Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Review: Dinotte Taillight

Dinotte setup a deal for employees of my company, so I took the opportunity to buy one of their tail-lights, since my next-to-last Vista-lite was failing, and I can't seem to buy Vista-lites anymore. Lots of folks had raved about how bright it was, so it didn't seem like it would be a big risk.

I got the "Pro" version, since that's the one that runs off AA batteries, which would be most useful for touring. For commuting, NiMH batteries from Battery Space have proven themselves over and over again. The light is bright. Indeed, it's so incredibly bright that it can serve as an emergency light at night for flat repair, and it paints the road behind you red if you point it at the ground. The one time I got it mounted on my chainstays, my brother who was drafting me complained that it blinded me and I had to turn the light down to its lowest setting so as not to irritate him.

The Achille's heel of the system, however, is the mount. A rubber O-ring combines with a notch on the light engine itself to mount onto a seat post or a seat tube. A separate pouch with the AA batteries mounts elsewhere with a hook-and-loop fastener. The hook-and-loop fastener is not very secure, and frequently moves during the ride: it's tough to find a place for it on the bike. But the real problem is the seat-post/seat tube mounting. Seat posts won't work if you're in the habit of using a carradice saddlebag. Seat tube mounting has the annoying feature of possibly hitting your thigh, and also not working with panniers. There's also a lot of wasted light in this system, since most of the light goes down to shine on the road instead of penetrating a driver's eyes.

You would think that the same O-ring system could work for mounting the light onto the seat stays, and you would be wrong. Seat stays are angled the other way from a seat tube, and don't angle the light correctly. On top of that, seat stays are too skinny for the O-ring and the light-engine notch to have adequate purchase.

Another fellow on the net suggested using Cateye's Small Parts Store to hunt for parts for mounting the Dinotte light onto the chainstays or seat stays. The BP-5, for instance, will wrap around the light engine with no problems whatsoever. Other collars seem like they would be perfect for wrapping around the stays. I ordered a bunch for $10 and tried them. The problem is that the geometry of the light engine is such that seat stay mounting is not practical: the engine itself gets in the way of you mounting it on the seat stay with the length protruding back into the seat stay. I had better luck with chain stay mounting, but try as I might, I could not get the mounting to be stable: road shock and vibration would knock it loose and then I would lose the correct angle for the light. All in all, it was easier to switch back to seat tube mounting, which is less than satisfactory if you actively commute with panniers or a saddlebag. And of course, there's no easy way to mount it onto a rack as well --- you simply have to keep ordering stuff from the Cateye small parts catalog until you find something that works for your rack, a frustrating experience at best.

In conclusion, I will keep my Dinotte, but am sad that I cannot use it for touring or any kind of serious night utility riding. The fact that I am able to keep a full set of clothes at my employer and do laundry at work is what keeps me from sending it back to the manufacturer. For the cost of the light ($120 MSRP), I feel that a full set of mounting options is necessary without any of the kludges I had to go through to get things to work. As it is, I will stick with my vista-lite for touring, or a $20 Cat-Eye when that vista-lite finally dies. I cannot in all honesty recommend the Dinotte for serious use on utility or touring bicycles: it is clear that their audience is that long distance randonneur or night racer, not the utility cyclist who has to carry any kind of gear at all.

Two thumbs down for the cost and lack of utility.

[Update: I've found a light that addresses my issues for cheaper]
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