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The perfect light would be insanely bright, last forever and weigh nothing. Physics intervenes - but this Magicshine MJ-880 LED front light ticks the first box in spades, with necessary compromises on the other two.
Battery life is pretty decent and the good range of power levels allows you to prioritise duration or brightness depending on whether you're pulling an all-nighter or not.
Weightwise, much less heavy lights are available which are bright enough for most road riding. The battery is one of the larger ones on the market, reminiscent of those from 4-5 years ago - but is needed here because the light is so powerful. For most, this light may be overkill, but at high speeds you'll be glad of the range of the beam. If you have to have the brightest light among your riding buddies, this is a great choice and very well priced too.
Lumen rating in bike lights is akin to blades in razors - it's become a bit of an arms race and they would have you believe that you simply can't have too many. The Magicshine MJ-880 uses a couple of Cree XML U2 LEDs and quite a large battery to chuck out an eye-watering 2000 lumens. It arrived after we'd finished the beam shot comparisons, but it is noticeably brighter (if subjectively not 2.5x brighter) than the Electron Terra 3 I reviewed back in November.
Magicshine lights are made in China and the ones I'd seen before this unit (such as the MJ816) had a rather a homebrew look to my eyes; I was never a fan of batteries housed in bags hanging from the bike's frame.
So it came as a welcome surprise to find that the MJ880 was decently presented in a posh box and - more importantly - appears very nicely made. The light consists of quite a big battery and quite a small light unit, connected via a long-ish cable with a decent waterproof connector halfway along it.
Both the light unit and the battery pack have a good quality feel to them, and in particular the light unit has a premium finish with chromed metal, offset by sturdy finned aluminium in matt black. The battery is thankfully no longer bagged but instead has a couple of chunky rubber straps with which to attach it to your bike's frame. The rubber extends all the way around the battery in two stripes which helps grip the frame and means it stays in place pretty well. The attachment straps have a series of holes (like a belt) to suit differing frame tube sizes, and the excess strap can be tidied away easily so it flaps in the wind a bit less.
The cable provided is really long so you are pretty free to mount the battery where you like on the bike. Helmet mounting would also be no problem (Magicshine have a strap for doing so and also offer cable extensions both for very reasonable prices indeed). I tried a few places before settling on the downtube between the bottle cage and the bottom bracket. As it's a weighty unit, the lower you can get the battery the less effect there will be on your bike's handling. It's also quite large (58mmx49mmx45mm) and looked a bit bulky when I fixed it to the top tube, but the width never interfered with pedaling. The cable was thoughtfully provided with a velcro tie which I found useful to stop the in-line connector rattling along the frame. One reservation about the battery mounting is the two small screws holding the hooks onto the rubber straps - these protrude a little against the frame and on larger tubes they'll leave scratches pretty quickly. A little judiciously-placed Heli tape solves the problem, but while you might expect this on something you bought super-cheap from Deal Extreme, it is slightly disappointing on a light costing well over a hundred quid.
Back to the light unit, which has (dare I say it) almost a German finish to it - I really liked the solid all-metal construction, held together with proper engineering screws - no self-tappers here. The mirrored finish on the front and rear of the light also looks quality (and the rear provides a handy back-of-the-spoon image of your pain face when you're hunched over the bars).
Fixing to your bars is a straightforward affair - a Y-shaped piece of silicone rubber attaches to a couple of solid hooks on the front of the light, wraps around the bar and has a couple of holes to attach to another nice solid hook on the back of the light. The two holes are presumably to suit oversize and traditional handlebar diameters, but a lot of the time I wound up using the tighter setting on my oversize bars, just to stop the light's tendency to work its way gradually downward over bumpy terrain.
The MJ-880 has 5 constant power levels, and no flashing mode. Magicshine UK tell us that it's marketed as an off-road light first and foremost, so this isn't all that surprising. Two rubber buttons atop the light unit allow control: hold either for half a second to switch it on, then one increases the power and the other drops it. Hold both for about a second to switch it off. Pretty straightforward, and the first light I've used with "up" and "down" buttons rather than one button going around a cycle of settings. To be honest I don't have strong feelings about this either way.
Despite two separate light/reflector units, the beam appears as one on the road. The two lights use identical optics, not a spot / spread combo. And what a beam it is. This is certainly the brightest light I've used, with tremendous range on dark evenings and a good spread. Some off-road lights simply spread the beam far too widely for on-road use and leave you permanently worried about dazzling other road users. The MJ-880 has a bright central spot and a uniform less bright area 360 degrees around this. There isn't a a step change between the two, more of a blend which makes it easier on the eyes.
