LED lights group test

By the Bicycle Times staff. Photos by Justin Steiner

LED light technology just keeps getting better and better. Lights for night riding – either to see or be seen – are brighter and more affordable than ever before. To learn why, check out our primer on LED technology and how it works, then enjoy the reviews below, first published in Issue #14.

CatEye Singleshot

As the name implies, the Singleshot lights your way using a single, high-powered LED. It uses what Cat Eye calls ROL, or a Reverse Offset Lens, to get the most output from its single LED. The LED points backwards, light bounces off the rear reflector and is focused through the lens, illuminating the road in front of you with up to 1000 candlepower in the highest setting.

Press the button on the back of the Singleshot’s body once for the high setting, again for the low setting, or give it a double tap to enter the flashing mode. Run times are two hours on high, six hours on low, and 24 hours in flashing mode. Many companies are starting to use the very common USB or mini-USB interfaces for charging. Cateye, somewhat disappointingly, still uses a proprietary interface. The charger that comes with the Singleshot works fine, but is one more cord to keep track of.

On the road, the Singleshot’s beam is slightly bluish in color. When mounted with the light hitting the road approximately 15 feet ahead of my front wheel, the beam created a wide rectangular area with a dimmer portion surrounding it. The beam’s width is good; my only complaint is that I wish it was a little longer, to give me more time to swerve around approaching potholes.

I spent most of my time riding in the brightest setting. The low setting is more than bright enough to be seen by motorists, but not quite bright enough to comfortably light my way. I appreciated how easy it was to remove the light from the mounting bracket when I was running errands around the city at night—just press a button on the underside of the mount and slide the light forward.

Despite my gripes with the beam pattern and proprietary charger, the Singleshot is an easy-to-use light with commendable output and run times for the money.

Vital stats

  • Claimed output: 1,000 candlepower
  • Run time: 2-24hrs.
  • Charge time: 5hrs.
  • Weight: 130g
  • Price: $100
  • Country of origin: China

NiteRider MiNewt 600 Cordless

When we spoke to NiteRider back in the spring, they told us big things were on the way and they weren’t kidding. Nearly all the lights in their lineup have doubled in brightness for 2012, but the prices have remained the same.

Jaded and cynical cycling journalist that I am, there are very few products that can really blow me away. This light is one of them. It’s small, it’s simple, it’s lightweight and it is bright. In blinky mode, this thing is deadly. It’s not a friendly hey-look-at-me-I’m-a-bike kind of blink. No, it turns the next quarter-mile into a blazing, four-alarm disco inferno. It’s the first light I’ve used that had people shouting at me from the sidewalk. I had to point it at the ground instead of straight ahead, lest I blind everyone nearby. Point it at the sky and commercial airliners will try to land on you.

With the included helmet mount, it seems natural that it would perch up there. The weight is light enough that you quickly forget about it, and there’s no battery cord to hassle with. It was plenty bright on the highest setting to ride dirt trails at night, so spotting a few potholes should be no problem. In fact, the visual difference between the three main brightness settings (275/400/600 lumens) is so small that I often left it in the low setting to conserve the battery.

Granted, there was one nit to pick: cycling through the settings isn’t intuitive. You have to hold the button to unlock it, then hold the button again to get to the flashing mode. The on/off button lights up to indicate the modes, but I can’t see it when it’s on top of my head. Oh well. A handlebar mount is also included, as is a smart charger, though it’s also rechargeable via USB.

In the end though, this is one of the coolest products I’ve used in a long time. If you want to invest in just one light that is small enough for day-to-day commuting or city riding, and can handle some off- road excursions as well, look no further.

Vital stats

  • Claimed output: 600 lumens
  • Run time: 1:30-10hrs.
  • Charge time: 5:30hrs.
  • Weight: 190g
  • Price: $149
  • Country of origin: USA

Portland Design Works Cosmic Dreadnought 110

Out of the vacuum of space and illuminated by the suns of a thousand distant galaxies (aka the Cree brand XPE LED bulb) comes the Cosmic Dreadnaught 110, Portland Design Works’ 110-lumen, bar-mounted light.

The Cosmic Dreadnaught attaches to handlebars between 22.0- 31.8mm using a brilliant single-strap, wrap-around style mount. Simply wrap the thing around your bars, engage the retention screw, and turn until secure. This also makes for easy detachment if your neck of the solar system is less than exemplary.

Three transmission settings—high, low, and flashing—are engaged via a push-button (eerily reminiscent of a certain star fleet communication device…) located on the top of the fuselage. Pointed at the ground 8-10 feet in front of your land speeder, the circular beam has about a 14” hotspot and an amazing 24’ spread, giving you plenty of warning when interplanetary marauders are about to strike.

The whole package is light as well, so it’s not cumbersome at all on any model speeder. The $65 Cosmic Dreadnaught runs on two AA batteries that are included, but a recharging option would be a nice thing to see in future models. I suppose one could always use rechargeable batteries. Run times range from 10 hours on high to 15 hours on low and 25 hours on flash.

Whatever destiny awaits you at the edge of space, be sure the path before you is well-illuminated. For its ease of use, the Cosmic Dread- naught is my choice.

Vital stats

  • Claimed output: 110 lumens
  • Run time: 10-25hrs.
  • Charge time: (not applicable)
  • Weight: 110g price: $65
  • Country of origin: Taiwan

Light & Motion Solite 150

Light & Motion classifies the Solite 150 as a multi-sport light. In- cluded in the box are handlebar mounts, a headlamp set-up, and a helmet mount. The tiny LED head unit pumps out 150 lumens and the lithium ion battery pack will run between 3 hours (high beam) and 40 hours (low). No fancy charger is included, just a USB-to- mini-USB cord.

The light head is connected to the battery by a thin, coiled cord, allowing the battery to be strapped to the stem or into a helmet vent. The zip-tie bar mount was a bit limiting as I was sharing the light between a few bikes, but I found that snapping the light head into the battery and strapping the whole thing to the stem worked fine for commuting, and allowed me to pull it off quickly when parking outside. Small amber lights provide 180o visibility, a nice touch, but I do wish for a flashing mode for those overcast or rainy dark days.

The light pattern was pretty tight, more of a spot than a flood, which is a good thing for a 150-lumen light. No weird rings or dark spots, just a bright center tapering evenly to darker edges. Plenty of light for dark roads and paths.

Charging was snap; just find an empty USB port and plug in for about 5 hours when completely drained. You probably have a few chargers sitting around that will charge this up from a wall outlet, too. The Solite is also compatible with those emergency cell phone chargers that run off AA batteries, so multi-day trips would not be a problem.

As a headlamp, it is too bright on high for anything short of trail running, which means huge run times if used around camp on low. The helmet mount works fine, too—the battery isn’t heavy enough to bother me when mounted on my head. The only complaint I can muster is the thin cord between light and battery. No problems yet, but it is mighty skinny compared to every other bike light I’ve used.

I’ll admit, I was a little put off by the Solite on first sight. It seems too small and dainty to be a real light. I was wrong. This is one of the most versatile and practical lights I’ve used, ever. If your adventures take you into the night on a regular basis, on two wheels or two feet, the Solite might be your new best friend.

Vital stats

  • Claimed output: 150 lumens
  • Run time: 3-40hrs.
  • Charge time: 5hrs.
  • Price: $180
  • Country of origin: USA
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