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Verdict: 
Sets a high standard for wallet-friendly commuter lights but the Radbot's subdued peripheral presence was slightly disappointing
Weight: 
169g
Contact: 
PDW Spaceship 3/Radbot 500 Light Set
7 10

PDW's Spaceship 3 and Radbot 500 light set is a quirky, inexpensive but deceptively good commuter pairing with some unique features and a better build quality than the price would suggest. While bright, the rear's small surface area means it's most effective when mounted horizontally.

PDW – Portland Design Works – is based in Portland, Oregon, a US state where cycling is very much a way of life, and explains those neat touches.

> Find your nearest dealer here

> Buy this online here

Front up

The Spaceship3 is a simple two-mode unit sporting three (Japanese, don't you know) diodes. These run in a triangular formation and are amplified through a well-designed collimator lens with oodles of peripheral bleed.

The rugged two-piece composite body is held together by a flathead screw that feeds into a threaded brass insert so, bad crashes aside, should live a long and productive life. Inside, two AA cells occupy a well segregated battery tray.

PDW Spaceship 3 and Radbot 500 Light Set - Spaceship 3.jpg

PDW Spaceship 3 and Radbot 500 Light Set - Spaceship 3.jpg

Thankfully diodes, circuitry and reflector are completely sealed from curious digits and foul weather alike. I'd be temped to add a quick lick of silicone grease to the contacts once the OEM cells expire but am pleased to report ours laughed at heavy downpours, and a brief blast at close range with my garden hose made negligible impression.

The squidgy top-mounted switch is easily commanded in gloved hands, yet just positive enough so as to not readily be engaged in the murky depths of a messenger bag. Flashing is default and very extrovert; we're talking around the 350m mark, though the sculpted lens hood prevents you dazzling yourself and oncoming traffic alike.

PDW Spaceship 3 and Radbot 500 Light Set - Spaceship 3 side.jpg

PDW Spaceship 3 and Radbot 500 Light Set - Spaceship 3 side.jpg

Combined with that generous lens, the fast-paced strobe shouts a very clear warning to others when entering the flow of traffic at roundabouts and junctions, and there's almost no danger of falling off the radar.

I say almost as despite being in this setting and dressed like a Christmas tree on acid, a heavily pregnant mother of two children decided to cross my path with seconds to spare – luckily I had upgraded my fixed gear winter/trainer's front stopper to disc!

PDW reckons 90 hours is possible from fresh batteries. I've managed 82 from the OEM set, which is still pretty good going. That said, unlike the latest generation of higher-end offerings, when reserves really hit rock bottom, output follows suit. By the same token, there is ample warning and every opportunity to replace batteries before trouble strikes.

> Check out our guide to the best front lights and our beam comparison engine here

Steady produces a very clear, if relatively narrow, spot that is more than adequate for suburban/urban navigation and picking out hazards to around 18-20mph. Unlit canal paths, and semi rural stretches call for something more potent for seeing with, but even then I was visible to around 150m. On this setting you can bargain on 25 hours from rechargeables, 28 dry cells.

PDW Spaceship 3 and Radbot 500 Light Set - Spaceship 3 back.jpg

PDW Spaceship 3 and Radbot 500 Light Set - Spaceship 3 back.jpg

The brand's Mission Control 2.0 brackets are interchangeable throughout the range and can be purchased separately. Lights engage and release with an audible click and the rubberised strap will cling limpet fashion to the full zodiac of handlebar diameters, from 22 through to 31.8mm. Chatter and vibration are minimal, even over washboard surfaces.

Rear we go

The rear Radbot 500 continues this well-engineered theme with a choice of rack, seatpost or seatstay mounting. Middleweight of the range, it sports a collimator lens single watt diode, three modes and, unusually, a generous reflector, which means it complies with road traffic regulations proper.

PDW Spaceship 3 and Radbot 500 Light Set - Radbot 500.jpg

PDW Spaceship 3 and Radbot 500 Light Set - Radbot 500.jpg

Agreed, it would need to be a very cruel, dare I say bored, copper who booked you on these shores. However, experience suggests their counterparts in mainland Europe take these things very seriously – tourists take note.

