Lights, Action, Shred!
Night riding season is just around the corner. Lighting systems have historically been big-ticket items - a daunting financial investment for entry-level night riders. Today, however, several affordable options are on the market that over-deliver at entry-level prices. If you already have a bomber system, feel free to read through to see what’s new, but this review is essentially aimed at riders contemplating an initial purchase.
Science & Technobabble Reflectors:
You'll need to know some basics on the science and technology behind riding at night. What are the units of lumens and lux? What’s better: a focused beam or a spread array? What about charging rates? How long are the burn times at different settings? Putting a number on brightness:
Everyone, makes a big deal about lumens. When people talk lumens, they’re talking about how many photons of light are emitted by a light source. lights that put out 2000 lumens are pretty bright - on paper - but a more useful measure would be "lux," which is a measure of how much light is actually hitting things in front of you. Making shapes:
Which brings us to beam pattern. Yes, 2000 lumens is pretty darn bright; but consider this: a typical car headlight only puts out about 1200 lumens [1
]. On high beam. And 700 on low beam. With two headlights, that’s 2400 lumens and 1400 lumens, respectively. And yet you can safely rocket around on bumpy back roads at 100+ km/h.
In order to create a level playing field, we reviewed handlebar mount lights only. A handlebar-mounted light creates shadows that contrast with obstacles on the trail Helmet-mounted light tend to "flatten out" the terrain because the source is in the same plane as your vision.
The contrast from that handlebar mount point allows one to better judge speed and size up obstacles, but we’d recommend complementing that handlebar light with a helmet-mounted light that’s a bit less powerful. You'll want the dominant light at the handlebar for contrast, and use the second light source to look around corners and mitigate the jiggling effect of the bike-mounted beam. And, there's the safety factor - two lights are always better than one.
Your system may be cranking out 2000 lumens, but pointing them in the right direction is the key to performance. The lamp's reflector and lense determine how that beam is being broadcast to the landscape in front of you. A narrow beam only shows you a small soda straw view of the world and will bounce around with the slightest movement of the handlebar. Not good when you’re adrift in a sea of roots and rocks with multiple line choices on a technical trail. On the other hand, a very wide beam means that your precious lumens have to be shared across a large area, resulting in a dimmer view with reduced contrast, that doesn't project as far.Focus:
Another aspect to consider in the beam pattern is the transition from light to dark. A sudden drop-off from light to dark can strain your eyes and hide crucial information regarding line choice. Why? It’s because that hard edge from light to dark makes it more difficult to pick up clues with your peripheral vision. A reflector and lens combination that offers a smoother light to dark drop off allows your eyes to see and analyze that data more accurately.
Narrow "spot" beams broadcast farther ahead, but compromise peripheral vision.
"Flood" type reflectors broadcast a wider, softer-edged beam that provides more information.
Back to lux. Lumens aside, lux describes how many of those bright little photons fall on a surface and are being reflected back to your eyes. If a light emits 2000 lumens, but has a lousy reflector - measured in lux, your beam pattern will be less than ideal. A properly designed reflector and lens will let you see better because the light is being focused where it does the most good. In an ideal world this would provide a wide, flat, powerful beam, with an even fade to the sides for unhampered peripheral vision, that illuminates from just in front of your wheel to a distance ahead where you'd naturally be focused at speed. Lamp technology:
Okay, the last bit of tech has to do with light sources. LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes) with shaped reflectors are now the norm for night riding lights. LEDs create light by resisting electricity. This generates heat, and heat robs LEDs of performance, making your light output fade as they get hotter. This is typically hard to notice because at the same time that your light is dimming, your eyes are adjusting and compensating to the reduced light available. It’s something to bear in mind as a light with a good heat sink will give you a longer lasting and consistent light vs. a light with a poor heat sink that fades minutes into your ride.
Now that we’ve got that background out of the way we can focus on helping you get the best light for the buck and open up your dark winter evenings to a whole new world of shred.
NiteRider Lumina Dual 1800 Boost
• $149.99 USD
• Weight: 258 grams
• 1800 lumens (boost mode)
• Runtime at full power: 45 minutes
• Recharge time: 3 hours
The Lumina Dual 1800 boost is designed to disperse light in a wide, smooth beam. There are five light levels varying from 100 lumens in "walk" mode up to the 1800 lumens on tap in "boost" mode. It has a lock mode for the initial power-up to prevent accidentally draining your battery. There’s a bit of sidelight visibility for safety while pedaling to the trails or commuting. The handlebar clamp will fit standard and oversized 35mm handlebars, and there is a helmet mount available, sold separately.
The Lumina installation is pretty straightforward and easy. There is a quick release mechanism so that you can remove the light from the clamp for charging, and you won't have to install the clamp each time you head out. To install the clamp you basically unscrew the bolt, release the sliding mechanism, place it on the bar, push it back into place and re-tighten. I find if I placed the clamp over the narrower part of the bar and then slid it over towards the stem where I want to have it set, it was easier to tighten than trying to slip the screw back into place at the widest point. The clamp has a built in rubber gasket on the inside, which helps keep the light from sliding on the bar.
Once on the trail, this light was extremely bright in boost mode and offered excellent forward and sidelight. I could readily see features way up the trail as well as potential hazards on the sides when in high mode. I utilized the brighter "boost" mode when descending more technical trail and it was similar to boost style modes the other lights tested. I used low (350 lumens) and medium (700 lumens) mode on the climbs and flat sections, and a mix of high (1500 lumens) and boost (1800 lumens) for all the descents. Battery power was more than sufficient for the one-hour loop we tested on. Note that maximum run time on "boost" mode is only 45 minutes, so it's important to manage your time and plan to utilize the different modes to minimize your "boost" usage. Or say "f--k it" and risk stumbling out in the dark. The light was easy to use—just one simple power button that allows you to toggle through the five different light levels and flash modes. Bonus: the button will turn red when the battery is nearing empty.
I like the compact size of this light. Aside from the bulkier-than-I-prefer mount, it's competitively priced and more than capable of illuminating your night rides, with ample battery power even in the non-boost settings.
