The Brightside Topside helmet light is a very well thought out and designed commuter light – it is super-easy to click in and out of its mount, simple to operate and, most importantly, the beam is brilliantly bright to attract motorists' attention. It is intended as a light to be seen by, rather than to see by – I certainly feel more confident on the road when I'm wearing it. The Topside also has a universal fit system, is rechargeable and represents good value at £30.
The light has four modes: fast double flash, constant full power, constant half power and steady flash. Using Cree LEDS and pumping out 30 lumens each end, the front light is retina-searing and the back one extremely bright too. The spread of the beam is wide thanks to the magnified fish-eye lens, for maximum visibility.
Visibility is claimed at over 500m, which is a pretty long way. I struggled to find a straight stretch of road that long to verify this, but the light is certainly very eye-catching at a distance of 180m, which suggests it will be visible from considerably further. It should certainly alert drivers to your presence in good time to allow them to react.
It's a doddle to toggle between modes by pressing the centrally located button on the top, which is raised enough to feel through winter gloves. There's no danger of accidentally switching the light on when it's stuffed in a pack or pannier, as you have to press it hard for half a second to activate it. This power switch also serves as a battery indicator, changing from green to orange to red when juice is running low. (Admittedly, this isn't much use when you're riding, but is handy to check before you set off.) The switch is also a charging indicator, flashing green during charging and becoming constant when the light is ready.
The Topside is well built and sturdy – the solid casing means it can survive dropping from a small height. I'll update its durability and reliability after a few months' use, but after a few weeks of wear it fares well on both points. It survived an accidental night left outside in sub-zero temperatures and worked fine the next morning.
In the time I've been testing it, water resistance has been excellent. I took it into the shower with me to give it a proper dousing, and it was water off a duck's back as it happily flashed away. While the Brightside leaflet doesn't recommend submerging the light, inventor Aidan Gribbin said they show them working in a bowl of water at trade shows, so he's clearly confident the lights are watertight.
The run-times are very good. Bear in mind these will vary according to factors such as temperature, and how often you switch between modes and turn them on and off, as these demand power from the battery. The red LED uses up more battery than the white LED, and the rear light's power has been increased from 20 to 30 lumens since the first batch of lights were manufactured, which means run-times are slightly reduced compared to the original lights.
The longest lasting mode is the fast double flash – it shone for a laudable 17.5 hours on a single charge, which includes 45 minutes with the red battery warning light on. This warning light starts constant then changes to flashing, but the Topside didn't die for a full 35 minutes after it began flashing. So, double flash is by far the most power-efficient mode, but there is small 'dead spot' between pulses which is a fraction of a second too long for my liking.
As you'd expect, full constant power puts the biggest drain on the battery, but still lasted a reasonable 2hrs 40mins, with the warning light on for the last 10 minutes. Out of interest, after it died I then switched it on again in fast double flash mode and it held out for another 12 minutes. I tried the same trick when that stopped, and the Topside delivered another 5 minutes of fast double flash. But best not rely on these extra periods of grace as the light gets older and has undergone more charge cycles.
I've tended to use the steady flash, as I think flash attracts the eye more readily than a constant beam, and run-time was a reasonable 5.5 hours – adequate for five days' commuting between charges for me. Once the battery indicator had turned red, it lasted a good 25 minutes.
While it's not the smallest lid light on the market, measuring 7cm long by 3cm diameter, the Topside is light enough at under 70g (including mount) to not be noticeable after the first few minutes. The mount is ingeniously simple, comprising a plastic semicircular clip and rubber mounting strap that passes through the helmet vents and hooks onto the plastic clip. If you prefer, you can use zip ties instead of the strap to attach it, but the strap fitted easily to the selection of lids I tried it with. It was perfectly comfortable too – I soon forgot I was wearing it.
The clip is the quickest of quick-release designs – the light unit simply pushes into the clip (which is lined with a rubber shim for extra security) and pulls out. There is a red and a white O-ring at the respective ends to indicate which way round to insert the light.
The Topside is simple to recharge at home or the office using the tiny supplied micro USB lead, taking about three hours for a full charge using a plug socket, though you can also charge it from your computer's USB port.
The aim of the Topside is to make you as visible as possible to drivers, and by wearing a light high up on your helmet you're more likely to be seen in traffic than relying on frame and pack-mounted lights, which are more easily obscured by vehicles – especially if, like me, you have to negotiate a load of Chelsea tractors doing the school run.
As it stresses on the website, the Brightside lights are designed to be seen by, not see with, so if you ride on unlit roads or towpaths you'll need to pair the Topside with a bar-mounted front light to illuminate your way.
Also, as with any double-ended helmet light, it needs careful placement depending on your riding position, so that the beams project horizontally in the eye-line of motorists, rather than down to the ground and up into the sky. So, fit the mount towards the back of your lid if you ride head down in the drops, or further forward if your style is more sit-up-and-beg.
Brightside also makes an amber sidelight (review to come), its original Kickstarter light launched in September 2015, and you can save £10 by buying both together for £49.99. Currently the Brightside lights are only available through the website (postage £4).
A great commuter helmet light to enhance your visibility: bright, quick to fit and inexpensive
road.cc test report
Make and model: Brightside Topside Helmet Light
Size tested: (50 lumens front and 20 rear)
Tell us what the light 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?
The website says: "Topside is aimed at the commuter market - with its wide 'be seen' fish eye lens and bright Cree LEDs it has great visibility."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the light?
Bright Cree LED - 30 lumens front and rear
Magnified fish-eye lens
Long run times with Li-Ion battery
Four flash and constant modes
Weighs 66 grams
USB charger lead included
I think the run-times are excellent, and I even eked out a little extra by switching on in lower modes. Full recharge takes 3hrs, so easily done at the office during a working day.
Constant full beam 2hrs 40mins
Fast double flash 17.5 hours
Steady flash 5.5 hours
Tell us how the light performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Very well – very quick to fit and lit me up like a Christmas tree.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the light
The excellent mount, ease of use and, of course, the brightness of the beam.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the light
Did you enjoy using the light? Yes
Would you consider buying the light? Yes
Would you recommend the light to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your score
An excellent light – if it were half the size then it'd be even better.
About the tester
I usually ride: Marin Point Reyes 29er My best bike is: Giant Anthem X1
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, touring, club rides, mountain biking, audax