In common with its bigger 1000 sibling, access to the battery tray is via recessed Phillips screw. AAA cells are similarly well segregated and the unit has passed my usual tests with flying colours. This has divided opinion, some moaning about the inconvenience, but you're unlikely to be changing them every two minutes, and this arrangement protects vulnerable diodes and switchgear from filthy weather.

PDW Spaceship 3 and Radbot 500 Light Set - Radbot 500 mountr.jpg

PDW Spaceship 3 and Radbot 500 Light Set - Radbot 500 mountr.jpg

Talking of which, the small, silver button is tucked just beneath the lens and is very user-friendly. Depressing for two seconds induces constant, prod again to reach the strobe and flashing modes. Constant emits a warm, relatively bright glow that's visible from around 130m along pitch black lanes, dipping to 75-80 through neon-saturated town centres.

Run time is quoted as 30 hours in steady and 60 in flashing. I managed a commendable 27hrs 47mins from the OEM AAAs, and 58hrs 56mins in flashing using fresh, premium grade replacements.

> Check out our guide to the best rear lights here

Following behind, friends suggested they could pick me out at 500m on really starry nights, dipping to 300 in built-up areas. This sort of clout and economy suggests its perfect for audax, all-nighters and longer haul escapes from civilisation.

PDW Spaceship 3 and Radbot 500 Light Set - Radbot 500 side.jpg

PDW Spaceship 3 and Radbot 500 Light Set - Radbot 500 side.jpg

However, despite that dome-like window and big reflector, peripheral presence proved much weaker than expected. Repositioned horizontally to posts and racks alike largely addressed this problem, and I tackled larger roundabouts with less trepidation. It's not a patch on something like the IZone Curve 2 (review to come), though, which – legalities aside – is a much better bet for child/touring trailers.

Verdict

Sets a high standard for wallet-friendly commuter lights but the Radbot's subdued peripheral presence was slightly disappointing

road.cc test report

Make and model: PDW Spaceship 3/Radbot 500 Light Set

Size tested: Spaceship 98 x 41 x 35mm, Radbot 36 x 40 x 82mm

Tell us what the light set is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?

PDW says: "To penetrate the inky blackness of space, climb aboard the Spaceship™ 3. This headlight focuses three brilliant Japanese LEDs through a precision lens, illuminating your course with the brightness of a supernova to deliver you safely to your cosmic destination.

"The RADBOT™ 500 has your back, transmitting your position on all hailing frequencies with a blazing red 0.5 watt LED beacon and a light-broadcasting reflector.

"Tested under grueling conditions, the Spaceship 3™ and RADBOT™ 500 are unfazed by rain and meteor showers. Convenient mounts let you strap in and blast off in seconds. Engage."

Decent, affordable commuter lights.

Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the light set?

Spaceship™ 3:

Fits 22.0-31.8mm handlebars

3 white LEDs

Runs on 2x AA batteries (included)

Steady and flashing modes

Includes Mission Control 2.0 mount

91 grams/3.2 ounces

98 x 41 x 35mm

Bracket installation instructions

RADBOT™500:

0.5 watt red LED made by Nichia brand

zZzPOP!, cornea blitz and rock steady modes

Euro reflector

Rack and Stayputnik mounts

Backpack clip

2x AAA batteries (included)

62 grams/2.2 ounces

36 x 40 x 82mm

Rate the front light for quality of construction:
 
7/10
Rate the rear light for quality of construction:
 
7/10

Well sealed from the elements, good brackets and composites are of a decent grade too.

Rate the light set for design and ease of use. How simple were the lights to use?
 
8/10

Simple, user-friendly switches.

Rate the front light for the design and usability of the clamping system
 
8/10
Rate the rear light for the design and usability of the clamping system
 
8/10

Generally excellent, although the rubberised strap needed some gentle pre-stretch before readily accommodating oversized bars.

Rate the front light for waterproofing. How did it stand up to the elements?
 
7/10
Rate the front light for waterproofing. How did it stand up to the elements?
 
7/10

Both are highly water resistant in the everyday sense and survived my garden hose test without so much as a flicker.

