Commuting by bike through the winter has presented several challenges. One of the challenges has been adequate lighting.
Without good lighting, I have lost the trail and ended up off my bike. I have had to stop many times by the highway until the bright lights of the oncoming cars passed, because the headlights completely blinded me. I have hit debris and rocks on the trail that sent me flying. I hear moose along the side of the trail but can’t see what is happening. So, solving the lighting issue has been a top priority.
I don't care about packaging. A light doesn’t need to be cute. It has to be reliable, rugged, and provide the required lighting for every kind of terrain that I may need to travel to get to work: the shoulder of the highway, the bike trail, the snow mobile/four-wheeler trail, or the frozen waterways.
The light has to be able to take the wind, rain, snow and dirt. It has to be something that can handle extreme cold temperatures.
When the Cygolite Turbo Mini 330 Rechargeable Bicycle Light and Helmet Mount Kit came in the mail I was excited. But I wondered if it would be able to meet these demands. The following is what I found.
A Key to a Successful Commute is Adequate Lighting
But it's nice when the lighting is more than adequate. The Turbo Mini has proven to be more than adequate.
On my first ride with this light, I was surprised at what a difference it made in my commute. Being able to see well immediately reduced my stress and helped me stay safe.
Not only can I see well now, this light is powerful enough that when my daughter rides with me, it lights up enough of the trail for both of us to comfortably travel by.
Seeing the Trail and Keeping Options Open
Good bright lighting is key to a safe and efficient commute and the Turbo Mini meets this need.
I have been very happy with this light.
The start of this winter has been rough. Throughout October and November I experienced relentlessly high winds that continually left debris along the trail. In addition, four-wheelers zip along and throw large rocks onto the trail. This light enables me to see where there is something on the trail in plenty of time to avoid a wreck.
The winter weather is reliably crazy. I can count on each winter and each day to be different. That means I have to be prepared for anything. The early winter was extremely dry. The wind blew with such force, and for such an extended period of time, that in long stretches huge brown clouds of dust filled the air.
There was a red flag warning in effect due to the fire danger, and the air was smoky because of fires.
The Turbo Mini has various settings to choose from for these difficult situations that enable me to see. As the conditions change I can reach up and switch lighting modes. This reduces stress and is essential to a safe and efficient commute.
Completely covering my face with a balaclava, wearing my goggles and having an adjustable light helped me get to work and home by bike even during these difficult situations.
Keeping my trail options open is important for safety and in making my commute reliable (ensuring I get to work on time every time). This light gives me the right lighting for each trail condition that I have yet encountered.
I am learning new trails and having this bright light helps me see along the frozen waterways so that I can avoid the areas where air pockets have shattered and left large holes. It helps me see and avoid water overflow areas.
If I choose to ride along the highway, this light eliminates the problem of oncoming headlights that previously blinded me. No more stopping to wait for traffic to pass.
The light is able to penetrate the darkness into the forest and brush and down the trail a good distance. This helps me avoid potential trouble with wildlife. For example: when I was able to see a moose with her young calf in time to take another way and avoid a possible encounter.
If it isn’t dark out I can set the light to a flash mode so other people can see me. This is especially important when I get to town.
Because this light is so bright and has multiple light settings, it provides the light I need in the many different conditions that I encounter. That helps me get down the trail in a reasonable, efficient manner.
With the Turbo Mini, my commute takes less time because I can see well; I have more time to do other things in life, like spending time with family and friends or having time for my hobbies. The Turbo Mini provides excellent lighting from my cabin to my job, then back again. This light improves safety and makes my commute more efficient.
Keeping Life Simple, Easy on the Budget, Good for the Environment
The Turbo Mini comes with a rechargeable battery.
With our previous lights, we had to replace the batteries about every two to three days, especially once the cold weather hit. That was wasteful and time consuming. Then we ended up with a lot of old batteries that we had to recycle, giving me another chore to take care of. Buying that many batteries was expensive. Sometimes we forgot to buy batteries and so had to ride by the light of the moon.
This light helps me achieve my goal of commuting by bike because it helps me simplify my life and saves money. That is great! And once we set up our solar panels, the sun will power my bike light and I like that idea.
Easy to Recharge
The Turbo Mini is a smart little tool! If I plug it in before its fully drained or unplug it not fully charged it won’t be ruined — unlike a “memory battery.”
