TESTED: Front Bike Lights
- By kitch on at 11:21am 21 December 2016
- Posted in: News and blogs
- Tagged with: accessories, bikes, lights, bike lights, tested, lumens, reviews
When it comes to bikes and accessories, the question we get asked most frequently is ‘what’s the best bike for X amount of money?’ Of course the answer’s never simple as it depends on a whole host of variables. Luckily, the second most asked question — ‘what’s the best set of lights I can buy?’ — is a whole lot simpler to narrow down, though the considerations are still broadly similar. It usually comes down to a specific price point. Or whether there’s one Holy Grail light that will cope with everything from the daily commute to an occasional nocturnal adventure like the Dunwich Dynamo.
And when we say it’s simpler to give an answer about lights, that’s because there’s so many good options out there these days. From basic ‘get you home’ safety lights to full-on race kits, there’s dozens of brands to choose from. But we’ve been concentrating on sub-£100 front lights and lightsets (though one innovative pair crept over that limit), primarily aimed at commuting and road use. By the way, every light we test has to be rechargeable — no disposable batteries here.
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.
This is the first main test of lights we’ll be doing this winter, so keep an eye on the website for additional/follow-up reviews.
BLACKBURN CENTRAL 300 £44.99
Charge time (claimed/actual): 5hr/4hr35
Run time (claimed/actual): 2hr/4hr25
The Central 300 feels stable, clamping to the bar firmly with an integrated rubber mount; it’s not the easiest to fit but there are no separate parts to lose. The main unit pivots horizontally and vertically on the mount so the direction of the beam can be easily adjusted while riding. The beam itself has a focussed central area but casts some wider diffused light too. Three modes of continuous brightness and two flashing give plenty of options for different conditions — we mostly tested it on city roads but midnight runs across London Fields showed it was capable in darker parks too. Side visibility is excellent with a long window on each side of the lamp. This is one of the larger lights we tested and the pivoting mount means it sits quite high or forward from the bar. The charging port is easy to access and the charging light (integrated with the power button) is clear; an integrated cover fits snugly over the power port. Overall we found the Central 300 delivered excellent run times and good beam patterns — it’s a burly all-rounder, more than bright enough for urban and suburban cycling.
ELECTRON F-650 £39.99
Charge time (claimed/actual): not given/2hr40
Run time (claimed/actual): 2hr30/2hr35
The first thing you notice about the F-650 is its size — it’s easily the largest front we’ve tested this year, but then it needs to be to accommodate the twin beams. One LED provides a wider continuous beam, with the option to cycle the second more focussed beam through more constant or flashing modes. With both LEDs on their highest continuous modes, the F-650 delivers a super bright output that really does light up the road ahead, but could easily dazzle oncomers if positioned fully horizontal. An amber widow on each side gives added side visibility. The charging indicator is large and clear, however we did find the casing got pretty hot when charging for longer periods of time. The power port is easy to access and the integrated rubber cover fits well. We had a few issues with the mounting system — the clamp attaches to the bar firmly and the light can pivot vertically, but it isn’t easy to attach/detach quickly and undoing the bolt can be slightly fiddly. Run and charge times are reliable, so if you like the ‘two lights in one’ concept, the F-650 offers good value.
LEZYNE MACRO DRIVE 800XL £64.99
Charge time (claimed/actual): 4hr/4hr50
Run time (claimed/actual): 3hr/3hr50
As we’ve come to expect from Lezyne, the design and build quality is second to none; the metal casing is strong and durable enough to cope with knocks and being rattled around in bags. For a twin beamer it’s also very compact (compared to the Electron) and easy to attach/detach with the integrated rubber strap. In their brightest mode the two LEDs easily light the road a couple of dozen metres ahead and there’s plenty of modes to choose from including flash, pulse and five constant settings. The full blast beam is total overkill in town, but a joy on country lanes — luckily you can toggle between this and one lower mode making rapid switching between the two so as not to dazzle oncoming traffic. Cutaway sections in the casing give some side visibility too. Charge times are on the longer side but return excellent run times. The charging port is recessed a fair way which can make plugging in the power cord slightly tricky, but the cable stays put once it’s charging and the port cover fits firmly. Factor in run times, beam options and reliability and you’ve got a product that’s suitable in pretty much any situation.
CYGOLITE DASH PRO 450 £55.99
Charge time (claimed/actual): not given/2h45
Run time (claimed/actual): 1hr15/2hr30
It might not win any beauty contests, but the Dash Pro 450 offers some interesting design features. The main beam is complemented by a row of four smaller LEDs which means there’s multiple modes; you can run a more focussed central beam combined with a wider throw, or concurrent continuous and flashing beams. Two small casing cutaways allow reasonable side-on visibility. Having the main beam on full and the LEDs on constant packs a serious punch, likewise the wide and focussed beam combinations. The Dash Pro is compact and lightweight, its integrated rubber strap felt durable, though the spacing between each rung on the ladder meant we couldn’t clamp as tightly on some bars as we would have liked. The charging port is very easy to access but the port cover doesn’t fit particularly tightly. There are seven modes to choose from: three levels of constant beam (LEDs and main on continuous), LEDs on constant and main on flash, only LEDs on constant, only LEDs on flash, both on flash, etc. It’s like your own mini Tron...
