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.