Lighting the Way: Pinnacle Update (Part I)

Since lugging the 1981 Free Spirit Pinnacle road bike back to school, it’s been a battle with thumbtacks and flat tires. But there has been another problem I’ve been facing: having to ride the bike after dusk…

Early Warning: Different parts of this post were written at different times. Thus, things may sound “strange.”

Generally, it’s never a good idea to ride a bike at night. But there are some moments where things don’t work out and you have to anyways.

I’ve been riding the Pinnacle on the sidewalks through campus at night. Unlike the day, very few people are walking through our campus. And if there is someone, it’s easy to maneuver around them and continue on their way.

But there’s one problem: light. While the campus is lit fairly good, it’s a good idea to install headlights and taillights to “see and be seen.”

Choosing a Light Set

And what better time to look at lights than now? The Pinnacle is getting some downtime as the two new inner tubes I purchased are being shipped to me. (I decided to try some from an online vendor, and not take any more risks with the CST tubes from Walmart.)

When I picked up my last batch of tubes, I briefly looked at the lights Walmart offered in their bicycling department. Then I compared the ones from the online bike parts vendor I used.

I wasn’t as satisfied with the online selection. They were more expensive than the Bell-branded lights at Walmart, and didn’t provide very good details about the light output and visibility. They, however, did provide a good battery life estimate.

When I went back to Walmart, I discovered that there were actually a multitude of offerings right at Walmart. I narrowed my search to two, as I wanted to get both the headlight and taillight in one package.

Option #1: Zefal “Super Bright”

Front of the Zefal packaging

The first one I looked at was the Zefal “Super Bright” aluminum light set. This light kit was $24.94, and claimed it had an output distance of 587′ for the headlight and 2000′ for the taillight. Brightness was at 108 lumens for the front, and 3 lumens for the taillight.

There was one thing that made me like this light: the rigid construction and mounting system. The Zefal had a weather-proof aluminum housing and proper mounting system in comparison to the Bell. The headlight also had a telescoping magnifier on the front, allowing you to adjust the beam width.

The rear of the packaging gives you extra details, including more about the mounting system.

Another bonus was that it was made by Todson. They also made the Hutchinson inner tubes I used in the Huffy Superia I used to own, which were pretty thick and good quality tubes that held air fairly well.

But this contender had some real downfalls. The first was the packaging made no claim of the expected battery life in both the headlight and taillight. The second was the taillight actually used CR2032 batteries, which are not as nice as the AA option for the Bell.

The third was the claim of the 2000′ viewing distance on the taillight. In contrast, the Bell boasted a 10′ viewing distance with the taillight at 10 lumens. I just find the 2000′ viewing distance at just 3 lumens slightly erroneous and hard to believe.

The headlight also had just one LED.

Option #2: Bell Lumina Hi-Lumen

Front of the packaging.

Bell has had its ups and downs for me. The Bell tire pumps and helmets I’ve owned have been great quality, but the Bell-branded CST tubes I’ve been buying for the Pinnacle have varied dramatically in quality.

The Bell Lumina Hi-Lumen (I’m just going to call it the “Lumina”) light set was $19.96. The headlight boasts a viewing distance of 178′ and the taillight a viewing distance of 10′ at 10 lumens. The headlight has two brightness settings: low, at 70 lumens, and high at 150 lumens. The headlight has an estimated battery life of 16/22 hours (low, high brightness, respectively) and 65 hours in strobe mode, and the taillight an estimated battery life of 45/120 hours (constant, strobe modes, respectively.)

The Lumina allows you to mount the lights to the bike without any tools. They’re mounted using straps, and the lights hook onto the straps. This can also be a downfall, as I discuss later.

The value of the Lumina was much better than the Zefal. The Lumina offers a battery life estimate, two LEDs in the headlight, and more lumens (in the high setting) than the Zefal. All for a couple dollars less. It’s a basic light set. Reviews online are also fairly decent.

Rear of the Bell light’s packaging, which just gives instructions.

