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With most cycling purchases you’re bombarded with options, many of which can leave you confused and undecided which product to pick. This weekend I bought a front light for my bike and this experience was no exception. I thought I would write a little post offering some advice on light buying and finishing off with a review of my purchase.
The main thing to consider – and the biggest selling point – is the brightness of the light(s). The brightness of a light is measured in lumens, the higher number the brighter the light.
I asked twitter which brightness I required and the answers I received differed somewhat. It was apparent answers will depend on the area someone lives, if they’re based somewhere central they probably won’t cycle many roads without streetlights. I’m based in Cheshire and I’m surrounded by dark country lanes, without a light you simply can’t see anything at all. With this in mind here’s my personal Lumens guide:
50-150 Lumens – Doesn’t light the road up much but it’s suitable when you can depend on a lit street. I would have it flashing and use as more of a safety light than to actually light up the road.
300-400 Lumens – Bright and will light up the road. If you’re riding on pitch black roads this is the minimum requirement. Ideal for commutes on familiar roads rather than fast descents into the unknown.
600-850 Lumens – For serious training this is probably the minimum requirement. Can safely go anywhere and you can see the road ahead very clearly.
1100-1500 Lumens – Very bright, not unlike a car’s full beam and practically blinds oncoming motorists. You can see everything and I would use this downhill mountain biking etc
1500+ Lumens – I can’t speak from experience as I’ve never seen one in action, but this must be seriously bright. Some go as high as 3200 which must be like a spaceship. Expensive, but probably worth it for someone serious about riding in the dark!
Some other things to bare in mind:
Battery – You get some seriously bright lights but most won’t last longer than an hour on full beam, which basically renders it useless if you fancy a decent ride. I have the 1100 but mostly ride on an 650 Lumen setting, I get 2.5 hours from that. Mine is chargeable via a USB cable, this is handy at work – and home – with my laptop. However, I have seen some reports of a USB port not fully charging the light. I haven’t experienced this yet but I also have a mains USB adaptor in case, which omits more power.
Save battery with settings – The settings are important as you often have different modes and settings. To maximise the battery ensure you can decrease the brightness quickly when you’re in lit areas, this will save battery power. Where possible I make use of the flashing light on a low brightness, as battery life lasts significantly longer on this setting (up to 18 hours I believe).
“As with anything, riding in the dark takes some getting used to”
Be careful – As with anything, riding in the dark takes some getting used to. Turning corners is a bit dodgy as you look into the corner but won’t see anything until your bike light turns. An additional helmet light would certainly help with this. Make sure you’re fully concentrating on the road ahead, especially on a fast descent. I toggle the light to full power when flying downhill.
Plan ahead – The first time I ventured out night riding I was 15 (pitch black) miles from home and the light started flashing orange. I had no idea what this meant, nor how long I had left so I started panicking a bit. Without a backup light I would have had to resort to my iPhone torch, something that’s probably quite dangerous. Check the sunrise times and plan your ride accordingly, ensuring you’ve enough battery to see you through.
In the end I opted for the “Lezyne Power Drive 1100XL Front Light”. It was £80 which I think is fairly reasonable for such a high Lumens output. I purchased the light from Evans, that was great as I got to handle/view/shine a few others before purchasing.
It fastens to the handlebars with relative ease. You simply loop the rubber strap round and fasten it onto a hook. The light twists around so you can access the hook easily (I made the mistake of not doing this the first time, and it was hard to get on!).
There’s only one button on the device, it’s a rubber button that lights different colours to provide various information. This button can be quite hard to press, especially with thick gloves on, but I’m hoping this might improve with time.
There are two modes overdrive and normal. You access overdrive mode by holding the button for 5 seconds when the device is turned off (to toggle back to normal mode you do the same procedure). When activated you can toggle between overdrive (1100 Lumens) and economy (150 lumens) settings. This is effectively like a car light toggling from high to low beam, but the issue is that 150 is too low for dark roads and 1100 only lasts 1h 15mins. It’s a shame the didn’t stick a setting in the middle too.
Normal mode has 5 settings. First three lights, blast (650 lumens 1h 45min), enduro (450 lumens – 2h 40min) and economy (150 lumens – 8h 15min). I have been using enduro on pitch black roads, it’s fine and I can get a solid 2.5 hour ride with it. If I go through a lit area I will knock it down a setting to save battery. Likewise, if I go down a fast descent I knock it up to blast setting (650 lumens), to be on the safe side.
These three lights are followed by two flashing settings. Flash (150 lumens – 16 hours) and pulse (150 lumens – 19 hours), the latter does exactly what the title suggests, it pulses. I use these modes in lit areas for my safety rather than to see where I’m going.
With regards to the settings I probably won’t use the overdrive setting much. Unless I was I was on unfamiliar roads or perhaps out for an hour and fancied the luxury. As with most devices these days, the battery life really lets them down. Another minor quarrel is that access to these settings go one way, in the order I mentioned them. This means that if if I need to jump from enduro (450 lumens) to blast (650 lumens) for additional light, I have to loop round all of them. This is not ideal when approaching a descent, considering you have to go through the low light flash modes, which effectively leaves you in the dark.
The light behind the button is a battery indicator and changes colour and appearance depending on its status. When green it means you’ve 51-100% of battery left, yellow means you’re at 11-50%, red is 10% (start panicking) and flashing red 5% (I hope you’re nearly home!). When charging the light flashes green, and when full it will be solid green.
It is charged by USB and the charging slot is concealed by a “rubber plug” which looks very protective, but it’s quite hard to get out. In addition, the actual slot is recessed quite far into the unit, meaning that it’s a bit fiddly to fit the cable. The unit takes around 4 hours to charge from flat.
Overall I’m very happy with it, I was going to spent 3x the price but this is more than adequate for my early morning training and commute to work.
For my back light I have a very simple 100 Lumens light which I have flashing. I might have to upgrade this in the future but it will suffice for now. I also wear high-vis clothing.
Hope this helps someone!
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