If you want a permanent lighting solution for your town bike then the magnet-driven Reelights are an attractive option. They're much easier to fit than a hub dynamo system – though attaching them isn't wihout its problems – and offer reliable, free lighting with negligible resistance. The SL520 system, which stores energy for your stops, is a better town option though.
Reelight's first systems combined the induction coil with the LED light which made for a compact setup but limited your mounting options. The SL500 lights feature a separate generator and light unit with a wire between the two.
Fitting the Reelights requires a bit of time and patience. The magnet and coil need to pass within about 1mm of each other for the light to work best, and it's a bit of a trial and error process. I ended up fitting the kit much lower down the fork leg than shown in the instructions to get the optimum placement. The twin jubilee clips on the coil are workmanlike rather than attractive, but zip ties would probably not be rigid enough to keep the generator away from the powerful magnets.
The fork-mounted generator has a little spool on the back which allows you to reel in the extra cable to tidy things up. It's a little fragile though and I managed to break one of the spools off, although a dab of superglue had it good as new again. The magnets are easy to fit, though you might have a bit of trouble bridging the spoke gaps if you're running minimally spoked wheels. Again, you'll need to go lower on the fork. The lights themselves are simple to fit with a band and rubber spacers, although the bracket isn't the sturdiest you'll find. Total weight for one end of your bike is 441g, which is a fair bit more than cheap LED flashers. Also, with the magnets you're adding 100g to the rotating mass of the wheel.
Once everything's in place you just need to spin the wheels and the lights will flash every time the magnet passes the coil; there's negligible resistance on the wheel. The closer the tolerance the slower the speed they'll kick in, mine were good for anything over 5mph which meant that they were on at any time the bike was moving. There's a capacitor version too, the SL520, which stores some power to keep you lit up at the traffic lights.
The light itself is bright and visible from a fairly wide angle. The LED is mounted on the lens and fires light back to a reflector, something Cateye are also doing with some of their lights. It certainly gives a very bright forward beam and the position of the LED means it's visible from the sides too. You'll never be riding fast enough – or, at least, I won't – to blend those flashes into a workable full beam for riding by, but for being seen about town it's a good fit and forget option. My main gripe is the fact that everything goes dark when you stop, but that's addressed in the 520 system and I'd plump for that one over the 500s we tested - the extra security is worth the extra spend.
Good fit and forget LED lights for around town, but the stop-friendly SL520s make more sense
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Make and model: Reelight SL500 light set
Size tested: n/a
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? I'd buy the 520s, not the 500s
Would you recommend the product to a friend? I'd recommend the 520s, not the 500s
Age: 36 Height: 190cm Weight: 98kg
I usually ride: whatever I\'m testing... My best bike is: Trek 1.5 with Ultegra 6700
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: time trialling, commuting, sportives, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mtb, Mountain Bike Bog Snorkelling, track
Dave is a founding father of road.cc, having previously worked on Cycling Plus and What Mountain Bike magazines back in the day. He also writes about e-bikes for our sister publication ebiketips. He's won three mountain bike bog snorkelling World Championships, and races at the back of the third cats.