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30 September 2013

CatEye HL-EL540 - Night Riding Light

Shine on you crazy diamond

I spent a lot of my free time this summer cycling on Naxos, I had really caught the bug. In summer there is a lot of daylight to ride, but still I happened to be out and cought in the dark a couple of times. Sometimes, because I was riding too far in the twilight evening hours that I like so much, another time because I went for a swim and some pasta at the italian restaurant at the surf club on Orkos beach and then it just was dark when I came back. I wasn't afraid of that, as I had lights with me, but my headlight was one of those small commuter things that are much more suited to getting you seen than to see yourself.

Going downhill with that thing meant to go really slow and hit the breaks a lot. On that evening after the Carbonara at Orkos, going uphill fast from Mikri Vigla, I was often feeling like riding with my eyes covered. Also with those batteries I was always wondering if on any particular evening the light just appeared to be so low or if by any chance the batteries were running out.

Then I ordered the CatEye HL-EL540 (actually the HL-EL540RC with rechargeable batteries) through Giannis bike shop in Naxos town. Now that is a totally different story. [Warning, cheap pun ahead...] man, I saw the light!


With this light on the "big scale", I can descend a mountain road with 30+km/hour and still see ahead. Now 30km/h is not superfast to descend, but it's a pretty ok speed, I'm not in a race, yet it doesn't feel like going down with the handbreak pulled all the time. The light has a very shaped beam in the form of a trapezoid on the road. The LED is directed backwards at a mirror that forms the beam. It lights up the road approximately 10 Meters ahead. This means: Very bright light on the road straight ahead, but in tight curves (especially hairpin curves in the mountains), you don't see so much. Time to hit the breaks before the curves in any case. In longish curves you can also push on the lamp a bit, as the fastening allows for some sideways movement. That helps a lot in those long drawn slight curves going down. This is not a light for mountain biking on dark paths, where you want to see every branch on the side of the path.

When climbing or on level roads, the "low" scale is very much sufficient. It enabled me to see enough ahead of the road and to be well seen by oncoming cars. In fact, on the big scale and sometimes even on the low scale, oncoming cars would lower their headlights for me, which is pretty impressive. Switching between low/big scale is very easy, as the switch is more designed like a computer mouse button than a switch. A "long click" switches the lamp on or off. A normal "click" switches between low/high beam. A "double click" switches on blinking mode. On a ride in real darkness, I'd switch a lot between low and high beam, depending on my speed.

And indeed I'd been out in some real dark corners. Mountain valleys out "in the sticks" on Naxos, with no streetlights, no nearby villages, no cars, and only a tiny little bit of moon. This light worked very well in those conditions. In fact I was loving those rides! Sure you don't see so much of the landscape, but then you climb up a bit and suddenly there appears the sea in the distance, shimmering like silver next to a dark cutout of mountains.

I guess if there are more lights around, you'd need less of the high beam and the lack of "curve support" would bother you even less. The four rechargeable 2300mAh batteries are said to last 15 hours on the low beam or 5 hours on the high beam. Using a mix of those modes, but high beam only when really necessary should get you through a long night of riding. I haven't tested that out (yet). The batteries are not built in, they are normal AA sized. So if in a tight spot, you can swap in normal batteries and go on for a while. A "wall wart" charger is included. I would have preferred a USB charging cable, but maybe there isn't enough "juice" on USB to charge these. Still I'm happy with rechargeables, and even more happy that some day when the rechargeables will run out, I can at least replace them without having to replace the whole lamp.

One downsize to this lamp: It's big. If your heartblood depends on having your skinny bike as naked and pristine as it can be (e.g. the thought of adding an under saddle bag makes you wanna puke), this light might not be for you. Even if you don't mind to stick things on your bike, have a look before you buy. It weights about 260 grams. Opinions about the mounting system vary, some people deeming it inadequate, some attesting it holds. There is a smaller (2 battery) model, but with much less power. I sure don't care about the size, give me the functionality and the joy of night riding on quiet country roads, and I'll prefer it over "aesthetics" any time.

Posted by betabug at 12:49 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)
ch athens
Life in Athens (Greece) for a foreigner from the other side of the mountains. And with an interest in digital life and the feeling of change in a big city. Multilingual English - German - Greek.
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