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Everything you need to know about what to put on your bars to light your way

The days of feeble incandescent lights are long gone. Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) have taken over as the source of bike illumination. They're robust, efficient and very cheap to run.

  • Smaller lights are plenty bright enough to get you seen at night. Need to see where you're going? Look for output of about 500 lumens and up.

  • All but the cheapest lights are rechargeable, usually via a micro-USB port so you can use a common charger or your office computer

  • Our lights comparison engine shows you the all-important differences in where the light ends up, showing that total lumens aren't the only measure of a good light.

  • Want lighting that's truly ever ready? Take a look at a dynamo system: no recharging needed and you can't leave them at home.

  • When the clocks go back and the nights draw in, you need to make sure you've got a set of lights on your bike. It's the law in the UK to run them after dark, and they're a major safety aid about town as well as letting you see where you're going in the dark lanes.

    If you're in the market for some bike lights there's a bewildering array to choose from, at prices ranging from a few quid to nearly a grand, so what's the best bet for your riding? To help you choose here's road.cc's quick guide to the technology and the options available for your front light.

    The light beam comparison engine

    Our beam test comparison data contains beam shots and data for over 40 of this year's lights, as well as all our historical data going back to 2015. So you can directly compare one with another. After it, we take a look at the various options in lighting technology and recommend some of our favourite lights.

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

    About the beam comparison engine

    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. We've tried a number of different approaches to this in the past, but this year we've taken a picture of each beam with the camera in the same position and using the same exposure. Wider beams should appear wider, and brighter beams brighter.

    Most of the lights we tested still had a more-or-less round beam. For riding on the road a more horizontal or 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. Only one of our 2018 lights (the Infini Saturn 300) has a StVZO (the German standard) compliant beam, although other manufacturers such as Lezyne do produce the lights, but don't sell them over here. We'd like to see more of them: they work well for a lot of road riding.

    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. Each of the beam shots was taken using the same settings on the camera: 28mm (effective 45mm), shooting for 1s at f29 on ISO6400. 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. Matt the Aldi-coat-sporting model is at 10m (the cones are 2m apart) and the car is 20m away.

    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 visual 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.

    Light sources: It's LEDs, LEDs or LEDs these days

    A few years ago you had a choice of different bulb options to consider, but LED lights have improved to such an extent – and come down in price too – that there really isn't a choice any more. LEDs tick all the boxes for a bike light. They're tiny, they cost tuppence to make, they last for ever, they're rugged, they run fairly cool and they're easy on the juice. No wonder that everyone's using them these days.

    There's LEDs and there's LEDs though. The bulbs in a cheap flasher that look like the ones out of your old 100-in-1 science set are a long way removed from the high-spec emitters in top-dollar off-road lamps. Outputs have shot up in the last couple or three years as well, with the brightest lights claiming outputs of several thousand lumens, more than a car headlight. More general purpose lights range from 200 to about 800 lumens, with basic commuter lights and emergency lights weaker than that; they're mostly to be seen by, though, not to see with.

    Setting the standard

    Technically, all bike lights must be fitted to comply with the Road Vehicle Lighting Regulations (RVLR). For the record, here's what those regs say:

    Front Lamp
    One is required, showing a white light, positioned centrally or offside, up to 1500mm from the ground, aligned towards and visible from the front. If capable of emitting a steady light it must be marked as conforming to BS6102/3 or an equivalent EC standard. If capable of emitting only a flashing light, it must emit at least 4 candela.

    Rear Lamp
    One is required, to show a red light, positioned centrally or offside, between 350mm and 1500mm from the ground, at or near the rear, aligned towards and visible from behind. If capable of emitting a steady light it must be marked as conforming to BS3648, or BS6102/3, or an equivalent EC standard. If capable of emitting only a flashing light, it must emit at least 4 candela.

    You also need a rear reflector and four pedal reflectors to fully comply with the RVLR.

