Reviews: Bike Lights (USB charged)
- By London Cycling Campaign on at 5:31pm 15 December 2014
- Posted in: News and blogs
- Tagged with: lights, reviews, bike lights, commuting
It goes without saying that a decent set of lights is a must-have for regular cyclists, but manufacturers' claims can sometimes differ quite radically from real-life performance. So London Cyclist's testers have put a selection of the latest USB-charged models through their paces.
LEZYNE KTV Drive £15.99 front; £29.99 pair
Charge (claimed/actual): 3hr15/3hr
Run time (claimed/actual): 4hr30/4hr
We've been fans of Lezyne's Zecto and Femto lights since they launched and it's good to see the stylish design extend to the new KTVs. Sold singly or as a pair, both the front and rear lights are identical, housed in aluminium cases with rubber end caps; the bottom cap pulls off to reveal the fixed USB stick which plugs straight into a computer or socket. The neat dome-shaped lens design allows 180-degree side visibility and we found that the rear light lasts roughly an hour less in each mode than the front (nearly 10hr in flashing mode). The rotating clip and band allows the lamps to be fixed in different positions to different bar/post diameters and removed quickly. At just 50g each they'll appeal to many as the ideal 'get you home' safety light. Available in four colours. JK/TB
L&M Urban 350 £59.99
Charge (claimed/actual): 5hr/5hr
Run time (claimed/actual): 1hr30/1hr20
The Urban 350 has a number of handy features and four beam modes. Charge time is pretty lengthy but the indicator light has 'traffic light' settings to let you know how long you’ve got left which can help with planning your charges. The 350-lumen full beam is fairly wide and shines brightly for half-a-dozen metres on the road ahead, while cutaway sections on the side of the unit house two bright amber lights which provide extra side visibility. On half beam, we got roughly 3hr of run time, enough for most commutes. It fits onto your bars with a robust rubber strap (there's several size options depending on bar's diameter) and can easily be adjusted to the angle you want it at. The fitting can be twisted 90 degrees to fit on a helmet without any additional mounts needed. AS
MAGICSHINE MJ-890 £29.99
Charge (claimed/actual): 2-3hr/3hr
Run time (claimed/actual): 3hr/4hr
Lights with 160-lumen output used to cost close to three figures, but the tiny MJ-890 is considerably more affordable. The light's encased in a hard plastic case with rubber seals to keep out water and attaches to your bars with a rubber strap. A button on top switches between full beam, half beam and flashing modes, but while the button conveniently lights up red (exhausted, charging) or green (on, charged) it is not designed to prevent accidental activation in your bag. The beam spread is well judged for urban use and it's bright enough for some off-road use too. But unlike the company’s more expensive lights, this one isn't visible from the side. We timed the full beam at 4hr-plus and the light fades rather than switches off suddenly. The light was well behaved after a shower and a drop onto a hard surface. TB
PDW Lars Rover 650 £75
Charge (claimed/actual): 5hr30/4hr45
Run time (claimed/actual): 2hr/2hr15
PDW's Aether Demon was our pick of the rear lights last year so we had high hopes for the compact 125g Lars Rover, which purports to offers a 650-lumen output on full beam. Its dazzling brightness was immediately obvious on unlit sections of Burgess Park, where it illuminated the full width of the track and more than double our regular commuting light ahead. But the half-beam mode is more than bright enough about town and we found it lasted about 4hr. Charging took a full afternoon, but an indicator light shows when it's done; this light also acts as safety indicator warning you 15 mins before battery dies. The alloy unit takes a good knock and while the clamp was fiddly to set up initially, once it's done it's just left on (three mounts for bar or helmet use). An impressive light and if it had some side visibility it would top this year's table too. JK
LIGHTRIDER USB Front £39.99
Charge (claimed/actual): 10hr/7hr+
Run time (claimed/actual): 4hr/3hr40
Unique in this year's test, the Lightrider (as its name suggests) actually illuminates the rider as well as the road. On full beam there's 80 lumens to light your way, while your torso has 30 lumens on it. The plastic body has become scratched and dirty quite quickly, though that's not affected function. The forward beam is bright, with a fairly narrow focus, and what's handy is that if the battery's getting flat on full beam, the light automatically switches down to a lesser beam to ensure you get home safely. The clamp's fiddly at first but can be left on once fitted and the lamp removed independently. Excellent side visibility is afforded at both ends of the lights too, but our main difficulty was angling the light in such a way that the rear-facing lamp didn't blind us – depending on you bar height and position it could be an issue. AA battery version also available for £10 less. JK
Run time (claimed/actual): 200hr/still going strong
Unlike Campagnolo chainsets and Phil Wood hubs, bike lights have traditionally detracted from a coveted bike’s sleek appearance. But no longer – the Blinksteady will not look out of place on a Donhou, Roberts or a Saffron. The American company describes the light's construction as "machined from solid aluminium" and it is indeed as sleek and smooth as a minimalist marble sculpture. A key innovation is that the Blinksteady is light and motion sensitive – so it blinks (or stays steady if you invert it) only when it's dark and only when you are riding. What happens when you stop you might ask? Well Blinksteady says it stays on for a further 60 seconds – we timed it at just over that. That may not be quite enough for a long light signal change so you are advised to move your bike a little at slow lights.
