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Cateye Volt 1600 front light

9
£189.99

VERDICT:

9
10
A hell of a lot of light for the money, and even if you don't really need all those lumens, it's a great all-rounder
Weight: 
258g
Contact: 

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The Cateye Volt 1600 is the new daddy, taking what we loved about the Volt 1200 and turning it up to 11. It combines a stonking output with really good battery life, put together with Cateye's usual excellent build quality. At current pricing, it is really good value too; in fact the only question is whether you really need that much light for road use.

In fairness, Cateye markets the Volt 1600 as the light that can handle road, trail and (2015 buzzword alert) gravel use, and as an all-rounder it's a really convincing option. On the road, I rarely used the full 1600 lumen setting, with just the occasional unlit and unfamiliar downhill section warranting it. My commuting and general riding was comfortably handled with the lower-power constant settings and the two flash modes.

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Output is from two high-intensity LEDs (Cateye doesn't specify the type) and Cateye's long-standing Opticube lens design is used to direct the light forwards. The doubled-up LEDs are used simply to provide the output – there are no settings where they do different things, like with the Cateye Rapid X3.

There are a total of five settings here: high (1600 lumens, 2 hours run time), mid (500lm, 5 hours) and low (200lm, 15 hours) constant settings, plus Cateye's excellent HyperConstant mode, which is a steady 200lm punctuated with 1600lm flashes and runs for a whopping 12 hours, and finally a simple flash (200lm, 100 hours).

Switching the light on and off is via a long press on the power button, and the modes are cycled via short presses. Unlike previous generation Volt lights, all the modes are available in this cycle – Cateye has ditched the 'double click for flash' function which we didn't really get on well with previously.

The power button appears to be the same as that used on the Volt 300, but somehow here its placement makes it less easy to operate. It's not really a major problem, but sometimes (particularly with gloved fingers) it required a second attempt to get it to switch on or off.

The beam shape is circular with a bright central region, around the outside of which a lower level of illumination extends. As with all of Cateye's Volt front lights, there is no significant top cut-off to the beam, such as we saw in the Specialized Flux Elite front light.

Cateye Volt 1600 - beam shot.jpg

In Germany there are regulations which stipulate that front lights must be dipped (like car headlights) to avoid dazzling others, and with this many lumens available, a wrongly-angled light would be pretty anti-social. My view is that whether or not a light has a sharp cut-off, it still needs to be angled correctly on the bar, and I had no real difficulty finding one that directed all of the brighter central spot onto the ground. Positioned thus, the outer part of the beam is enough that you'll be seen, but my tests found that it was no more dazzling than dipped car headlights.

It's helped by the fact that Cateye has tightened the beam focus compared to the Volt 1200; side-by-side comparisons show that the 1600 has a noticeably narrowed bright section. For road users this is a good thing, making it more feasible to direct all those lumens without annoying others. Oddly, Cateye includes a note in the instruction sheet which seems to contradict its marketing elsewhere: "Warning!!! Do not use this light on a public road."

Mounting

Mounting is via the Flextight system, which Cateye has used for years. It's a sort of plastic jubilee clip with a thumbwheel to tighten it to the bar and it works pretty well. The light itself slides onto the bracket and is released with a small button on the side. The weight of the Volt 1600 is probably close to the limit of what this bracket design can handle, though. I found that sometimes a bump in the road would shift the light around the bar unless I had the bracket really tight; this seemed to be more of a problem in the rain when the water presumably reduced the friction between the bracket and handlebar.

An easy fix is to mount the light so it hangs below the handlebar, which also makes for a neater installation in my opinion. The downside is that you can't easily see the power button light up to warn you that the battery is getting low, and finding and operating this button was a bit more fiddly, too.

When in low-charge mode, as indicated by the power button illuminating, the modes are restricted, offering only a low-power constant or simple flash mode, to eke out the remaining power. You get around an hour before it switches off completely.

