In the LED led light arms race (that’s LIGHT arms race, not light arms race, oh never mind!) it’s easy to be seduced by the Dark Side of the Force (shouldn’t that be the Light Side? – Ed). If some lumens are good, surely more lumens are better? You could be forgiven for thinking that all you need for a good light is to turn the lumens up to eleven and couple it with a burn time greater than that of a birthday candle. Of course, it’s not that simple. A powerful but poorly focused light that shoots out light indiscriminately is no match for a less powerful but well-designed light that puts your lumens where you need them.
Designing and manufacturing a good light to be seen by is no easy task. There are a number of features to look out for. Able to withstand a constant soaking from both above and below, visible from the side as well as the front, offering a decent burn time between charges, bright enough to get you home in the event that your main light fails and easy to mount and remove from the bike all come into play.
For the purposes of this group test, we took five sets of lights from five manufacturers and put them through the wringer. So were there any shining lights in the test? Read on to find out.
Niterider Lumina OLED 800
Occupying more the “see with” than the just “be seen” category, the Lumina OLED packs something of a technological punch. I chose this for test as I wanted to see just how capable LED lights can be without resorting to a separate power pack or breaking the bank. Niterider market them as being suitable for mountain bike, road and urban environments. On paper, 800 lumens doesn’t seem like a lot by current standards but the Niterider is proof that it’s not the lumens that matter but what you do with them. The light beam is well focused and is very effective at illuminating both country lanes and dark forest tracks, being a perfect compromise between spot and flood. On full beam, which lasts for over an hour and a half, I happily used it as my main light off road. Burn time increases to well over five and a half hours on low setting with medium sitting in the middle, oddly enough, while there are three additional flash settings and an SOS function. The power display function on the light is one of those things that having used it makes me wonder why every manufacturer doesn’t offer it. It completely removes the end of ride uncertainty of not knowing how much battery power you have left. The fact that burn times tend to be a bit longer than those advertised is another bonus. Despite repeated soakings, the light has proven 100% waterproof during the period of the test.
Overall: With a simple but solid handlebar mount, long burn times, a genuinely useful power display and well-focused light, the Niterider is proof that you don’t need to break the bank to get yourself a capable off road light.
Knog Blinder Arc 640
Knog’s Blinder Arc 640 occupies the same territory as the Niterider, albeit with a bit less top end power. Pumping out 640 lumens for the best part of two hours or somewhat less for up to eight hours, the Knog is at the bottom end of the range for what I like to use for off road riding. However, if you aren’t riding in a group of lumen one-upmanship, it’s perfectly capable of getting you home safely. Charging is taken care of by flipping the USB charger at the back of the light and connecting it to a supplied USB extension cord. The cord is a little bit short but this isn’t a major issue. The light emitted from the Arc 640 is, like the Niterider, well focused with no discernible spotting. On top, there is a colour coded battery life indicator light which works well but suffers in comparison to the Niterider’s digital display. The mounting strap is Knog’s familiar hook and band affair and is supplied for both 25mm – 30mm and 30mm – 35mm diameter bars. Fortunately, this is easily replaceable should it be damaged. The light also comes with a simple helmet mount.
In use, I really liked the light. The beam pattern is excellent and the 640 lumens are put to very good use. However, the strap lets the light down as the weight of the light is forward of the mount causing it to rotate forwards and down the way on bumpy trails with annoying regularity. I partially solved this by creating a shim from gorilla tape but would prefer Knog to solve this in future generations of the light.
Overall: Knog have potentially a great light on their hands let down only by a clamping mechanism that doesn’t work as well as you would expect it to. It’s frustrating as it is so nearly a brilliant light at a very good price.
Cateye Rapid X2 Front and X3 rear lights
Price: £44.99 front / £54.99 rear
When it comes to lights, Cat Eye have been in the game longer than most. Combining Japanese design with sensible prices, they have long been the go to brand for many a rider, myself included. The Rapid series are Cat Eye’s latest foray into the light market so how do they measure up?
