Sunday, 4 December 2011

Hope Vision 4 and Fibre Flare combo


Since November 2010 my commute has increased from 6 miles to 11 miles each way. At night, my former city commute had been illuminated by street lights. So, a cheap and cheerful front light and a flashing rear one was all I needed to keep myself visible to other road users. But rather than cruising through the well-lit streets of Coventry, the bulk of my journey is now along country lanes. All well and good in the summer months, but in the middle of the toughest British winter in years, the ride is considerably more perilous.

The winter commute is well known by cyclists as being a war of attrition against the elements and the lack of light. I work shifts and can guarantee at least one direction will be cycled in total darknessk. My old route strayed from street lights only for about 200 metres. During that brief part of the journey I would hope for traffic to help illuminate the road. My front light only offered a puddle of ghostly light, and when riding at approximately 18mph, visibility without street-lights was almost zero. The roads in the UK have taken a sound thrashing over winter and a lot of roads have become riddled with cracks and pot-holes.

 I discovered on my first countryside ride home from work that I needed better lights. Like taking a dinghy out into the deep ocean I found myself ill-equipped. The route takes me through about 9 miles of undulating lanes, with no lights to show me the way, just my spectral front lamp. Having arrived home that night covered in a layer of frost, with ice on my lashes (I found out that was why my eyes wouldn't shut properly), I reflected on the journey and concluded that I was lucky not to be lying in a ditch. The front light had barely been enough to show me the sides of the road, never mind the puddles of slush and treacherous pot-holes. With temperatures as low as -10 this year, a crash in the middle of nowhere, in the dark, could go from bad to bloody awful in no time at all.
Such was my concern that I started looking for a really bright front light. I started reading reviews of lights in the £90 region, hoping to find a solution to my problem. I wanted something durable and rechargeable. But mainly I wanted something that would burn a hole in the darkness. I discussed it with my brother, who rides to work and understood my requirements. Having scoured the internet for light reviews, he came back to me and announced that he had ordered me a front light and got dad to order me a decent rear light. Humbled by his kind offer I eagerly awaited for the early Christmas presents.

The first to arrive was the Fibre Flare from my Dad. This flexible tube of bright red light is stylishly put together and well made. The battery slots are at each end of the product, covered by rubber hoods, which you can easily fold off when putting new ones in. The Fibre Flare has clips and hooks that can be attached to most parts of the bike or to a rucksack, or even clothing. I chose to fix mine to the off-side seat stay. The only possible problem with this positioning area would be cars coming onto the road from a junction on the left hand side. I decided to keep my old rear flashing light on the seat post for extra visibility. The Fibre Flare looks brilliant, and takes the job of attracting attention seriously.  On solid mode the Fibre Flare is almost hypnotically attractive. However, not only does the strobe effect make you more visible to traffic, it extends the battery life by up to 5 times, so this is the mode I always use.

The mystery front light arrived a couple of days later at work in a large parcel, so I opened it in front of an audience. The light he had purchased me was a Hope Vision 4, which meant nothing to me at the time. I opened the box and was immediately impressed by the heat-sink design of the housing for the 4x LEDS's. The LED's generate 960 lumens on max power. Having very little idea of what a lumen was I Googled my current light and found it produces 110 lumens. I also discovered that a car's low beams will generate 1000-1200 lumens each, and they are about 5 times bigger in size than the Hope Vision 4. I hastily read the instructions and plugged the battery pack into the charger. At this point someone in the office found the price tag on the box and about a second later my jaw hit the desk. My brother had spent in the region of £250 on this light for me! Staggered by his generosity I took a seat whilst conversation bounced around the office about how a light can cost more than a bike. In fact Fleur pointed out that she, her husband, and her two kids have bikes that cost less in total than this light! I made the call to my brother and thanked him.

The battery charged through the day and I found myself itching to set off at 10pm into the freezing fog and icy roads. I got changed and whilst in the warm, hooked up the Hope Vision 4 and turned it on. The low setting completely obliterated my Cateye for brightness, but in fairness I was expecting it to (it costs more than ten times the price for starters!), so I went to medium setting. This was impressively bright; even in a well lit corridor, the four LEDs lit up the wall fifteen metres away. I then knocked it up to High and was awed when the wallpaper erupted into flame and the wall started to shake. My eyes began to melt and the lights metallic housing started to drip molten lumps onto the carpet. Completely blind I pressed the Max setting and was re-blinded with a light so pure and strong that it made me see without eyes ... before burning it all away. I heard the building collapsing and screams of agonising pain before I managed to turn the light off. The Hope Vision 4 really is that bright. It doesn't just light the way, it melts the road. This light is so powerful on Max setting you could destroy the forest moon of Endor with it.

