Our test model had a stump pulling 32 tooth granny gear, though stock models will run an 11-28.
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2014 Compact Light Review

Lighting is crucial for safe riding in the dark, and it’s required by law to ensure that you are seen by other road users in low light conditions. But beyond making your presence known to others, effective lighting can increase your comfort levels while riding in the dark, save you from pothole pinch flats or obstacles on the road, and help keep you on course. Getting the most from the smallest package is of course what the market demands and the challenge for lighting designers—and you can still expect to pay top dollar for good form and high function.

But tight and bright aren’t the only factors in a good light; the mounting arrangements can be a deal breaker and run time can be a letdown for some. Tool free and simple is the baseline for mounting design but the fewer parts the better (none that can become detached!) and good adjustability to cope with various diameter bars. Run times vary from 30 minutes on high beam to two and a half hours on high for the longest-running light. 

Gathering the batch of lights for this year’s road bike light review I was impressed by the level that some have reached in terms of technology and manufacture. Anodised and machined alloy casings, programmable intensity levels, power gauges that show the run time left in percentage and minutes feature on the higher end units. There are some with a custom lens to produce elliptical beams that redirect and focus the light into the most useful area, and limit the chance of you high powered beam dazzling oncoming traffic. There are some well thought out items here. 

All of the lights except the Knog have a two stage mounting system, one ‘low steal appeal’ part that attaches to the bars and can remain in place, to which the light itself is then quickly attached or removed and taken with you so your expensive light doesn’t get nicked. I’d like to see more designs that provide the ability to hang the light centrally below your stem (some will mount under the bars instead of on top already) for a cleaner look and also to retain full width hand access on the tops. There are more ‘concept’ lights being produced lately; quality light units integrated seamlessly into handlebar design, and these will be the way of the future, but they’re yet to make it into mainstream manufacture. 

As a gauge of utility, by looking at the effective length of the beam you can determine how many seconds of vision each light will provide at a given speed. We’ve nominated 30kph which equates to 8.33 metres per second. Increasing from three seconds of vision to four doesn’t sound like much but it’s a 30% increase which makes a significant difference in reaction time.

We specified lights with an internal battery for this review (battery cables are messy and external batteries can be a hassle to mount—and they’re likely to mark your frame’s paint). We’ve also set a minimum lumen rating of 300 to ensure these will be lights you can see by.

These photos were taken with a Canon 600D set at five second exposure, f6.3, and 100 ISO. Ten reflectors are positioned in five-metre increments along the left hand side of the road for your reference.

We have included a photo of a six volt Dolphin torch beam with new battery and xenon globe as a control/baseline comparison.

Cateye Volt 300 Headlight

The Volt 300 produces a medium-brightness beam from its single LED emitter. It’s a fairly focused beam which fades quickly but evenly at the perimeter. There’s a reasonable spread lengthways from five to 20m, which gives you about two seconds of vision at 30kph. It has five modes: high, normal, low, hyper constant and flashing, so you can choose longevity of being seen or, for a shorter time, the ability to see.  Spare cartridge batteries are available and swap in easily. A three hour run time is more than adequate for this style of light though you may like to recharge after each ride. The mount of the Cateye is like a hose clamp made from plastic. It tightens by means of a large plastic nut that pulls the threaded plastic strap tight around the bars. It’s solid and functional but a tad rudimentary and not up to the same standard of manufacture as the light itself which is very neat and tidy. The lowest priced light here by a factor of two, the Volt 300 provides dependable effective lighting.

RRP: $59.99

Claimed Lumens: 300

Weight including bracket: 137g

Lumens per gram: 2.19

Lumens per dollar: 5.00

Distributed by Shepard Industries

www.sheppardcycles.com

ES501 Gamma Ray

With a name like ES501 Gamma Ray you might be forgiven for thinking this light puts out 500 lumens. And so it does. The beam and brightness is quite strong for a single LED and well directed too. There’s some reasonable spill-back towards you from the main centre of the beam, allowing reasonable peripheral vision and a full three seconds of vision at 30kph. The mounting of the Gamma Ray is a solid slide-on system, which allows you to take the light with you in a flash. The light has four constant modes and a flashing mode, but also the drawback of cycling through an ‘off’ position between ‘flash’ and high beam, so you can be without light for a second when changing up to high beam. Overall the Gamma Ray makes good use of its light output.

