If you want to waste a few hours on eBay then looking at cheap bike lights is one way to go about it. This year we bit the bullet and bought a CREE XM-L to feature in our big road.cc lights test. It's not perfect, and there's a few bits that need attention for the British climate, but for the money it's pretty hard to fault.
Our CREE XM-L unit cost us shy of £20, including postage. For that you'd normally expect to be getting a battery-powered blinky or a cheap torch but this is a fully fledged rechargeable high-output bike lamp. It came with a UK charger and a helemt mount as well as the bar fixing, an O-ring. The battery attaches with a Velcro strap, either to the underside of your stem or the front of your main triangle.
Charging and fitting is a doddle, and once it's dark and you hit the button for the first time the amount of light on offer, for the money, is fantastic. Okay, it's not the 1,000 lumens the listing claims '' or anywhere even remotely near '' but it's fine for charging along unlit roads. The beam is narrow, with a dimmer outer beam that's fairly wide. I found it a touch too narrow at times, but on the other hand it spills very little light above the beam, so it's quite other-traffic friendly.
A diffuser is available as an option; we tried one, but it made the beam too wide. Fine for off roading but I preferred the narrow beam for tarmac. The O-ring was too big to keep the light in place properly so I swapped it out for a much smaller one from the parts drawer and now everything's fine.
The light has three modes: high, low and flashing. On high beam the battery lasts just under two and a half hours, and the illuminated switch does a decent job of keeping you up to date with the battery level, running from blue to amber to red to flashing red as the juice runs out. An overnight charge gets you back to full power.
The battery isn't well waterproofed – even though the lamp and the connectors are – so it's worth sealing it inside a sandwich bag or similar if you intend to go out in the rain. Through town the flashing mode is useful for day running and the light is visible from a pretty wide angle, even though there's no side illumination. It's not the best here but then there are plenty of lights I've used that are worse.
All in all you can't really expect much more for twenty quid. With a few hacks this is a great light for general use and is powerful enough to keep you out of the ditches on unlit lanes. It probably won't last for ever, but then you only paid £18 for it, and by the time you come to get a new one there'll be even brighter, even cheaper ones to choose from. Probably.
Not the best light I've used, but by far the best value.
The light comparator
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road.cc test report
Make and model: CREE XM-L LED front light
Size tested: n/a
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
* Can be used as Headlamp or Bicycie Light
* Model of LED: CREE XM-L T6
* Output bright can come to max 1600 lumens [lm]
* Internal wiring applies the high efficient booster circuit, working voltage is wide and can utilize the batteries in the largest extent.
* Waterproofing design
* Aluminum alloy casing
* Aluminum alloy reflector
* 3 switch Mode: Strong Brightness / Normal Brightness / Flashing
* 100v-240v Battery Charger ( LED indication for Power On / Charging / Full charge )
* Model of Battery required: 1 x 8.4v 6400mAh Battery Pack
* Colour : Black
* Dimension : 43mm
Considering the price, pretty good.
A good all-rounder.
No issues so far although the battery isn't well protected.
Decent weight for a 2-pack light.
An absolute bargain.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
It did well. A useful light with a decent beam.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
It was very, very cheap.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Battery is vulnerable to water.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes.
Would you consider buying the product? Yes.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes.
Anything further to say about the bike in conclusion?
If the battery were waterproof it'd be a 9/10, but don't let put you off - a freezer bag fixes it smartly.
About the tester
Age: 40 Height: 190cm Weight: 102kg
I usually ride: whatever I'm testing... My best bike is: Genesis Equilibrium 853
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mtb, Mountain Bike Bog Snorkelling, track
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.