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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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
0.5 watt red LED made by Nichia brand
zZzPOP!, cornea blitz and rock steady modes
Rack and Stayputnik mounts
2x AAA batteries (included)
62 grams/2.2 ounces
36 x 40 x 82mm
Well sealed from the elements, good brackets and composites are of a decent grade too.
Simple, user-friendly switches.
Generally excellent, although the rubberised strap needed some gentle pre-stretch before readily accommodating oversized bars.
Both are highly water resistant in the everyday sense and survived my garden hose test without so much as a flicker.
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.
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.
Both are well sealed from the elements and use higher quality composites than ticket price might suggest.
What I'd expect from a commuter pairing.
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.
About the tester
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)