RRP: $129

Claimed Lumens: 500       

Weight including bracket: 145g

Lumens per gram: 3.44

Lumens per dollar: 3.88

Distributed by Echelon Sports

www.echelonsports.com.au

Cygolite Metro 500

A scaled down version of the chunky, high powered Trion 1300, Cygolite’s Metro 500 uses a single emitter to produce a decent central beam claimed at 500 lumens. It then fades nicely at the edges reducing the contrast effect, and though it doesn’t spread wide enough to see the sides of the road, it extends effectively to about 25m from the bike.

The Metro 500 has six modes including a ‘day lightning’ and a walking mode, and there are built-in side illumination ports for added visibility. The mount is robust and simple to use, and overall the Metro 500 is a tidy looking compact light .

RRP: $119           

Claimed Lumens: 500

Weight including bracket: 131g

Lumens per gram: 3.82

Lumens per dollar: 4.20

Distributed by Bikecorp

www.bikecorp.com.au

Cateye Volt 1200 Headlight

Cateye have been making quality bike lights for many years. The big brother of the Volt family, the 1200 emits a powerful beam through two LEDs projecting far enough to provide vision for a good four seconds at 30kph. The beam is broad, bright and even, giving good vision right back to your front wheel. At 236g it is just shy of the heaviest light in this review, and at 60mm x 110mm it is a chunky attachment for your bars.  But it’s a solid performer that will enable good vision at speed for two and a half hours on high beam; not bad for such a high output light. It has three constant modes; one flashing and an on-plus-flash mode that Cateye calls ‘hyper constant’, which is meant to provide continuity of vision while delivering the attention grabbing flash for other traffic. The Volt 1200 uses the same mounting bracket as the 300; it is solid enough even for this weightier light, though there’s a different latch on each light body. Overall it scores well in the lumens per gram and dollar ratings, and while one of the larger heavier units on review, it is a very effective light.

RRP: $230

Claimed Lumens: 1200

Weight including bracket: 236g

Lumens per gram: 5.08

Lumens per dollar: 5.22

Distributed by Shepard Industries

www.sheppardcycles.com

MagicShine Eagle 600

The case of this light is anodised aluminium and houses two stacked LEDs; one with a clear spot lens and the other ridged for a wide angle beam. Twin LEDs with a claimed 600 lumen total output push a dispersed beam out from the Eagle 600. There is no discernible spot and light is spread evenly across the road. It could be seen as making the light dimmer, though a high contrast situation where your viewing area passes through a bright spot and then possibly into darkness right before your front wheel can actually make it more difficult to see. Amber side lights on the left and right increase the rider’s visibility to other road users. There’s an OLED battery gauge on top of the casing that shows the battery’s status as a percentage of full, or the minutes of burn time left in the current mode of operation. A simple, sensible, high-low-flash sequence is all you need to figure out, and you’ll see for one and a half hours on high beam. The Eagle 600’s mount is a tidy design, the light secured by snapping into place toe-first like a Shimano pedal. It secures firmly and releases easily by means of an (unnecessarily) bright orange button.

RRP: $199

Claimed Lumens: 600

Weight including bracket: 153g

Lumens per gram: 3.92

Lumens per dollar: 3.02

Distributed by Giro Australia

www.magicshineaustralia.com.au

Knog Blinder Arc 5.5

As with most Knog products, the Blinder Arc 5.5 is creatively named and stylishly finished. Its 550 lumens are used very well providing a strong wide beam of light that reaches out to 25m (three seconds of vision at 30kph). Peripheral vision is very good with the Blinder; the wide beam spreads out very well to each side of the road.  Its lens is shaped to flatten the beam to an elliptical 16° vertical and 24º horizontal profile to minimise the glare experienced by oncoming traffic. It’s water and dustproof (IP68 rated) and secured by a stretchy silicone strap.  It is slightly nose heavy and on my bars had a tendency to tip down over time. There is no tightening mechanism in the mount once it is latched, but this could be resolved by a couple of wraps of PVC tape on the bars for extra girth. Overall the Blinder Arc gives good bang for your buck with 4.23 lumens per dollar and also scores well in the fashion stakes.