    In practice, not all bike lights are kitemarked. The specification for lights dates back to 1986 and is designed to apply to lights with filament bulbs. That doesn't mean that LED lights can't meet the requirements – many do – but lots of them aren't specifically tested for the ageing British Standard, especially those that are for the worldwide market. Since the RVLR were amended to allow cyclists to fit flashing LEDs we've heard very little about cyclists being stopped for having non-compliant lights.

    Choosing a light: things to consider

    What am I going to use the light for?
    Are you going to be pootling down to the shops, or do you detour through the woods on the way home? You need to consider how much light you need, and where you need it to be put. Brighter is often better, but look for lights with good side visibility if you're riding a lot in town: side visibility is very important when coming out of a junction.

    If you're solely riding on the road, look for a light with a beam pattern that's not going to dazzle oncoming traffic. Narrow beams and German-style cutoff beams (designed to comply with German road lighting regulations, where 95% of the available light must be directed downwards) are ones to look out for, although the German-style lights are still quite rare in the UK. If you're mixing up your road riding with paths and singletrack, a light with a wide beam that has lower-power modes for use in traffic may be the one to go for.

    If you're going to be doing a lot of swapping between bikes, consider how easy that's going to be. Are the mounts quick release? Are there lots of wires to deal with?

    How regularly will I use the light, and how long per day?
    If your commute is an hour and your light gives out after 50 minutes then you're in trouble. If it has a proprietary charger rather than batteries or a USB charge option, then it needs to last to where you're going and back again. Think about when you'll recharge the light and how long that will take.

    Many lights have low-power options that will extend battery life, so it's important to work out if these will give you enough output for certain sections of your ride. Many lights have fuel gauge displays to let you know the state of the battery, these can be very useful if you ride regularly and aren't good at remembering to charge your lights.

    What conditions will I use the light in?
    If you're riding every day, come what may, your lights will take a beating. They're very exposed to rain and spray at the front of your bike. Generally the more expensive lights are better constructed with more effective seals, so spend as much as you can afford. If you think you might break your lights from using them in all conditions, check what the warranty is like.

    The gamut of glare

    Okay, so you've got to buy some lights. What kind of lights do you need? Here's a quick run down of the basic types you can get your hands on, and who they're aimed at. We've mostly recommended lights for which we have a full review. For brand new models, take a look at the beam comparison engine, above.

    Emergency lights

    Radial Cycles Pharos front saftey light

    Small enough to leave in your bag for when you need them, emergency lights normally attach with a stretchy band to the bars or frame and are powered by CR2032 button cells. They don't put out a great deal of light but as an get-you-home solution if you get caught out or your main lights fail, they're a lot better than nothing.

    USB-rechargeable lights have dropped in price over the last couple of years, so if you don't fancy paying for a pair of CR2032s every now and then, you can get tiny lights that'll plug into your office computer to charge.

    Recommended lights

    Cateye Nima — £13.43
    Knog Frog — £8.99 (read review)
    Lezyne Femto Drive — £4.99-£9.49

    Small torches

    Lezyne KTV Pro front light

    The next step up is a more powerful bar-mounted lamp. These are still lights to be seen by rather than for seeing, though most put out enough light that you can still make slow progress along unlit, well-surfaced trails and towpaths. There's almost always a flashing mode on offer too, though we'd advise discretion in its use. The pulse from even a low-power light can be bright enough to be aggravating to other cyclists, so best stick to steady mode on two-way bike paths and trails.

    Of the latest batch of lights we've beam-tested only the Oxford Ultra Torch runs off separate batteries; almost all front lights in this category are now USB-rechargeable. That means the running cost is effectively zero, but it does mean that if you run out of juice you can't just nip into a service station and grab replacement AAAs.