Niterider Lumina Dual 1800 Boost
Bright, no hot spots+
Good selection of riding modes +
No small parts to lose
Handlebar mount is bulky-
No mode or battery level indicator
Best Budget Light
Cateye AMPP 1100
• $99.95 USD
• Weight: 200 grams
• 1100 lumens (boost mode)
• Runtime at full power: 1.5 hours
• Recharge time: 3 - 5 hours
Cateye has been in the night riding game for a while, and has a nice assortment of lights, including their Volt 6000 that puts out a mind numbing, 6000 lumens. But, that’s an $800 toy! With this article being aimed more at entry-level night riders, the light that caught our eye for best value and performance (on paper) was the AMPP 1100.
The AMPP 1100 has five different light modes, from high to flashing for daytime and commuting visibility to high-speed trail riding. It utilizes "Opticube" lens technology to throw a powerful, yet wide beam, designed to offer excellent peripheral illumination. It has a large capacity lithium-ion battery with a built-in fast charging circuit that allows a full tank in approximately three hours. The light operates with a single illuminated switch, which you press and hold to turn on, then toggle through the various settings. The switch has a three-level battery indicator that will turn from blue to yellow to red to warn you when your battery power is getting low. It also comes with a variety of mounting options: a flex tight strap for handlebars, helmet strap, and a fork-crown bracket for road bikes.
This light is super easy to install: one simply unscrews a plastic dial to release the threaded strap, places the loop around the handlebars, then replaces and tightens the dial until the light is securely in place (AKA the FlexTight™ Bracket). While one can accidentally drop the plastic dial, the parts are minimal and the bracket fits a variety of bar sizes without requiring any tools (note: it did not get tight enough to fit on a kids 31.8mm handlebar without adding an additional rubber sleeve). The light can easily be removed from the bracket with a quick release for easy charging and/or during transport if you don't want to accidentally lose your light on the highway.
The CatEye AMP1100 offered even forward light and had a somewhat wider beam compared to others in this review. Additionally, there is nice diffused taper on the edges of the beam, leading to a great balance of brightness and peripheral vision without any harsh spots or glare. We also appreciated the battery level indicator, that turned red to let us know it was time to pick up the pace and scurry on home.
The easy to use and versatile mounting system, wide beam pattern, useful battery indicator, and reasonable price tag make this light a great starter option for dipping your toes into the frigid waters of night riding.
Easy and slim mounting system+
Good beam pattern+
Useful battery indicator
Shorter view distance compared to others
Lowest Weight Light
Cygolite Metro Pro 1100 USB
• $99.95 USD
• Weight: 150 grams
• 1100 lumens (high)
• Runtime at full power: 1 hours
• Recharge time: 2.5 hours
The Metro Pro 1100 throws (you guessed it!) 1100 lumens on the trail via two LEDs. The optics are designed to project that light both far and wide to offer maximum useful visibility. It offers a mind melting (to me, anyway) nine light modes. I’m perfectly happy with high, medium, and low, and maybe a flasher for daytime visibility - but nine?!? It seems a bit excessive and it takes a while to cycle through the different options.
The Metro Pro is water-resistant and designed to take a beating. There is a light activation lockout to prevent accidental activation (it’d suck to drain your battery down on the drive to the trailhead). Mounting is handled via a beefy "Locktite" quick-release bracket so you should be able to easily transfer the light from bike to bike. On the downside, despite the simple clamp design, this light was not the easiest to install. Like some of the other clamps, you simply have to unscrew a threaded bolt and get it set to the proper length for the quick release mechanism, but it's a bit bulky and it takes a lot turning that knob to get a solid perch on the bars. We also had issues installing this mount on larger, 35mm diameter bars. The bracket wasn't quite big enough.
At 1100 lumens, this light was suitable for mountain biking. It's more of a spot beam, but still wide enough for full-speed descending. It projects quite far, so if you need to see objects from a distance, this is a good option compared to other more diffused beams. Being on the slimmer side in both the size and weight hurts the runtime a little bit compared to other lights, with Cygolite stating the maximum run time at full power is only one hour. Not a big deal, as our hour-long loop meant we always made it home fine with brightness to spare (although we definitely powered it down when climbing and on non technical trails to conserve battery power).
Given the price and the size, this would be a great option to throw in your pack as a backup for a "go to" in case you get caught out as the sun goes down Those who plan more involved night riding missions, will want a light offering a longer run time.
Cygolite Metro Pro 1100 USB
Large selection of light modes+
Clamp doesn't easily fit wider, 35 mm bars-
Short battery life
Bontrager Ion Pro RT
• $124.99 USD
• Weight: 192 grams
• 1300 lumens (high)
• Runtime at full power: 1.5 hours
• Recharge time: 7 hours
Bontrager's Ion Pro is another USB rechargeable light that offers five modes of illumination for safety during the day and high-speed trail riding after dark. It’s a smaller unit, about half the size of a pack of cigarettes. It utilizes Cree LEDs to put out a maximum of 1300 lumens and is capable of maintaining that output for up to 90 minutes. Additionally, you can connect to a Garmin Edge via Bluetooth to control the light, utilizing what Bontrager calls "always on" to enable one-touch control from your Garmin unit. This particular light includes a clamp that will fit bars up to 35mm, and there’s a "Blendr" compatible helmet mount available, too.
Much like the Cygolite and NiteRider, this light has a fixed thumb screw bracket system that fits a wide range of bar sizes (25.4-35.0mm). The bracket is slim and more compact and the bolt is shorter than the other similar styles, which seemed to make for an easier installation—I could even keep my gloves on. The light is removable from the bracket with the same basic quick release system you see on most the lights. Once tightened down, this light has a solid lock on the bar and I had zero issues, never having to re-tighten or realign the light's position.
This light is designed as more of a spotlight style, with a narrow, compact design. It offers a bit less spray (i.e. width) than some of the other lights, but the light is warmer in color and definitely bright enough, so navigating the contrasting elements of a technical descent at night was a piece of cake. Battery life for this light is on the longer end of high-mode run times. After a couple of test rides, this light always seemed to have more juice left in it than I had expected (given how I'd abused it). The recharge time for this light is suggested at seven hours, which is the longest time of the ten lights here. Maybe the extended run time makes up for that?
We didn't have an opportunity to sync the light with a Garmin unit for this testing cycle, but having battery status and wireless control through a Garmin or Bontrager Transmitr device would be ideal for someone who spends a lot of time riding in the dark. Overall, I was happy with the quality and brightness of this light and it's a great (and reasonably affordable) option for someone looking for compact and versatile light.