(Surprisingly, a “memory battery” is not very smart. It remembers things it should forget and forgets things it should remember. I cannot reasonably live my life around a battery that has to be completely run down or completely charged up. If I come home later and have to be certain a battery runs all the way down before recharging, I may have to stay up too late. Sleep is very important to having a good commute.)
I can plug in the Turbo Mini in when and where it is convenient for me. This is a huge help because of my schedule.
Because my bike is my vehicle, I commute, shop for groceries and do errands by bike. When it gets really cold the cabin may be 25 degrees inside when I get home. That means I need to turn my attention to getting a fire going and getting chores done.
This little light fits wonderfully into my busy schedule. If I stop for coffee, or if I am late getting home after doing errands, this light lets me charge it when and where it is convenient for me. I can charge the battery by my schedule not by the battery’s schedule. Maintaining my light battery doesn’t give me another job to do.
Staying Warm, Comfortable and Safe During my Commute
The Turbo Mni is easy to adjust while I’m going down the trail
When the temperature hits -15 to -40 °F I like keeping my hands in my mittens with my “HotHands” while I ride. This light allows me to just reach up and adjust the direction of the light or the setting of the light easily without taking my hands out of my mittens — so I don't get frozen fingers.
The light swivels easily and the button that changes light modes is large enough to manage while keeping my hands inside my warm mittens, protected from the cold.
Having a helmet mounted light allows me to see what I need to see when I need without having to stop riding.
It’s nice having a light on my helmet for several reasons. First, if I hear something in the bushes, I can look that way and light up the area I need to see.
Second, it's dark when I leave the cabin and its dark in the evening when I leave work. So with a helmet mounted light, I always wear my helmet on my commute. This makes my commute much safer, I can see where I am going and I protect my head.
The Tough Demands of Extreme Cold Winter Commuting
This winter everyone is talking about how cold it is. But the cold doesn’t hinder me in my commute, especially now that I have this light. This winter the temperatures have dipped to a chilly -25 °F.
This light was designed to help those of us commuting in the cold weather. The light has a cord that goes from the light on the helmet to the battery pack which can be kept next to my body. This protects the battery from the extreme cold so it lasts longer.
It isn’t heavy so I can wear it on a cord around my neck in a little cloth pouch next to my skin. So far, I have used this light in -15 to -20 °F range and it has performed very well.
I have not had trouble with this light going dim because of a low battery. That is wonderful, reduces stress and allows me to enjoy my commute.
The light and battery have a cord that connects them. When I’m at work or stop for coffee, the battery should be disconnected from the lite so the light doesn’t drain the battery. It is difficult to take the two apart when I first stop, but I think that is due to the extreme cold.
Once I’m inside for a little while, I am able to take them apart. I don’t consider this to be a problem. It’s just something to be aware of. They will come apart with a little bit of warmth. And I think it is more important that they connect well than the opposite.
Also, the instructions on the Cygolite Website are more helpful than the instructions that came with the light.
One of the first things I needed to know was whether I need to completely charge the battery before using it? This was not clear with the paper instructions but the online instructions were helpful and answered questions.
Once I went to town with my daughter. We stopped at a store. When I reached up to turn off the light, it didn't seem to be there! I took off my helmet to have a closer look; it had come apart! Oh no!!
I put the parts in my pack in a zipper pouch. When I got to a place where I could assess the problem, I was able to put the light back together.
Problem was, I lost a little black gasket. Thankfully, the loss of the little band doesn't affect the lighting.
Lesson learned: After a week of use, tighten up the screw and make sure everything is secure still.
Also, it works better for me to use duct tape to secure the battery cable to the side of my helmet. The Velcro doesn't seem to keep things in place quite well enough. (Plus, the top piece of the Velcro is missing now). Although though some other city in the Lower 48 has taken the title of Duct Tape Capital of the World from the Mat Su Valley, duct tape is still one of those critical items on my fix-it shelf, in my pack and at my office.
Final Test: the Rain.
This January the Mat Su Valley was hit with torrential rain storms, freezing rain and flooding. These storms were followed by frigid temperatures and snow storms.
Cygolite has been reliable, consistent and easy to use through all these conditions. I consider this light to be an essential part of my winter commute.
Note: This post refers to a Cygolite Turbo Mini 330, which has been replaced by the Cygolite Turbo Mini 400 — pretty much the same thing, but with 40 more lumens of light and sells for $96.99.
Shanna Ladd is a car-free bike commuter in Alaska's Matanuska-Susitna Valley (a.k.a. "The Mat-Su"), north of Anchorage.