instead, I want to check the ‘River Route’ through the Tahuyas, since it’s the one most prone to interruptions due to floods and slides.

I reach the turn-off at 7:33, seven minutes before my calculated cut-off. Phew! But my calculation doesn’t include any extra time, so I’ll have to continue riding at maximum pace.

The Tahuya Hills consist of narrow valleys and steep climbs, punctuated by river valleys. I can’t resist taking a photo in this lovely spot, even if it costs me almost a minute.

As I lean my bike against the fence, I notice blackberry vines everywhere. The berries are almost ripe. I look forward to eating them in two weeks when we pass here during the Un-Meeting. We won’t be in a rush then!

As I penetrate further into the hills, the roads become smaller and more curving. It makes for wonderful riding. The two routes converge again, and even though I’ve ridden this section just a few hours earlier, it feels completely different during daytime.

A steep descent drops me back to sea level. This is one of my favorite parts of this ride.

Every once in a while, my favorite sign appears by the roadside. It seems superfluous: If drivers or cyclists don’t realize that this road is curving, they probably won’t make it this far! There was no traffic at all here during the night, and even on this Sunday morning, I meet only a single car on the entire traverse of the Tahuya Hills.

As I speed along the undulating, curving road, I reflect that a bicycle is pretty much the only vehicle you can enjoy to the limit of its performance on the road. Cars and motorcycles are just too fast, so you either have to stay far below their limits, or you have to take them to a racetrack.

Another long descent drops me into Seabeck, where we’ll spend the night during the Un-Meeting. It’s another lovely place.

By now, the two water bottles I’ve brought are empty, but I don’t have time to stop and get more fluids. I wanted to install the third bottle cage on the bike, but I ran out of time… But with less than two hours to go, I know I’ll be fine.

A light tailwind springs up, helping me along. Putting all the power I’ve left into the fearsome Anderson Hill with its three stairstep ascents, I climb stronger the second time than during my first loop.

And then I cross the bridge into Bremerton and reach the ferry terminal just as the boat pulls in. The time: 11:01. Nine minutes to spare! Without the tailwind, it would have been closer yet. I am glad my calculation has proven accurate. And perhaps best of all, the wind has cleared out the smoke here, too.

I park my bike in the belly of the big boat, and climb to the passenger deck on slightly wobbly legs. Finally, I can get a drink from the vending machine! Then I sleep for most of the ferry ride back to Seattle.

It’s been a fun ride, and I am glad that all the roads for the Un-Meeting are in good shape. Now I’m working on the updated route sheets. They will be posted tomorrow.

More information:

Posted in Rides | 34 Comments