Bontrager ion Pro RT
Compact narrow & lightweight design+
No small parts to piss you off
Long recharge time
Blackburn Countdown 1600
• $160 USD
• Weight: 240 grams
• 1600 lumens (blitz mode)
• Runtime on high: 1.3 hours
• Recharge time: 4 hours
The Blackburn Countdown 1600 is a substantial light that weighs 240g and has some serious horsepower. Two lithium ion batteries inside the unit offer up to 60 minutes of eye-blinding "blitz" use, which is Blackburn’s name for their highest output. The Countdown 1600 is weather and dust sealed and is considered waterproof for up to 30 minutes to a depth of one meter (so, accidentally dropping it into the toilet is covered. Whew!). A handy display on the top of the unit shows remaining runtime regardless of which mode you’re in: blitz, high, medium, low, pulse, or strobe; hence the name, "Countdown."
Mounting the Countdown is a bit of an involved affair that requires spending about forever (just a few minutes longer than you want) unscrewing a small nut from a long, finely pitched screw. Mounting it to 35mm bars, you'll have to remove a rubber gasket and clamp the plastic mount directly on your bars. I'm a worry wart, so I fretted about scratching my nice carbon bars (no scratches during the test, at least). But...we somehow managed to break the bracket while trying to install the light, and had to request a replacement. Not the most confidence inspiring mount for this somewhat hefty light.
Performance-wise, the beam pattern is in the middle of the narrow vs. wide beam spectrum, and offers substantial illumination straight down the trail in high and especially the blitz mode. The trade off for that center-weighted reflector is a distinct edge to the beam, which makes for some distraction while ripping through dense undergrowth (branches tend to appear from 'nowhere') compared to lights with a wider, more even distribution of illumination. The top of the light unit has some fins for heat dissipation that seemed to do their thing, as I didn't notice any fading in brightness.
The standout feature of this light is the textual information display. While riding, I enjoyed seeing the estimated runtime remaining, as well as the current light mode. Instead of having to fumble around with my numb fingers and guess the mode of the light, the heads up display instantly told me which mode I was in, and I could stop second-guessing. The countdown timer also gave me that extra bit of zip when trying to beat the clock home (a whole new method for getting the motivation for some PRs).
Blackburn Countdown 1600
Informative heads up display+
High light output
Poor mounting bracket
Light and Motion Taz 2000
• $224.99 USD
• Weight: 216 grams
• 2000 lumens (high mode)
• Runtime at full power: 1.5 hours
• Recharge time: 4 hours
The Taz 2000 is touted by Light and Motion as the world’s most powerful battery integrated light (as in the battery and light are integrated into a single unit). Its CREE LED display is powered by two battery cells with a heat sink to maintain the 2000 lumen "high" output without the quick fade that some lights experience when used at maximum power. The optics have been specifically engineered to create a wide, flat beam that makes it ideal for a handlebar point of illumination by offering a powerful spot beam with an evenly diffused flood beam for peripheral illumination. This makes the Taz 2000 attractive to both road and trail cyclists who need serious wattage, but have slightly different needs: for roadies on the way to/from work/home there’s the spot power, but for trail riders the wide, diffuse beam tapering from the spot light is gold for peripheral illumination. Further, there are amber sidelights that allow good side visibility when pedaling on the road, but you can go full ninja with the flick of a switch and douse them when in the woods. Charging duties are handled by a micro USB port. The light is both waterproof and weather sealed, and also features a battery status indication light that changes color as the battery level drops.
The Taz is super easy to install, you just wrap the strap around any size bar, cinch it down, and you're ready to go. After testing all these lights, I find I prefer a simple rubber buckle cinch style mount—I don't want any small, easily dropped parts, and I don't want to have to use a tool to mount my light. Call it lazy, but when you're headed out for an evening ride and you don't know how dark it might get so you throw a "just in case" light in your pack, and then realize that you really do need that light... well at that point, the ease of installation does matter.
Light and Motion has always made phenomenal lights. I have a Seca and an older Imjin in the garage that have been my go-to photo mission lights for the past couple years (both external battery lights). I was excited to test the Taz to see how it compared to their external battery options. I was not disappointed. On the trail, the Taz has an exceptional beam pattern. It blasted plenty of light up the trail on the high power mode, which was noticeable in the dark sections compared to other lights in this review. At the same time, the beam closer to the the bike had a smooth, diffused feel which made for good side light and offered excellent trail detail when riding at high speeds. The light has four settings, high (2000), medium (1000), low (500) and pulse (500). I used the medium setting for most my riding and the high, only on technical descents where navigating roots and rocks at speed was the goal. The light has a "race" mode setting that allows one to toggle between high and medium outputs without having to click through the entire range of options.
Overall, this light had one of the best beam patterns and brighter light outputs of the ten. The only drawback of this compact little masterpiece, is the price tag. While it was one of our favorites (along with the Outbound Focal), if you compare the two, for essentially the same price, the Focal offers nearly double the run time. Granted, the Focal is not an integrated unit like the Taz, you'd have to double your money to get a comparable run time from Light and Motion. ($400 for the Seca Enduro light, which also utilizes an external battery pack like the Focal.)
Light and Motion Taz 2000
User friendly interface +
Excellent output and beam pattern+
Easy and quick mounting system
Pricey as compared to some other options in this review.
Best Overall Light
Outbound Lighting Focal
• $200 USD
• Weight: 100 grams light-head only (total system, 416 grams)
• 1800 perceived lumens
• Runtime at full power: 2.8 hours
• Recharge time: 4.5 hours
Holy shit there is a LOT of tech that goes into Outbound Lighting’s Focal! This isn’t just a business, it's a way of life for these guys! They have sweated out the details, and emerged from the Sauna of MTB component design victorious (and glistening in a sheen of glory).
The Focal doesn’t have the highest lumen output of the test, but it has a lot going for it. Particularly the lens shape, which is designed to optimize its beam spread to illuminate everything directly in front of you evenly and yet still offer ample peripheral lighting. It has zero hot spots and a nice, soft beam fall off that's both easy on the eyes while still offering phenomenal peripheral illumination. Outbound also utilizes an "indestructible" optical grade silicone lens (it’d take a bullet to shatter this sucker) for durability.