    Recommended lights

    Cateye HL-EL135 — £14.00
    Lezyne KTV Drive 200 — £17.60 (read review)
    Moon Meteor-X Auto Pro — £35.21 (read review)
    Magicshine MJ-890 — £9.99 (read review)
    Cateye Volt 200 XC — £15.90
    Knog PWR Rider — £35.99 (Read review)

     

    Torches

    moon-lx-760-high-power-usb-rechargeable-light.jpg

    There's lots and lots of choice when it comes to larger torch-style front lights. Powered either by either built-in rechargeable batteries or a swappable battery pack, they put out a bit more light. If your riding takes you anywhere you need to see – rather than just be seen – you'll need at least one of these.

    Often manufacturers will bundle a torch-style front light with a rear flasher, seeing to both ends of your bike and scoring you a bit of a discount in the process.

    Rechargeable units sometimes come with a mains adaptor but USB chargers are the majority, allowing you to juice up your light at your desk or just use another of your collection of wall-warts.

    The brightest torch-style lights now kick out over 1,000 lumens, which is more than you'll ever need for road riding, but on lower settings the best ones will run all night.

    Recommended lights

    Lezyne Macro Drive 600XL — £59.99 (read review)
    Moon Meteor Storm Lite — £49.00 (read review)
    Light And Motion Urban 800 —£69.99 (read review)
    Lezyne Macro Drive 1100XL — £55.00 (read review)
    Blackburn DayBlazer 1100 — £67.99 (read review)
    Cateye Volt 1300 — £103.99 (read review)
    Cateye Volt 1700 RC — £135.99 (Read review)
    Exposure Strada — £202.95 (read review)

    Battery pack systems

    Lumies Race front light

    The most powerful lights tend to be characterised by a separate battery pack attached to a smaller head unit that's a lot more powerful than a standard torch. They start at around £20 for a CREE-powered eBay light but you can pay the best part of a grand for the really high end stuff. The big advantage of these systems is that you can swap the battery pack if you're doing a very long ride, and some manufacturers offer a range of battery packs. If you want to go out regularly and train after dark on the lanes, or venture off-road, then a battery pack system may be your best bet.

    Recommended lights

    'eBay Special' Cree XML system — from £23.99 (read review)
    Magicshine MJ-900 — £45.99
    Magicshine MJ-880 — £69.99
    Lumicycle Apogee — £239.99 (read review)

    Dynamo lights

    Supernova E3 Pro dynamo front light.jpg

    If you want your lights to be a permanent fixture and never worry about batteries then you can't do better than a dynamo. Hub dynamos are the pick for low maintenance and decent output; most will supply 2.4-3W which is plenty for a bright light front and rear. Pick a system that stores some of the energy from the dynamo so you don't go dark when you're stopped at the traffic lights. Many riders leave their dynamo lights on for daylight running too, as they draw very little energy from the bike.

    Recommended lights

    Shutter Precision 8-series hub dynamo — £84.99 - £149.99 (Read review)
    Exposure Revo Mk1 light — £239.95 (Read review)
    Supernova E3 Pro 2 light — £147.73 (Read review)

    Head torches

    Lupine Neo

    Fitting a light to your helmet means you can point the beam where you want it, making the light a lot more useful. Some of the smaller rechargeable systems come with a helmet mount, or you could go for a more general use headband-type light and ziptie it on. Bear in mind that you should also have a fixed light on your bike if you want to comply with the law.

    Recommended lights

    Lupine Neo 2 helmet light — ~£164.00 (read review)

    Top lights deals

    About road.cc Buyer's Guides

    The aim of road.cc buyer's guides is to give you the most, authoritative, objective and up-to-date buying advice. We continuously update and republish our guides, checking prices, availability and looking for the best deals.

    Our guides include links to websites where you can buy the featured products. Like most sites we make a small amount of money if you buy something after clicking on one of those links. We want you to be happy with what you buy, so we only include a product in a if we think it's one of the best of its kind.

    As far as possible that means recommending equipment that we have actually reviewed, but we also include products that are popular, highly-regarded benchmarks in their categories.

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    You can also find further guides on our sister sites off.road.cc and ebiketips.

