That’s it. Summer, what we had of it, is over. By the end of this month the majority of us will be leaving the house and getting home in the dark, challenging even the keenest cyclist to keep riding throughout the winter.
Investing in a decent set of front lights will without doubt make the nightshift much easier. But what does decent mean? With an array of lights on the market, choosing what best suits your needs can be a minefield.
While the cost of a light will be a big influence, this alone tells you little about the performance and besides, just how do you compare a £60 light with a £400 one? A much better way to compare is to use lumens: a quantifiable number quoted by manufacturers to define how much light is emitted. Surely 400 lumens is 400 lumens right?
Lumen is one of the biggest debates in the lighting industry; are they claimed or actual? Fundamentally, it comes down to when the lumen measure is taken. Some manufacturers may rate their lights based on a simple multiplication of the number of LEDs used and what the rating of each LED is.
So, if they’re using three 150 lumens LEDs, then they’ll market their product as a 450 lumens light. It sounds logical enough, but in fact the tested value of the assembled unit as a whole could be much lower.
As there is no industry standard to dictate at which point the lumen value is measured, the manufacturer is at liberty to decide how to calculate that number. Which is why, despite some lights having the same lumen number, the outcome could be very different for each light.
In order to see how varied lights with the similar lumens can be, we’ve split our light test into four lumen boundaries: 200-500, 505-800, 805-1400 and 1405+ and then applied our own testing to see what the numbers actually mean in real life and, ultimately, what makes a great front light.
Before we explain the testing protocol, we need a caveat: All manufacturers claim lumen outputs, but as we’ve explained we need a way of directly comparing and giving you data on the actual end useable light. While we split the lights into groupings by claimed lumen, this was the end of any reference to the number of lumens – it’s important to remember that when reading the results.
We tested the lights with a lux meter. Lux is a measure of lumen per unit of area. Whilst the value of lumens will give an idea of the absolute brightness of a light, a lux value is a better impression of the light outputs usability. To give lux some perspective, a general office should have a level of around 1500 to 2000 lux whereas a dimly lit room around could be as low as 30 lux.
We’ve used the lux measurements taken by the testers in order to directly compare the lights in a scale that is quantifiable and repeatable in-house.
Ideally we want to see as far ahead as possible at all times, but what really matters is that you have enough light to prevent crashing down potholes, or coming across an unexpected tight turn in the road. This distance is very much dictated by the speed at which you are travelling.
The faster you ride the more ground you cover per second and the quicker objects appear. Taking into account human reaction times, we think two seconds of sight ahead is the minimum vision you should have on a bike.
Our graph shows several speeds, distance covered and reaction times to help you gauge the distance you need to see when riding. We used 15mph (a steady winter mileage pace) for our testing, so measures on the lux meter were taken at 13.41 meters from the light unit. We took two lux measurements, one central reading and one peripheral (one meter to the left).
We also appreciate that brightness isn’t the only factor when testing lights, and that lights behave differently under different temperatures – so we’ve also ridden all the lights to put the science with the real world.
The lights: 200 – 500 Lumens
Yo Holmes £80
- Stated lumens: 400
- LUX Test: 3 centre, 4 left
- Beam pattern – left right oblong
Easy to fit, integrated battery, USB chargeable, light visible from side, battery life indicator
Not good for riding at speed, not enough depth of beam.
Exposure Diablo mk4 £199.99
- Stated lumens: 400
- LUX test: 34 centre 34left
- Beam pattern: Large spot
bright, USB and mains rechargeable. Battery warning
Helmet only light, so needs to be combined with another bar-mounted light, for safety if nothing else. Only an hour on full power
Moon Meteor £60
- Stated lumens: 200
- LUX test: 14 centre 12 left
- Beam pattern: Mainly spot with reasonable breadth
Without doubt the Meteor was the best all-rounder light in this category. The tiny light punches well above its weight. It’s predominantly a spot light, but with enough sidelight to create an optimal beam of depth and breadth.
The light was just about bright enough at the test distance and with any amount of ambient street lighting it will be more than adequate. With its attention grabbing flash and strobe setting options, this would work for a mixed ride of town and country.
In this category the Diablo put out the brightest light on the lux test and the helmet mount appeals as a second light option, but £200 for a ‘handy extra’ will make it hard to justify for many. We also really liked the USB rechargeable Meteor bar mount fixing, simple to fit but secure enough to be confident of it staying put. Unfortunately with two good performing lights at this lumen level, it’s hard for the Yo Holmes to get a look in.
It does have a lot of plus points, but was overshadowed by both in terms of light output, and is only really good enough in an urban environment. For the £60 pricetag, the Meteor scores highly for light output, functionality and ease of use.
505 – 800 Lumens
Cateye Nanoshot+ £99.99
- Stated lumens: 600
- LUX test: 15 centre 8 left
- Beam pattern: Mainly spot.
Easy to fit, USB rechargeable, Good commuter light. Hyperconstant feature (constant beam and flashing at the same time).
Not quite enough peripheral light, not much better than the cheaper Moon light
Ay-Up (Ay Up) 560 – V Twin Sports 2012 approx £159.40
- Stated lumens: 560
- LUX test: 33 centre 34 left
- Beam pattern: Good mix of depth and breadth
Red filter caps to turn into rear lights, 12v and mains charge options. Good enough to ride over 15mph in the lanes, good battery life with indicator
Really fiddly to set up, not easy to swap between bike/helmet, separate battery and light unit.