But, there's more going on than just the lens shape. The design of the light is both efficient and user friendly. First off, the light’s housing is made of light-weight, die-cast magnesium which works as an efficient heat sink. Secondly, there are cooling fins on top and below the light as well as an air intake to further ensure that the light unit remains as cool as possible for consistent light output. There’s also a glove-friendly single oversize selector button. And it utilizes a large, sturdy bar-mounting strap for easy installation and removal that can readily be swapped out for a Go Pro mount. Intelligent design doesn't stop on the outside. The driver and input wires in the Focal are mechanically joined so they can take an extreme amount abuse: ie rock gardens, jumps, and crashes.
Then there's the battery: this is the only light tested with a battery pack separated from the lighting unit. Man, what a difference it makes on run time. Yes, the overall package weight is greater, but that trade-off is substantially greater run times. The Focal uses genuine LG Chem Lithium Ion cells for their durable construction, their built in protection circuits, and sheer performance. Plus, it's covered with over molded silicone (waterproof!), and wrapped in a grippy, yet stretchable neoprene pouch for scratch free, easy mounting to the bike frame. As a bonus, Outbound has a battery that will fit that new One Up component steerer tube stash all the cool kids are using these days. It only has two cells vs the standard battery's four cells, so half the run time (but, half the weight).
It may seem as if this light is over-engineered, but in my mind, you can never really over-engineer mtb components; if there’s a way to break it, we mountain bikers will find it. Call us human embodiments of Murphy's Law. Despite knowing their clientele, Outbound Lighting believes enough in the durability of their gear that they offer a three-year warranty.
Ok if you made it this far you are likely wondering how does it ride? Well we rode this light hard, put it away wet and decided it was our favorite. The beam pattern is obviously designed with true single track riding in mind. The peripheral light output allowed for the best spatial awareness, especially when brapping into berms with the reckless abandon only night riding can bring. Another way this light stood out was there wasn't any wasted light above the riders' sightline, allowing all lumens to be utilized for full send.
The other nice touches that made this light our go-to item night after night were the quick-mounting system, intuitive large control button, and excellent runtime with the easy-to-mount external battery pack. The price isn't outrageous, and we aren't surprised Outbound is struggling to keep these lights in stock.
Outbound Lights Hangover
Excellent MTB specific beam pattern+
Easy and quick mounting system+
Long battery life+
Intuitive user interface
Not an integrated battery/light
Best Mounting System
Lezyne Superdrive 1600 XXL
• $130 USD
• Weight: 227 grams
• 1600 lumens (overdrive mode)
• Runtime at full power: 1.45 hours
• Recharge time: 4.5 hours (2 amp USB)
Like many of the lights in this test, Lezyne’s Superdrive 1600 XXL bike light is about half the size of a pack of cigarettes. It features three high-output LEDs for up to 1600 lumens of output. It has five output modes from walking (15 lumens) up to full tilt boogie on the trails (Overdrive at 1600 lumens), plus two commuter modes (blink and pulse) for visibility going to and fro. Their "Tri-Focus Optics" optimize light output modes to create an ideal beam pattern for whichever mode you’re using. The machined-aluminum construction acts as a heat sink and also features cooling fins for even more heat dissipation. There are also cutouts for side visibility. The Super Drive 1600XXL is both Smart Connect (cell phone app for control) and Remote Switch compatible for additional ease of use. An auto day/night sensor automatically adjusts lumen output while in select modes. The light is micro-USB rechargeable and it can run for up to a massive, 148 hours on a full charge in walk mode. A versatile strap secures it to all common handlebar sizes and it’s available in light grey or black. There's also an optional, machined 31.8mm bar clamp available in their "loaded" kit.
The Superdrive is another "buckle-to-cinch" light. It's super easy to install and fits a multitude of handlebar sizes. It is also ridiculously intuitive and easy to use. Simply depress the obvious button for two seconds and it lights up to full power. Each click toggles to a different mode. Press and hold to turn it off. It will also sync with your smart phone via the "LED Ally" app for easy control, to sync with a rear light, and for firmware updates. A huge benefit of the app is you can easily select the lumen output via your phone vs. having to cycle through all seven modes to get the one you want.
When on the trail, I decided that the 250-lumen economy mode was okay for climbing and pedaling flat sections, but I think I would like something more in the 500 lumen range for most of my ride time; it can be pretty dark in the forest at night, and while I like to preserve battery, I also like to be able to see more than the wee bit of trail 250 lumens offers. Like, say, the guy with the chainsaw just off the trail. That nit pick aside, the standard "high" mode was ample for technical descending. I did use the overdrive 1600-lumen mode descending, which handily got the job done, and offered a nice little output boost that supported full send mode.
Lezyne has a reputation of crafting high quality products, and the Super Drive XXL meets that standard, and the performance of this light is on par with the other integrated lights in this review. From a design perspective, the tool-free clamp is simple and works well to keep the light in place. the controls are easy and intuitive to use, and the heat sink housing works the way it should, keeping light output fade to a minimum.
Lezyne Superdrive 1600 XXL
Smart Connection option for control of multiple lights+
Affordable price tag+
Easy and quick mounting system
Could use a brighter economy mode
Giant Recon HL1600
• $126 USD
• Weight: 204 grams w/o mount
• 1600 lumens (High mode)
• Runtime at full power: 1.5 hours
• Recharge time via USB: 5 hrs
Giant entered the night riding scene a few years back with a variety of lights. The current cream of the crop is their recon HL1600 headlight. The body is made from lightweight aluminum for durability and heat dissipation and is rated to be completely waterproof (IPX6). There are five different light output modes, ranging from high to low and flashing (for commuting). In the box, are a number of handlebar mounts: a GoPro compatible mount, a strap that readily fits all bar sizes, and a sweet offset mount that allows mounting the light under the handlebar for an uncluttered bar.
What sets this light apart from most others at this price point are its two intelligent design features: first, a "SpeedBeam" mode that adjusts the light output based on the riding speed (Giant recommends pairing the Recon Light to a Giant RideSense speed/cadence sensor or another compatible third-party speed sensors, rather then a GPS computer for optimal use. If that isn’t enough, there’s also a "smart mode" sensor that measures ambient light to adjust light output day or night. Those two options allow one to optimize battery life/runtime in a fairly fool proof manner.
Without a sensor to pair with, the light defaults to 800 lumens in the dark, and an 800 lumen flash mode during the day in smart mode. The remaining charge is indicated by the color of the light around the single on/off/mode button atop the light. With an appropriate sensor, one can pedal to the trail head under city lights and the Recon will select the amount of light required for that, then automatically switch to higher intensities based on your speed and the ambient light. Alas, neither of us had an appropriate sensor, so the SpeedBeam mode was just a sweet theory to us.
