Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Light From Within

What is the most you would pay for a tool?

There have been times when I would have paid $10,000,000.00 for a working flashlight. A flashlight is like running water, in that you never think about it until you desperately need it. That’s generally when you reach into your tool kit, top case, or tank bag , grab the light, and curse at the pale yellow beam dribbling through the lens. Or worse, after testing the light before taking a trip (and replacing the batteries with fresh ones), you discover the bulb's frail filament has succumbed to the machine’s vibration (howsoever slight). But you will discover this in the dark, on the shoulder of a deserted road -- as the rain begins to fall.

Years ago, I found myself riding up to a mountain hideaway with a black-haired honey clinging to the pillion. We took the trip in easy stages, timing our arrival to coincide with the sliver of a moon rising over a lake. The machine was a legendary 1975 Kawasaki 750 triple (the widow-maker). This primitive fire-breathing two-stroke Komodo street dragon had five moving parts, a battery, and some wires. It was the golden-era of motorcycling, when ailing bikes didn’t have to go a mechanical neurosurgeon.

The 1975 Kawasaki 750 had an operating personality similar to a Komodo Dragon.

We were on a back road running through a forest in the Sullivan County Catskills, when the familiar “yingggggg-- ying, ying” of the engine went silent and the headlight went out. Fortunately, the road was straight and coming to halt blacked out in the darkness was not a problem. There is generally some sense of light on all but the darkest of overcast nights, and I could see enough to push the bike to side of the road.

I reached into my pack (strapped to the sissy bar) and pulled out the finest specimen of a $1.50 drugstore flashlight. You may remember the type: a thin aluminum tube with a metal end cap and a bulb encased in a red plastic lens holder. The switch was a two-cent plastic slider that brought a thin metal strip into contact with the base of the bulb.

I hit the switch and an anemic beam of light flickered and dimmed. I whacked the tube with my hand and the light got much brighter for about five seconds. I whacked it again, and the top flew off into the dark night, followed by the batteries.

“Shit,” I hissed.

“I have a light, sort of,” giggled the babe. Feeling around in her stuff, she produced a kind of vibrator, that was part adult love-making toy, and part flashlight. I had never seen anything like it. She switched it on.

“What the hell is that,” I asked.

“I thought it might be fun this weekend,” she said.

I know a good time when I see one and had the presence of mind to shut up as I considered the possibilities.

It wasn’t much different from the cheap light that had come apart in my hand, except for the lens, which instead of a red plastic collar surrounding a bulb, was a glowing, six-inch long phallus. (See link above.) Attempts to separate the artificial schwanstucker from the light were unsuccessful. It was glued in pretty tightly.

“Never mind,” I said. “It gives off enough light to check the fuse.” (You read that correctly. The bike had one fuse, a glass tube encased in a rubber cover with a spare, mounted to the frame under the seat. “You hold the light and I’ll change it.”

It was downright peculiar to be working on my bike by the light of a penis, but the poetic justice of the situation appealed to my writer’s sensibility. The woman held the glowing dick over my head while I popped the old fuse out, and fumbled with the new one. I almost had the machine back together again, when this gentle beauty said, “There’s a car coming.”

Before I could say a word, she started signaling the approaching vehicle with the shining penis. “Don’t wave that at anybody,” I hissed. But I was too late. The red flashing roof lights of the car came on a second later.

“Shit,” I said for the second time that night.

The cops could barely keep a straight face as I explained the situation. The spotlight on the squad car bathed the bike in white penetrating light. My girlfriend looked great in her boots, jeans and leather jacket, holding a glowing dick like some strange version of the Statue of Sexual Liberty. The parts of my broken flashlight were retrieved, and the Kawasaki started on the second kick. Quite frankly, it was a great weekend and I often wonder what’s she’s doing now.

But since then, I haven’t skimped when it comes to flashlights. And I discovered that size isn’t everything. Pound for pound, nothing performs like a Mini Maglite.