On the other end, the Lumina is made of plastic. Everything’s plastic. I’m worried about the durability and weather resistance of this light set. While I intend to unclip it every night and charge it back up, it’s easy to forget to take them off. What if it rains? I certainly don’t want to buy another set just because it couldn’t handle a little bit of rain.

I’m also worried about the straps. How will it hold up? Will the weather cause it to become distorted to the point where it will no longer firmly attach to the bike? Since my bike spends 100% of its life (now) out in the Missouri weather – where the weather can change on a dime – these are big concerns of mine.

So I picked the Bell Lumina set up. I’m hoping that it works fine to get me through until the Pinnacle’s replacement arrives. I’ll also keep updates on how it works.

Before we install the Lumina onto the Pinnacle, we have to install some other things first. Back to the bi-weekly topic of changing tubes.

Changing Tubes

Picking Tubes

“You get what you pay for.”

It’s a saying we’ve all heard. I’ve got by with buying generic or low-end stuff that functions just as well as the name-brand/expensive stuff. I thought it’d be the same with inner tubes. I mean, what can go wrong? It’s just a donut-shaped rubber balloon whose only responsibility is to hold air?

Well, apparently, things can and do go wrong. When the Pinnacle “restoration” project got back into swing, the Bell/CST tubes were doing a decent job at holding air. But as I bought replacements – the quality became questionable.

For instance, one tube I bought as a spare didn’t even make it thirty minutes after being inflated before suffering a catastrophic failure.

In another instance, the tube that’s presently installed in the rear tire of the Pinnacle has held air almost perfectly since it was installed back in August, despite the tube sitting for some time as a spare since it was originally purchased back in March.

Because of the disparity and the guessing whether or not I was going to receive a dud or a diamond, I decided to dump buying tubes from my local Walmart and go to the online bike parts vendor I’ve used in the past.

There, I was able to order two 27×1 1/4″ “Q-Tubes” from the vendor. The are rated at 1mm thickness. They have slightly longer valve stems, which are 48mm instead of the smaller, more typical 32mm valves that have been run on the Pinnacle since I bought it.

My bike parts vendor’s tube selection is actually quite slim, as the only options for the Pinnacle’s tire size was the Q-Tube I purchased (with the long valve stem) and the Kenda thorn-resistant tube that self-destructed on me back in August. Since I’m not ready to go through that again, I decided to try the Q-Tubes. (I also looked on Amazon, but their shipping prices were slightly higher and took longer to ship.)

Q-Tube First Impressions

After opening the package, the tube boxes were smashed and the tubes hanging out. Not a concern because it’s just tubes, but just an example of how a package can become mishandled easily.

The tubes are slightly… odd. They feel much heavier (and better quality*) than the CST tubes I’ve been running. (They should, since they’re slightly more expensive.) The tubes are covered in talcum powder, giving them a slightly odd smell that reminds me of gunpowder. They’re neatly folded.

There is one major concern right off the bat. The first tube was good, and I even inflated it slightly to check it out. The second (the one I did not test) tube’s valve stem was attached to the tube in a fairly questionable way that worries me.

A look at the second tube with the iffy valve stem connection to the tube. It looks like it was blobbed on or some hot rubber was poured on it.

Unlike the CST tubes, the Q-Tubes have a blue line running the length of the tube to aid in aligning the tube during installation. The first tube had a line that wasn’t printed very well, and was crooked. This has no issues with the functionality of the tube, but just something I wanted to point out.

These tubes were made in India, instead of China, by a company called GRL. Time well tell if they hold up better than the cheaper CST tubes. (Unlike the CST tubes and most others I’ve worked with, these tubes don’t mention the country of manufacture on the tube – just the box.)

The tubes were made in India by GRL.

I bought two tubes – one to install on the front, and the other to install on the rear to have its CST tube as a spare. But I’m now reconsidering that, especially since the valve stem on the second tube isn’t exactly up to my standards. The longer (48mm) valve stems, coupled with the stress that my handheld pump induces, concerns me more about the longevity of these tubes, as well.

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