On the trail, this light offers good bang for the buck. The focused optics illuminate what’s ahead, and there are sidelight panels that allow plentiful spill light (270 degrees) for peripheral information at speed. This was a noticeably wider beam distribution than some of the other more compact designs we tried, and it had none of the obvious hot spots that are usually seen with "spot" type light designs. On high, the amount of light was perfectly adequate for full speed descending on our test loop. Heat management seemed good, as there was minimal drop-off of light when rocketing around on the local trails with the light set on high. That said, the body of the light gets HOT. The light had battery power and run time numbers that were on par with the other lights in this test - better than some (noticeably the Cygolite and the Countdown). The machined clamp is sweet, but it makes it difficult to easily find and toggle through the various modes, as the light is mounted upside down; but if paired with a "SpeedBeam" compatible sensor, that would be a moot point.
Giant Recon HL1600
Excellent light output and +
Easy and quick mounting system
A bit on the heavy/bulky side-
SpeedBeam usage requires a compatible sensor
Best Runtime for an Integrated Light
Exposure Race MK14
• Weight: 186 grams
• 1450 lumens max output (Reflex+ mode kicks it to 2100 Lumens)
• Runtime at high: 2 hours
• Recharge time: 6 hours
Made in the UK, Exposure’s Race MK14 is the most affordable of their Reflex+ range and features an intelligent runtime. Their top-shelf, Six Pack MK10 Sync retails for an eye watering £485!). The MK14 packs a serious array of smarts that utilize two thermistors to detect wind chill, a gyro to detect gradient, as well as an accelerometer to detect speed. Using this suite of sensors it will automatically dim when climbing, go to barely any output when one pauses on the trail, and light up the night with 2100 lumens when descending at speed. It does this without any input from the rider (other than turning it on) and all without pairing it to any kind of GPS unit or speed sensors. This allows for a lot more trail riding fun by maximizing battery life in a fairly idiot proof manner.
Light output is managed by two white XPL2 CREE LEDs. The body of the light is composed of anodized 6063 aluminum for durability and heat dispersion. It’s water resistant to IP6 standards. Modes (there are ten!), battery life, and Lumen output are readily visible on the LED display on the back of the light. It’s interesting to note that one cannot manually get 2100 lumens of output—the most it will manually toggle up to is 1450 lumens. But at speed, the various gizmos embedded in the light will boost that output up to 2100 lumens.
Anecdotally, it is quite important to read the directions from Exposure on how to use this light; it most definitely is NOT a plug and play unit. Our first night out testing, we neglected to do so, and ended up quite confused on the side of the trail. A software engineer pecking out morse code with a singular button was only able to coerce the light to reveal itself after several minutes of swearing. But from there it was, "Cheerio, jolly good chaps!"
Once the light was firing, the beam pattern was excellent and offered a good blend of peripheral view with solid illumination down the trail. The taper at the edges of the beam was nice and gradual and with zero hot spots or dark areas. The reflex mode was more subtle than we thought it would be, and there didn't seem to be that much of a difference between climbing and descending. That may be because the light "learns" your riding pattern over time (Exposure states around 20 minutes), and we were sharing this light between multiple riders during test rides to get a consensus on performance.
Overall, this is a very high quality light, with an above-average beam pattern, and excellent battery life. While the price is nearly double that of the two other "intelligent" lights we tested, the fact that it doesn't need to be paired with any type of sensor to offer that smart light output is quite nice, and that will save you the cost of having to purchase a Garmin or other type of sensor. Theoretically, it's actually cheaper in the long run. You just need to make sure you spend some time with the manual to get the most out of it - before it gets dark.
Exposure MK14 Race
Intelligent brightness management system+
Balanced beam pattern+
High quality construction and mount system
Un-intuitive user interface-
Some extra special testing was done by the local after school mountain biking program. We lent out the test lights to elementary school kids and their instructors to spend their last day of the program experiencing night riding. They all loved the night riding adventure - and each thought that their light was by far the best of the bunch.
- LEDs are producing light because current is flowing through them, that's their very property. They are generating photons from electrons in a very efficient way.
- LEDs, as all conductors, resists a bit electricity and so generate a bit heat,
Incandescent based technology generates much heat because of resistance on one part, but mostly because their emission spectrum also sit in the IR spectrum. That is pretty much heat.
The interest of LEDs here being that we can tailor their emission spectrum to be as away as possible from IR. Hence part of the better efficiency of the LED tech.
Introduction to lux and lumens differences is great to see here, but I'd suggest to say it simpler :
- Lumens measure the emission of light from a source, Lux measure the reception of light on an illuminated object.
- Hence 1 Lux = 1 Lumen / m²
What I would add is that alone the lumen values really won't tell you much for this application. These lamps are more like spotlights, where you also optimize for peak candelas. I'd love to see the manufacturers publish the ies/ldt files of these products so we could see the shape of the light as you can have a lot of lumens spread all over the place, which is obviously not beneficial for this application or you could have a very bright narrow light beam with fewer lumens still having a better end result for the use.
I'm uncomfortable to summarize those phenomenons as resistance.
Don't get me wrong, I'm all for scientific vulgarisation, but using a term as well-known in the public mind as resistance seems not fit.
On a side note, did anyone else notice that the Cygolite Metro Pro 1100 USB has less lumens than some but seems to reach further into the woods and illuminate the next layer of trees that the other lights don't seem to quite reach. It seems to be a yellower light so perhaps this has something to do with it, as light colour apparently affects illumination of certain subjects in some conditions.
Niterider Lumina 1800 doesn't have a Medium setting: 45min on Boost 1800 lumens, 1:30 at 1500 lumens, and 3:00 on 700 lumens.
Cateye AMMP 1100 is 2:00 at 800 lumens.
Cygolite's Metro Pro 1100 will run 3:00 on medium BUT the site doesn't list the lumens--I'll take a stab at 500-600 given the diminutive size of their unit.
Blackburn's Countdown 1600 offers 4:00 at 600 lumens.
