23 November 2008

bikefix Initial Review: Cateye EL-450 light

More lights? Heck yeah, more lights! With the time change, now almost everyone is doing at least half of their daily commute in the dark. And if it's dark, you need to be bright. For the past few years, I've been sporting Cateye's EL-400 and EL-410 "be seen" lights on my helmet. Why on the helmet? First of all, the compact light is all but unnoticeable on the helmet, and its versatile mounting system, (a rubber strap held in place with a cam) really lends itself to unusual mounting positions.

At Interbike this year, I had a chance to chat with the Cateye folks. quite content to stick with their core business of lighting and computers, the Japanese company seems to favor evolution rather than revolution in their product line. That said, they were quite proud of their new EL-450 light. Much as the EL-410 doubled the output of the EL-400, 2009's EL-450 more than doubles that output yet again. That's a pretty impressive 400 candlepower (up from 180). Unfortunately, the rest of the industry seems to have settled on lumen to quantify light output, we can't objectively compare that to other lights' output. I can say, though, that 400 candles put out quite a bit of light. With the increased output, the three AAA batteries' life drops from 60 to 30 hours while flashing, (which is fair enough), and price jumps $7 to $45. Seeing my enthusiasm for their new baby, Cateye offered to send out an EL-450 for our review.

Digging through the cupboard, I found my old EL-400. I pulled the bikefix Pick EL-450 off my helmet, grabbed the new EL-450, and lined them up in a dark room. This is what I saw. Sure enough, the EL-450 is significantly brighter than its predecessors. As a result, Cateye can afford to spread that light around a bit more, which makes it visible from a wider angle. There is now a low(er) beam setting to go with the blinking and high beams, and the still-waterproof magnetic switch now has a lock on it, in order to keep the light from burning through its batteries while illuminating the inside of your messenger bag.

The mounting system has been revised slightly. With the old strap, some had a hard time getting the light tight enough on the bar. In a move improve that situation and to make folks who lock their bikes outdoors all day happy, with the push of a little button the light can slide off its strap. Unfortunately, for those of us who liked the old system, the mount has gotten a bit bigger and actually hurts helmet mounting. The strap can no longer adjust to double back on itself to take up slack and the light sits quite high, as you can see from the photo here. Where the EL-410 nestled down among a helmet's vents (see photo here), the EL-450 sits high and proud. It looks pretty dorky, but it's all about safety, right? Still, I wouldn't mind things looking a bit sleeker. The old and new mounts aren't interchangeable (I checked). Worse, the rubber pad that would normally sit between the light and handlebar is held in place by a ~2x14mm piece of double-stick tape, which let go almost immediately. A bit of superglue set it straight, but a better way of securing the pad shouldn't be hard for Cateye to work out.

One could take my comments to mean that I don't think that the EL-450 is a fantastic light. That's not the case at all- Cateye have taken a very nicely made, waterproof headlight and doubled its output without making it significantly larger or more expensive. For bar-mounters, the EL-450 might be slightly easier to mount and remove when the bike is locked up (the old design was pretty darn easy, though). For helmet-mounters, it's a shame that they went and changed something that I thought was great to something closer to good.

Riding to work, with the EL-450 mounted such that it shines wherever I point my head, seeing license plates and street signs lit up so brightly (even at dusk) is very confidence inspiring. The helmet mounting also give the rider a better chance of catching the attention of merging traffic and oncoming left-turners. On the bar, it's not quite enough to see with (except at low speeds on otherwise unlit bike paths), but as far as being seen, nothing I've come across packs as much output in as small a package for as reasonable a price. I'll keep on riding with the EL-450 through the winter and let you know what (if anything interesting) happens.



1 comment:

The Bikeworks Crew said...

I found the old mount hard to get tight enough on the bar so that it would stay put over rough roads. Just FYI