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Oxford's Commuter X4 is a fun and effective self-illuminating take on night riding personal safety. Better still, because it can be fitted around either the body or a rucksack – and it features good reflective sections even if you run out of power – there is very little that stops it from being a worthwhile addition to any night ride.
Some may see it as the preserve of geography teachers and other uncool folk, but one of the most effective night-time cycling garments is the venerable Sam Browne reflective belt. Despite the fact that it was originally designed to hold a sword scabbard for a one-armed soldier – General Sir Sam Browne as it happens – this 'round the tummy, across the chest and over one shoulder' classic has been helping to keep cyclists safe for decades.
The reason for its effectiveness is because, by joining up distant points across the torso, it presents the cyclist as a significant object in the eyes of other road users. It's all very well having bright lights, or a selection of gloom-piercing flashers, but a major element of being safe on a bike is establishing a significant road presence. So, can anything beat the Sam Browne? Cycling accessory brand Oxford certainly thinks so.
The Commuter X4 looks like something that might have been knocked up by Stark Industries – there's even a very Iron Man-esque circular red central light. In essence, the design is almost as simple as the Sam Browne but it does have some slightly more exciting modern ingredients.
At the heart is that 70-lumen central light with a choice of five modes: Pulse, Sport and Fade all have around 6 hours of run-time; Constant High drains the battery in 3.5 hours; and Constant Low (putting out just 30 lumens) is the most efficient at 7 hours. Then, branching off from the central light are four straps with reflective and fibre-optic elements. The fibre optic circuit has a separate on/off button and also lights up (although not as brightly as the central light) with a choice of three modes: Simultaneous Flash (7hrs); Constant (6hrs) or full '90s house party Sequential Flash (20hrs). Recharging takes up to four hours and is done via a rubber-bunged micro-USB port at the bottom of the main light.
To wear the Commuter X4, you pop the straps together using snap fasteners and the whole thing can either be worn on your back – with the straps over your shoulders and joining round your middle – or you can mount the whole thing to a rucksack. Despite the abundance of straps and fasteners, read the instructions and you'll find it's really quite quick and simple to use.
While it's true to say that the Commuter X4 is no substitute for a proper rear bike light (in any case, you wouldn't be riding legally if you just used this at night), I think that's missing the point a little. This product really does make any cyclist appear like a bigger object than bike lights or even reflective elements alone can achieve. And because it wraps around you or your rucksack, it makes your sides visible, too.
The practicalities don't end there. That you can fit it to either yourself or a rucksack means most commuters will always find a place for it. It's adjustable for a massive range of sizes. The flash modes are simple but effective – as you might be able to tell, I really like the fibre-optic flashers. And, if everything goes wrong and you forget to recharge it, then the reflective material each side of the fibre optic elements is far better than nothing.
I'd certainly not claim that it makes you feel invincible at night but, from my purely anecdotal experience, it seems to have an effect and encourages drivers to give you room. Oxford claims the Commuter X4 helps drivers judge a cyclist's speed and distance, and that appears true in real world usage.
You can buy cheaper reflective belts than this, but are they as good? A typical Sam Browne belt costs in the region of £10-£20 but isn't normally self-illuminating, while the Visijax LED belt does have a built-in light and only costs £15.99, but its overall performance isn't as impressive as the Commuter X4.
Possible the only downside is build quality. This is a very straightforward 'plasticky' bit of kit, devoid of some of the niceties of modern cycle accessories. It even comes in a fairly plain box with plastic packaging, for goodness sake – where's all the recycled cartoning and little paper envelopes with instructions?
Okay, I'm being slightly facetious because, at £39.99 this is a beautifully unpretentious bit of kit. The concept of the Commuter X4 alone is all that's needed to set it apart from other night cycling products. But I can't help thinking that if the central light was made of CNC'd, lightweight aerospace-grade aluminium, it might feel just a little more special. After all, we don't want it being claimed just by geography teachers.
Fantastic concept that works very well to keep you visible, just needs higher build quality to improve appeal
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Oxford Commuter X4 Personal Illumination System
Size tested: 30 or 70 lumens
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?
Aimed mostly at commuters (hence the name), but equally suitable for any regular night riders.
Oxford says: "The Oxford Commuter X4 is a revolution in wearable lighting. Its unique design means the user can be seen clearly from various viewing angles, whilst the distinctive fibre optic straps also improve spatial awareness; helping other road users judge your speed and distance more accurately."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the light?
Wearable, fibre optic rear light suitable for everyone.
Can be worn on most backpacks up to 35 litres.
Multiple focus points.
The fibre optics create a side profile at junctions and help HGV drivers see you more clearly from above.
Central projective light provides 30 or 70 lumens with multiple flash and fade settings.
The central light is a bit plasticky – not sure it'll stand too much abuse.
One button to switch the central light on and toggle through its modes; another button to switch the fibre optic straps on and toggle through its modes. Simple!
Straps could be a little confusing initially – just read the instructions and you'll work it out.
Light itself is fine. The straps get a bit soggy, though.
As long as you don't have the central light on Constant High (70 lumens), you can get a good six hours out of it, so most commuters will probably have to recharge it once or twice a week. Recharging takes 4 hours from completely discharged.
At 70 lumens the central light is not super-bright, but with the added fibre optic elements it makes the rider very visible.
All okay so far, though I'm not sure the plastic central light housing will stand up to a very tough life – if you were to accidentally stand on it, for example, I suspect something would crack.
Light enough, and the straps mean the weight is spread evenly across the body or rucksack.
More expensive but also more impressive than other options... so, great value in terms of the concept; only fair value in terms of manufacturing quality.
Tell us how the light performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Very well. It certainly made me feel more visible on the road.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the light
The fibre-optic straps – there's nothing else like them!
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the light
Probably the build quality. It's not terrible, just not very exciting.
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
A typical Sam Browne belt costs in the region of £10-£20 but isn't normally self-illuminating. The Visijax LED belt does have a built-in light and only costs £15.99, but its overall performance isn't as impressive as the Commuter X4.
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 overall score
A great idea that is fairly well executed. I do think that modern buyers probably expect a little more in terms of presentation and build quality, but in terms of function, there's nothing that quite matches the Commuter X4.
About the tester
I usually ride: Islabikes Beinn 29 My best bike is: 25-year-old Dawes Galaxy
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: commuting, touring, sportives, general fitness riding, mountain biking, leisure