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by Marty Goodman
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CatEye HT 100

Description:

Consists of a triangular solid headlamp, equipped in front with a 2.4 watt 6 volt light bulb, set in a typical CatEye reflector + lenticular lens combination, with a 5 super-brite LED flasher (also has continuous on mode) in the rear of this unit. The 5 LEDs of this flasher include one that points straight back, and two pairs that point at differing angles to the sides of the flasher, to give extremely good "off angle" visiblity of the flasher from the rear.

The entire headlamp piece attaches to the top of ones helmet with an elastic + velcro strap that goes thru the top vents in one's helmet. This unit connects to a battery pack via curley cord, via a barrel type power connector. The battery pack appears extremely rugged and well protected against both wet weather and against shock from accidental dropping. This pack accommodates 5 C size batteries, intended to EITHER alkaline C cells OR NiCd C size cells.

The headlamp beam pattern is similar to that of the CatEye NC1500 battery powered headlamp (which also is a 2.4 watt unit, tho it uses a 4.8 volt bulb). And similar to (tho bighter than) the familiar and venerable old CatEye HL500 (old 1.25 watt, dual C cell-powered) bicycle headlamp from CatEye: The beam is concentrated into a relatively flat rectangular patch, with a moderate amount of added light shining to the sides. Given the lenticular lens, this light, like the HL500 and HL1500, probably gives lenticular streaking of light upwards in a fog, a minor curiosity for many, a mild nuisance for some.

Opinion:

This unit is a top of the line Alkaline battery type light for urban riding where street lights are plentiful, but some extra light is needed occasionally in dark places. It also functions as a VERY visible, ultra-long run time, highly visible helmet flasher for those doing daily commutes. The battery pack will make a nice spare or secondary pack for users of other six volt systems who have their own quality NiCd battery chargers. If CatEye will sell JUST the headlamp unit, tinkerers can run this off their own 6 volt batteries, including inexpensive, rechargeable lead acid six volt batteries.

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NiteRider Digital Pro-6

Description

This is an upgraded version of the old 6 volt single MR11 lamp NiCd water bottle battery equipped NiteRider Cyclops Pro system, utilizing some of the technology from the NiteRider dual beam, 12 volt XCL-pro (formerly called the NiteHawk) system.

It comes with a high quality 5 amp hour 6 volt NiCd water bottle battery, and a 15 watt MR11 narrow angle (10 degree spot) lighting head that looks similar to that of the old Cyclops, except it's gray in color and has a "fuel gauge indicator" on it that shows eight levels of battery charge. The single push button on the lighting head controls a number of features, which include two low power continuous on modes (6 watt and 10 watt power consumption), a flashing mode, and (as with the NiteHawk / XCL Pro) the same stupid, worthless SOS flashing mode. The full power 15 watt beam was quite white in color and bright. But the two low power beams (predictably, given the basic physics of incandescant lamp operation) involved operating the lamp at quite poor efficiency: The 6 watt mode put out a yellow light visibly dimmer than the light from the 2.4 watt CatEye HT-100 in side by side comparsion. The 10 watt medium power mode also put out a noticeably yellowish light, of about the same brightness as the 2.4 watt CatEye HT-100.

Light dimming and "not totally dumb" (I would NOT call it smart!) battery charging are all accomplished via the use of a microprocessor. NiteRider continues to obnoxiously prate about the fact that the processor in question is a "RISC" processor, an insult to the intelligence of any educated consumer who knows it makes NO difference what the archetecture of the controller chip is, as long as it is properly programmed to do what it is supposed to do.

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The Charging System

The most genuinely desireable features of this system is its "set and forget" battery charger. This system, assuming it works like the one in the Xcel Pro, charges the battery at C/10 amps for 10 hours, then drops back to C/30, a trickle that will keep the battery charged, but NOT harm it even if it's left hooked to the charger forever. On the negative side, this charger is a relatively slow, DUMB, timer-controled charger, NOT a fast smart charger like the ones I've built using Maxim MAX 713 chips, or the ones I've recommended to cyclists as made by Black and Decker and DeWalt (power tool chargers) or by Radio Shack (Cell Phone / Cam Corder battery chargers). On the postive side, UNLIKE VIRTUALLY ALL OTHER NICD battery chargers supplied with bicycle lighting systems, this charger will NOT cook and destroy your battery if the battery is left hooked to it. For all that I may be disappointed NiteRider was too cheap to supply a smart, relatively fast (say 3 hour like mine) charger, I must commend and congratulate them for providing at least a reasonably safe, "set it and forget" charger. This is a VERY important thing, especially for normal end-user consumers who are not going to make from scratch their own charger, or even modify existing chargers from DeWalt or Radio Shack to equip such third party chargers with a proper cable and connector so they may be used with one's own lighting system. THIS FEATURE ALONE is worth the $30 extra NiteRider chargers for this system over the Cyclops Pro system.

Variable Power Level

The three power level operation of the NiteRider Digital Pro 6 has its uses. It will help conserve power during hill climbing. However, a far superior approach would have been to use two light heads, one 2.4 watt and one full power 15 watt. For a 2.4 watt full power beam puts out about as much light as the NiteRider 10 watt medium power beam. The NiteRider system becomes efficient in converting electricity to light ONLY when run AT FULL (15 watt) power. The pulse width modulator approach used by NiteRider for dimming the lamp and operating the lamp at low power is a mistake, in my opinion, due to the poor efficiency of operation of the lamp that such a system causes. Note this is equally true of the pulse width modulator dimmer used by CatEye in their HL1500, and by Specialized in their Preview Plus system.

"Fuel Gauge"

The fuel gauge appears to me a gimmick, unlikely to work well or be of much use. This, at least, is my experience with most attempts at bicycle lighting system fuel gauges. Even if it works well, it's of marginal value, in my opinion.

Summary

The Digital Pro 6 is desireable because it includes a relatively well-designed NiCd battery charger and puts out a nice, bright, white, flat-beam with desireable beam pattern when used at the full 15 watt power setting. While the flashing the fuel gauge are, in my opinion, largely gimmicks, and the two dim beam modes suffer from hideously poor efficiency, the genuinely positive features of this system DO make it a desireable successor to those who were considering buying a Cyclops Pro from NiteRider.

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