    Road.cc buyer's guides are maintained and updated by John Stevenson. Email John with comments, corrections or queries.

    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.

    25 comments

    Avatar
    Yorkshire wallet [2310 posts] 1 year ago
    0 likes

    I went for the £20 off ebay double CREE option. There's no shortage of light and I can't really see what extra light I'd get or even need for the high end stuff. The only downside is the battery life isn't great but I keep an extra charger at work and charged spare in the backpack just in case.

    Maybe if you ride offroad or night you will see the benefits of an expensive set but for the road I'd say another lightset would be a very marginal upgrade.

    Avatar
    horizontal dropout [301 posts] 1 year ago
    2 likes

    I also bought an ebay special, double CREE for offroad. Its beam is a bit narrow for offroad but ok with a headtorch. It's really not good for road where traffic is coming towards you, (bike or car). I tested it by standing 100m in front of it with it set at different angles. Even on the lowest power I couldn't stand directly in front of it unless the main beam was pointing at the ground maybe 5 or 10 meters ahead of the bike.

    I used it on some very low traffic roads and it was great but I had to nudge it to point downwards when cars were coming towards me.

    I regularly use a local sustrans route and it is really very unpleasant when someone is coming towards you with a too bright beam. Not necessary for being seen and counterproductive as it blinds someone coming the other way.

    So front up and get a decent German-style cutoff beam front light. They also have the benefit that all the light goes where you want it and they are very nice to ride with. Those with a Philips SafeRide 80 will know what I'm talking about.

    Avatar
    windyweymouth [4 posts] 1 year ago
    0 likes

    I'd recommend anyone needing a light to have a look at www.fasttech.com. A slection of powerful bike lights there at very resonable prices. Most will need some 18650 lithium Ion batteries.

    Avatar
    Bikercr [1 post] 1 year ago
    1 like

    Is there still a beam comparison link for older lights 2016/2015? I’m looking for light and motion 800 and Blackburn central 700. 

    Avatar
    Tass Whitby [63 posts] 7 months ago
    1 like

    Bikercr wrote:

    Is there still a beam comparison link for older lights 2016/2015? I’m looking for light and motion 800 and Blackburn central 700. 

    Did you find it Bikercr? Keep scrolling down the list and you get to 2016 and 2015 lights.

    Avatar
    StraelGuy [1586 posts] 3 weeks ago
    2 likes
    horizontal dropout wrote:

    Even on the lowest power I couldn't stand directly in front of it unless the main beam was pointing at the ground maybe 5 or 10 meters ahead of the bike.

     

    Maybe you should dip the light more. I run the Exposure Diablo for night riding and find that I tend to point it at the ground 3 or 4 metres in front of me and that's more than good enough for fast riding on unlit country roads.

    Avatar
    vonhelmet [1328 posts] 3 weeks ago
    4 likes

    I had a couple of Cree eBay specials, but then I looked at some websites tearing them down. The batteries and chargers in particular look seriously dodgy.

    I’ve spent the money on the Cateye Volt 800 now. Super bright and less likely to burn my house down.

    Avatar
    Jetmans Dad [82 posts] 3 weeks ago
    0 likes

    I spent £14 during Aldi's recent cycling special for a front/rear pair of USB rechargeable lights. Absolutely brilliant out on the road in dawn/twilight/darkness/fog etc. Plenty bright enough, easy to operate, lots of brightness and flashing options both front and back. 

    The only issue would be longevity but, to be honest, at that price I have no issue with buying a new set every year, and already regret not getting two while they were available. 

    Avatar
    Freshmn09 [9 posts] 3 weeks ago
    1 like

    how could you miss the Exposure, diablo, joystick or link from the head torch recomendations!?

    Avatar
    shufflingb [52 posts] 3 weeks ago
    5 likes

    "... The only issue would be longevity but, to be honest, at that price I have no issue with buying a new set every year ..."

