Review: DiNotte Ultra 5 Pro Series headlight

Updated: Sunday February 25

Short version: Yow!

Longer version: DiNotte’s high-performance LED lights have become all the rage on the Commuting board at BikeForums.net. The big selling points have been:

  • Light output: The 5W model puts out 120 lumens, equivalent to a 12–15W halogen
  • Size: It’s tiny. About the size of a C-size battery.
  • Weight: 210 grams including battery. That’s less than half the weight of my NiteRider’s battery alone.
  • Mounting system: An O-ring loops around the front of the light, under the bar, and around the back of the light.
  • Batteries and run-time:
    • Pro Series: uses standard AA. Comes with NiMH rechargeables and a smart charger. You can use AA disposables in a pinch. Or you can buy more rechargeables to use in the charger. Runtime with 2300mAh rechargables is 3 hours on low, 1.5 hours on high, 20 hours on blink.
    • Endurance Series: uses a lithium-ion battery pack for 12 hours on low, 6 hours on high, 40+ hours on blink

The DiNotte Ultra 5 Pro Series comes complete with light, batteries, charger and mounting accessories

What held me back before was the price. $200 for the 5W Pro Series model was just too steep for me when I was headlight shopping late last summer. Plus, not having been completely satisfied with my first experience with LED lighting, a single-LED AA-powered headlight was a bit of a credibility stretch.

Yellow Bike needs a headlight and while shopping around I found that Nashbar now carries several models of the DiNotte lights at a discount, and, I had a coupon. At $135 after coupon, I was willing to give it a go.

In initial testing 12 feet from a blank wall in the living room, the hot spot is larger and about as bright as my NiteRider. Then I switched to high beam. High beam is incrementally brighter, not impressively so, but is certainly brighter than the NiteRider.

After “conditioning” the batteries according to the instructions, I set out for a week of riding. Boy, am I impressed.

Batteries and charger

The included charger and batteries are all off-the-shelf stuff. This represents a tremendous freedom from the usual proprietary batteries and chargers. You can use any NiMH rechargeable AA batteries in the charger. You can use the charger to recharge batteries for any other AA or AAA device. Once I run out of disposables for my other lights, I’ll be switching to rechargeables and using the DiNotte’s charger to charge them.

Off-the-rack batteries and charger means it’s cheap and easy to have extra sets of batteries, which nicely overcomes the issues of run time and charging time. Worst case, you can pop in a set of disposables, but this light eats those for breakfast. It’s best to stick with the rechargeables.

The charger itself has a folding plug in the back. Pop in the batteries, unfold the prongs and plug it in to an outlet. There are no extra cords to fuss with, get tangled or to lose.

This doesn’t appear to be a quick-charger. It seemed to take three or four hours from the time I plugged it in to the time the green light first came on. The light indicates an 80% or better charge. It’s recommended you leave the batteries on charge overnight for full capacity charging.

Run time seems close to the advertised 1:40 on high-beam and 3:00 on low-beam. I haven’t yet run it long enough to run the batteries down to the “limp home” mode. I have, however, run the light long enough for the low-battery warning, and the warning seems consistent with the expected run times.

The low-battery warning is nice. The light gives a single Uzi Burst Mode (see below) before switching to low-beam. It also changes its indicator light from green to red.

Mounting and operation

An O-ring wraps around the bars to hold the light in placeMounting the DiNotte Ultra 5 to the bars couldn’t be easier.

Step one: Slip the O-ring under the bars, then over the ends of the light.

There are no other steps.

A grippy silicone pad on the bottom of the light keeps the DiNotte in place. It’s more stable over bumps than the standard screw-clamp-around-the-bars mounting system of either my CatEye EL-210, or my NiteRider TrailRat.

Once mounted, the light simply stays in place, pointed where I last pointed it. It’s easy to re-aim, and it stays right there, over all manner of bumps, potholes and bouncing the snow and slush off the bike at my destination.

The ingenious thing about this mounting system is that it works right over other stuff clamped to the bars. I’ve chosen to hang the light from the bottom of the bars below the cyclometer. Effectively, both devices use the same bar space. This has cleaned up my bars both physically and aesthetically.

Additionally, the O-ring lets you mount the light elsewhere—the side of the stem, a fork, or on the included helmet mount. Mounting it to something smaller, like a front rack strut, would require either a smaller O-ring or some sort of shim between the light and the strut.

As a quick-release, the O-ring setup works better than most. There are no fussy catches to work and nothing to align when remounting it. I was easily able to remove and remount the DiNotte while wearing winter cycling gloves, something that’s an iffy proposition with all of my other lights.