Rate the front light for battery life. How long did it last? How long did it take to recharge?
 
7/10
Rate the rear light for battery life. How long did it last? How long did it take to recharge?
 
7/10

Both offer reasonable economy by AA/A standards, although I'd advise regular commuters use ni-cd rechargeable cells with dry cells in reserve to keep running costs favourable compared to designs using integral lithium ion/polymer cells.

Rate the front light for performance:
 
6/10
Rate the rear light for performance:
 
6/10

Both are bright and generally highly visible. However, the smaller surface area means the rear is peripherally weaker than output and size might initially suggest.

Rate the front light for durability:
 
7/10
Rate the rear light for durability:
 
7/10

Both are well sealed from the elements and use higher quality composites than ticket price might suggest.

Rate the front light for weight:
 
6/10
Rate the rear light for weight:
 
7/10

What I'd expect from a commuter pairing.

Rate the light set for value:
 
8/10

Tell us how the lights performed overall when used for their designed purpose

Overall, I've been impressed by the build and quality of output. The front offers a decent, pure white arc, which is good enough for suburban/urban navigation, and the lens's huge peripheral windows are among the best I've seen. The rear is similarly well made and very bright when following behind. However, while the reflector piece may well comply with road traffic legislation, the relatively small peripheral surface bleed is comparatively disappointing.

Tell us what you particularly liked about the lights

Very bright and inexpensive.

Tell us what you particularly disliked about the lights

Though very bright, the rear's small surface area meant it was peripherally weaker than many designs without EU compliance, so it wouldn't be my first choice for trailers/tagalongs in particular.

Did you enjoy using the lights? Yes

Would you consider buying the lights? Front isn't powerful enough for my needs but would consider buying the rear on its own.

Would you recommend the lights to a friend? Yes, If they wanted a bright and relatively frugal pairing for suburban/urban riding.

Overall rating: 7/10

About the tester

Age: 41  Height: 1m 81cm  Weight: 70kg

I usually ride: Rough stuff tourer based around 4130 Univega mountain bike frameset  My best bike is: 1955 Holdsworth Road Path and several others including cross & traditional road

I've been riding for: Over 20 years  I ride: Most days  I would class myself as: Experienced

I regularly do the following types of riding: cyclo-cross, commuting, touring, fixed/singlespeed, mountain biking

Shaun Audane is a freelance writer/product tester with over twenty-eight years riding experience, the last twelve (120,000 miles) spent putting bikes and kit through their paces for a variety of publications. Previous generations of his family worked at manufacturing's sharp end, thus Shaun can weld, has a sound understanding of frame building practice and a preference for steel or titanium framesets.
Citing Richard Ballantine and an Au pair as his earliest cycling influences, he is presently writing a cycling book with particular focus upon women, families and disabled audiences (Having been a registered care manager and coached children at Herne Hill Velodrome in earlier careers)

2 comments

Avatar
Peowpeowpeowlasers [510 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

> though the sculpted lens hood prevents you dazzling yourself and oncoming traffic alike

It doesn't keep the light from dazzling other road users.   The only lights that do this are those which use optics to shape the beam.  Don't believe me?  Get your favourite light and stick gaffer tape over the top half of the lens.  You'll still be dazzled.

If you're going to review lights and make claims about their effectiveness, you need to know what you're talking about.

Avatar
antigee [419 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

I would to thank the manufacturer for including a rack mount and a stay mount with this set as some of use bags for tools and I'm fed up with rear lights that only come with a rubber band to fit on the seatpost.

Very easy to detach/attach when going to the shops/gym.

Would like to confirm that runtime is excellent.

Have the set reviewed and a Rad1000 as well - the Rad1000 is excellent for daytime use and seems to have the desired effect of getting (most) drivers to think a bit earlier - the 500 is excellent at night but I don't think adequate for daytime use. I also use a fibreflare to give side visibility.

I only use the front as a back up on flash at night and for this it seems good. I use a  brighter light to illuminate the road. 

Overall it is well thought out bit of kit at a value price and for me a lot better than other "budget" lights that  sit in my spares box