The big road.cc lights test: the data

How did this year's crop of lights compare in terms of output? Here's how

by Dave Atkinson   October 23, 2011  

Beam test comparison shot

Almost time for the clocks to go back again: that extra hour in bed doesn't really compensate for the long months of riding home from work in the dark, does it? You'll be needing some lights then. We've got a whole bunch of lights in on test and the full reviews will start going live from next week; we like to make a thorough job of things. Jo's had his Exposure Flare on the go for a whole year...

In the meantime, however, we thought we'd share our beam testing data with you so you have something to be going on with. We took all the lights that came into the office before our Big Test deadline – about 40 of them – and gave them all the once over. The great thing about lights is that it isn't just subjective: you can measure the beam and take directly comparable photos of what it looks like in real life. So that's what we done. Next thing you'll see is the results, below. And under that we'll explain what we did.

Beam testing: the data

So, what did you do?

The meat of the testing is the beam data, which we've made into natty graphs so you can compare and contrast the different lights. Light manufacturers use a number of different metrics to describe light output. Top of the pile right now is lumens, which is a measure of the total output of the light across the whole beam. Some cheaper lights use candlepower, candela or lux, which are measurements of the brightest part of the beam at a set distance. We've used lux here, but measured at a number of points across the width of the beam. That gives an indication of the brightness of the beam at the centre, the amount of peripheral light and the shape of the beam. Specifically, we measured the lux value of the beam at two metres distance, in 10cm increments from the centre of the beam to 0.9m from the centre, giving ten readings.

On top of that, we took all the lights out into the lanes one dark night, and set up a bike on a rig so that we could photograph the beams of all the different lights in a comparable way. Each of the beam shots you can see above was taken on the same night, attached to the same bike, and using the same settings on the camera. Specifically, they're all shot from directly above the saddle, using a 28mm lens on a Canon EOS550D (effective 45mm), shooting for 4s at f22 on ISO3200. If you fancy doing some of your own. So as much as they can be, they're directly comparable to one another. If one looks brighter than another, that's because it was.

Is that it, then?

No, of course not. A super-bright beam isn't much use if the light ends up in a hedge after the first pothole, or fizzles out when it starts raining. We'll be subjecting all the lights to the rigours of the road.cc testing process and when we're happy that we've thrashed them they'll each get a full review. We'll include the comparison tool in each review too. In the meantime, we thought you'd like to see how they fared.

A word about logs

The graph displaying the beam data uses a logarithmic scale to display the output of the lights. If you understand or care about such things, here's why:

Firstly, light beams follow an inverse square law regarding the strength of the light at increasing distance, because they're illuminating a two-dimensional plane. So at twice the distance, the light beam is spread over four times the area. Consequently, a light that is measured as twice as bright at its centre won't let you see twice as far. The logarithmic scale produces a more realistic comparison because of this.

Secondly, the variations in the amount of peripheral light, though much smaller than the variations in the centre, make a big difference to how much peripheral vision you get. The logarithmic scale amplifies these differences relative to the centre of the beam, so it's easier to see which unit is putting out more light at the sides.

A word about prototypes

Some of the lights we tested – specifically, the Silva Singletrack and the three Lezyne lights – were pre-production samples. So far as we're aware, having talked to the manufacturers, they're as close to the production lights as makes no odds. But when we receive production samples we will re-test them.

A word about the Germans

Some of the lights on test don't have a uniform circular beam pattern. Some, like the Exposure Strada, are a bit flattened. Others, like the Trelock LS-950, the B&M Ixon IQ and the Cateye Econom 540, have a very square beam pattern that's designed to comply with the German road lighting regulations which specify strict limits for the amount of the beam that's allowed to land anywhere other than the road. You can see how the beam pattern looks on the beam shots.

Because of this, the beam values are a bit inflated because there's more light concentrated in the axis we're measuring, and less illuminating the tree canopy. It doesn't skew the data hugely though, and the beam graph in conjunction with the beam shot should give you the whole story.

34 user comments

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Really great study; thanks guys!

two wheels good; four wheels bad

posted by cat1commuter [1380 posts]
22nd October 2011 - 12:06

11 Likes

Agree totally about the far eastern cheap lights, last winter I purchased two ultrafire torches for the bike a 250 and 700 lumen. The 250 died after a couple of months and the 700 never stayed on for more than 10 seconds. These were to supplement my hope vision 1 on the darkest of rides, both now consigned to bin and I have just purchased the new NiteRider cordless 600 which so far has been fantastic and way outdoes my Hope 1.

posted by baggies2354 [20 posts]
22nd October 2011 - 12:18

5 Likes

I've got an ultrafire torch and it's a pretty useful light but the beam is a bit too narrow for bar mounting and the button's started to stick. I use it helmet mounted with a bar light sometimes.