Winter cycling gloves also don’t interfere with operating the switch, something that’s a problem with every other light I own. Although I always try to use the TrailRat’s switch with my gloves on, it’s a rare occasion when I don’t have to take them off to work its recessed, rubber-booted switch.

My CatEye headlight and taillights don’t have enough tactile feedback to be felt through the gloves. And those switches seem to activate more easily inside my backpack than when on the bike.

DiNotte solves both problems simply. The switch sticks out—it’s not recessed. I suppose I could push it with my nose or an elbow, were I so inclined. I can see and feel it click too. But, it takes a double-click to turn it on. So far, I haven’t opened my backpack or pulled it out of my pocket to find it blazing. While it’s on, a single-click toggles between high-beam and low-beam. Click-and-hold turns it off if it’s on, or activates Uzi Burst Mode (see below) if it’s off.

Finally, the switch has a pilot light that’s green when the light is on and turns red to warn of low-battery.

Daytime Use

During the past few months, I’ve taken to riding with my lights on during the day. Cars, trucks, buses and motorcycles all use Daytime Running Lights (DRLs), and it makes sense to me that I should too, if for no other reason than drivers expect that something with lights is a moving object that requires their attention.

I with run the halogen tilted up a bit to windshield level, and set the CatEye EL-210 on blinkie mode. I’ve found it helps drivers notice me and it informs them that I’m probably not a homeless person noodling along at wobble speed. Most of the time, rather than automatically pull out in front of me, they seem to pause, assess my closing speed and pull out only if it seems safe.

Using the DiNotte Ultra 5 as a DRL, I first tried its blink mode. Blink mode is an understatement. Think of it as Uzi Burst Mode. The thing strobes, RAT-A-TAT-TAT, rest, RAT-A-TAT-TAT, rest, RAT-A-TAT-TAT on what I think is its high-beam brightness. It DEMANDS attention and it gets respect. I’ve not bothered to test it in conjunction with the halogen. The DiNotte alone is a fantastic DRL.

Daytime riding this week has been a buffet of weather conditions. I’ve ridden in snow, rain, fog and in the clear. We’ve had heavy overcast, cloudy, cloudy-bright and full sun. I’ve ridden into the rising sun, along with the noontime sun, and with the setting sun at my back. In every single case, the DiNotte’s Uzi Burst Mode has stood out and made me visible.

I’ve not had a single car pull out in front of me or cross in front of me all week. I’ve never had cars stop so far ahead of me and wait, and wait, and wait, until I pass by. I’ve been half a block away from cars that had all intentions of rolling through a stop sign, which then screech to a halt and wait and let me pass.

If something like that happened once or twice, I’d say it was random. But it’s been happening all week, with absolute regularity and predictability. It’s just incredible.

Even if you never ride at night, the DiNotte Ultra 5 belongs on your bars as a DRL. Set it on Uzi Burst Mode. Then watch it stop traffic for you to pass.

After Dark

Riding at night, I’ve tried the DiNotte Ultra 5 both on its own and as a supplement to my NiteRider TrailRat 10W halogen. Here, while I’m equally impressed, the results are less dramatic.

The reason is that the 5W version of the DiNotte is a “flood” light, rather than a “spot” light. It’s certainly brighter than the TrailRat, but since the light is spread over a wider area, it’s also less intense at any given point.

The DiNotte throws a broad, flat, spread of blue-white light. Off-road or in sections without streetlights, it illuminates adequately for speeds of up to 15 MPH or so.

Under streetlights, it can’t quite compete. It’s noticeable only along curbs and as it lights up signs and reflectors. It does this admirably, but there’s not as much light on the road surface as I’d like. On the street, I found the combination of the NiteRider’s spot and the DiNotte’s flood gave me what I’ve been looking for in lighting. My old eyes need a patch of more concentrated light just ahead.

Something similar could be accomplished with the DiNotte Dual, a combo package featuring a 3W spot with the 5W flood.

I’ll be trying it with two of the Ultra 5 floods. Yes, I like the DiNotte Ultra 5 so much, I’ve already ordered a second one, since this first one had already found a home on my commuter rig’s bars, alongside the TrailRat. (I’ve already removed the CatEye EL-210, relegating it to the spare parts box.)

The second DiNotte Ultra 5 will go on my fair-weather road bike as a DRL. And if I’ll be out late on the roadie, I’ll borrow the one from the commuter for use as a second light. Hopefully, the two floods will merge to give me that patch of more concentrated light that my old eyes need.

One Response to “Review: DiNotte Ultra 5 Pro Series headlight”

  1. bikerjohn Says:

    Excellent review, Bruce!
    Thank you for the concise informative write-up.