My love affair with 2AA Mini Maglites has been going on for years. The black Mini Maglite in my toolkit is 15 years old. It has been dropped on concrete, stones, and in a creek. It has been left out in the rain without any apparent ill affects. It is still essential that the batteries get checked and changed or else the operator will still find himself dealing with the pale yellow light.

The 2AA Mini Maglite has many pluses. They are:
1) Virtually indestructible.
2) No switches to break. You turn it on by rotating the head. (It can’t be switched on by accident in your pocket or top case.
3) Spare bulb in the base of the light.
4) Beam focuses from flood to spot.
5) Candle feature let’s you light up the interior of a tent.
6) Nite Ize makes a useful Glow-Spot shade for emergencies that fit this light.

It has one drawback:
a) It is round and it will roll.

The cost of the standard Mini Maglite varies from $9.99 to $12.99. You won’t cry if you lose it, but it will last indefinitely if you keep track of it. So what? You all know this. Anyone who has done serious camping is aware of the Mini Maglite.

Yet on two occasions, I reached for my Mini Maglite with fresh batteries and found the bulb had blown. I suspect the vibration from the bike broke the filament in the bulb. Hence I started to experiment with LED flashlights. Mini Maglite makes one in the 2AA category, but it is $24.00. In 1960, $24 bought a car, a pint of whiskey, and companionship for a weekend. I balk at spending $24 for a mini flashlight.

You can pay up to $200 -- or more -- for a military spec L.E.D flashlight. They have a 
circuit to regulate brightness as the batteries wear down. L.E.D. lights have metal bodies
as they give off heat which the tubes serve to dissipate. 

Nite Ize is a US company that makes a lot of cool stuff for Mini Maglites. These include holsters, stands, safety gear, and a rubber “Lite Bite” that lets you hold a Mini Maglite in your teeth. The most practical of this stuff is their L.E.D. Upgrade Combo kit for the 2AA Mini Maglite. For $10 bucks, this kit enables you to convert your existing Mini Maglites into L.E.D. flashlights. Ten dollars is $14 bucks cheaper than the new Mini Maglites.

I gave it shot. The kit consists of two parts. The top is a little light basket with three L.E.D.s in it. It takes two seconds to install it. The bottom piece is a push-button switch. The light will still work like the original, in that you must turn the top to first switch it on. Theoretically, you focus it to suit your needs, and then use the push-button switch to avoid having to refocus it.

Don’t bother installing the push-button switch. The focus of the light barely changes no matter how you turn the top, and the push-button makes it very easy to switch the light on in your pocket. Is the top part still worth $10? You bet. Especially if you have four or five Mini-Maglites you want to convert. The unit gives off a white light while dramatically extending the life of the batteries. The pattern is that of a flood light which is fine for maintenance, map reading, or camp activities.

Then my riding partner Dick Bregstein gave me a Husky L.E.D. mini flashlight. This Chinese-made unit is also all metal, has 12 L.E.Ds, uses 3 AA batteries in a “carriage” and throws off a brilliant white flood light, with a slight blue tint to it. It uses a stiff push-button switch that will not depress easily in your pocket. It is $5.99. It also has a notched bezel that keeps it from rolling. It’s hard to get around the price. The light works so well, it has become the “house” flashlight.

What do I carry on my bike? The $24 L.E.D Mini Maglite! Why? Couple of reasons. It works the best. I like the company. It is a staunch US manufacturer which means quality jobs in this country. (Read their manufacturing philosophy.) You can still focus this beam. And it fits nicely into a headband I got to turn it into a “headlamp.” Besides, it's red and matches my bike. The spare light is a Nite Ize conversion. I still love Mini Maglites. For all practical purposes, the $5.99 Husky is as good as anything. The switch will eventually fail, but not before you got your $6 bucks out of it. I just hate to contribute to a contrived economy -- like China's -- that has very little regard for working conditions or the environment. In that respect, it fails to meet my criteria. Besides, there is something about buying stuff once, and having it forever.