RRP: $129.95

Claimed Lumens: 550

Weight including bracket: 152g

Lumens per gram: 3.62

Lumens per dollar: 4.23

Distributed by Apollo

Exposure Axis

One of the most sophisticated lights on review (the other also being an Exposure light) the Axis is a well designed refined light. It is small (28mm x 113mm) and light at only 101g. Part of the weight saving in Exposure lights is from the tough rubber mounting strap system. These stretch around the bars and snap onto the cradle. The light itself then snaps in and out of the mounting cradle easily, though with some force required. Simple. There are several levels of power output, thermal overload management, a battery charge status gauge and the ability to power other lights (eg a rear light) or charge USB devices from the light’s own battery. Perhaps overly technical—but workable. Exposure lenses collimate the beam (make the light rays parallel) to collect and redirect all available light for optimum efficacy and using this, the Axis throws a artefact-free beam down the road topping out at about 20m. The Axis would make a very good helmet mounted light and does come with a quick and easy non-damaging helmet mount.

RRP: $280

Claimed Lumens: 550

Weight including bracket: 101g

Lumens per gram: 5.45

Lumens per dollar: 1.96

Distributed by Bikebox

www.bikebox.com.au

Exposure Equinox

The brightest light on test at a claimed 2000 lumens, the Equinox is also the most expensive. It throws an impressive beam of intensely bright light that gives very clear vision to about 45 metres. When helmet mounted, switching between high and low beam can be problematic, so this light has a wireless remote switch to attach to your bars. Using the same rubber strap mount and snap on/off design, the Equinox is the fastest mounting light here. There is the same level of high tech circuitry as the Axis to select an appropriate level of brightness, allow you to see remaining burn time and ensure the unit doesn’t burn out, which without the thermal overload protection would be quite possible. It’s not advisable to leave these turned on while you have stopped. The Equinox also has good cooling capacity by virtue of the alloy case and heat sinking fins. Lightweight and technically advanced, and with a price to match, the Equinox is quite a brilliant light.

RRP: $430

Claimed Lumens: 2000

Weight including bracket: 173g

Lumens per gram: 11.56

Lumens per dollar: 4.65

Distributed by Bikebox

www.bikebox.com.au

Cygolite Trion 1300

With a bright, 1300 lumen output from three second generation Cree XM-L LEDs, the Trion 1300 provides great vision and a very intense beam that illuminates both sides of our laneway and from the front wheel out to around 45 metres or more. There are eight lighting modes—four of them constant, and with this much power you might actually consider using a setting lower than maximum.

The Trion features regulated power circuitry to maximise the light’s brightness over the battery charge cycle but should you need extra run time this Trion will take an input lead from approved 7.6v Cygolite external batteries. Switching is easy via a separate on/off and mode selection switches, and the mounting hardware is simple and rugged.

RRP: $319

Claimed Lumens: 1300    

Weight including bracket: 248g

Lumens per gram:  5.24

Lumens per dollar:  4.08

Distributed by Bikecorp

www.bikecorp.com.au

Lezyne Super Drive XL 

The Lezyne Super Drive XL has a CNC-machined aluminium body that is lightweight, durable and a good heat regulator, which is important as these lights produce a lot of heat which affects the performance of the light if allowed to build up. The light is fairly well directed, with a central beam that fades at the edges but there is some secondary light back to the rider that enables reasonable vision as well, but vision to the side of the road is low given the tight focus. We had the light angled so the central beam began about 10m from the wheel and as such the main beam extended out to around 30m. There are side cut-outs for more visibility and the mounting hardware is sturdy and simple. Spare batteries are quickly and easily swapped, tool free. Overall the Super Drive XL gives strong light output in a long throw, medium width beam.

RRP: $139.95

Claimed Lumens: 575       

Weight including bracket: 160g

Lumens per gram: 3.59

Lumens per dollar: 4.11

Distributed by Monza Imports

www.monzaimports.com.au

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Our test model had a stump pulling 32 tooth granny gear, though stock models will run an 11-28.

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