Monday, August 30, 2010

Lupine Betty 7 Bicycle Lighting System

It is not very often that I get the chance to test new equipment. So when I was asked to test a "Really bright light" of course I said yes, which is how I found myself with a Lupine Betty 7 light system. This system is rated at a max output of 1,750 lumens, with a claimed 3 hour burn time at full power, from a package that weighs in at about 485 grams.

The first thing I noticed with the Betty 7 system, besides how bright it was, was how small the battery pack is, not much larger than a D cell battery. I had expected something larger to power such a powerful light. After that, was the solid feel of the light head, the body of which is machined from a solid piece of aluminum. A hefty rubber band mounts the lighthead to the handlebars, while the battery mounts to the frame with a large velcro flap, and a smaller strap to keep it from spinning around your top tube, should the ride get rough. The power leads are long enough to give you plenty of mounting options, and are pretty well reenforced.


I took the Betty 7 on a few night rides, the first of which saw it mounted on the bars of my cross bike. With the battery pack attached to the stem, the lighthead mounted on the bar top, and the extra length of power leads wrapped around the stem and battery pack, I set out on a group ride over MUPs, streets and some rough fire roads. The light never flickered, and the default light settings (high beam, low beam, and flash) let me chose how much light I wanted based on conditions. Everyone I was riding with was very impressed by the light output and small size of the system, especially when I lit up trees 200 feet away with the low beam. Despite the high pressures I run my tires at, and the rocky roads we rode over, the light never flickered or dimmed on its own, though the light head did tend to move a little, requiring position adjustments now and then.

The light then got moved to my full rigid single speed mountain bike for some true trail testing on some local singletrack. Once again, no matter how rough the trails got, the light never blinked or flickered, and delivered consistent light on the trail in front of me for the entire duration of every ride. I found myself blazing through familiar trails just as fast as I would in sunlight, and new (to me) trails I was able to tackle with confidence. Once again, the light head moved around, which got a little annoying on more technical sections.

One thing I did notice on tighter trails is that despite having a 16 degree lens, with a lot of spill light outside the focused pattern, the intensity of the main beam tends to wash out any peripheral view. In sharp turns and switchbacks, the trail would disappear into the darkness, and even with a helmet lamp, was hard to discern, due to my eyes being used to the bright patch of light in front of me from this light. A brighter helmet light would aid with this, of course, but Lupine is also releasing a 22 degree lens, for greater light spread.

I also took some time to explore the programming options. Out of the box, the light is set up with a high beam, (100% power) low beam, (55%) and a super flash setting. But it can be programmed for any number of stepped dimming and flashes, including an SOS beacon. The programming chart looks a little daunting and hard to understand at first, but a little trial and error didn't hurt anything when I tried it, and it is easy enough to revert back to factory settings. Before long, I had it set up for 2 step dimming, 3 step dimming, and a stepless setting that adjusts from 5% to 100% power, in 5% increments. I did find that at the lowest (5%) setting, the light did flicker badly, but anything higher and it shone steadily.

There were many "Wow! This thing is bright!" moments as I used this light. Moments such as lighting up part of the side of a mountain to show the group I was with how bright it was, and being able to say "Wait, let me turn it up!" Moments like realizing that this light is nearly as bright as some car headlights, so maybe I should turn it down a little so that I am not blinding them. It is far brighter than many people think necessary, including myself, until I rode at night with it. It was really nice being able to have my own swath of daylight in front of me on the trail.

A few quick numbers and features: The Betty 7 lighthead uses 7 Cree XP-G LEDs, for a combined output of 1,750 lumens, adjustable from 23 watts down to .25 watts, with programmable steps between. It has a claimed burn time from 3 hours all the way up to 168 hours, as well as a half-hour "reserve tank." It is powered by a 7.5 amp-hour lithium ion battery, which takes 4 hours to recharge. The light body is machined from a solid piece of aluminum, and acts as a heatsink for the heat generated by 7 LEDs, to keep them from burning up. The light also has a temperature management system that shuts it off if it gets too hot. A titanium ring wraps around a polycarbonate lens, similar to what is used in motorcycle helmet face shields. The system weighs 485 grams.

All this highlights what this light would really shine at, which is 24 hour races. Lupine offers a 14.5 amp-hour bottle battery as an upgrade, for nearly 6 hours of runtime at full power. Between its rugged construction, light output, and battery life options, it seems ideal for night races. The only potential problem is the mounting system, which did indeed keep the light attached to the bars on rougher trails, but didn't keep the light aimed where I put it.

All of this comes at a price, though, as a system similar to that which I tested retails for around US $995. If you want the brightest light made for a bike, there's not much that even comes close to the Betty 7.

This is the best example I can give of the power of this light:
A 160 lumen bicycle headlight.

Motorcycle headlight, on high beam. The fence visible is about 100 feet away.

Lupine Betty 7 Light system, on high beam.

Test Mileage: Around 62 miles ridden with the light.

Thanks to Absolute Bikes for loaning me the light to test!

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