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7497 posts]
22nd October 2011 - 12:20

6 Likes

Quality counts. I use an Exposure Joystick which I bought at the start of October in 2007. I've used it every day during the winter since for an hour commute home. It still works just as well. It might be taking a little longer to recharge than it used to. Very boring really.

two wheels good; four wheels bad

posted by cat1commuter [1380 posts]
22nd October 2011 - 12:27

9 Likes

What a brilliant tool. Hope you can sell it to some online bike shops!

posted by a.jumper [723 posts]
22nd October 2011 - 13:57

8 Likes

Well pleased with my Exposure Joystick; particularly with its 'WhiteEye' extension have had it for a few years used it a lot. The light is superb and it is small enough to be used as a torch. So I keep it in my pocket at work and used it to good effect! Most recent emergency? Find the escaped chicken in a large dark garden; no problem for the Joystick! 10/10

posted by SideBurn [873 posts]
22nd October 2011 - 15:27

8 Likes

This is a revelation, thanks for doing this!

the_mikey's picture

posted by the_mikey [148 posts]
22nd October 2011 - 17:30

4 Likes

got the magicshine for £89 fantastic light

posted by parf [5 posts]
22nd October 2011 - 18:30

8 Likes

i got the exposure race maxx (essentially the strada) at the bikeradar show a couple of years back,from their stand at a mahoosive discount,its bullet proof,effective and easy to use and it's used every week on both my mtb and the bianchi during the winter. The great thing about that part is the bar mount which is a piece of british design genius and its sooo easy to move from bike to bike. great light. old school lupines are good too if you dont mind cables and bottle batterys, they give a lovely "warm" halogen glow to the night and great run times for old schoool halogen lights. Big Grin

keith roberts's picture

posted by keith roberts [186 posts]
22nd October 2011 - 19:24

9 Likes

Interesting that you use a log scale for the graph, the eye is more sensitive to changes at lower light levels.
Was the background illuminance 0 ?

posted by jengy [67 posts]
22nd October 2011 - 20:10

6 Likes

jengy wrote:
Was the background illuminance 0 ?

yes. cue stumbling around a darkened room and the ensuing hilarious consequences Big Grin

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7497 posts]
22nd October 2011 - 20:26

5 Likes

Picked up an MJ-872 for NZ$85. Even if the battery only lasts a year (my old 808 one has already lasted longer than that) spares can be picked up for around $35. No matter what the quality of the light, Li-ion batteries only last around 3 years from the date of manufacture. A replacement battery for my old Niteflux (which only lasted 18 months) would have been more than the MJ-872. Can't see myself ever buying a big dollar light set with proprietary battery ever again.

posted by imaca [46 posts]
22nd October 2011 - 23:49

8 Likes

Another one for Philips bike light ... uses standard AA cells too ... very bright even on 'Low' setting ... 'High' is far too bright and batteries only last a couple of hours on high. Also have MagicShine, and Philips is much better, with longer beam reach. For on road use a light that complies with German regulations is best as you get a better beam shape and much brighter road illumination for same output ... I don't need to light up tree-tops.

Nic

posted by nbrus [286 posts]
23rd October 2011 - 12:32

5 Likes

imaca wrote:
Li-ion batteries only last around 3 years from the date of manufacture.

They last a lot longer than that. My Lumicycle battery is still going strong and I bought that in 2006.

Rob Simmonds's picture

posted by Rob Simmonds [253 posts]
23rd October 2011 - 12:57

6 Likes

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lithium-ion_battery

quote:
A Standard (Cobalt) Li-ion cell that is full most of the time at 25 °C (77 °F) irreversibly loses approximately 20% capacity per year.

Nic

posted by nbrus [286 posts]
23rd October 2011 - 18:19

3 Likes

This is a very interesting test.
However, because I'm short on cash right now and my everyday commuting includes dark country roads, I decided to go cheap.
I bought a rechargeable Cree flashlight (Q5 maybe) that produces more or less 300 lumens (said 500!) with two 18650 batteries and a charger. Actually, the whole package cost me 10 quid from an ebay auction.
I'm using it for month and a half and works really well, with a very very good battery life (2 hours in high mode).

I'm considering, though, to buy, later in the winter,the Ay Up ultra lite (a large step eh!), and I think it's a good idea to include them in your test.

posted by centrifuge [15 posts]
23rd October 2011 - 20:47

5 Likes

nbrus wrote:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lithium-ion_battery

quote:
A Standard (Cobalt) Li-ion cell that is full most of the time at 25 °C (77 °F) irreversibly loses approximately 20% capacity per year.

There are exceptions to every rule I've had Li-Ion batteries that have lasted well over three years and I've had 'em that have lasted a lot less.

Anway the bit you quote nbrus does say the loss is approximate, if the battery is operating at a lower tempreture then the loss will be much less approx 6% at 0°C. Given the effects of wind chill at night I'd hazard that's much closer to the operating temperature of most Li-Ion bike light batteries in this country + those rates of loss are for high current batteries.

Going on from that the Wikipedia article does also suggest that if you want to prolong the life of your Li-ion battery you should keep it in the fridge, I might trying sticking my laptop in there at night. Nerd

Denzil Dexter's picture

posted by Denzil Dexter [140 posts]
23rd October 2011 - 21:33

6 Likes

Great review, nice one! 'Brilliant' idea (sorry) .....

posted by Karbon Kev [682 posts]
24th October 2011 - 11:14

13 Likes

I have an Exposure Strada. Perfect for unlit back lanes and no cables so no faff. I use it every weekday in Winter and couldn't do without.

