LED Lights Shootout – An Introduction…

Lights Shootout News

NOTE: Click on any photo for a full-sized version.

Bike LED lights have come a long way. They have come from bike tail lights to affordable commuter lights to decent trail riding lights last year. Everything about them was better than halogen or HID except for light brightness. This year though, we heard that they are now brighter than HID. Brighter than HID? This we had to see for ourselves.

What’s so great about LED? Here are some advantages:

img_2333.jpg- more power efficient

- more durable and impact-resistant

- much longer lifespan

- cheaper to replace

- better light color

- runs cooler

- smaller

- beam pattern is more flexible

- instant on and off

- dimming and flash modes are available

img_1943.jpgA single LED lamp is not yet brighter than a single HID bulb. But because they are so light and efficient, it is not difficult to put more lamps in the same light head. Three LED bulbs is common. And one of our test lights even uses 7 LEDs for ground-breaking brightness.

New batteries are also helping improve bike lights dramatically. Nicad batteries gave way to NiMh batteries. And now Lithium Ion batteries are all the rage as they deliver better/longer performance in a lighter package.

With the combination of LEDs, lithium batteries, better electronics and chargers, this new crop of lights promises to deliver a much better and safer night riding experience. Do they live up to the promise? Read on and find out.

Now we know some of you are also considering halogen and HID bulbs or are wondering if it’s worth upgrading your current lightset. So we’ve included a halogen lightset and two HID lightsets in this review. We also hope to include a DIY lightset with a popular configuration.

Issues:

1) Lumens Ratings – Lumens is the measure of light output of a light. Most of these lights have lumens ratings specified by the manufacturer. The problem is most of these lumens ratings are not measured and are just based on the ideal case as specified by the LED bulb manufacturer. Several things can affect the actual light output of a light. Some of the factors are: amount of power driving the bulb, reflector design, and lens glass quality. Thus we can have three different lights all rated at 500 lumens and they will most likely look different in terms of brightness. The exceptions we know of are Niterider and Dinotte. It looks like they measure their light output and thus their lumen ratings are more conservative/realistic.

Despite this issue, it is great that we have lumen ratings. It serves as a good approximation for light output. And now that we have mtbr beam pattern photos, it will be much easier to decipher exactly how bright each light is.

img_4936.JPG2) Hotspots and beam patterns – A hotspot is a beam pattern with a very bright spot right in the middle, noticeably brighter than the rest of the beam. (left beam pattern in photo) This beam pattern allows the light to throw some light in a wide pattern and a more intense light in the center that can reach farther away. The problem with this is the beam pattern is not consistent and it doesn’t work well in some conditions. The eye adjusts to the bright spot and can’t see as well in the rest of the beam. When there is a hotspot, it is preferable for the spot to be large and not too much brighter than the rest of the beam. Ideally, there should be no hotspot at all.

It is best to ride with two lights, a helmet and a handlebar light. A low-mounted bar light casts shadows that help the rider estimate the size of objects in the trail. A wide angle beam on the bars will give the rider useful trail illumination even when the bars are pointed off the trail, as happens often on tight and twisty singletrack. A wide angle beam will also illuminate the periphery of the trail (which helps the rider with balance). A helmet mounted light can help the rider see around the corner before his bars are pointed the right way, and a narrow beam is useful for looking far ahead on the trail! for high speed riding.

3) Light levels and Flash Mode – Most of these lights have several brightness levels like high, medium and low. These are used for varying riding conditions and conserving battery life. The only issue is you have to scroll through all these modes when switching light levels. Thus two or three levels is ideal. Any more than that becomes cumbersome.

LED lights have made flash mode available again. This turns out to be useful for commuting situations. Tail lights obviously need to be flashing but a flashing headlight can aid visiblity to oncoming traffic as well. On trail riding however, there is very little need for flash mode. Thus, it is not ideal for the rider to scroll through flash mode every time the light level is changed or the light is turned off. It is best when flash mode is available but out of the way. Light and Motion and Dinotte have addressed this by having a special sequence to enter flash mode.

img_1964.jpg4) Mounting Systems and connectors – Mounting Systems and connectors – Some mounting systems do not easily allow left to right pointing and rely on the (lack of) curve on the handlebar to locate and aim the light. This is annoying at best but more significant for lights with a narrow beam pattern. Additionally, some bar mounts are specific to one diameter of handlebar, something to ask about before you buy.

img_1944.JPGConnectors ranged from the simple plugs of the Ayup to the screw-on connectors of Jet Lites and Light On. The ideal plugs are ones that are non-directional and just snap securely into place. Robustness and durability are an issue as well. If you plan to use your lights in the rain or very rough conditions, weatherproof cables is an important consideration.

