2016 Light Roundup: Part-I

It’s no secret that bicycle light technology has improved by leaps and bounds. The current crop of lights have more power, run longer, and cost less than last year’s offerings. Whether you’re a hardcore commuter or avid recreational rider, there’s bound to be a light that fits your budget and requirements.

Lights generally fall into one of two categories–see by, and be seen lights. The former are brighter, and enable the rider ride safely in areas without ambient light sources (e.g streetlights). The latter, on the other hand, are mostly used for improving cyclists’ visibility in low-light conditions (think urban riding).

Manufacturers specify light output in lumens. Generally, the more lumens, the brighter the light. For my testing, I separated the lights by output. Those lights with a rating of less than 100 lumens were considered be seen lights, while lights rated over 100 lumens were classified as see by lights. This installment covers the lights with 100+ lumens, and Part-II will feature lights with outputs of less than 100 lumens.

Model Max Output
(lumens)
Weight
(grams)
Price
(USD)
Bontrager Ion 700 RT 700 142 $139.99
CatEye Volt 800 800 152 $130.00
CatEye Volt 1200 1200 235 $220.00
Knog Blinder Arc 640 640 150 $119.95
Knog Blinder Road 250 250 75 $79.95
Planet Bike Blaze 650 XLR 650 128 $94.99

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Salsa Vaya 650B Conversion Project (Lessons Learned)

You’ve read GRAVELBIKE’s series of articles on 650B conversions, and now you’re thinking about converting one of your own bikes. While the process is relatively simple, every bike (and setup) is a little different, and there’s always the possibility of a gotcha lurking in the shadows. After spending countless hours testing various wheels, tires, and other components, we’ve compiled a list of tricks, tips, and lessons learned that’ll make your 650B conversion that much easier.

Mind The Gap
Tire casings relax and typically plump up a few millimeters after being inflated for 24-48 hours. Check your tires’ clearance a day or two after the initial installation to confirm that there is still adequate clearance at the frame, fork, or fenders. When in doubt, opt for a narrower tire, especially if you’ll be riding in muddy or snowy conditions.

Keep It Simple
If you plan on swapping wheels for different terrain or conditions, try to use the same components on both wheels. Having to adjust brake calipers or rear derailleurs every time you change wheels can be time consuming and frustrating. Sure, practice can make the task easier, but when both wheelsets have the same hubs, cassettes, and rotors, you can spend more time riding.

Know Thy Limits
Fat tires and low gears can take you to some exciting new places. If you haven’t ridden a particular bike off-road prior to the 650B conversion, take it easy until you’re comfortable with the new wheels’ affect on handling and braking (both on- and off-pavement). This is especially important if the different wheels affect bottom bracket height or steering geometry.

Looking for even more info on 650B wheels and tires? Check out the 650B Google Group, or the 27.5 – 650B forum on MTBR.com

Salsa Vaya 650B Conversion Project (Gearing)

In this series’ previous installment, we covered the wheels-and-tires portion of GRAVELBIKE’s Salsa Vaya 650B conversion. For this entry, we’re going to spend some time talking about gearing.

Salsa has always spec’d the Vaya completes with sensible gearing, and my own Vaya’s gearing (36/46, 11-34) was more than adequate for pavement and gravel. For extended climbs on rocky terrain, however, that gearing simply wasn’t low enough. Drawing on my past experience with 26″-wheeled bikes, I knew that a sub-1:1 low gear would not go unused when exploring more rugged trails.

Achieving that low gear turned out to be a bit of a challenge due to the fact I was running such an eclectic mix of drivetrain components (10s Campagnolo shifters, 9s daVinci/SRAM rear derailleur, Shimano 9s cassette). Taking inspiration from Salsa’s Fargo off-road adventure bikes, I decided that a mountain-double crank would give me the low gear that I needed without having to replace any other components.

To maintain compatibility–and eek out every last bit of shifting performance–many crank manufacturers offer dedicated chainring combinations designed to work specifically with Shimano or SRAM systems. Since my hodgepodge setup contained a mix of both companies’ components, I needed a crankset that would play nicely with a non-dedicated setup. Thankfully, Full Speed Ahead designed their Afterburner double crankset to be compatible with both Shimano and SRAM drivetrains.

GRAVELBIKE.com gravel grinder FSA Afterburner Full Speed Ahead Salsa Vaya Campagnolo 650B

Campagnolo Veloce front derailleur paired with 36/22 FSA chainrings on the author’s Salsa Vaya.

Installing the Afterburner crankset was a breeze, requiring only a 5mm hex key and Shimano Hollowtech II-compatible socket. During my testing, I alternated between 24/38 and 22/36 chainring setups, logging the most miles on the 22/36 combo. While it wasn’t designed for such tiny chainrings, the Campagnolo Veloce front derailleur shifted better than expected when it was positioned such that it barely cleared the chainstay.

On paved and gravel roads, the 36t chainring proved surprisingly versatile. There were a few situations where I found myself wishing for a taller top-end, but I never felt handicapped by the 36/11 high gear. When it came to navigating steep, rocky trails, the 22t chainring was invaluable. I could cruise along in the 36t ring, drop down to the 22t when the trail started to get steep, and then fine tune my cadence by shifting up or down the cassette. Thanks to the added height of the 650B knobby tires, pedal strike wasn’t an issue with the 170mm cranks when traversing rock gardens or navigating stair-type obstacles.

If you tend to divide your riding equally between pavement and dirt, consider a mountain-double crankset. For riders seeking a wider gearing range–while still maintaining the simplicity of a double-chainring system–Full Speed Ahead offers the Afterburner in 26/39 and 42/28 combinations.

Disclosure: Full Speed Ahead provided product samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation for this review.