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Another year, another big box of lights... rear lights feature for the first time this year too

Time for the clocks to go back, so time for us to go to a dark place and fumble about losing screws and tripping over soccer cones to bring you beam tests of this year's crop of lights - and this year's beam test is also available in a wide screen version for maximum beam comparing fun.

The full reviews will be going up through the winter. In the meantime, however, we thought we'd share our beam testing data with you. We took all the lights that came into the office before the Big Test deadline – about 60 of them, front and rear – and put them through their paces.

The great thing about lights is that testing isn't just subjective: you can measure the beam and take directly comparable photos of what it looks like. The results are available in the big road.cc light comparator at the bottom of the page. We've kept the data from last year, too, where we haven't been sent an updated version of a light.

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. 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. We think that's the most useful measurement to directly compare. 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.

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 15cm from the centre. That gives you a good idea of the pattern of the beam. We used a smaller diameter this year for this reading because a lot of lights' beams don't really reach 50cm. So this data isn't directly comparable to the 2012 lights.

Round and round and round

Disappointingly, nearly every light we've been sent so far this year has a round beam, more or less.  For riding on the road a squared-off beam has advantages. You're not wasting your battery lighting up the tree canopy, and you're less likely to dazzle oncoming traffic. Such beams are widely used in Europe, and in Germany they're the only lights legal for use on the road.

Here in the UK, however, we still seem to be stuck in a bit of an arms race, with manufacturers concentrating on increasing output, rather than tailoring lights for their intended use. Which is a shame. Maybe next year we'll see some of the manufacturers getting a bit more creative...

To get a good idea of what each 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. Last year we used a tunnel but this time we went outside, for a more realistic picture of what the beam looks like in a road setting. Each of the beam shots you can see above was taken using the same settings on the camera: 28mm (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. Melvin the mountain biker (thanks to Avon Valley Cyclery for the loan) is at 10m (the cones are 2m apart) and the car is 20m away.

Rear lights

This year we beam tested and shot the rear lghts too. The beam data follows the same format as the front lights, for the beam shots we picked the brightest flashing mode the light had, and shot the video at 1/60s, f4, ISO6400. The car is at 10m, Melvin at 5m.

There's more that you need to know about a rear light than just how bright it is from the rear: side visibility is more important than with a front light. So make sure you read the full reviews for more info on how the lights performed in the real world.

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.

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.

48 comments

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dafyddp [322 posts] 2 years ago
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Excellent guide. So basically, if it's feasible to rig two ebay specials to the same power supply, it would wipe the floor with anything else under £100?

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Guyz2010 [302 posts] 2 years ago
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Very illuminating!

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mattsccm [324 posts] 2 years ago
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Nice test. Its a slight shame that it has concentrated on the pricier models and only touching on one of the budget Chinese origin lights. I agree that you cannot do everything though

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mattsccm [324 posts] 2 years ago
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Can some one explain that beam shape diagram for me?
Also does this show anywhere the brightness of the beam at certain distance?
I can't see that but am known for missing something .
I can't even work out what the pic is showing .
Sorry

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dave atkinson [6139 posts] 2 years ago
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mattsccm wrote:

Can some one explain that beam shape diagram for me?
Also does this show anywhere the brightness of the beam at certain distance?
I can't see that but am known for missing something .
I can't even work out what the pic is showing .

beam shape: "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 15cm from the centre. That gives you a good idea of the pattern of the beam."

Brightness: if you roll over the bottom graph it'll give you the Lux readings at the centre of the beam at 2m. It's not a number we set much stall by on its own, though, which is why it isn't more obvious.

The pic shows the light. pointing at some stuff. Don't really know what else to say there.

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mrmo [2013 posts] 2 years ago
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Will this list grow? i am using a set of 2009 Ayups and rather than get what for a better word is a torch as a replacement, i would rather get something designed for the job, ie one of the german spec lights. B&M, Philips, AXA, etc

But i don't know what 50/60/70/etc Lux is like compared to what i have.

