TESTED: Bike Lightsets (£40-£180)

You've hopefully seen our test of individual front lights (see here), so now you can check out our first batch of 2016/17 lightsets.

Our testing method is simple. Firstly we discharge every light fully. Then we charge and  run down each light three times, noting the times and variance to makers’ claims. Our run times are based on full/main modes, though we check less bright/flash/pulse modes later. The ‘actual’ times we quote are the averages of our results. With the spreadsheets filled, it’s time for field testing and every light gets ridden several times over the course of our schedule; this helps us determine brightness, beam patterns, ease of use, function in differing conditions and suchlike. 

We'll be looking at several more lights/lightsets this winter, so keep an eye on the website for additional/follow-up reviews.


FWE USB 150/15 LIGHTSET 
£39.99
evanscycles.com
Charge time (Front, claimed/actual): 2hr/1hr50
Charge time (Rear, claimed/actual): 2hr/1hr45
Run time (Front, claimed/actual): 2hr/1hr40
Run time (Rear, claimed/actual): 2hr30/2hr10

This is the second most expensive of Evans Cycles’ own brand lightsets and it’s possibly the least, ahem, flashy of all those we’ve tested this year. But behind the simple aesthetic is a consistently reliable pairing. The tubular aluminium-cased front light has four modes, pumping out 150 lumens on max, and we found the average run times about 15-20 minutes down on the maker’s claims; the flip being that charging took less time than claimed too. The compact 15-lumen rear — similar in design to Lezyne’s Femto — has three modes and works by depressing the red lens. Cycling through the modes is simple, likewise the bar attachment using rubberised straps; even the basic front bracket grips more tightly than you’d imagine. The front’s beam is fairly concentrated but more than sufficient to illuminate dark paths 20 metres ahead and the cut-outs give welcome side visibility. In fact our only issue was the fiddly USB port cover on the front which totally detached every time we used it. Overall, impressive for the price.

 


LEZYNE MICRO DRIVE/STRIP DRIVE PAIR £69.99
upgradebikes.co.uk
Charge time (Front, claimed/actual): 2hr/2hr25
Charge time (Rear, claimed/actual): 2hr30/2hr45
Run time (Front, claimed/actual): 1hr30 (300)/1hr40 
Run time (Rear, claimed/actual): 1hr40/3hr10 

Housed in a sleek aluminium unit, with a water-tight rubber bung covering the integrated USB stick, the Micro Drive is fast becoming something of a design classic. It’s not style over substance either as the run times in all modes always surpassed the claimed times; on ‘Blast’ (300 lumen) mode it was 10-15 minutes longer. There’s three flash/pulse modes, the least bright of which lasted all through the night. Main beam width and side illumination is excellent. A separate helmet-mount is available but we managed to (just) secure it onto a handful of lids with the integrated strap. In fact we’ve not found a bar/seatpost that they don’t fit either. We’ve always been worried about damaging the USB stick, particularly when it’s hanging off a laptop, but have never actually had any issues. The Strip Drive stacks five LEDs, delivering up to 25 lumens — on this main mode it regularly doubled its claimed output, while the five flash modes lasted 5-15 hours. Light, durable, versatile, it’s a hard package to beat.

 

 

CATEYE VOLT 100XC/RAPID MICRO SET £44.99
zyrofisher.co.uk
Charge time (Front, claimed/actual): 1hr30/1hr45
Charge time (Rear, claimed/actual): 2hr/2hr15
Run time (Front, claimed/actual): 1hr/1hr25
Run time (Rear, claimed/actual): 3hr/5hr

The same length but half the width of Lezyne’s Micro Drive, the 100XC even outdoes the Evans light as the most featherweight and compact front here. Of course it doesn’t pack as much power. It’s more than just a basic safety light though — on full 100-lumen constant mode, it’s great around town and lasted almost 50% more than its claimed times. The beam is narrowly focussed and slightly diffused towards the edges, so really only suitable for shorter city commutes. It attaches with a simple rubber strap/clip combo and we found we could stretch it enough to work on a couple of helmets. Charging is via an integrated USB stick, over which a rubber cap fastens super tightly to seal out rain. The Rapid Micro is tiny, shorter than a pinky finger, but it too works very effectively, lasting 5hr on constant and almost 24hr on pulse mode. The USB port’s nicely sealed but the flimsy rubberband attachment was a let-down; we snapped one and it’s hard to spot if dropped at night. A super little package with only one real flaw. 

 

 

BONTRAGER TRANSMITR SET £179.99
trekbikes.com
Charge time (Front, claimed/actual): not given/2hr15
Charge time (Rear, claimed/actual): n/a/3hr
Run time (Front, claimed/actual): 1hr45/1hr40 
Run time (Rear, claimed/actual): 5hr30/4hr30-10hr+

Trek’s component brand offers a dozen lights and this wireless, ANT+ compatible bundle includes the Ion 700 RT front, Flare RT rear, dedicated remote, brackets, clips and cables. As ‘wireless’ has become a bike world buzzword it was inevitable that lighting would lead the way and the clever thing with the Transmitr remote is that it can simultaneously control up to seven lights. We only had the two and once syncing was sorted (before lights are fitted), it took a few minutes to work out the functions. The centre button turns all lights on/off, or you can use the appropriate corner buttons to select individual lights and modes. With no claims for charging times they still seemed in line with rival models of similar size and in use the super-bright Ion was fine for twice-daily commutes. The Flare was a revelation, lasting up to 4hr30 on full mode before switching to flash and lasting a further 10+ hours. It’s an interesting set-up but probably overkill for most cyclists.




TESTED BY:
John Kitchiner

(These reviews first appeared in the Winter 2016 issue of London Cyclist magazine. To get your copy, sign up HERE.) 


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