     

    All a bit of a mystery why we have such a plastics pollution problem ?

    Avatar
    vonhelmet [1328 posts] 3 weeks ago
    3 likes

    Indeed. One of the things that drew me to the Volt is that you can buy replacement batteries on their own. Assuming they keep making them and the light doesn’t fail or get bashed around, I should be set for many years.

    Avatar
    Jetmans Dad [82 posts] 3 weeks ago
    0 likes
    shufflingb wrote:

    "... The only issue would be longevity but, to be honest, at that price I have no issue with buying a new set every year ..."

     

    All a bit of a mystery why we have such a plastics pollution problem ?

    Thank you for your judgement/interest. 

    First ... I have no idea on the longevity, I would just be concerned they might not last forever at that price bracket. 

    Second ... at no point did I inform you how I dispose of old, non-working lights which, essentially, I don't. Those that I can't fix, I hang onto in the event that I can use the casing for something else ... and I generally have sixth formers who can make use of LEDs and batteries in some personal robotics projects.

    And third ... since the school insists that I lock the bike up in the same bike sheds as the students, if I mistakenly leave them on the bike instead of taking them inside with me, I am not as unhappy about have a £15 light set stolen as I would a £150 set.

    If that still leaves you unhappy with my environmental awareness ... not interested. 

    Avatar
    hawkinspeter [2661 posts] 3 weeks ago
    2 likes
    Jetmans Dad wrote:

     ... since the school insists that I lock the bike up in the same bike sheds as the students, if I mistakenly leave them on the bike instead of taking them inside with me, I am not as unhappy about have a £15 light set stolen as I would a £150 set.

    Sounds like you're concerned about light-fingered students.

    Avatar
    peted76 [1179 posts] 3 weeks ago
    1 like

    I've run a no branded aliexpress, double cree headunit and seperate battery special for the past couple of years and it's frankly been a pain the arse. The light it produces is superb, no complaints there, it's 2000 lumens of bloody amazing white light, but the seperate battery it came with and it's mounting is what I deserve after paying about £20 for it... if you're okay with faffing about and have a fetish for using electrical tape, crack on, that avenue is worth every penny.

    So I've just plumped for a Raveman PR1200 after some glowing reviews, £60 from Aliexpress this time,  (as opposed to £90 from Merlin). I can't wait to see if this time I really am getting a bargain.. it seems a bit too good to be true. 

     

    Avatar
    pockstone [249 posts] 3 weeks ago
    0 likes
    peted76 wrote:

     

    ...So I've just plumped for a Raveman PR1200 after some glowing reviews, £60 from Aliexpress this time,  (as opposed to £90 from Merlin). I can't wait to see if this time I really am getting a bargain.. it seems a bit too good to be true. 

     

    Keep us all posted about the longevity of the remote switch and (especially) the usb plug for same. I can't believe that I've been unlucky enough to get 3 'rogue' ones in a row. I've given up on them now.

    Will you be able to get replacements from AliBaba? I suspect their customer service isn't as good as Merlin's.

    Avatar
    JohnAc [10 posts] 3 weeks ago
    2 likes

    I'd like all bike light manufacturers to provide (rechargeable) battery capacity in Ah or Wh, not just the battery life in a particular lighting mode because it makes comparisons between different lights difficult otherwise. I like lights (for urban cycling) that I have to charge as least often as possible. For as long as we don't ask, light manufacturers will use the smallest batteries possible that they can get away without people complaining, especially for the cheaper, lower spec lights.

    Avatar
    GorDoink [1 post] 3 weeks ago
    1 like

    Traditionalist at heart (i.e. old) but too many of these lights, including expensive ones, are held on by a glorified rubber band.

    Avatar
    ktache [989 posts] 3 weeks ago
    2 likes
    GorDoink wrote:

    Traditionalist at heart (i.e. old) but too many of these lights, including expensive ones, are held on by a glorified rubber band.

