My Progress

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Fenix BT20 My Holy Grail of bike lights.

I’m finally happy with a bike light, (and this from someone who spends way too much time and money chasing the next best thing..)

I’ve been around bicycles and bike lights since the days of the old Wonder Lights. 

I’ve been through them, the old Cateye HL200, homebrewed contraptions, (an old VHS camcorder flood light), Nightrider & Nightsun incandescent lights, a Jet light with NiMH batteries, A Nightrider Pro 600 LED, and the monster flamethrower Dinotte1200L which is a fantastic light by the way.

However they almost all suffered from the same problem, proprietary batteries.  Get a bad cell and the whole battery pack was toast.  You either had to get an expensive, (75% of the cost of the light) new battery, or crack the battery pack and cobble something together and see if it worked.  Even my much loved Dinotte’s suffer this same fate, (which explains the several Dinotte batteries laying around the house with big X’s marked on them).  Oh how I wished for a good solid light that had user replaceable batteries.

Seems the nice folks at Fenix lights heard my wishes.  They’ve made some really solid and killer flashlights for a few years now and have a stellar reputation.  Recently they released a couple of bike lights that caught my eye, the BT10 & the BT20. 

The BT10 uses AA batteries and is on the short list for the kid’s bikes when we gear up for the 2015 Bike Across Kansas.  I like the fact it runs on easily replaceable AA batteries and we won’t have to worry about daily charging or bad cells during the eight days of riding.  The advertised rating on the lights shows 320 lumens or so, this should be more than enough for a daytime “SEE ME” blinky and should also be useful while camping out and navigating in the dark.  Fenix are you listening?  I need a deal on three of the BT10s, just saying...

Since I spend my weekday ride time riding in the early morning, usually well before first light, I wanted a bit of a brighter light to light up the road.  This is where the Fenix BT20 fits my needs.  It uses 2 rechargeable 18650 lithium ion batteries and cranks out an advertised 750 lumens of light.  This light is bright enough it illuminates the suburban roads I ride extremely well.   It’s more than enough light to spot out the pot holes and rough patches at even downhill speeds.  It’s got a bit of side spill to it which works well to spot out the local wildlife getting ready to make that kamikaze dash for under your front wheel, (the local rabbits and squirrels love to do that, even the occasional possum).  The light has four basic modes, low, medium, high, turbo and strobe.  My usual early morning rides are generally just over an hour and I find I have plenty of battery capacity to run it on high, on strobe, I’ve ran it well over three hours without an issue.  I’ve yet to give it a runtime test on turbo or the low and medium settings.  One of these mornings I’ll run it on turbo just to see how it does.  I expect to get flashed by more cars however as I already get drivers flicking their high beams at me on high, (and this is with the light angled down). 

A quick note on the strobe pattern for the BT20, it is not just a blinky.  It has a repeated slow blink pattern then a rapid blink pattern.  One of the things I’ve noticed watching local cyclists is how quickly a steady on/off on/off blinky pattern fades into the background and is no longer noticed.  The changing blink rates of the BT20 strobe pattern catch and hold the eyes better in my humble opinion.

The light pattern itself is nice and clean, a clear center light pattern, (no hot spot), well defined beam, and good/useful side spill.  I’ve ran the range from spot light to flood light and next to the Dinotte 1200 this has one of the best useable beam patterns that I’ve came across.  The lens is designed to refract light that would normally be spilled up, (a not useful direction in a bike light) down immediately in front of the bike, (I guess to spot those pot holes you didn’t pay attention to).

The battery box is well thought out and appears to be pretty weather proof, but with the drought here in Texas and my lack of willingness to ride in the rain, I’ve yet to test that out.  The battery compartment opens easily via a thumb screw; pops open and inside are the two batteries.  Since I already own a smart charger for lithium ion batteries all I have to do to charge the light is simply pop the batteries in charger and away I go.  Please do note though, if you use rechargeable lithium ion cells, make sure they are from a quality manufacture and include a protection circuit to prevent them from overheating and suffering as the industry calls it, “spontaneous vent with flame”.   The batteries provided with the light are good quality and have the built in protection.  I’d much rather have my light working properly than go riding down the road and have the front of my bike catch fire.

Current street price for the BT20 is running around $90, shopping around finds some variations and coupons, well worth the price if you’re looking for a really good bike light.

So far, this is rapidly becoming my go to bike like for about 90% of my riding.  If I add in a couple of charged 18650 batteries in my bike bag, this could easily become my do it all bike light.  Three or four sets of charged batteries and I should have enough light for something like 24 hours in the Canyon.

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