The bike light that saved the world

Making every photon count: The Ixon IQ LED bike lamp is a glimpse at techno-utopia

Published February 5, 2008 11:10AM (EST)

"The days of environmentally harmful battery lights are truly over, I think."

How the World Works lurks on a mailing list where some fairly serious Bay Area cyclists love nothing better than to argue all day, or all week about which bike light is the best. These prodigiously well-informed and hugely calved men and women do not confine themselves to disputing quantitative criteria -- price, brightness, battery life, and so on. Fuzzier issues are also in play: the differing lighting requirements for mountain bikers and road bikers, the possibility that bike lights can be too bright (distracting other bikers or drivers), the question of whether red taillights should be set to flash or remain constant ... Seriously. I have witnessed grown men grow heated over the propriety of flashing tail lights.

Such arguments reoccur month after month with metronomic regularity because lighting technology is moving rapidly forward. The advent of new LED (light emitting diode) bike lamps, in particular, is of great interest, because they hold out a promise that dazzles with techno-utopianism. LED technology promises more light from less power. Such a magic trick, it should go without saying, offers up a potent metaphor for how technological advances might not be incompatible with a sustainable lifestyle in a carbon-constrained future.

So I pay attention, even if I'm still too cheap to upgrade my own old, clunky, obsolete, ugly, heavy, not-all-that-bright, requires-all-day-to-charge-fully NiteRider light. (Yes, I have some issues.) And this morning, my curiosity was piqued by the arrival of a lengthy post (accompanied by the sound of trumpets announcing the dawn of a bright new day of bike light nirvana) by list participant, (and longtime chronicler of all things bike-lamp related) Marty Goodman, recounting his impressions of a new LED bike lamp -- the Ixon IQ from German lighting specialists Busch & Müller.

(All excerpts quoted with permission.)

First came the setup: A fellow cyclist with whom Goodman had not always seen eye to eye on the merits of previous bike lights was hyping the IQ -- declaring that it put "more light on the road than a 12 watt HID (high intensity discharge) light" while only consuming one watt of power from four AA batteries. But Goodman was skeptical.

Much as I greatly respected my old friend ... in matters of cycling and lighting (he's an expert in both), for the first time I simply out and out DID NOT believe his claim.

Goodman tested the lamp with his own equipment, and determined that the IQ was drawing a whopping 2.2 watts. This actually relieved him: "That at least made it seem to me remotely possible it could rival lamps in the 8 to 10 watt range."

Then we side by side compared the light output on white walls in my house, and attempted comparisons of the beams by holding the IQ and the comparison lamp at an angle so that the beam thrown would be roughly equivalent to the situation of it being on a bicycle lighting up the road ahead.

I was amazed! The IQ really truly did give better and more effective illumination than a NiteRider HID lamp 5 or 6 times its input power!

In separate e-mails to me Goodman explained his testing methodology in detail and told me quite a bit more than I ever expected to know about the difference between conical and trapezoidal beams of light. (The IQ broadcasts a trapezoidal beam, which Goodman says puts "light evenly and effectively where you most need it on the road, thus making better use of every photon the light offers.") Consider me: convinced.

So. There you have it. The bike lamp that saved the world. Retailing at bike shop near you for as little as $100 (without the charger). I know what I want for next Christmas.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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