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dave atkinson [6139 posts] 2 years ago
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yes, we're hoping so. we've specifically done it somewhere a bit more repeatable this year, rather than an abandoned military tunnel 20 minutes' walk from the nearest road  3

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mattsccm [324 posts] 2 years ago
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Re the pic.,.
There are two pics showing. one above each light yet they are not the same place etc. How do I find the same pic with different lights. At the same time of course.
Brightness
Didn't mean numbers sorry.
Just want to know the brightest. Shape means nowt if you can't see in the distance
Shape.
Thanks for trying Haven't a clue what you mean. Its numbers not pics.
Sorry to sound very dense but to a non-techy person its rather confusing. What is that number?
I assume that's distance from the light in metres. Seems rather a lot.
Actually I doubt that but what else, there are no units.
I hate to sound as if I having a go, it just that its date not pics, many tests show a pic that is comparable with other. That's tells all.
Just one other thing, maybe for the future.
Almost all lights are sold by lumens, not overly useful I know but the currency of light buying.
How about some form of comparison chart to tell us what a lumen means in the real world.
Lux, whilst more usefel doesn't match lights specs.
Good test I am damn sure, if only I was clever.

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dave atkinson [6139 posts] 2 years ago
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if you're looking at a light from 2012, then they're taken in a different place (a tunnel) to the 2013 lights (a back road). if you're comparing a 2013 light with a 2012 light the only directly comparable thing is the beam comparison graph. It's not ideal, but better to keep the old lights in when many of them are still current.

want to know the brightest? maybe try 'order lights by output' at the very top.

Almost all lights *are* sold by lumens. But the different beam shapes, and the way different companies state output (some use actual output, some the theoretical maximum of the LED), makes it effectively meaningless. Which is why the 1,200 lumen Cateye is brighter than the 1,500 lumen Luu, for example

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Bagpuss [99 posts] 2 years ago
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mattsccm wrote:

Re the pic.,.
There are two pics showing. one above each light yet they are not the same place etc. How do I find the same pic with different lights. At the same time of course.

The pics are in the same place, that line between them moves and you can expose (no pun) the entire photo by clicking on the line and dragging it left or right, if you move the mouse pointer over the image you'll see two arrow heads. That enables you to see exactly how two light stack up against each other.

Nice use of images Road.CCers.  16

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Luminosity [76 posts] 2 years ago
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Great and useful test. Missing the Philips Saferide 80 though Dave which is a great and oncoming motorist friendly light!

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russyparkin [570 posts] 2 years ago
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kudos for including the chinese special.

i ran one for 2 years and it was solid and worked fine but i have gone to a Moon purely on asphetics. vain i know but didnt like the cumbersome look and weight of the chinese special.

but totally totally brilliant light

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NorthEastJimmy [56 posts] 2 years ago
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mrmo wrote:

Will this list grow? i am using a set of 2009 Ayups and rather than get what for a better word is a torch as a replacement, i would rather get something designed for the job, ie one of the german spec lights. B&M, Philips, AXA, etc

But i don't know what 50/60/70/etc Lux is like compared to what i have.

That must be the version before they upgraded it because I've got the 2012 Ayups and don't think anything could better it to be honest. I only bought them after seeing a friend cycle with them and you couldn't miss them from a mile away! With the saxon caps on they give all round coverage.

The amount of different mounts and other accessories they came with means I can use them for everything you think of...they even replaced studio lights and a generator for night photography.

I'm disappointed they weren't included in this test.

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dottigirl [73 posts] 2 years ago
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Is the eBay special the Cree XML? Excellent light, I'm always the best-lit on our club runs.
You can get a filter too which changes the beam to a more rectangular shape. Plus I put the battery in a plastic bag with the connection to keep it waterproof.

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dave atkinson [6139 posts] 2 years ago
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dottigirl wrote:

Is the eBay special the Cree XML? Excellent light, I'm always the best-lit on our club runs.
You can get a filter too which changes the beam to a more rectangular shape. Plus I put the battery in a plastic bag with the connection to keep it waterproof.

it is a Cree XML, yes. Just looked back at the email and I've been unfair to it, as it was only £18.99

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dave atkinson [6139 posts] 2 years ago
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Luminosity wrote:

Great and useful test. Missing the Philips Saferide 80 though Dave which is a great and oncoming motorist friendly light!

Not the first year we've tried, and failed, to get them to send us one  3

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mrmo [2013 posts] 2 years ago
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NorthEastJimmy wrote:

That must be the version before they upgraded it because I've got the 2012 Ayups and don't think anything could better it to be honest. I only bought them after seeing a friend cycle with them and you couldn't miss them from a mile away! With the saxon caps on they give all round coverage.

The amount of different mounts and other accessories they came with means I can use them for everything you think of...they even replaced studio lights and a generator for night photography.

