Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Why can't they make a decent lamp

How hard is it to make a decent bicycle light?  It needs to be easy to use, and durable enough to survive frightful Canadian conditions.  I've gone through many headlamps over the years.

For a long time, I kept to the Cat Eye brand.  About 5 years back, they started to disappear from stores, and I would have to ask for them to be ordered in. This is a good one of theirs that lasted me several years.  

Cat Eye headlamp
Eventually the switch quit operating.  That's a common failure mode.  I had two, and they both had the switch go bad. 

The new big name in headlamps seems to be Blackburn.  Here's the first of theirs that I got.  It had no water resistance.  On a rainy day it would quit working due to water getting into the mechanism.  The switch was small and hard to operate when wearing gloves.  
That turned out so poorly, I went back to Cat Eye.  I don't have a picture since the quick-release failed and it went skittering down the road.  That's the next-most common reason for failure -- having it come off the mount and smash itself on the pavement.  I didn't like the lamp anyhow, because they went with the modern practice of adding features by using multiple presses of the switch. For a headlamp, these are on steady, or on flashing for choices. I don't need that.  Does anyone really use a flashing headlamp?  Isn't that annoying in the dark?  Don't you need a second lamp to see by at night? 

The computer chip decides what to do when you press the switch.  Turning on and off requires push-and-hold instead of just a click.  When the battery gets low, as well as going dim, the operation gets erratic, so that the power switch stops working, or goes into some strange mode where you have to hold forever to keep the light on, or it only comes on some of the time, or it comes on but in flashing mode.  The chip doesn't get the power it needs, so it goes brain-dead.  You pressed the button? Let's spin the wheel to see what happens next! How it got like this is that management insisted that the engineers change something.  Continuous improvement is a great idea, except that when you already have something that's excellent, you are likely to make it bad by insisting on change for the sake of change.  It's essential to be sure you have an actual benefit from doing a modification. They were the leader in bike lamps, and engineered themselves into selling crap.  The taillight on my cruiser is a Cat Eye.  I have to lean on the button for several seconds hoping it will turn off. Can't use gloves either. Stupid engineers.

This lamp was from Gotham (now known as Fortified).  Rugged like a tank, except that the solid case made it a nightmare to change the battery.
The Gotham defender
I needed pliers to unscrew the containment vessel, and couldn't get it back together.  The battery pack was a flimsy thing like the cheap $5 flashlights that are so common now. Tough as steel outside.  Cheap crap inside. The LEDs were in a strange array that didn't direct a lot of light onto the road.  I ride at night for my commute, so I don't want it just so drivers can see me.  I need a good light so I can see the road.  It's a complete fail.

Stores are selling LED flashlights for about 5 bucks nowadays, so I thought that if I could get one of them secured to the handlebars, it would work well.  I found this angle bracket that seemed to fit the design idea.  It didn't exactly fit the lamp or bar, and I had to wrap it in electrical tape to stay in place.  That made it tough to get the lamp off to change the battery.  The battery packs in them aren't very sturdy, and didn't stand up to more than a couple battery changes. 

This is what I have now. It's another Blackburn.

Blackburn Scorch
This one is rechargeable.  I didn't think I would like that idea, since if you forget to recharge, you're out of light.  It's working out fine.  I take it off regularly anyhow, so putting it on the charger daily isn't something I forget to do.  It is really bright.  It's got that stupid multiple-mode feature like Cat Eye tried, except these guys did a good job with it.  With this one, after 20 seconds, it knows that your next click is to turn it off, so that's what happens.  You don't have to cycle through the remaining modes to get it off. Click on.  Click off. It has a dim mode that I use sometimes in the daytime if it's cloudy out.  The switch is big and gives a solid click when pressed.  I like that.  Not only can I click it using gloves, but I can feel that it switched, so I don't need to check to make sure it's working. Hopefully the battery lasts a few years for me.  The case is thick aluminum, so it will stand up to being dropped.  Anything the matter with it?  It was really expensive, almost a hundred dollars; certainly the most expensive headlamp I've ever acquired. The mounting uses a rubber band to secure it, making me worried what I will do if the band breaks.  The recharging attachment can be jacked in the wrong polarity, in which case it doesn't charge.  I also worry about the charge cable breaking.  The lamp itself is working out well enough that I bought a second one so both my commuter bikes have one. At least that gives me a second charge cable in my spare-parts drawer.  Hopefully it lasts the winter.  The weather is sure testing it this year.