Front Lights Primer

princeton tec eosIn the last issue of Bicycle Times, we showcased a selection of rear, red blinky lights, which are vital for being seen on the street. But they’re only half the equation—you need a light on the front of your bike as well, not just to make yourself more visible from the front and sides, but also to be able to see at least a little more of the road in front of you when ambient light is dim.

Technology is advancing rapidly for front lights as well as rear ones, making them smaller, more powerful, and more efficient all the time. (In fact there’s a scientific observation of the fast rate of LED bulbs increasing in power and decreasing in price, called Haitz’s Law, similar to Moore’s Law for computers.) One big leap in the last five years is the move toward LED bulbs from incandescent and HID bulbs—LEDs just powerful enough for visibility had been in red blinkies for a while, but it was the recent development of high-power, white-in-color LED bulbs that allowed them to be useful for seeing and not just being seen. All the lights featured here have LED bulbs.

To see or to be seen—that is the question. The lights shown here range from bright enough to be mistaken for a motorcycle, to bright enough to catch drivers’ attention and pick out hazards. The brightest lights have an external, rechargeable battery pack, usually lithium ion or nickel-cadmium, connected to the light housing with a detachable cord. Self-contained lights typically use size AA or AAA removable batteries, but some newer ones are rechargeable. For the most part, as the power goes up, so does the price and weight.

Just as with rear blinky lights, front lights can increase your visibility to traffic in the daytime as well. Four of these lights have a flashing mode, which works great during the day to help you be seen, particularly when it’s raining or cloudy.

Most headlights for street use mount to the handlebar, but some can be mounted to your helmet as well. If you’re the type to extend your ride home with a dirt detour through the local park, this feature can be handy, since helmet mounting often works best in the woods to see around tight turns.

The Comparison
The photos in this layout were taken to best represent how these lights appear to the human eye. Comparison photos of the individual lights [bottom of the page] were taken on a black background with the lights 7ft. away, using the exact same settings to ensure an accurate comparison. The lights all have distinct beam patterns, but most have a brighter center spot with a dimmer corona. It’s interesting to see how the color of the LEDs varies slightly.

Note: The Lupine Tesla 4 got a full review in Dirt Rag #144, the Sigma Karma in Bicycle Times #2, and the Blackburn Flea  (set of front and rear) in this very issue, page 40.

lupine tesla 4
Lupine Tesla 4
Bulbs: One high-power LED
Batteries: Rechargeable lithium ion
Charging time (if applicable): 5 hours
Claimed output: 700 lumens on high setting
Modes: High, medium, low, and flashing
Claimed runtime: High – 3 hours, medium – 9 hours, low – 24 hours, flashing – 10 hours
Mounts included: Integrated handlebar, helmet
Weight: 320g
Price: $488
Description: This is the brightest light in this group by far.
www.lupinenorthamerica.com

sigma karma
Sigma Karma
Bulbs: One high-power LED
Batteries: Rechargeable lithium ion
Charging time (if applicable): 2.5 hours
Claimed output: 200 lumens on high setting
Modes: High, medium, low
Claimed runtime: High – 3.5 hours, medium – 5.5 hours, low – 11 hours
Mounts included: Handlebar, helmet
Weight: 210g
Price: $160
Description: A bright light in a small package.
www.sigmasport.com

niterider minewt usb
NiteRider MiNewt USB
Bulbs: One high-power LED
Batteries: Rechargeable lithium ion
Charging time (if applicable): 5 hours
Claimed output: 110 lumens
Modes: On/off
Claimed runtime: 3 hours
Mounts included: Integrated handlebar, helmet
Weight: 175g
Price: $100
Description: Its battery can be charged with a USB cord from a computer as well as with an AC adaptor. The latest version includes a battery life indicator.
www.niterider.com

planet bike blaze 2w
Planet Bike Blaze 2W
Bulbs: One 2-watt LED
Batteries: Two AA alkaline (or lithium)
Charging time (if applicable): N/A
Claimed output: (none given)
Modes: High, low, flashing
Claimed runtime: High – 7 hours, low – 14 hours, flashing – 20 hours
Mounts included: Handlebar
Weight: 143g
Price: $45
Description: The Blaze has a quick-release mount that is easy to remove.
www.planetbike.com

princeton tec eos
Princeton Tec Eos
Bulbs: One Maxbright brand LED
Batteries: Three AAA alkaline (or lithium)
Charging time (if applicable): N/A
Claimed output: 50 lumens
Modes: High, medium, low, flashing
Claimed runtime: High – 1 hour, medium – 10 hours, low – 50 hours, flashing – 5 hours
[Ed Notes: The times of 1 hour for the high setting, 10 hours for medium, 50 hours for low, and 5 hours for flash (which we originally published in BT #3)—are actually the “periods of regulated output,” in other words the amounts of time that the light will give a constant output. Actual total burn times (all the way until the battery is dead) for the Eos are: high – 113 hours, medium – 115 hours, low – 121 hours, and flash – 116 hours.]
Mounts included: Handlebar, helmet, headlamp
Weight: 105g
Price: $45
Description: The included headlamp mount makes this one useful for more than just biking.
www.princetontec.com

blackburn flea
Blackburn Flea
Bulbs: Four Nichia brand LEDs
Batteries: Rechargeable lithium ion
Charging time (if applicable): 5 hours
Claimed output: 40 lumens
Modes: High, low, flashing
Claimed runtime: High – 1.5 hours, low – 3 hours, flashing – 6 hours
Mounts included: Handlebar
Weight: 17g
Price: $30 ($55 for set with rear)
Description: The tiny Flea is unique in that it is rechargeable off of any standard 1.5v battery with an included charger.
www.blackburndesign.com

lupine tesla 4

sigma karma

niterider minewt usb

planet bike blaze 2w

princeton tec eos

blackburn flea

[Ed notes: This article originally appeared in print in Bicycle Times issue #3. Photos by Justin Steiner. Click here to read the BT#2 online reprint of our “Blinky Light Primer” that showcased a selection of rear, red blinky lights. Click here to subscribe to Bicycle Times.]

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