    May I recommend the excellent lights from Hope, the brackets are engineering masterpeices.  Extra ones for the other bikes are probably more than some people would consider reasonable for a complete light, but for me, the quality is worth it.  Fully micro adjustable, and they will stay ponting at thet exact spot until you undo the bolts.  Even on the rear.

    The customer service is stunning, they were still replacing the connectors for nowt over 2 years after the warrenty ended.  It is an investment in a lighting system that I shall add to over many more years.

     

    Avatar
    vorsprung [289 posts] 3 weeks ago
    1 like

    This is a great resource.  Really, beam pattern shots are great.  Much better than lumens ratings.  But! no beam patterns for

     - any generator(hub dynamo) lights.  You could have used an electric drill for the stationary beam shots.  My recommended generator light is a B&M Cyo.  Less than 50 quid super reliable, good road beam pattern

    - no Fenix.  Many riders I know use these

    - no Aldi.  Come on, most people will have at least one of these and it's good for comparison

    Avatar
    IanEdward [225 posts] 2 weeks ago
    3 likes

    Joystick Joystick Joystick, nothing else compares in my book.

    Helmet mount or handlebar, backup for off-road or only light you'll ever need on-road.

    All metal, mains smart charger for home, comes with a second USB charger you can leave at work in case you need a top up. 

    The glorified rubber band is simple and easy to swap, also allows you to adjust the position easily, say if you're in traffic and don't want to dazzle people, but then want to look further ahead on the open road.

    Exposure back-up has been brilliant, mine developed a charging fault so I sent it away and had it back with a new battery within days. Think mine is now 5 years old.

    The newest version even comes with a carbon fibre body for extra pimpness, it will only be a matter of time before I find an excuse to buy this...

    //media.edinburghbicycle.com/media/catalog/product/cache/1/small_image/460x345/9df78eab33525d08d6e5fb8d27136e95/j/o/joystickcarbon_2000.jpg)

    Avatar
    Team EPO [166 posts] 2 weeks ago
    0 likes

    I have tried lots of different lights of the years for Mountain Biking and have found Exposure to be the best and great back up in terms of service repair when I had an off on the bike.

     

    Bit tight but for my son I just use the Chinese wonder lights that have pretty short burn times but work well enough on short rides to the local woods and are only about ~£25.  Some footage of the chinese lights below (goes on for way too long )

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ePaZClkzV6M

     

    Bit random but love a bit of laser etching on the Exposure lights jump to 1 min in 

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YuwUrOW0iX0&t=156s

    Avatar
    Jer81 [1 post] 2 weeks ago
    0 likes

    I would like to see a review of the Sigma Buster 700 (50 euro). In the comparison tool it gives a better light than the populair Lezyne Macro Drive 1100XL (65 euro).

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    aOaN [3 posts] 2 weeks ago
    1 like

      A dynamo-equipped bike set up with the Exposure Revo, a B&M IQ-X or a Schmidt Edelux would be preferable to anything elsein the list. Also, the SuperNova AirStream 2 is worth a coinsideration.

     As for the Blackburn models, I've had a few over the years: they are all crap. The last one was the 1600lm model. Had 2, both faulty. Steer clear of Blackburn crap. 

    Avatar
    Rapha Nadal [920 posts] 1 week ago
    0 likes

    I've been using an Exposure Strada of some description for a number of years now.  I balked at the price intially but am now so glad that I got it.  The 4 modes suit all types of ride, the programs are easy to use, it's built to last, and I hear the backup from Exposure is great (not had to use it, thankfully).  And they're made close to where I live which is always nice.

    Basically, it's recommended after going through quite a number of cheaper lights with battery packs over the years.

    Avatar
    mingmong [315 posts] 6 days ago
    0 likes

    I've a few from China and they've been a proper faff with charging and fitting.  I too had reservations on the charging - The heat produced from the charger was very concerning.  

    In the end I bit the bullet and jumped in on Exposure.  They work, they're excellent and they're reliable.