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we've been in a tunnel with 41 of this year's front lights and the results are in.....

Well, here we are again. Waking up in the dark, riding home in the dark... it's lights time.

We've been busy getting some of this year's crop and the reviews will be going up through the winter. 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 the Big Test deadline – about 40 of them – and put them through their paces. 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, so we did. The results are available in the big road.cc light comparator at the bottom of the page. Rear lights are coming soon.

What did you do?

We've collected lots of beam data 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 throw 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 1m from the centre, giving eleven readings.

This year we've also included data on the shape of the beam. Putting the brightest part of the beam at the centre, we measured the output at thirty-degree increments around the beam, at a distance of 50cm from the centre. That gives you a good idea of the pattern of the beam; most are more or less round, but some have more interesting characteristics.

To get a good idea of what the beam looks like, we set up a bike on a rig so that we could photograph the beams of all the different lights in a comparable way. We used a tunnel this year, because it has the advantage of always being dry and pitch black down there which means that we should be able to more easily add to this test when more lights come in; last year we found with outdoor shots that replicating the rig wasn't easy, as different conditions above gorund mean differing levels of ambient light and reflection from surfaces, even in the same spot. Each of the beam shots you can see above was taken using the same settings on the camera. Specifically, they're all shot from directly above the saddle, using a 28mm lens on a Canon EOS1100D (effective 45mm), shooting for 2s 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. The two reflective jackets are at a distance of 15m and 30m, respectively, from the light. The reflective strips down the centre are at 2.8m intervals.

Is that it, then?

No, of course not. You can look through out Buyer's Guide for more information on what kind of lights will suit your riding. 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 the non-circular beam patterns

Some of the lights on test don't have a uniform circular beam pattern, with more light along the centre of the beam. Because of this, the beam values on the long graph 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  and beam shape should give you the whole story.

The comparator is below. Have fun!

If you have a nice big screen you can click here for the widescreen version (1400x1000px)

Dave is a founding father of road.cc and responsible for kicking the server when it breaks. In a previous life he was a graphic designer but he's also a three-time Mountain Bike Bog Snorkelling world champion, and remains unbeaten through the bog. Dave rides all sorts of bikes but tends to prefer metal ones. He's getting old is why.

52 comments

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sparrow_h [35 posts] 3 years ago
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This is great! A good addition would also be a picture of what the bike looks like with one of these on it from 100m and 30m, ie. how much visibility you get, especially from the cheaper lights.

Horses for courses, on dark country roads you need to see where you are going and be visible from as far as possible; whereas for urban commuting often you dont need a little sun mounted on your bars, too-bright or badly aimed lights can be a bit of a menace to others.

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seabass89 [212 posts] 3 years ago
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How come a light like Magicshine costing 80£ can crush most other lights costing as much as 200£? O.o

IS somebody ripping somebody off?

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Marauder [268 posts] 3 years ago
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I have to applaud you Dave for a concise and easily understood comparison of lots of different lights.  41

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adriank999 [77 posts] 3 years ago
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Where's the front light from Poundland costing just one pound?

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Bez [587 posts] 3 years ago
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An impressive test and presentation of the results (though I find the "beam shape" plots a little easy to misinterpret). Very good indeed.

May I (having checked the lights I've used and some equivalents to other lights I've used) raise one significant issue with it?

The fact that it's set in a narrow tunnel with pale walls distorts the results for scattergun-beamed lights, mainly in that it heavily favours them over those with a proper road beam. In a tunnel the light from the former is being bounced back into view when it would otherwise be going into the sky or drivers' eyes. So scatterguns not only look more impressive because they illuminate the walls and roof, but even the light they cast on the ground is being flattered by reflected light.

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nuclear coffee [205 posts] 3 years ago
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top class report  1 I'll definitely use this next time I'm looking for lights. Well done.

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NeilG83 [283 posts] 3 years ago
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Excellent test. Any information about the best rear lights?

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therealsmallboy [162 posts] 3 years ago
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This is awesome. Possibly the easiest to understand light test ever.

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dave atkinson [6142 posts] 3 years ago
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NeilG83 wrote:

Excellent test. Any information about the best rear lights?

rear lights will be along presently...

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dave atkinson [6142 posts] 3 years ago
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Bez wrote:

The fact that it's set in a narrow tunnel with pale walls distorts the results for scattergun-beamed lights, mainly in that it heavily favours them over those with a proper road beam. In a tunnel the light from the former is being bounced back into view when it would otherwise be going into the sky or drivers' eyes. So scatterguns not only look more impressive because they illuminate the walls and roof, but even the light they cast on the ground is being flattered by reflected light.

it's a valid point. we chose a tunnel because the environment is easy to control. ideally we would have had a blacked-out room the size of a football pitch but we couldn't find one. maybe next year  1

we did consider the reflected light issue. if you look at a strong road beam light (say the supernova airstream), there's plenty of light on the walls and the floor, which is a similar colour to the walls. but there's no light at all on the ceiling. if the reflecting of the light was a big issue you'd expect to see some light reflected on the ceiling; you don't. That's not to say there isn't some light pollution from reflection - there is - but i don't think it heavily favours the round-beamed lights.

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alronald [58 posts] 3 years ago
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Great piece of work!

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roxycoxy [2 posts] 3 years ago
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Have you got the Lezyne Power drive xl and the Super drive xl mixed up?
Surely the Super drive should be brighter than the Power drive.