With the light set up so that the whole of the bright central beam hits the road surface, the surrounding light is highly visible for other road users but without the fierce intensity of the central part. This made me feel comfortable using it on the road and I really loved the sheer distance ahead that it would illuminate. It's the first light I've used giving enough visibility for high-speed descents over 40mph in the pitch black.
Taking the light off-road, again the sheer power of the beam gives brilliant illumination with superb range on higher power settings and the beam spread is wide enough for excellent peripheral vision. The light unit has a peak which is just right for preventing you getting dazzled when over the bars.
Generally speaking you can run the light at its lowest power setting for road riding up to 25mph or so and just use the brighter levels when going faster or offroad - here the up/down control buttons do make things easier. Battery life varies accordingly (and will also suffer when it gets really cold) but I found the manufacturer's claims broadly accurate - 2 and a bit hours at full power and a lot longer on lower power. Switching between power levels I had easily enough juice for a week's commuting (4 hours). The buttons on top of the lamp indicate battery charge with red/blue/green LED illumination. In common with quite a few other lights with this arrangement, it's a bit idiosyncratic. Switch to high power and the remaining charge level can instantly drop; lower the output power and miraculously there's now more charge remaining in the battery. Sometimes (even running on low power) it would jump almost instantly from green (plenty) to red (almost empty) for no apparent reason. Claimed battery capacity is 6600mAh
Another oddity is that when you switch it off, a green LED within the lens keeps glowing for half an hour or so. I asked Magicshine what the point of this was, and they said it was to remind you to unplug the battery, as otherwise gradual battery discharge would continue. I can't help but think that it might discharge a little more gradually without the green light! I generally left it plugged in anyway, the green light went off after a while, and the battery levels didn't seem to change much.
The MJ880 is very well made. Waterproofing seems fine - it survived a thorough soaking and the inline cable connector seems plenty robust. The light unit did develop a rattle after a while, which I identifed as coming from the shiny metal part around the lens - tightening the screws retaining this solved it. A drop of threadlock wouldn't hurt here. Otherwise there were no mechanical issues during testing.
I did find (akin to other lights with separate batteries that I've tried) that the MJ880 tended to interfere with wireless cycle computers; I wouldn't expect a problem with a Garmin however. It seems to be the cable that is the biggest emitter - routing this as far as possible from my Cateye computer around the brake cables seemed to solve the problem.
Astoundingly bright light for on and off-road night riding at speed.
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Make and model: Magicshine MJ-880 LED 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?
Magicshine say this is primarily aimed at mountain bikers but they expect to sell to roadies too.
"Magicshine's brightest LED bike light ever and as always, offers incredible value for money. Incredibly compact (about half the size of MJ-816E) and with long lasting battery as standard. separate Cree XM-L LEDs in one single, stylish light head design."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the light?
Twin Cree XML U2 LEDs, 6600mAh Li-ion battery pack. Claimed 2000 lumen output.
A real step forward for Magicshine - the head unit is a thing of quality and the battery is plenty tough.
Unusual up/down controls for beam power rather than cycling. Works well. Buttons slightly fiddly with thicker gloves.
Well thought out, holds in place well and quick and easy to install / remove. Two small concerns: I'm not convinced the light would stay in place on a 26mm bar (oversized was ok), and the likelihood of the screws on the battery straps scratching your paintwork.
Survived a soaking with no issues at all.
Impressive battery life given the huge power of the light. Power levels allow you to juggle output and life to suit the ride you're doing. Recharging was quick and painless.
The best beam of any light I've used. Phenomenal range and an excellent beam shape.
No issues experienced during testing.
Bontrager's aphorism can be adjusted for lights with regard to power, weight and battery life. Here you pay the penalty with one of the heavier lights available today.
While you can buy an adequate road light for a heck of a lot less than this, the fact is that this is decent value for such a powerful light.
Tell us how the light performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Great off-road light that translates better than some (Electron Terra 3 I'm looking at you) to road use.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the light
Superb beam, huge range and more than acceptable battery life.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the light
It's a heavy thing. I'd feel a bit bad attaching it to a 6.5kg race bike (if only I had such a thing).
Did you enjoy using the light? Yep.
Would you consider buying the light? Maybe, might be put off by the weight.
Would you recommend the light to a friend? Yes if they really needed all that power.
Age: 35 Height: 6"3 Weight: 81kg
I usually ride: Boardman CX team for the daily commute My best bike is: Fixed-conversion Eddy Merckx MX-Leader
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, commuting, touring, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mtb,
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.