Featuring a maximum output of 100 lumens front and rear, the USB rechargeable Rapids are deceptively simple in design, being attached to bars and seat post by a simple rubber band attachment with easy to get to buttons to cycle through the lighting modes. At the front, a single button takes you from 100 lumens on high through to 16 hours on pulse. With an open design that fires out light at what appears to be almost 180 degrees, Cat Eye very sensibly supply an adhesive cover to put on the top of the light to stop you being dazzled by it in the dark. At the rear, there are two lines of LEDs operated by two buttons meaning that you can pick any combination of light type from High, Low, Flashing, Rapid , Pulse and Vibration in order to maximise your visibility. Side visibility is exceptional. I caught myself riding past shop windows and could see just how bright the rear light was from the side.
Overall: Lightweight, quick and easy to attach, bright enough for daytime use with great sideways visibility and decent recharge times, Cat Eye have come up with another great product albeit at the top end of the price range.
Niterider Sentinel 40 Rear Light
When I first heard of these lights, I was desperate to get my hands on a set to test. Why? Because they feature frickin’ lasers, that’s why! Featuring a pair of class 2 lasers (no, I have no idea what class 2 means but it sure sounds cool, doesn’t it?) that project two parallel lines on the tarmac to the side and back of the bike on slow flash, fast flash or constant. Brilliant! Coupled with a bright but well focused 2 watt (remember watts?) main light which I got to run for well over four and a half hours at full power, the Sentinel has future cool written all over it. It’s the most traditional looking rear light on test with mounting being taken care of by a stretchy but strong moulded rubber and hook arrangement. The angle of the light can be easily adjusted although I would prefer to see a slightly larger adjuster screw on the clamp as I was a little concerned that I would strip it in my usual clumsy manner.
In traffic, the effect of this light on other road users is noticeable. With the lasers on, there was a pronounced tendency for drivers to pass with a little more room than usual. The main light is brilliantly bright and in flash mode is an excellent candidate for be seen in the day light. On group rides, I had to lower the setting so as not to impair the night vision of the rider behind me. Despite the charger USB port being at the base of the unit, there were no issues with waterproofness during the duration of the test.
Overall: While it may be the light you would expect Deckard in “Blade Runner” to buy, the Sentinel 40 is no one trick pony. Excellent burn times, a well-focused beam and a laser feature that is genuinely effective all add up to a very good light indeed.
Price: £45.99 (Front) £45.99 (Rear)
When I first took these lights out of their fancy packaging, I couldn’t help but oooh and aaaaah at them. They are quite unlike any other lights that I have ever used. Shaped like a lozenge and featuring a rectangular ring of lights and what looks like a polished metal casing, these lights were definitely the blingiest (Is that really a word? Ed) on test. Featuring four constant and four flash settings up to 200 lumens in power (yes, you did read that right), the Nebulas have a brightness at full power that is almost too bright. However, if you are caught out in fog or a murky, rainy night, you will be glad of the power, albeit that it will only last for about an hour on full constant mode.
Mounting is taken care of by universal brackets which mould to fit the shape of bars, seat post and frame alike. They mounts are secured by a simple but strong rubber ring arrangement which makes mounting and removing the lights a very simple affair. Included with the rear light is an under the saddle mount which I found to be terrific in use as it put the rear light higher than any of the others on test while protecting it from damage in the event of a crash. Charging is taken care of by a supplied USB cable.
In use, I came to appreciate the ease of operation and the sheer power on tap. Even on the lower settings, the Nebulas live up to their name and are highly visible. Side visibility is almost on a par with the excellent Cat Eye Rapids. If you avoid the high settings, burn times extend to almost eight hours on the lowest constant setting. Charging from empty took less than three hours when plugged into a wall socket.
Overall: The Moon Nebulas live up to their namesake. A very well thought out and executed product with a simple but effective clamping system coupled with an excellent beam pattern.
Knog Blinder Mob Kid Grid
Price: £34.99 (Front) £34.99 (Rear)
Knog occupy the funkier end of the light market. With deceptively simple but stylish designs, they have made good inroads into the UK since their introduction a few years ago. The Blinder Mob Kid Grid lights are the latest incarnation of their Blinder series of lights aimed primarily at the commuter market. As a previous Knog user, I was pleased to see that they have changed the clamp design such that the rubber mount band is now replaceable. The USB charger element is now fixed and no longer pivots which to my mind is another welcome improvement. Offering up to 80 lumens at the front and 44 lumens at the rear, the Blinders were the least powerful on test. However, the five settings of both the front and rear light gave sufficient power in all situations and never left me wanting for more. Put it this way, don’t stare into these lights as you will have spots in front of your eyes for quite some time as I found out during testing!