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sorebones [138 posts] 3 years ago
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Great work chaps.

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jackh [119 posts] 3 years ago
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Congratulations on this, I can see a lot of effort when into it and probably the best light test I've ever seen on the web.

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Karbon Kev [688 posts] 3 years ago
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great test! well done road.cc

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kie7077 [833 posts] 3 years ago
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I just got a £30 ebay light, claims 1800 Lumens (approx 18w), it might not be quite that bright but it's more than enough to cycle 20mph through a dark unlit park.

It withstood a 45min downpour in which I got soaked even with waterproof jacket.

'CREE XML XM-L T6 1800 LM LED' It comes with a recharger, the claimed battery length is 3hours on full. The flashing mode is strobe only, which you'd have to be a dangerous pest to use (doh). Takes several hours to charge.

Why pay £100 - £200 when you can get a good light for £30.

The ebay no' is 140744146377 and it's a UK seller.

Come on road.cc review this one, it's a bargain.

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Gkam84 [9068 posts] 3 years ago
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Did you turn the Knog Blinder on?  19 19

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stealth [254 posts] 3 years ago
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I've just ordered one of the Chinese "Cree 1800 lumen" lamps from eBay. Several club-mates have them and are raving about them.

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russyparkin [570 posts] 3 years ago
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shit the bed!

hope you patent this test. amazing!

@kie7077

the cree for most parts is not eu tested and is slightly dubious build quality versus some, i also wouldnt charge it out of my sight either, just in case..

i run the cree along with a Exposure joystick. I take the joystick waiting for the inevitable failure of the cree, i have to say this fear is fading fast though  1 the cree has not missed a beat and some chaps i ride with are on their 3rd season with them.

i took a punt and thought for £18 (got mine from china direct) if it only makes one winter i will be happy

in short there is no way its pumping out 12/1800 lumen but its plenty bright and i am getting 3 hours out of mine on full beam.

sites like this kind of cant review these things, abit like fake pinarellos etc.
they know they work im sure but the site will be funded by advert revenue and im sure legit and tested manufacturers would not support people advertising.

in short though a cree works fine, is nice and bright but always in the back of my mind is the sealing and build quality, so my trusty Exposure will always join it  1

russ

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Gkam84 [9068 posts] 3 years ago
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I have Cree's, best lights I've had in many years, but they are VERY strong, thats my only worry with them, blinding other road users.

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Dr_Lex [239 posts] 3 years ago
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Another year, another test missing the Philips SafeRide.

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steff [81 posts] 3 years ago
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A pedant writes: it's worth pointing out that "Cree" in itself isn't a brand of light - they just make the actual LED devices and sell a wide range either as bare chips to solder to a board or as little PCB modules. Once you've picked your LED, you've got all the physical construction issues to deal with as well as cooling the chip and making a nice efficient constant-current power supply to drive the thing (if you hook it up directly to a battery it will try very hard to turn into a gas).

I got a couple of unbranded cree lights off eBay a while back - one was DOA (at the chip level), the other worked OK but the drive circuitry wasn't very good - got hot on a fresh battery and dimmed as it discharged. Caveat emptor and all that.

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ALIHISGREAT [119 posts] 3 years ago
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kie7077 wrote:

I just got a £30 ebay light, claims 1800 Lumens (approx 18w), it might not be quite that bright but it's more than enough to cycle 20mph through a dark unlit park.

It withstood a 45min downpour in which I got soaked even with waterproof jacket.

'CREE XML XM-L T6 1800 LM LED' It comes with a recharger, the claimed battery length is 3hours on full. The flashing mode is strobe only, which you'd have to be a dangerous pest to use (doh). Takes several hours to charge.

Why pay £100 - £200 when you can get a good light for £30.

The ebay no' is 140744146377 and it's a UK seller.

Come on road.cc review this one, it's a bargain.

Looks interesting.. what's the build quality like?

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Michael5 [121 posts] 3 years ago
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Fantastic test. Well done. I liked the old version, but this is miles better. Despite the flaws about bouncing light beams and all.

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dave atkinson [6142 posts] 3 years ago
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Dr_Lex wrote:

Another year, another test missing the Philips SafeRide.

we did try, we can only test what we're sent

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thelimopit [136 posts] 3 years ago
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This is great, one of the best and most comprehensive tests I've ever seen on the internet full stop.

Must have got a bit freaky being in that tunnel in the dark though!

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pdw [49 posts] 3 years ago
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Nice test, but I'm not sure about the tunnel for the beam shots - I'd rather see what they look like on the road.

Shame you couldn't get your hands on a SafeRide. There's a real shortage of lights with proper beam patterns suitable for use on the road.

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byke.com.au [19 posts] 3 years ago
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Has the camera's white balance been set manually or left on automatic?

Keen to know if the variation in colour is entirely due to the different lights or not.

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byke.com.au [19 posts] 3 years ago
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roxycoxy wrote:

Have you got the Lezyne Power drive xl and the Super drive xl mixed up?
Surely the Super drive should be brighter than the Power drive.

+1

Be interesting to know whether there's been an error at Road.cc, the difference between the Super XL & Power XL is just an artificial distinction of Lezyne's marketing department, or whether it's just a bit of a lottery from unit to unit.

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kie7077 [833 posts] 3 years ago
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what's the build quality like?

Seems very solid, attaches to the bike nicely, the battery pack attaches to the bike with Velcro easily and water didn't bother the battery to light connection.

Only been using it a couple of weeks though.

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