Gemini XERA Flash £105.99
- Stated lumens: 800
- LUX test: 27 centre 24 left.
- Beam Pattern: Large spot with enough peripheral light.
At a very similar price point and specification, comparing the XERA Flash and Nano+ in a like-for-like test is pretty straightforward. For the extra £6 we think the XERA is the better buy at this lumen level.
When comparing the lux levels, both the XERA and Ay-Up are pretty close and really it’s a case of horses for courses.
The XERA has simplicity nailed.
The easy fixing and four beam options is basic, thoroughly practical with an interchangeable optic adding a nice finishing touch (we tested the standard).
The Ay-Up system does give you significantly more mounting options and, in theory, versatility.
However it’s a rather complicated system that once we had set up was almost semi-permanent depending on where we’d stuck sticky pads or tightened zip ties.
The Nano+ was great in urban and semi-urban environments, but just lacked enough light compared to the others when riding at 15mph or down the darker lanes.
The Ay-Up just pipped the XERA with an optimal beam pattern of depth and breadth, but once we’d factored in the whole package of price, beam output and versatility, in this category we would have to pick the Gemini XERA flash.
805 – 1,400 Lumens
One23 Extreme Bright £75.99
- Stated lumens: 1000
- LUX tests: 61 centre 62 left
- Beam pattern: Spot, with wider ring of light
Easy to fit on bars, Battery life warning, over 3h 30m burn time on high, astonishing value for money
Mount did occasionally slip round on rougher roads, light cycle includes ‘off’ mode if having to dip beam. Dark ring around spot creates blind spots in light beam.
Singletrack Silva £299.99 1030
- Stated lumens: 1030
- LUX test: 26 centre 25 left
- Beam pattern: Left to right spread floodlight
Easy Velcro bar and helmet mount system, 2h 30m burn time, quick release light, sodium light so ideal for off-roading.
large light unit, No battery indicator, unsure of durability of plastic mount.
Hope R4 £250
- Stated lumens: 1000
- LUX tests: 30 centre and 30 left
- Beam pattern: Large spot
If the beautifully CNC machined head unit and bracket and lightweight battery pack doesn’t win you over, then the clear uninterrupted crisp white light will. We liked the R4′s light output the most – giving significant depth with enough breadth is a hard task to master at this price point – especially if it’s to last for up to two-and-a-half hours.
It was clear in real world testing that you could easily ride at much faster speeds more than confidently in the dark lanes, especially after one of those dazzling, pupil-shrinking car headlight moments.
The secure, head and bar mounts holds the light securely preventing any beam vibration, although if you are swapping between bikes, it’s worth noting that the mount itself isn’t tool-free. Having said that, it’s hard to deny the significant price difference between the Extreme Bright and the others, and credit where credit is due, it offers great value.
But despite the numbers, the Extreme Bright just doesn’t come close to the others, meaning we wouldn’t be confident riding above 15mph with just that light alone.
However, we are still impressed and will be using it over a longer period to test the battery and durability. In the meantime it’s definitely Hope’s R4 where we’d invest at this lumen level.
Fusion Full Beam £449.00
- Claimed lumens: 2100
- LUX test: 55 centre 50 left
- Beam pattern: Flood
Big, bright floodlight. Integrated unit, great for riding at speeds of 15mph+
Most expensive on test. Large unit, poor burn time on high setting (1hr 20m)
My Tiny Sun Sport 2700 £374.96
- Claimed lumens: 2700
- Lux test: 27 centre 21 left
- Beam pattern: Wide spot
Very quick fitting, lightweight, long 2h 47m burn time
Four4th Holy Moses £275
- Clamed lumens: 2500
- LUX test: 63 centre 62 left
- Beam pattern: Wide spot
The Holy Moses stands out in this crowd purely on factual grounds; it puts out the most light, has the longest run time on the highest setting (almost three hours) and is a lot cheaper than its nearest rival.
We really liked the neat and secure mount of the Sport 2700 and its push-together cabling. But for the sake of keeping £100 in our back pockets, we’d opt for the fiddly screw fixing of the Four4th.
There is no denying the all-in-one Fusion makes things easier all round, but getting a light this bright takes some battery oomph and that is apparent in the oversized unit.
All the lights were more than capable of seeing well above the 15mph threshold we set and in the darkest of locations, once again especially after the car headlight blinding. It was the finer details which really impressed with the Holy Moses.
Not only was it bar or head-mountable, but it had a ‘hood’ so you didn’t burn your eyes when out of the saddle. The horizontal angle of the light is adjustable too (helpful to oncoming traffic) and you can select several different set-ups to achieve a completely personalised lighting system according to your needs. Not quite a lemonade budget price point, but very close to a champagne finish.
We intentionally didn’t compare price points on this test, but it’s hard not to factor the cost when looking at the full light package. What is reassuring, if not a little surprising, is that our favourite lights were based on all-round user friendliness, weren’t the most expensive and indeed in many cases, were the cheaper option.
It’s worth giving a special mention to One23′s Extreme Bright: for £75 it’s exceptional value – if it were in a lower lumen category then it would have probably won.
From the whole light test, the two that impressed us the most are the Moon Meteor and the Four4th Holy Moses. Both deliver great value for money, but whatever you opt for, any of our category test winners won’t disappoint with their brilliance.
FOOTNOTE: We have not been able to independently test all the burn times stated. Any references are therefore according to manufactures. The burn times included are according to manufacturers.
This article was first published in the October 18 issue of Cycling Weekly. You can also read our magazines on Zinio and download from the Apple store.