Charging times are a little on the slow side, over four hours when plugged into a laptop although quicker when mains charged. However, this shouldn’t be a problem when charging them at your desk during the working day. One feature I didn’t like was the positioning of the charger. While ideal for use with a PC or laptop, I had to use an extender cable as it was not possible to plug it directly into a USB charger plug as the plug would then not go fully into the socket. Also, the positioning of the switch on the rear light meant that I had to stretch the mount cable in order for my gloved finger to be able to operate it.
Overall: While not the brightest lights on test, the Knog’s make good use of their available power in a neat package.
Lezyne Strip Drive Front / Strip Drive Pro rear
Price: £29.99 Front / £39.99 Rear
The Strip Drive lights are the latest in Lezyne’s burgeoning range of lights. Featuring five in-line LEDs, the strip drive lights have a reassuringly durable feel to them. Encased in a rubbery housing, the lights proved waterproof even in the heaviest of downpours. Mounting is taken care of by an adjustable rubber strap although the design is such that you can only mount the lights in line with the seat post and bars. Offering 120 lumens of lighting power upfront and 100 lumens at the rear on full power, minimum burn time is just shy of two hours with nine possible flash and constant settings on offer. Charging is taken care of via a built in USB stick which is protected by a dedicated removable housing.
In use, I found that on full power, I could happily get home, albeit not at full speed, if my main light ran out of juice. The domed lens design helped with side visibility although the lights were not quite a match for the Cat Eyes and the Moons in this regard. As with the Knogs, I had to use a USB charger cable when charging them from the mains.
Overall: Robust lights at a very good price which have coped admirably with the worst of the recent foul weather.
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And the winner is…….
Running all of the lights through the testing mill, I have come away impressed by just how far LED lights have developed in the last couple of year in terms of both design and performance. If you were to purchase any of the lights tested, I reckon you would be pretty pleased with your purchase as none suffer from any major flaws. However, fine words butter no parsnips so I need to pick my favourites.
In terms of the lights to see with – the Niterider Lumina OLED 800 and Knog Blinder Arc 640 – while the Blinder is a perfectly decent light at a very good price, the Niterider is proof that sometimes paying a bit more is worth it. The well-focused and powerful beam pattern, the LED burn time indicator and the excellent mounting system make for a very good light indeed. ST Recommended.
Of the lights to see with, it’s a very close run thing. The Knog Blinder Mob Kid Grid lights are proof that it isn’t always about the lumens, packing a decent punch into not too expensive a package. However, charging off the mains is a little awkward and the switch for the rear light could be better positioned. The Lezyne Strip Drive lights have a real bombproof feel to them with a usefully bright and well-focused beam pattern. Along with the Knogs, they were the cheapest on test making them a great value proposition. The Moon Nebulas ooze quality – as they should at over £90 a pair. The light output both to the front and the side are top notch while they feature an excellent mounting system, particularly at the rear. They run the Cat Eye Rapids incredibly close in terms of performance. I preferred the latter only for the fact that the rear can run both constant and flashing strips concurrently. The Cat Eyes are at the very top end of the price range but for the level of performance on offer, they are arguably worth the money and so I give them a ST Recommended Award. However, if you want a bit more oomph for a bit less money, the Moons are a brilliant alternative.
And then there was one, the Niterider Sentinel 40. To be blunt, this is a fantastic light at a very good price. The lasers are anything but a gimmick while the main light gives a fantastic level of light while being easily adjustable so as not to dazzle drivers and fellow riders. At the risk of falling into gushing hyperbole, the Sentinel 40 is quite simply brilliant in every sense of the word. If we offered a gold award, it would easily earn it. As it is, it will have to be content with a ST Recommended Award.
Best Deals on Recommended Lights
|Brand:||Niterider, Knog, Cateye, Moon, Knog, Lezyne|
|Product:||Lumina OLED 800, Blinder Arc 640, Rapid X2 Front, Rapid X3 Rear, Nebula, Blinder Mob Kid Grid, Strip Drive Front, Strip Drive Pro Rear|
|From:||2pure.co.uk, todayscyclist.co.uk, zyro.co.uk, 2pure.co.uk, Raleigh.co.uk, upgradebikes.co.uk|
|Price:||£29.99 - £130|
|Tested:||by Sanny for|