I'm disappointed they weren't included in this test.

They are an upgraded version, just not the most upgraded one if that makes sense. fine for the mtb but probably not the best choice for the road.

Just interested in going for a dynamo in due course and would like some idea of what to expect in comparison to what i have.

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thelimopit [135 posts] 2 years ago
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Great test as always, and one of the best uses of the internet since pornography. Well done to Melvin for standing so still too!  3

But would it not make more sense to take photos of the rear lights themselves, and how they'd look to a driver behind you?

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sm [367 posts] 2 years ago
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Excellent - this is what the internet was made for! You say you tested rear lights too - do you have similar fancy wizardry imagery or am I being dumb and not seeing it?

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dave atkinson [6139 posts] 2 years ago
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sm wrote:

Excellent - this is what the internet was made for! You say you tested rear lights too - do you have similar fancy wizardry imagery or am I being dumb and not seeing it?

rears are at the bottom of the 2013 lights.

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VeNT [50 posts] 2 years ago
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Dave Atkinson wrote:
sm wrote:

Excellent - this is what the internet was made for! You say you tested rear lights too - do you have similar fancy wizardry imagery or am I being dumb and not seeing it?

rears are at the bottom of the 2013 lights.

would have been nice to see them from a distance, the reverse of the front lights as they are to be seen rather than to see!

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dave atkinson [6139 posts] 2 years ago
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VeNT wrote:
Dave Atkinson wrote:
sm wrote:

Excellent - this is what the internet was made for! You say you tested rear lights too - do you have similar fancy wizardry imagery or am I being dumb and not seeing it?

rears are at the bottom of the 2013 lights.

would have been nice to see them from a distance, the reverse of the front lights as they are to be seen rather than to see!

yeah, we did try that but it wasn't ideal either. maybe we need to do a combination of both next time.

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dunnoh [197 posts] 2 years ago
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I have the ebay special. The battery lasted 12 months of commuting and cost £7 to replace. The only issue is that on flash it makes me feel sick as more like a strobe light - cars veer off the road on full beam so you have to aim it quite low. I haven't bothered trying to waterproof it and its been solid throughout Manchester's marvelous climate.

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Carl [135 posts] 2 years ago
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I've got an eBay special and it's great on the unlit country roads round where I live. You might be able to rig two to a single battery but the batteries are not so large anyway. I keep mine in a Monki Mono, which would easily fit two batteries and other stuff. At less than £20 for 1200 lumens these lights are well worth a look.

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Gizmo_ [1332 posts] 2 years ago
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Another Ebay special user here - the one you've got has a smooth mirror which is why it gets the bright central spot. But on-road, that's exactly what you want so as not to dazzle everyone else.

You can also get 'orange peel' ones which spread the beam better and are more for off-road use.

Great test though - best on the Net I reckon.

Any chance of adding the new 2x Cree light at some point?

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Mr Agreeable [166 posts] 2 years ago
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Mrmo, unfortunately as Dave says, doing a meaningful comparison on lumens is really difficult when you have different beam shapes. I have the B&M Cyo and by the standards of my MTB lights it's pretty weedy - more like a 400 lumen light than a 900. However it puts the light in just the place where you need it, so it's more than adequate for unlit roads, plus it's visible from the side, and doesn't dazzle other users when you're on a narrow road or a shared path.

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mrmo [2013 posts] 2 years ago
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Mr Agreeable, because of the age of my current lights, they are only around the 3-400 lumen mark anyway, so enough but i wouldn't really want to go dimmer.

As said i am interested in a dynamo at some point, i have a 17mile each way commute, most of it on unlit country roads, so am charging batteries most days through the winter. Just being able to grab the bike and ride without worrying about the batteries is attractive.

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Mr Agreeable [166 posts] 2 years ago
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Mrmo, there are more dynamo units starting to appear that have a bit more poke - the new B&M Luxos looks good. But as I say, if the beam shape is right it's really not an issue.

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bendertherobot [700 posts] 2 years ago
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Dave Atkinson wrote:

yeah, we did try that but it wasn't ideal either. maybe we need to do a combination of both next time.

That's a shame. I wouldn't commute without fibre flares (and exposure flare) but the test makes them look like they aren't on.

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Kim [218 posts] 2 years ago
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I would be fascinated to see how my Dinotte 400L Road Rider’s experience matches up against this crop...

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