Executing your first 24 solo, part 2 (lights)

Update 3/22/06:  Pivvay (Chris) has done a great write-up on DIY LED lighting.  It's a bit of work and no guarantees you will have light out in the boonies, but check it out:  http://slipangles.blogspot.com/2006/03/geek-this.html.

Part 1 of this series addressed nutrition and supplements for 24 hour solo efforts, geared towards an experienced racer who is doing their first solo event.  Picking up where I left off, here's another bit of Q&A from Yuri.

Yuri: How many lighting systems should I have and, do you wear a system on your helmet as well?

Dave:  Great question.  24s can be won and lost in the dark, trust me on this one.  For starters, there's a lot of info at MTBR on lights.  Another great review of LED light systems is at gearreview.com.  There are so many choices out there...I encourage anyone reading this with different experiences to post a comment of favorite setups. 

It depends on the style of riding and the course demands...but I generally prefer two light systems.  On the bars I'll have a bright (HID) wider beam light, and on my helmet a narrower spot beam.  The helmet light doesn't have to be quite as powerful as the bar light - it is simply a spot to fill in the gaps, especially in twisty singletrack so you can see where you are going as opposed to where your bars are pointed.  I also like the helmet mounted light to be narrow and bright enough that it can throw light farther than the bar light.  This is especially helpful if there are high speed sections on the course.  At Moab, for instance, there are some straight shot gradual descents that are rippin fast - if you have enough light, anyway (unless of course you just use the force). 

Also, some types of lights seem better for certain types of terrain.  For example, if it's dark terrain, like high-country in the woods stuff, I prefer brighter light, like an HID.  If it's desert terrain, like Moab, I like yellower halogen light possibly mixed with HID light.  I've only used one LED system to date, and this is an area of keen interest as the systems generally last longer and are lighter.  Experiment as much as you can before the race to determine what works best.

I wouldn't consider any light system that I didn't trust to run for 2 laps, about 3 hours.  Also, the batteries must be able to charge up within the same timeframe - 2 laps.  This way, you can get by with 2 light systems and 4 batteries.  This is what I'd consider the bare minimum - if you can beg, borrow or steal a couple of backup systems and/or batteries you'll have more piece of mind.  24 hour events require a backup light source of some sort, and this requirement is satisfied by a second light.  That is a great argument for two light systems.  You can get the charging done by neutral support probably, depending on the type of systems and support offered, or you could do it yourself with a power inverter and your car battery.  I've been doing the latter for the last 3 years.  The inverter can be found at Radio Shack.  I can charge multiple batteries and run a low wattage shop light through the night, works a charm.  Here's my setup:

Before the race, you'll want to make sure you have it all dialed in.  If you need a connecting wire from the bike mounted battery to the bar-mounted light, zip tie it in place...if you need an extension from the helmet mounted light to the battery, make sure you've got that worked out and it works.  Sometimes long cords develop shorts at the worst possible times.  I find that the routing of the wire from the helmet to battery is non-trivial, in particular.  Good to have it figurred out so it isn't in the way on race day (night).

As a final note on night riding, take good care of your eyes.  I can't stress this one enough...  Always wear eye protection, no matter how much it might feel good to go without (initially).  The colder the temps, the more critical this becomes.  Evolution, for example, has set up some deep water fish with mechanisms that keep the eyeballs at a constant 20-25C.  It turns out that the "speed" of sight is greatly determined by eye temperature.  I can tell you from personal experience, if you scratch your eyes with dust or whatever, then it gets cold, you are going to be so pissed as you crawl in your sleeping bag listening to the race carry on despite your temporary blindness.

So there you have it.  Stay tuned for more rants and secrets.

Published Friday, March 10, 2006 8:43 AM by Dave
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# @ Friday, March 10, 2006 5:49 PM

Lights are something that have been heavily on my mind lately. Mainly I have been thinking about a long burning LED that is bright enough to serve as a primary light if the situation calls for it, and also be a nice back up for my HID light. I highly recommend an HID light for your main light source. They are expensive, especially when you add in a 2nd battery. I can say though that the investment of the light and 2 batteries has been the most valuable 24 hour tool I have made. I also highly recommend a battery that can be mounted to the FRAME. The one thing I really dislike about my batteries is that they take up a bottle cage. It isnt a huge deal, but becomes an issue if I want/need that extra bottle.

My HID batteries will run for about 4 hours. Depending on the length of the lap, I will usually switch out each lap. This keeps batteries topped off.

In the past I have run a 10W halogen light on my helmet as a backup. I only have it incase I need it. Otherwise I don't turn it on. This works really well on courses that have a lot of wide trails (Moab) but I have found it a bit lacking in twisty singletrack (OP). Something to consider with a helmet light as well, is that if the course tends to become dusty (Moab again) a helmet light will illuminate the airborne dust ala highbeams in a snowstorm making it harder to see. The Hbar mounted light does not have this issue.

As Dave mentions, testing is important. Especially if going fast in a 24 hour event is important. I make sure my pit crew is well versed in how my lights, chargers, power source, generators etc operate.

Adam Lisonbee

# @ Friday, March 10, 2006 6:46 PM

Dave, (or anyone) have you ever found that the bluish color of most HIDs "washes" out in green foliage to a point that you feel nearly blind? I experience this and hate it - especially when at high speed in a twisty single-track that has some thick green foliage all around (It's like, "Crap, where'd the trail go?"). I found that a halogen (more yellow light) as the helmet light fixes the problem. I am wondering if it is just me?

Eric K....(Super E)

# @ Friday, March 10, 2006 9:21 PM


I got that with my HID light down at OP actually. The singletrack was very dry and very white. In parts it seemd the light wasjust bouncing off of it washing out any details. I adjusted the angle of the light to shine a bit further down the trail and that helped fix the problem.

Adam Lisonbee

# @ Saturday, March 11, 2006 4:19 AM

Eric - that is a big issue for me, actually. The light generated from HIDs in general has been too blue for me. Most of the time I'm running a NR Classic on the bars, just using the 12 W halogen most of the time (it also has a 20 W flood but that really chews into the battery). It's a spot beam more or less, and has been great. I find the color of halogen light to much better show trail features.

Last year I got a NR Firestorm HID (thanks Boris!) and the HID light quality is much better. My old Storm seemed too dim; the Firestorm is much brighter and works great wherever I put it.

Like Adam, I'm currently looking into lights with some staying power as I'll be doing KTR, an unsupported race with a midnight start. Heading down to REI this afternoon...if the Cateye doubleshot is in stock...there will be a review up here soon ;)

Adam, thanks for the insights.


What do you think?