Ah! Condor

posted by Bedfordshire Clanger [326 posts]
24th October 2011 - 11:42

5 Likes

Genius! I could play with this all evening - to the point where I'd waste so much time I'd end up not going out on my bike, thus obviating the need for a light. You've just saved me big wedge. Thanks!

Martin Thomas's picture

posted by Martin Thomas [584 posts]
24th October 2011 - 18:06

2 Likes

there's a £30 one you can get from dealextreme which is brighter than the magicshine. Only dispute is really the enviro credentials of the battery.

posted by the-yorkshire-p... [180 posts]
25th October 2011 - 11:46

5 Likes

A useful comparison, thank-you for this.

I suspect most of these lights are illegal for road use through inappropriate beam geometry and dazzling oncoming traffic, but on the road is where where many of these will be used. From reading the blogs it is clear that many people seem to believe in large numbers and that 'more is better' - which is of course a fallacy. This is further confounded by the multiplicity of different and confusing ways in which the output of bicycle lights are stated.

Please remind your readers to try and be legal, remember being legal means safer. The German StVZO approved lights will be road legal in the UK. I have the B&M Ixon IQ and the B&M dynamo-powered equivalents and they are plenty bright enough at ten metres and are road legal too. The beam shot of the B&M Ixon IQ makes it look puny, but this is far from the truth.

Properly designed road-legal lights need to be off-axis visible over a wide arc, many off-road lights will not meet this and other criteria.

For another source of information about dynamos and bicycle lights including beam shots and extended road tests including dynamo powered versions, see:
http://swhs.home.xs4all.nl/fiets/tests/verlichting/index_en.html

posted by Recumbenteer [153 posts]
25th October 2011 - 16:45

5 Likes

Thanks for the comparison and nice tool!

I was wondering, how would these lights hold up against regular torches?

I've got a Fenix TK15 and a bike mount. For me this is enough light on the road and in the woods.
But I'm also curious how it compares to (for example) the Magicshine.

The advantage of a regular torch is obviously that you can comfortably use it without the bike. So you don't need to buy two torches.

Is this an option to add to the test?

GT500KR's picture

posted by GT500KR [3 posts]
26th October 2011 - 7:04

5 Likes

It would be nice to know if any of these lights conform with BS6102 part 3 or an equivalent standard, since without that the lamp - however good it may be - is legal merely as an addition to one that is approved, and they're getting hard to find. However I think the Ixon-IQ has German StVO approval, which is the only other European standard that's arguably equivalent to BS, so that ought to do the trick.

Yeah, I know, the police don't care so long as you have some kind of light, but the SMIDSY's lawyer will pick up on it - if he's any good.

If you agree with CTC that this approval malarkey is no longer fit for purpose, just a nasty little trick to catch out cyclists who have done their level best to be as conspicuous as possible, you'd all better write to your MPs and demand de-regulation of cycle lighting. It's down to you, dear reader, because the cycle trade and press are all singing la-la-la with their fingers in their ears!

Crankwinder

Crankwinder's picture

posted by Crankwinder [17 posts]
26th October 2011 - 9:36

2 Likes

Quote:
you'd all better write to your MPs and demand de-regulation of cycle lighting

you might add that you'd like clipless pedals to be legalised for night use too, since currently you're required by law to have an amber reflector on the front and rear of each pedal after dark...

And don't forget to fit your rear reflector. That's a legal requirement too.

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7497 posts]
27th October 2011 - 9:41

3 Likes

Quote:
I've got a Fenix TK15 and a bike mount. Is this an option to add to the test?

We did ask Fenix for samples. Nothing so far, though.

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7497 posts]
27th October 2011 - 9:42

3 Likes

Were is the LEDS Lenser bike lights?
Mine is awsomme

posted by leonrushworth [17 posts]
28th October 2011 - 11:06

5 Likes

mikroos wrote:
From my experience, I highly recommend Philips LED bike light. One of the brightest ones on the market and designed in compliance with German rules (the beam is shaped so that it doesn't blind the oncoming traffic). At the price of less than 100 quid, it's a really nice thing to have for commuters.

Where can I purchase this light in the UK?

Pepita rides again!

posted by pepita1 [186 posts]
29th October 2011 - 17:09

3 Likes

pepita1 wrote:
mikroos wrote:
From my experience, I highly recommend Philips LED bike light. One of the brightest ones on the market and designed in compliance with German rules (the beam is shaped so that it doesn't blind the oncoming traffic). At the price of less than 100 quid, it's a really nice thing to have for commuters.

Where can I purchase this light in the UK?

Bike24.com

posted by wyadvd [123 posts]
10th December 2011 - 21:56

3 Likes

I've just put some Eneloop XXX in mine, and the cold weather runtime is dramatically improved on my first ride with them, it's transformed it for me.

It's got a fantastic beam pattern, great for riding on dark country lanes.

posted by weenyd [18 posts]
5th December 2013 - 19:54

2 Likes