Lezyne's Superdrive 1600 XXL also doesn't have a "Medium" setting; choose 2:30 at 1000 lumens or 3:45 at 600 lumens
Bontrager's Ion Pro Rat is rated for 3:00 at 800 lumens
Outbound Focal rings in at 3.1 hours for Med/High and 4.2 hours on Medium, but no lumen outputs are given on their site.
Exposure's MK14 gives approximately 6:00 at 700 lumens; however I believe that's in "reflex" mode so the light will dim when climbing and fade to 5 lumens when you stop.
In this case photos with the same camera settings, as done here, provide a decent real world view of the light.
Though it might not tell the whole story of the on-trail quality of the light, lumens is the only metric to accurately compare the output of these different lights.
@brappuccino : As for claimed outputs, the only real way to measure lumens is to test a light in an integrating sphere against a lab-calibrated lamp. If you’re interested in learning more, here’s one of our older integrating sphere videos which explains how we use it to measure output, output over time and color temperature, as well as how it differs from a lux meter: youtu.be/11XrP51WzfE
True for the qualitative/quantitative bias, but some beam measurement/caracterization would help objectify all that with info helping understand the second opinions words of the reviewer and helping everyone make up is own belief.
I believe there are some pretty decent DIY/hobbyists integrating spheres a like, compatible with the budget of Pinkbike (of other medias) to make those tests level and very relevant for readers. One example here budgetlightforum.com/node/60100. Maybe nobody needs or even wants to know all the details and science behind all that, but real complete honest reviewing of those products would need to polish that aspect a bit.
For the current review to be perfect around that point, I'd suggest to measure all the lights in the same equipment, with the same method and conditions. If "showing off" with an "our true outpoint measured value" statement makes incomfortable the writer, one way to avoid that would be to give each light a relative note. You'd still have useful brightness information, scaled, and no need to explain the why & how of said measurements vs. manufacturer claims. Just plain fair comparison. Would also have helped setup the photoshoot scene by knowing which light was the brightest and use it as the batch reference for camera settings (like exposure).
Cool sphere vid! You just need a better mic for next time, cause here youtube is pretendin' you use "women's as a unit of measurement"
"Perfectest" way would even be to present an light output/time graph. Because the regulation drivers and techics in use in those lights may (and will) not perform the same. As you noted in one of your comment, heat dissipation for the system is an issue, as is the ability for the LED driver to exploit all the energy left in the cells througout the whole runtime.
Though I can't be sure of what the "engineer" term conveys in everybody's mind. But I sure do like when science is vulgarised, easily exposed to everyone. Therefore my first comment, with hopefully interesting precisions for everyone. So that this everyone can look cleverer in their next small talk sessions, at the strip club, after the bike ride next saturday
More seriously, also I've been highly involved in different reviews in different catergories of products elsewheres. I do know how much it can be of an hassle to be the more fair, the more scientific pinpoint, give every product a fair chance. Trying its best to respect your trusting readers and the manufacturers is a very challenging, but so much interesting task. So hope giving my 2c ideas won't hurt anyone.
But damn, you can tell Lezyne knows their shit because they were able to write about their process in a very simple way.
I had a 7 year old light that went wonky. Phoned them and returned it for inspection. They returned it to me repaired and upgraded some parts all for the price of postage.
@silentbutdeadly: I had some issues with mine in the beginning and exposure costumer service told me to run the battery down below 25% and then charge it on the socket (not via USB) for at least 24h. That somehow sorted it out.
Still rocking the Joystick Mk11 which hasn't missed a beat. I have colleagues who have 6 year old Joysticks who are almost hoping they'll break to give them an excuse to buy a new one.
I run them in the extended mode (800 and 500 lumens respectively), and it's plenty bright for my 2 to 3 hour ride. Total cost was about $150 including the GoPro adapter for the helmet mount.
I may be a dentist, but I ain't paying stupid money if I don't have to. I got dental school debt as bills to pay. Shiiiiiiiiiiiiiieeeeeeett
I have to say I'm always puzzled by bike specific lights. Of course specific beam profile can be great, at least on road it will help not blind everyone, but it is not that mandatory out in the woods. And personally I do prefer that my lights are versatiles, not practical only for bike related activities. I'm using a 2x setup (Zebralight SC600Fd Mark III Plus / Zebralight SC600w HI Neutral), with a floody unit on my handlebars and a throwy unit on my helmet (mounted with a pop-off mount for security) and I can also use those everywhere else for everything else than biking. 2 small spare 18650 batteries in your backpack/hipbag/pant pocket and your good to go for close to 2H @max.
Then, main drawback of the lights listed here : enclosed batteries. Lights supporting exchangeable batteries, like the close to universal 18650 are more interesting for the consumer. If your batteries dies on you, for a few $ you can replace it easy-peasy.
Finally there is the price of such specific bike products. When you factor all those points in, we are close to the dentist alert.
And why is the last table not ordered? Not by brand, not by price, not by runtime, not by lumens, etc? It is making it hard to interpret. A dynamic table would have been top notch.
Some more detailed about LED dies in use (not just brands, but model & configuration), some words about tints (greeny, rosy, etc), color rendering (CRI, TM-30) or CCT would have been great too to help judge the engineering level put into those products.
Finally, beamshots are very great to understand results, but always tricky to get. Pay attention to camera exposure. Some photos are clearly over-exposed, thus biasing the interprations possible for the readers.
The benefit of a warmer temperature is often overlooked. I love my high CRI Zebralight for the helmet. It’s easier on the eyes and helps pick out trail features.
The multiple usage is overlooked. I use my flashlights for many things - not just riding.
Like you said 18650s are cheap and plentiful and light weight no less. If I’m not sure of a lights charge I’ll toss another 18650 in a pack and have peace of mind.
They are typically cheaper than most bike specific lights as well.
Twofish Lockblocks Flashlight Holder
That exposure was set on the first light we shot, the cateye AMMP1100. We opted to go "up" the ladder and use over exposure to show power vs under exposure, as that would allow a more accurate viewing of peripheral light, as the center point of most of the lights are more than bright enough for riding at speed.
And you're right, it is tricky: other variables we had to juggle was where the bike was pointing (even though it was in a stand, there was some movement) and where the light was pointing (up or down a smidge). We had a level but since the bike itself wasn't level, nor was the trail, that was useless, so we had to go with best orientation we could "eyeball" when mounting the lights. Less than scientific, I know, but the images still allow for reasonable accurate comparison. Had I felt otherwise, I'd have re-shot them all at a different location.