Realistically it won't actually kill oncoming drivers, although you would want to make sure it was angled downwards on High or Max settings. The light it produces in the pitch black is a cone of daylight. It obliterates darkness from the road in front, highlighting all the detail you would need to negotiate even the most damaged road. This is an off-road light, designed to be rugged and sturdy and capable of illuminating the path for downhill Mountain Bikers. In a country with road surfaces that are cracking and crumbling under the frigid winter conditions, these lights are becoming acceptable solutions for road cyclists. I've not once thought to myself "Hmm, this is just too bright.”

With great power comes great power-consumption. Max setting will burn for just over two hours and the High setting will last over three hours. In fairness, Max setting is only slightly brighter than the uber-bright high setting. The two lower settings will stretch battery life much further, although I've found myself defaulting to the High setting, mainly because it’s the right brightness and I don't fancy clicking the slightly-too-tough button through the sequence whilst riding. This single rugged button allows you to select each mode, one after the other, or turn the light off by keeping it pressed for a couple of seconds. There is no indication of low battery life until you reach almost empty and the light reverts to flashing mode on Low setting. However, I've not experienced this because my light gets charged as soon as I finish the return journey (total travel time 1hr 30 mins). There is also no deterioration in brightness as the battery runs out of juice, which is a very nice touch.
Having ridden with the Hope Vision for over three months, I can say that it has completely transformed my journeys in the darkness. I look forward to the sun going down or cycling to work before it rises. The projection of absolute clarity when rushing through a world of darkness is invigorating.

Whilst researching this article it occurred to me that being an off-road light, the Hope Vision 4 is not British Standard approved for road use. I contacted Hope and spoke with Ashton, the designer of all Hope light systems and he offered this explanation: The Hope Vision 4 is not tailored around road use. Primarily it is a light used for off-roading, and as such does not require legal approval, unlike road lights. He added that riders generally use roads to get to their off-road locations and would likely use the lights to get to their destination. To this end, common sense prevails in its use on a road. The light is very bright and can dazzle other road users, in much the same way a car light on full beam would dazzle a road user. It is up to the rider to dip the light to a suitable angle to prevent this, or use a lower power setting, like Low or Medium when on the road.
Personally, I want enough brightness to clearly see the surface of unlit roads. But the legislation around cycle lights would appear to be in need of an update. Whereas dazzlingly bright bike lights were a thing of fancy ten years ago, they are now a commonplace piece of equipment and part of a burgeoning market. Law-biding cyclists are commonly purchasing lights without realising they are technically illegal to use on the road. Should an accident occur whilst riding with a light setup that is not allowed in law, your culpability is in question. You may have exercised all due diligence and ridden sensibly but the fact remains you were riding against the law and that may become the focus of an accident investigation..

There is a way to use these lights legally on the road. The Department for Transport website gives “guidance about lights on pedal cycles”. The legislation states that you must have a British Standard approved light fitted to your bike. If this light is capable of emitting a steady light, then it must conform to BS 6102-3 and be marked accordingly, even if used in flashing mode.
However, there is provision in British law to equip your bike with additional lighting, as long as you equip your bike with the above, you can also fit it with your bright light. Optional lamps (with steady beams) must only adhere to two regulations. Firstly they “must not dazzle other road users”. And secondly, they “must be the correct colour (white to the front, red to the rear)”. In my case, by pure accident, I have been a law-biding cyclist all along as I use my older BS approved light on the front of my bike in flashing mode.

This loophole in the law isn’t a particularly satisfactory solution when the equipment concerned potentially saves, or endangers lives. It would appear that the law requires amendment, in that it recognises the emergence of very bright cycle lights, and makes provisions accordingly. I would be happier knowing that my Hope Vision 4 was also BS approved. Hopefully the manufacturers will acknowledge that a large portion of their sales for off-road lighting are being utilised on-road, and equip  their lights accordingly. As things stand, I will continue to use my Hope Vision 4, dipped, for extra pleasure.

1 comment:

  1. It is really interesting post. I never read such kind of post. It impressed me. Thanks for sharing…