Battery

The battery life is really excellent, thanks to the 6800mAH Li-Ion cell. I found that the claimed two hours on full power was easily achievable, which is pretty amazing given the size of the battery. Using a combination of low and medium constant with HyperConstant for commuting meant that I only had to charge it every 10 days or so. Whereas the smaller models in the Volt range offer ample light for most road riding, none can match the battery life of the 1600 if used on the lower settings.

Cateye says that the battery can be charged 300 times before its capacity drops below 70 per cent of that when new, so it should be good for quite a few years. It can be replaced too, using only a 2.5mm Allen key, which is good to see, although the replacements aren't likely to be cheap. The 6200mAH battery for the Volt 1200, which is compatible with this light, is £70 – I couldn't yet find pricing on the larger-capacity unit used here.

Recharging is via micro-USB and – with such a large capacity battery – takes ages. Cateye suggests between 9 and 16 hours. I typically put it on to charge when I got home from work, using a 1 amp phone charger, and it would be ready when I got up the next day. Charging it from a PC's USB port would take even longer, so you shouldn't expect that it would charge fully from your laptop during a working day. There's a decent waterproof rubber bung covering the charge port.

We weighed the Volt 1600 at 258g, a smidge lighter than the claimed weight. It's about double the weight of the Volt 800, unsurprisingly, but for the output and battery life it's seriously impressive. In the hand, it has a pleasingly solid and well-made feeling, as you'd hope at this price.

On and off-road

As we mentioned, Cateye markets this light as an all-rounder, and in this respect it does excel. Whereas the Volt 1200 had a rather wide beam for road use, here there's loads of light in the centre, which can be directed onto the road or down the trail, with enough peripheral spread for others to see you on the road, or to see the surroundings when off-road.

On the road, I generally used the low or medium constant settings to see with, and the HyperConstant to be seen (in the daytime or when riding on well-lit streets). Cateye has reduced the speed of the flashes in HyperConstant from earlier models – now it's once every 0.75 seconds (or 1.3Hz), around half the speed of the Volt 300. I think this makes it a little less eye-catching, but it's also less distracting to the rider when used in low-light. This change notwithstanding, HyperConstant does a fantastic job of getting you noticed by drivers in busy urban environments.

Riding off-road, I found that the medium power setting was good for slower speed sections, and I could switch to high power when going faster or when I needed more illumination in technical sections. Switching between modes like this it's easy to get 3-4 hours of riding, which is more than I ever do off-road at night.

One area where I'd like to see improvement is side visibility. There are no side ports or secondary LEDs to help you be seen from the side, and even the small scallops featured on the Volt 1200 and 300 have gone. You can see some light at an angle of up to about 80 degrees, but it's an area where some other lights do much better.

> Check out our guide to the best front lights, and our beam comparison engine, here

Looking at some competitors, Hope's R2i light has a similar price and form factor, but the maximum output is rather less powerful, a measured 1000 lumens, and only lasts for an hour. The Exposure Diablo Mk7 has a similar output at a slightly higher price point, again with a shorter burn time.

For pure road use I'd argue that the Volt 1600 has simply more light than you need, and I'd be likely to save money and go for the Volt 800, which is lighter and has all the lumens I want to light up the tarmac. But if I were in the market for a light suitable for on and off-road riding, bright enough that I could go flat-out across any terrain, this one would be right at the top of my list. Combining relatively low weight, mega output and proper battery life is a real achievement at any price point, and at the time of writing, you can find this online for less than £125, which is a flat-out bargain.

Verdict

A hell of a lot of light for the money, and even if you don't really need all those lumens, it's a great all-rounder

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road.cc test report

Make and model: Cateye Volt 1600 EL Rechargeable front light

Size tested: n/a

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?