The other clever aspect of this pricey item is that it cannot be easily removed from a seatpost (the only attachment option) without removing the seatpost itself. And therein lies the downside for us Londoners – thieves in the capital specialise in saddle and seatpost theft, so you have to either buy a security skewer (pitlock, Atomic 22) or superglue the bolt in place (not suitable for anyone who wants to adjust their saddle height). It will attach to a saddlebag using zip-ties but you have to make sure it is facing backwards (and it kind of defeats the design intention).
The waterproof light is powered by two small pen cells which last up to 200 hours (blinking) according to the manufacturer. We weren’t prepared to shake the light non-stop for days to test this but after several weeks use the beam is still strong. From the rear the two LEDs provide a bright and wide (120 degrees) light, but there is no side opening to illuminate beyond the 180-degree point .
Battery replacement , which is not something you will do very often, is done by removing the light and then unscrewing two tiny allen key bolts. The lights come in two sizes: small (to fit 25-27.2mm seatposts) and large (to fit 27.2-31.6mm). Weight 60g.
For the style-conscious winter roadie this could be an expensive but tasty stocking filler. Just remember to protect the seatpost if you are leaving the bike outside. TB
CATEYE Volt 100 £29.99
Charge (claimed/actual): 3hr/2hr25
Run time (claimed/actual): 2hr/2hr45
The Volt 100 is a three modes USB-rechargeable light. The FlexTight bracket is very easy to fit and holds the light confidently. The 65g weight, easy removal from fitting and handy mode memory function makes it an ideal light if you have multiple stops on your journey but you still want a well lit path. The 150-lumen full beam is about 3m wide and lights about 6m ahead, with a considerably brighter centre beam of about 0.5m wide making it an ideal light for urban use and some off-road use. The light also offers 180-degrees of side visibility. And the switch button situated at the top conveniently lights up red when the battery is running low. AT
VEGLO CommuterX4 £49.99
Charge (claimed/actual): unknown/4hr
Run time (claimed/actual):3.5-20hr/6hr – but fibre-optic lasts around 19 hours
As a back light, the Veglo works well and its array of settings makes it an interesting, if not recognisable product. It fits nicely onto your backpack, with a slightly over-complicated but workable strap system, and can be worn without a bag too. Both the central light and the fibre optic lights in the straps can be controlled separately, so you can play around with different combinations of flashing and solid lights; it is also very bright. If you’re riding on a road bike/hybrid however, the light sits very high, almost pointing up rather than straight behind you, which is not ideal. The other slight niggle is that it can make quick access to your backpack tricky – it's fine if you want to remove smaller items, but not perfect for locks and coats. It does fit a variety of backpacks though – we tried it mostly on 25-35 litre models. Overall it works as a product in itself, but whether it's any 'better' than a basic clip-on LED light is questionable. TMP
Reviews by: John Kitchiner, Tom Bogdanowicz, Amy Summers, Aurora Trujillo, Tom Marshall-Potter