I'm sure I'm biased by my own Teutonic heritage, but if you tell me there's a German company that makes something technical, I'd wager that it's probably pretty trick. In the world of bike lights, the Übermensch – or, more specifically, Das Über Licht – comes from a company called Lupine. I managed to restrain myself from asking for the brighter-than-a-pair-of-HID-car-headlights-on-high Betty (1850 lumens) and instead decided on testing the pint-sized, but still ultra powerful, Piko 3. Despite a lamp weight of only 55g (for reference, a current generation iPod Nano weighs 21g) and a system weight of 180g including the 2.5Ah Li-Ion battery, it puts out a powerful 550 lumens. That power doesn't come cheap, however, as the pint-sized Piko has an MSRP of $310 in the US.
The two LEDs powering the lamp are made by CREE, a North Carolina-based company which pretty much dominates the high-end LED business. The two 8w CREE XG-P R5 LEDs that power the Piko 3 display at a 15 degree angle, which gives a reasonable amount of both spread and throw for night riding. CREE LEDs are almost ubiquitous in high end illumination devices, and if you make the mistake of looking at the Piko 3 when it's on, you'll see why.
There are three default options for settings – 2-mode (High/Low), 3-mode (High/Medium/Low), and 2-mode plus Superflash (High/Low/Flash). Since Lupine is a European company, the flash mode meets the UK's RVLR (Road Vehicle Lighting Regulations) standards. While the CTC, the national organization for cyclists in the UK, admits that, as in the US with helmet "laws," the "finer points of the RLVR are seldom enforced." But nevertheless, the Piko 3 is approved according to a standardized set of rules governing the appropriate intensity and frequency of flashing. While trusting that any government agency puts thoughts into their decisions might be naïve, I'm optimistic that RLVR approval at least means that some thought went into thinking about how lights should flash for maximum visibility. But I'll let you judge for yourself. That's why I include the videos of the lights actually doing their thing. For more on the RLVR, read this article on the CTC website.
Programming the light between the various settings is easy. Push and hold until the single backlit button that controls the light for about two seconds until it flashes, which indicates that you've changed modes. A quick press changes brightness modes within each setting, either from high to medium to low, from high to low, or from high to low to flash.
The Piko 3 has a very sophisticated control circuit that automatically detects the voltage available in the battery. The internal circuit will kick the light into "reserve" mode once the battery charge drops below a certain level to keep you from getting stranded when your light suddenly goes black. When in reserve mode, the output is capped at 2w, and while you can choose even lower power than that, you can't choose anything higher. You can, however, program the light to change how sensitive it is to drops in battery charge. The battery "high" setting warns you quite early if the battery is getting run down. But all batteries, even Li-Ion, have some "memory," and older batteries which still have a lot of life sometimes won't show as high a voltage, and the battery "low" setting keeps the light from going into reserve mode prematurely. In typical precise German fashion, Lupine is careful to point out all the things that affect battery life – temperature and battery age – and also that every battery has a slightly different voltage curve, so it's important to "get to know your light" so that you don't get stranded. The backlit control button normally glows a dull blue when you have a good charge. It switches to a red glow when the battery gets low, and then starts flashing when you are almost totally out of juice. The reserve mode is indicated by alternating red/blue flashes in order to tell you when you can't rely on max brightness.
The remarkable control electronics can also tell if the unit is getting overheated, like if you are using the lamp to change a flat and there's no airflow (the tiny lamp even has cooling fins to keep the massive output from overheating the unit) and will dim it automatically. And if you forget to charge the battery and are in a pinch, you can even have the light tell you the charge on the pack to within 0.1V. And you wondered why it cost so much.
While runtimes are given for all the outputs – 2.5hrs at 550lumens, 7hrs at 230lumens, and 50hrs at 50lumens – Lupine doesn't provide data on how long the light should last while flashing. The folks at Lupine told me that the on/off cycling of the flashing mode makes it even harder to predict battery life than when there is a constant draw. All of the factors that affect battery life are magnified by the on/off of the LEDs, and when you add in that, unlike with say night racing or riding, you probably aren't going to leave your light on flash for 50+ hrs continuously, which will also affect battery life. They said, simply, that it ought to last, "a very long time." And with the intelligence of the battery charge indicator, you'd be hard pressed to run out of power just using the flash mode.