XECCON LINK 150 £21.99
Charge time (claimed/actual): 5hr/3hr45
Run time (claimed/actual): 2hr40/2hr55
Xeccon is a new name to us and the Link 150 impressed straight away with its light weight (just 46g) and compact size. It’s also uncomplicated and easy to operate. The alloy case gives it a robust feeling and it comes with two rubber clamps for different diameter bars. This means that part of the clamp isn’t left flapping around when it’s on the tightest setting – once installed the Link 150 sits neatly and unobtrusively. The mount stays fixed to your bar and the light slides on and off in seconds; it’s really convenient if you’re popping in and out of shops, or dashing from one place to the next. It’s by no means the brightest light we’ve tested this year but it is more than adequate for city use. For such a small unit the wide beam does a reasonable job of illuminating the road immediately ahead; low, medium and high continuous beam modes are complemented by one strobe mode. Among its most impressive features are the wide wraparound panels which provide excellent side visibility, much more than several more expensive models. The charging indicator is clear and the power port is easy to access via an integrated cover. Our one criticism is that the rubber USB cover doesn’t seal brilliantly, but we really rate this light for its simplicity, size and design — great for urban cycling.
FABRIC FL300 £49.99
Charge time (claimed/actual): not given/1hr50
Run time (claimed/actual): 2hr/2hr10
Another new-ish kid on the block, the FL300 has its own unique design, top-notch build quality and a handful of outstanding features. It’s compact but feels reassuringly solid. The adjustable mount clamps to handlebars firmly, it’s really easy to fit and isn’t integrated with the light so you can slide the unit on and off quickly. The charging port is very easy to access and the charging cable supplied is a noticeably high quality. When fitted the rubber port cover sits flush with the light. Mode selection on the go is straight-forward too — you twist a dial at the rear of the light rather than toggle through modes with the power button. The charging indicator is clear but it does go out when fully charged; we’d probably prefer it if it changed colour. There are four main modes – high, low, flash and pulse. The FL300 has a focussed beam which is plenty bright enough for commuting and dimly-lit parks. Perhaps best of all, four red LEDs along the length of the body, plus a universal mount, mean the little tube can also be attached to a seatpost and used as a rear ‘get you home’ light. However, even though there are tiny cutout sections next to the lens you really only get very limited side illumination. Its dual front/rear performance stands it apart in this selection; it’s another classy product from the Fabric stable.
CATEYE VOLT 400XC £49.99
Charge time (claimed/actual): 7hr/5hr10
Run time (claimed/actual): 1hr/2hr20
We’ve tested several models in the Volt family and this fairly recent addition shares the same unflashy good looks of its siblings. The shiny plastic casing might not immediately feel as tough as some of the metal-clad units but, other than a few superficial scratches, it’s not been troubled by the odd scrape or drop. A rubber strap and plastic hook are integrated into the body so it’s easy to fit and grips tightly; it can be quickly adjusted when you’re out and about and there’s also a helmet mount which we’ve found worked with several popular models of Bell, Giro and Fox lids. The 400XC has a bright, focussed beam and even though we found the charge times to be at the upper end of the scale, we were pleasantly surprised by the consistent brightness and run times. The USB port is easy to access and has a built-in rubber cover; it locks in place firmly and sits flush with the casing. The light has four modes — high, low and two modes of flash. We generally just swapped between the two constant modes, opting for full beam on darker side streets. Good-size cutaway sections offer nice side illumination too. If you can live with those charging times, there’s a lot going for this Volt.
LIGHT & MOTION URBAN 800 £99.99
Charge time (claimed/actual): 2hr30/2hr
Run time (claimed/actual): 1hr30/1hr50
Busting the price ceiling in this grouptest, the Urban 800 gave us an insight into whether splashing the extra cash is a worthwhile investment. The answer, simply, is that it depends on the type and frequency of your riding. Pumping out 800 lumens on max, this is a very bright light with a clean, focussed beam that lights up the road evenly; that mode is way too bright for London commuting but has been a real bonus on night-time training rides. Three levels of continuous beam and one pulse mode deliver enough other options for the city, while two amber side windows give excellent side visibility. Two things to note: the casing got quite hot when charging for longer periods and the port cover (made from a brittle plastic) snapped away. Also the charging indicator light is clear but quite small. Once clamped in place the light doesn’t budge — it’s a fit-and-forget system. Considering the brightness it delivers, we really appreciated the super quick charging times and found the run times consistently surpassed L&M’s own claims. If your riding’s more varied than just commuting, this would be a good pick for CX, mtb and forestry forays.
TESTED BY: Rob Eves, JK