Features of our Test

diy-combo.jpg1) Beam pattern photographs – We photographed the lights in the same trail setting with the same camera settings. The trail featured is a narrow fire road with a tree canopy. We placed orange cones at 10 yard intervals and a beach ball at the 50 yard marker. We also took another set of photos in the back yard. These photos feature many objects and a distinct background to analyze detail and beam pattern. The camera settings we used are the following:

canong9_front.jpgCamera – Canon G9

Setting – full manual

ISO – 100

Exposure – 6 seconds

Aperture – F4.0

Focus – Manual

White Balance – Daylight

A full review of the Canon G9 Camera is available here: http://reviews.photographyreview.com/blog/canon-powershot-g9-review/

2) Run time tests – We ran each battery at full power until the battery ran out. Most of these lights have auto shut-off or auto step-down to a lower light level. When either one occurs, we record that time and note that time as the capacity of the battery. When there is no shut-off or step-down, the light dims over a couple of hours and it is much harder to draw the line where the battery run time is. When the light is about 50% as bright as a fresh battery, we recorded that time.

3) Ride tests – We rode these lights on local trails and evaluated them for usability and trail worthiness

img_2724.jpg4) Light Meter measurements – We used a light meter to measure the output of each light in Lux. Lux measurements are not easily translated to Lumens measurement. However, they provide a good basis for comparison. We found that measuring the ambient light of a bike light is quite effective and reproducible. We shine the light on the ceiling and measure the light by pointing the light meter at the ceiling.

We hope to provide a good resource for bike lights in this article. We will be providing reviews and data for the the following lights over the next few days.

img_2019.jpg img_2018.jpg

Light

Price

Claimed
Lumens

Ayup bar (regular kit)

$190

280

Ayup helmet

$190

280

BR Lights
C2.1H

$330

410

BR Lights
Jeni H

$299

410

Cateye Tripleshot

$330

130

Dinotte 200L

$249

200

Dinotte 200L Dual

$349

400

Dinotte 600-LI-4C

$399

600

Exposure Enduro Maxx

$450

720

Exposure
Joystick Maxx

$250

240

Exposure
Race Maxx

$350

480

Jet Lites
Phantom Halogen

$295

675

Jet Lites
Shadow Lithium

$500

675

Knog 605

$399

300

Levin Brightstar

$270

500

Light and
Motion Stella 180L

$300

180

Light and
Motion Vega

$175

75

Light On
Expedition 1000

$800

500

Lupine
Betty 12

$1,185

1400

Lupine
Wilma 6

$695

830

Niterider Minewt.X2

$190

150

Niterider Trinewt

$500

500

Princeton Tec Switchback 2

$299

Princeton Tec Switchback 3

$389

We will release a new review each day starting Jan. 4 so check back daily!!

Our old lights shootout is available here:

http://www.mtbr.com/spotlight/lightshootout/

About the author: Thien Dinh

Thien Dinh gained most his cycling knowledge the old fashioned way, by immersing himself in the sport. From 2007 to early 2013, Thien served as RoadBikeReview Site Manager, riding daily while putting various cycling products through its paces. A native of California, Thien also enjoys tinkering with photography and discovering new music.



NOTE: There are two ways to comment on our articles: Facebook or Wordpress. Facebook uses your real name and can be posted on your wall while Wordpress uses our login system. Feel free to use either one.

Facebook Comments:



Wordpress Comments:

  • tarwheel2 says:

    Please include some of the Fenix LED flashlights in your reviews. They are an incredible bargain and produce a lot of lumens with very low weight. I heard about the Fenix lights and bought the L2D Premium model that runs on 2 rechargeable AA batteries. It produces enough light for commuting in the dark with 4+ hours of run time and weighs only about 100 grams with batteries.

  • tarwheel2 says:

    Here’s a link to the Fenix web site.

  • old5ten says:

    It would be very helpful to include some of the newer Cygolite lights! I also second the Fenix lights mentioned above.

  • Glen Steen says:

    Great to see all the advances in LED lights as it is important to see and to be seen at night. However, how many of these lights are unshielded and will interfere with wireless computers? Are any of them shielded? Very important for those of us doing 24 Hour rides and brevets etc. The only LED’s that I have found that do not interfere with my Mavic Wireless are the Planet Bike Super Spot and some Cateyes. Are there others? How hard can it be to shield an LED?

  • Bret says:

    Is it just me, or is the Lumens/dollar wrong for the Light On and Knog lights?

    Thanks for the review.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*
*