Cateye says: "From road to gravel to trail, the USB rechargeable Volt1600 handles them all with ease by pumping out 1600 lumens through 2 ultra-bright LED. With 5 modes that allow for runtimes from 2 to 100 hours and a powerful wide beam pattern, there's no commute, training ride, or singletrack session it can't handle. If you're looking for one light to do it all, look no further than the Volt1600."

Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the light?

Dimension: 114.9 x 59.6 x 44.2 mm

 

Weight: 260 grams (light unit and battery)

Light source: High intensity white LED X2

 

Run time:

High mode 1600 lumens: 2hrs

Middle mode 500 lumens: 5hrs

Low mode 200 lumens: 15hrs

Hyper Constant mode

1600/200 lumens: 12hrs

 

Flashing mode

200 lumens:100hrs

 

Battery:

Li-ion rechargeable battery (3.6V-6800mAh)

 

Recharge time: approx 9-16hrs

 

Recharge/discharge number of times: about 300 times(until the rated capacity drops to 70%)

Other: Low battery indicator, lighting mode memory function. Helmet mount / Center fork bracket (optional)

Rate the light for quality of construction:
 
9/10

Very solidly built.

Rate the light for design and ease of use. How simple was the light to use?
 
8/10

Simple to operate, although the button can be a bit fiddly with cold fingers (especially if you mount the light upside down).

Rate the light for the design and usability of the clamping system/s
 
8/10

I'm a big fan of Cateye's FlexTight bracket for ease of installation and adjustment, and also how quick it is to transfer between bikes. Here, the weight of the light is such that it needs to be done up tight, or (better) installed upside down to avoid the risk of bumps shifting the light. With it upside down, I had no further issues.

Rate the light for waterproofing. How did it stand up to the elements?
 
10/10

No issues at all.

Rate the light for battery life. How long did it last? How long did it take to recharge?
 
9/10

For the size and the output levels, battery life is outstanding. It does take ages to recharge.

Rate the light for performance:
 
9/10

Very good beam throw and useful range of modes. The beam is more focused than the Volt 1200, and better suited for road use as a result. I'd have liked some concession to side visibility, though.

Rate the light for durability:
 
9/10

I'm still using Cateye lights I tested a good while ago and I see no reason why this shouldn't last for ages. Cateye says you can recharge the battery 300 times before the life drops below 70% of new, so that should be a few years.

Rate the light for weight:
 
9/10

Smaller, less bright lights are obviously lighter, but for the output, this is amazingly compact and lightweight. Only a few years ago to get a light this bright you'd have a battery pack at least twice the weight of this light.

Rate the light for value:
 
8/10

You can buy ebay lights which claim to be as bright as this for a lot less, we know. At time of writing, you can get this for £123, at which it is a real bargain. Beyond the stonking output, the price buys you really solid build quality, proper electronics and a good quality battery. The only question is whether you really need this much output – for 90 per cent of my riding I'd be fine with the cheaper Volt 800.

Tell us how the light performed overall when used for its designed purpose

It is a superb light – I'd say the best you can get for the money.

Tell us what you particularly liked about the light

It is bright enough for road cycling and mountain biking, has enough battery to last more than a week of typical use, and isn't especially heavy – what's not to like?

Tell us what you particularly disliked about the light

Not much – I found the button a little fiddly with gloves on, and would like some lateral visibility.

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

Taking a really good light and making it brighter and with a more focused beam is a solid place to start. If you need this much power then you won't get a better light for the money.

Overall rating: 9/10

About the tester

Age: 37  Height: 190cm  Weight: 78kg

I usually ride: Commuter - something with disc brakes, drop bars and a rack  My best bike is: Rose X-Lite CRS

I've been riding for: Over 20 years  I ride: Most days  I would class myself as: Expert

I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, cyclo-cross, commuting, touring, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mountain biking

Jez spends his days making robots that drive cars but is happiest when on two wheels.  His roots are in mountain biking but he spends more time nowadays on the road, occasionally racing but more often just riding. 

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