Targetting is clearly not easy. Using a level is great, though you then factor in the purposed "deviation bias" designed by the manufacturer for its light body/reflector/ bike mount trio. You could also have thrown in a "compass/protractor" for the handlebar angle. From the picture, I'd say there are 2 mains orientation in your test. 1 like Blackburn and Light and Motion, the other being like Exposure and Giant shots.
Another great feature is to make available an A/B comparison gallery. The kind where the user chooses A and B, and have a vertical slider to seamlessly compare the images seen.
On another note I have to say that I like very much the scene you shot at!
1. battery pack not weather-resistant (can corrode)
2. insufficient strain relief for wires (can get loose/exposed at connection points)
3. counterfeit LED (not genuine Cree, doesn't live up to brightness claims)
4. no-name brand battery cells (anyone's guess here... could be recycled ones)
First two can lead to unexpected fire due to a short circuit. If you decide to accept these risks, better bring two, in case one fails on the ride, so you're not stranded in the dark. Better be careful storing and charging it in your house.
That said, I do us a Cygolight Expilion as my helmet light and it has been rock solid for 3 years now.
I’m sure not every Amazon lights is good but mine is fine.
Name brand ones are 1800-3500 mah each (double that in a 2S2P 4-cell pack), depending on the exact chemistry.
Recycled batteries are usually name brand ones, but might only have 70% of their original capacity due to internal resistance build-up from being previously used. They can come up super cheap, since they're salvaged from things thrown away for recycling.
Good quality 4-cell battery pack, made from authentic brand new parts, is generally $50-70 by itself. I'd be worried about quality being cut on anything cheaper. There are more expensive ones over $100...
Fast forward to the present. I bought four "WOSAWE" dual LED integrated battery headlights. Price was around $70 US. One had a charging circuit failure almost out of the box. The other three were still working after a month. Yes, I bought four because I expected one or two to fail.
These are "cheap Chinese junk" lights. They claim to be IP67, but I am not going to throw them in the bath to verify. I use them as a pair mounted on the bars. I also don't believe the claimed light output, but the pair are really bright.
They have taken extended service on our touring tandem without an issue and we have done a three week tour of Scotland with them, so plenty of rain riding. I move them to the MTB in the winter. They get bathed in mud and crap. They are still working as of today.
As for the fire hazard, does anyone remember the problems Samsung had with phones that would do a CCF (crash and catch fire)? Or HP laptops? Or Sony laptops? Or Apple products? Or Boeing on the 787?
The batteries in all of those may or may not have been "Hecho en China", but that is not why they were a fire hazard. And there have been a few Tesla "Made in the USA" battery packs do a CCF when charging.
If you are worried about battery packs catching fire, put them in a ceramic pot when you charge them. In my past life as a firefighter a neighboring department had a UAV battery pack cause a fire when charging, and it was not a cheap clone.
Li-ion batteries can be a problem. They get hot when you charge them. Using a USB charger with a limited amp capacity can mitigate the danger. A ceramic pot with the lid off to let heat out can give an extra margin of safety. But we all ride bicycles off road at night, so we take some risks.
Super bright and lasts about 10 hours. Watertight.
Of course, when you buy something for €100 you get the best quality, but I think you are underestimating the cheap ones from China. They do not only make garbage.
An integrated light just clips on and off we go, or can sit in a pocket, unnoticed until needed. Say an unplanned flat on a dusk ride.
Best option for a 24 hour racer, solo adventurer or rider looking ultimate lumens per dollar? No, but I’m doing none of those!
Not ever product is the best for every person, that’s why we have choices.
Ps: my next bar light may have a separate battery pack but they are a pain in the ... as a helmet light, especially if you ride without a pack.
Pumped for this article!
In my experience, I want my helmet light to provide a strong, tight spot that illuminates far in the distance, where I need to be looking when riding at speed. The bar mount does indeed provide contrast and depth, especially in the medium to fore-ground. But the crucial part, that took me a few years to realize, is that if the bar mount is too strong, your eyes adjust to that amount of light, lessening the effectiveness of the spot in the distance.
My current setup is a 2000+ lumens spot on the helmet, and an 1100 or so lumens flood on the bar. The spot is aimed where my eyes are focused, and the flood pretty much supports my peripheral vision. I have been running this setup for about 6 years now after experimenting with all sorts of other variations, and this is what allows me to ride at night pretty much as fast as in the summer (provided conditions are similar).
My favorite part is how low profile both lights are. The 4000 is secure and centered on my bars and the low profile helmet mount combined with the low profile 2200 means no more getting snagged on trees or my helmet shifting around.
The OEM handlebar mounts are cheap and will NOT do the job of holding the light in one position so I fabricated an aluminum gopro mounting system to the light. Purchased on Amazon. (sandmarc gopro mount and the tackform solution gopro adapter) It's been solid. The OEM handlebar mount would probably be fine on the street. It also comes with a helmet mount. I cant handle the extra weight on my helmet so I've never explored that avenue.
The battery is sealed and waterproof. I've riden in the rain and had no issues. It straps to my top-tube on my bike and has never failed or fallen off. The little tab keepers for the strap are cheap and will probably break off but I just tuck the strap between the battery and the top tube anyway.
With that said. I work nights and ride solo at night a LOT. These lights are great, bright and a heck of a lot cheaper than most. I have no affiliation with this brand but I believe with a little fab to their handlebar mount you can have a great light for charging the singletrack at night. I carry a lightweight 2AA battery streamlight for backup in case of that emergency lighting/battery problem that may come up.
Hope that helps ya get on the trails at night without breaking the bank.
I thought I don't need to talk about how I would measure it.
Therefore, I stand by my statement: useful light can be derived from the total amount of light (=lumen) and it's distribution (focused or dispersed incl. directions).
A. Often don't output the number of lumens they say
B. Measure lumen at the emitter instead of out the front (after the reflector and lense)
C. Have a horrible distribution of light
We'd say @meagerdude did a good job of providing a real-world data point for the lights tested in the form of photos.
What is so hard about mounting a light dead center over the stem?
TWO HUNDRED SEVENTY FIVE?
seems pretty universal.
Let's do some emojis now to lighten the mood
Wanna lighten the mood, check this out,
I sent them another email, maybe get one of their new battery units or credit to their 2020 sets. I like the lights, but batteries have been suspect.