Please note: I bought all of the equipment mentioned above -- for the exception of the Husky flashlight that Dick Bregstein bought. I accepted no payment, nor any consideration, in my evaluation of these products. This is not something I insist on... It's just that no one offered.

©Copyright Jack Riepe 2008
AKA The Lindbergh Baby (Mac-Pac)
AKA Vindak8r (Motorcycle Views)
AKA The Chamberlain -- PS (With A Shrug)


redlegsrides said...

Flashlight: Usually a cylindrical metal tube used to store dead batteries.

I am particular to the lights you mention that require expensive batteries but give off enough light to stun you. Too bad they only have an hour of life. On the bike, I carry a windup flashlight with three modes of LEDs, 1-3-5 depending on how much light you want.


Jack Riepe said...

Dear Charlie6 (Dom):

Which brand of windup light? I got one from Blsck and Decker, and it stinks. Thanks for dropping by tonight.

Fondest regards,

Anonymous said...


Be still my heart. A technical article by Jumpin' Jack Riepe. Will wonders never cease. Nice job.

Ride Safe,


Jack Riepe said...

Dear Joe:

I realize that getting a technical article from me is a bit odd, like getting sense from Congress, but it does happen. Thanks for commentig. Your name has been entered into the monthly contest, which is up on Wednesday.

Fondest regards,

John said...

Yeah, we believe you Jack. You could change a fuse, sure you could. I am thinking that the whole story is pure fabrication!

Funny as hell, though!

Anonymous said...

<< Besides, it's red and matches my bike. >>

Ahhhhhh, Jack. NOW you're getting in touch with your feminine side!

Jack Riepe said...

Dear John:

A master fuse could be found on in small rubber holder on this model, attached to the frame under the seat. It also held one spare fuse, but had room for two.

The manual referred to this but in the most ridiculous way. It pointed to the bike from 30 feet away, with a black arrow, that said, "fuse and spare." It was like pointing at Washington, DC and saying, "Assholes."

This story is absolutely true. I'm sure the cops, now retired, still talk about it. You have been entered into the monthly contest.

Fondest regards.

Anonymous said...

Jack, I also share your affinity to flashlights as well as pocket knives.
Mini Mag lights are a great value and I own several in a variety of sizes.
My light that accompanies my tool bag is of the LED variety. Picked it up on the Sturgis trip in Aladdin,Wyo. population 15 on a busy day. They have a 110 year old general store and I left a dollar there for each one of them. (years)
Thanks for the review,
Grandad 43
PS 14

motonomad said...

yet another fun post in keeping with your motto of never letting the truth get in the way of a good story.

While en route to the MOA National in DuQuoin, IL in 1992, my riding buddies and I enjoyed watching a late arrival attempt to set up his tent in the dark without benefit of a flashlight. Eventually, we supplied both the light and the assistance one would expect from fellow riders. Yes, good lighting in unforseen dark circumstances is a must.

BMW-Dick said...

Dear Jack:
Cute story about flashlights, which proves that you are a talented writer who can turn engineering drivel into a fun preseentation. I especially liked the link (vibrator, that was part adult love-making toy, and part flashlight.) which caused Debbie Boone's,"You Light Up My Life" to run round and round in my brain.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Granddad43 (Dave)

I was glad to hear that you bought a Mini Maglite in Sturgis. That makes it very special in my mind. And if you don't lose the light, you'll probably have it ten or 15 years.

Thanks for reading and commenting. Your name has been entered into the September contest.

Fondest regards,

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Motonomad (Pete):

I cannot tell you how often I was the guy struggling in the dark until I learned my lesson. Yet I regreet this story was absolutely true. In fact, there was as little more to it which I will relate in my next post.

It was god to see your comment.

Fondest regards,

Jack Riepe said...

Dear BMWDick (Bregstein):

Thank you for your kind comments. I was out with Pete yesterday, who took two pictures of me at Jumbo Jimmy's Crab Shack and Bar, down in Maryland. I look like a bloatosaurus in one of them.

I think my next five stories will be about dieting.

Fondest regards,