First, a personal reminder on why road riders need lights. A few days ago I was coming back up a narrow country road on a section with several tight turns. It’s a very low traffic road and it was 5:30 PM, visibility dropping fast and I was down in the darkening forest.
Head down and momentarily lost in thought, I was pedaling a steady pace when I heard a vehicle coming down hill. He was on top of me in an instant, making the sharp left and coming half way into my lane. It felt like he missed hitting me head-on by two feet. It scared the crap out of me. On reflex I shouted “Jesus Christ.”
Of course it was a pick-up truck — always is in these parts — the guy slowed and said “sorry” but my loud outburst seemed to annoy him because he followed up with “Get a light.” I shouted back, “Don’t try to kill me next time.”
He was a jerk and in the wrong and a few feet short of vehicular manslaughter but I can’t argue his second statement. I should have had a light. The thing is, it was that first late ride of the season and I got caught in the dark.
The ultimate irony is, I have an excellent light set-up. Last year I picked up a Light & Motion Stella 300 ($149) because it was everything I needed. The Stella is small, lightweight, stylish, throws out 300 lumens and mounts quickly on your handlebar or helmet. No excuse for not having it and that won’t happen again this Winter.
Let’s start with small. Stella fits on my bar without taking up a ton of space and it will look terrific next to your Garmin. Mounted on my helmet, the weight is so negligible you don’t feel the addition. The battery pack is 216 grams, compact enough that it fits in your palm and it slips easily into a jersey pocket. Bingo times ten. Road biking is about running lean and fast and this headlamp is an ideal match.
An extra word on helmet mounting. There’s a $10 head-mount accessory– a basic plastic platform and velcro strap for tightening down — but we haven’t needed it. Just as is, we’ve easily fitted the Stella to a Giro, Specialized and Catlike lid. The latest version of the Stella looks just as well designed for flexibility.
Okay, let’s shed some light on illumination. I don’t need overkill on lights. In my real world, real dark tests, 300 lumens gives me plenty of clarity. The Stella throws a confidence-inspiring beam that shows everything up to about 100 feet away. That means I can descend a twisting mountain road at speed and pick out every rut, pothole and patch of slippery wet leaves.
The beam is wide enough that I get a strong light ahead and off the road to the immediate left and right. This isn’t the most powerful or most penetrating or most expensive lighting system; what you get is exactly what you need.
Now, how long will you have that bright light? That depends on the setting you select. Stella gives you three to chose from in descending order of brightness and battery life, from High (300L/2.75hrs) to Medium (150L/5.5 hrs) to Low (75L, 11 hours). I’ve found my run times slightly lower but not enough to piss and moan. (There’s also a Flash mode so guys in pick-up trucks on dark winding roads won’t kill you.) In my testing, I’ve found a battery recharge takes roughly 5-ish hours.
A nice battery-saving feature is the Race mode. By holding down the mode button for 2 seconds, you limit your choices to High and Low. That means you go full light-blast on downhills but can switch in one click to save battery time on Low when chugging uphill. A smart design touch.
In my humble opinion, one final plus for the Stella is the enlightenment. As a company, Light & Motion made a big decision this year to pull a significant amount of their manufacturing back home to the United States. That’s cool — and in a global economic melt-down, any company willing to build back in the USA, gets extra props.
Now, in summary, there are plenty of great options these days for lightening systems. I don’t have first-hand experience with many of those options. I can only say that I’m super happy with the Light & Motion Stella 300. It fits my criteria for light, simple, stylish, versatile and bright. If you’re a roadie in need of lighting, check out Stella. That $149 price covers light, charger, handlebar and helmets mounts.