Personally, I've always used a solid self contained flashlight type helmet light (Exposure Diablo) as my only light, and that's worked out pretty well, until last year where I've added a Lumina 1200 bar light as support. This has been kind of a game changer as I now have peripheral vision of the trail as well. That was short lived as the mount broke while my wife was using the light and she didn't notice it and the light went bye bye. Now I'm back to the helmet light only and it kind of sucks. I really notice the flashlight affect and struggle a bit. It's also great having a backup light in case you f'd up your charging cycle or one of your bud's forgets his/her light.
Next stop is the Outbound Lighting Hangover on the helmet with the Diablo as my bar light. I really like OL's focus on creating the ultimate light vs just throwing lumens and battery life numbers at you. I'd love to run their bar light reviewed in this article, but I think I'll be good with my setup. We'll see how that goes when it ships. Fingers crossed that it won't be too long.
I built a 4S3P battery (12 Panasonic 18650 cells). You'll want to buy cells from a reputable dealer to not get knock offs. I used illumn.com. 8 cells would likely be enough for just a light but I use it to power grip/lever heaters at the same time. I wrapped the battery with thick insulation, added a display for the internal temperature, as well as a self-heating device. Not sure how necessary the heater is, but I ride as cold as -20c, so thought it might be a cool idea to prevent major voltage drop. Insulation and temp readout is nice to have tho. I don't have any BMS but I have a 4S voltage monitor that reads total voltage, and scrolls through the individual parallel bank voltages with a low voltage alarm as well, to make sure everything is good. I have a balance tap in the battery so my iMax b6 charger can balance the pack too.
All in, probably around $150 for the battery with the quality "smart" charger. You can't even buy a battery like this, but for comparable power capability in a pre-built battery it would likely run you $300-400.
I installed a PWM module to adjust the brightness of the light manually.... as full brightness is way overkill for climbing.
Let me know if you'd like to know anything else!
Building a battery isn't too difficult, but definitely you need to do your research first as fires can result if you f*ck up. I also don't have a spot welder, so I used six 2-cell holders with solder tails that I connected to each other with short wires. There's a number of holders on the market with screw on terminals and such, if one wants to avoid spot welding the nickle tabs as is done in standard packs. I leave my batteries stored in a glass bowl just in case too.
Most MTB light makers sell their batteries separate too, so you could just buy one of those and change the connectors. Might be some mark-up though.
So what parts do I need to make it work and how much extra are the parts?
See reviews :
These Lupine's are not very expensive and very effective with a ton of versatility.
I do like dentist jokes i gotta admit that.
It is 21st century, LED lights are extremely simple to make.
Right now I use an airstream (and a dynamo supported e3).
Hi Guys - I am going to pull trigger and get Gloworm X2 - so what temperature version You have chosen and would recommend?
www.brighteyesproducts.com/collections/frontpage/products/1800-lumen-stamina-bike-light-set - I do not work for then, nor am I compensated in any way. Great customer service and products. I have 1 of these.
This set is an outright steal: www.brighteyesproducts.com/collections/frontpage/products/1200-lumen-square-bike-headlight-set - 1600 Lumens, smaller battery, no GoPro mount. I own 2 sets of these.
The DIY bike light threads on the forums are full of amazing nerds who pretty much rule the world. The dark world, that is. It's pretty amazing, really.
They're the ones who used to always win the solo singlespeed 24 hour races in Walmart socks and wool shorts, btw.
*Checks average group ride time*
Yeah, nope, I'm out. I'm not futzing with batteries mid ride in the dark in cougar country.
I would not trust one light. If your one light fails getting out of the forest won't be easy.
Only one of these lights has replaceable batteries. The rest of these lights you throw away like a disposable lighter when the batteries grow old?
Shitty for the environment and when your battery is dead ride over.
I use a Feonix bar mounted light. It uses the same batteries as all of these units have . A 18650 lith ion battery.
With my light the end unscrews and I just pop in a new battery. Each battery gives me about an hour run time at full power.
batterys, even on there respective websites,
( the ones I looked at )
what of battery end life or even battery failiure, can they be
easily swithed out ? or are they intergrated into the
circuit boards as with most laptop and mobile phones.
My 2nd hand purchased Hope vision 1 and 2 light sets
are now on there 3rd batterys due to usage end life,
and thanks to Hopes build and being able to unplug batterys,
this helps big time here in the long run, aswell as taking a 2nd
battery for those longer rides, plus they don't look
like CCTV cameras and can be head, helmet and bar mounted,
admittedly you have a cable to contend with but there are workable
Its not just about having the sun on your bars, how you use it
plays just as important. I'll keep my money for a more thought out
package, as noted with the exception of the exposure in this listing.
At the time I assumed it was not to disturb wildlife but I never looked into it and I moved here a bit after so I don't know.
You can use cheap light, but never use cheap batteries! (from Europe, eu.nkon.nl is a great and safe source).
- If yes, you'll trade in much runtime for security, and probably void your warranty.
- If not, then you are partly true. If you accept to use LiIon tech, the safest way is to buy/use such batteries only provided from reliable sources (and even if it's a bias, I'll probably put more trust in Lupine's packs than Magishine). Trusting your source is your only way to minimise potential hazards. Hence the boutique I refered to in my previous post. Sanyo, LG, Panasonic, Sony or even Samsung are the most common regarded brand when buying li-ion (and associated chemistral technologies such as LiNiMn, LiFe, etc) batteries. Depending also from the appliances you could select protected cells.
Most of the lighting brands packs are made from the "18650" cell standard, in use for decades. Found in your laptops, in your e-bike, your e-scooters, previously even your Tesla, pretty much everywhere. Others mostly use LiPo custom-shaped packs, as dangerous as LiIon as experienced by the RC community.
Your lumens total doesn't seem very high I see
"Where do people night ride? My experience living in 3 different parts of California has been nearly every trail system closes at sunset."
4h (claimed) run time on high power.
Or were just one light per category paid to be tested????????
None of these should claimed to be the best as they were not actually compared to any of the many many others available.
They are very reasonably priced and I have years and years of use out of their products(and awesome warranty once).
On that note I am willing to be a tester(I can probably volly my night riding crew as well).
How come product reviews are never written by me? I'm pure gold lol
Thats good but there still ugly as eff,
and those bulky square edges don't lend well
in misshaps, so plenty of room for asthetic improvement.
And I have ridden her many times.