The Piko 3 comes by default with a helmet mounting bracket that velcros onto the helmet; rubber feet on the bracket hold it in place securely. In a nod to another German company, there is a special direct mount version available for Uvex's U3 helmet if that's your helmet of choice already. There is also a bar mount available for 31.8 bars, but you have to buy it; if you want to run it on smaller bars, you'll need to shim the basebar. A 3mm hex wrench allows you to quickly remove the light from the helmet bracket (to bolts with rubber o-rings secure it) and then a single one of those bolt anchors it securely to the bar mount. As with all Lupine lights, the Piko 3 can also be used as a very nice running/camping headlamp with the available headstrap. Lupine sells their lights as headlamps with the X designation, so the Piko is sold as a headlamp as the Piko X, but the base lamp is identical; only the mounting bracket differs. In addition to the light and battery, you of course also get a Li-Ion specific charger, which has a status indicator LED that tells you if the battery is charging or charged; the charger allows for interchangeable plug heads so you can use it in North America or Europe or Asia without issue. Also included in the box is a 120cm (4ft) extension cord, which makes charging a permanently mounted battery easier or allows you to run the battery pack in a jersey pocket. I mounted both light and battery on my helmet, and I never noticed the extra 180g during rides, but if you are sensitive to extra weight, it's easy to carry the battery pack in your pocket.
While I certainly had no problems with mounting a light on my helmet, if there's one thing that I've come away from my adventures (and misadventures) on the road believing it's that you can't be too visible and that having a "spare" is essential for more things that just tires. So what if I wanted to mount another light on my bike, or another light on my helmet and the Piko 3 on my bike? How would I do that? There just wasn't a good way to mount a light onto my aerobars of choice – the Zipp VukaAero. So I channeled my semi-dormant engineering self and got to work rectifying the situation. What I wanted was to have a horizontal handlebar-esque section out near my hands. I run ski-bend extensions, which makes this a bit easier, but even with chicane or s-bend extensions, this will still work. Depending on how wide your extensions are, you can also mount your computer out there as well, which is nice for being able to see, for example, your watts while still being able to see a lot of the road. Of course, I viewed the pipe as a temporary solution, only for my light, as I put a water bottle between my bars during races. So I knew that whatever I made needed to be easily removable. I decided that a fish-mouthed piece of PVC pipe secured by zip-ties would fit the bill nicely. Fishmouthing it would allow it to anchor securely to the bars. And the zip-ties would hold it tight without making it too permanent. And so I set off for Home Depot to purchase supplies, plus of course some inevitable impulse buys – like colored electrical tape – that I always seem to acquire whenever I go there.
Fortunately, PVC pipe in 3/4" Schedule 40 dimensions has an outer diameter of almost exactly 26.2mm. 1" Schedule 40 pipe unfortunately has an OD just enough larger than 31.8 to be unworkable. So if you want to fabricate a section of pseudo-handlebar, you need to use the smaller stuff and shim it up. PVC pipe is dirt cheap – 10ft of 3/4" pipe cost me $1.87 plus tax at Home Depot – and also really easy to work with. You can hacksaw through it very fast and "machine" it very quickly using a Dremel tool.
The piece you see took me about 5minutes to make. I traced a 11.1mm semi-circle on both sides of the section of pipe, and then just cut inside the lines using a sanding bit on my dremel. A few intermediate checks against the extensions to make sure it was contoured correctly, and voila. Once I was sure it fit, I drilled it through, allowing me to pass a zip-tie through on each side to anchor it securely to the bars. And now I have a very visible location to mount my very bright lights, while also allowing me to have an additional light space on my helmet.
So you all now have no excuse for not being extra visible. And since I have a video camera, I have no excuse for not actually showing you a little bit of the Piko 3 in action. So here it is, both a comparison with my previous benchmark lights – the Fenix 105 headlamp module and the 40 lumen Blackburn Flea. There's also a quick overview of how I mounted the light and battery on my aerobars, and also a bit on operating the light. While I didn't spend much time talking about dispersion angle before, if you watch the clip, you'll see the importance. The Fenix 105 lumen headlamp module runs a very tight dispersion angle, what you'd expect from something designed for close-up work. But as a result, the light can be very easy to miss. In this video, I ended up pointing the Fenix slightly away from the camera, and it ends up almost being invisible at 100m despite having almost triple the output of the Flea. The Flea does quite well largely because the beam is dispersed extremely wide, as there is basically no guidance at all. The domed caps of LEDs just sit out in the in front of the plastic housing. This makes for great visibility, but it isn't as practical for illumination. The 15deg angle of the Lupine provides, as you might expect from a light geared towards MTBers, a very good spread, still very visible from an off-center position. And the 550lumen output is impossible to miss, even at the height of daylight.
You can buy Lupine lights in the US through their distributor Gretna, as well as many other retailers. Lupine's website is Lupine.de and it also has links to both international distributors and Lupine's direct e-store.