All Bike Lights Are Crap

Controversial title. All of them..? Really? OK, not all of them but most of them in my experience.

It’s fairly simple: I want a light that can be attached/detached easily, I want the battery to last a reasonable time with a fair amount of light thrown out and I want it to remember the last mode I used so I can get going with minimum faff.

Pretty simple eh? You would be suprised how many bike light manufacturers do not get these basics right. Oh and I’ll throw in one more – it should be easy to turn on and off while wearing gloves! Yes, gloves – because we don’t all live in sunny California. You might as well ask for a moon on a stick because this simple thing seems to be met with “…Wow, really? Thats crazy talk!” by most light manufacturers.

OK WG relax. So which lights would I recommend? Read on…

IMG_20190406_120059Lets start with the best first. The CatEye Volt 400XC is a fantastic front light that pretty much meets all my criteria. It’s also priced reasonably (I think I got it for £25 from Amazon). I’ve probably charged it just once since buying it a month or so ago with weekend use even during the day. It will flash the power button in red once battery is low which is very handy and it has a common micro USB charge port.

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It can be detached and re-attaced with gloves fairly easily and throws out just the right amount of light (400 lumens is the sweet spot for most suburban cyclists) to illuminate the path ahead without being blinding to others. I’ve tested this cycling through Southampton Common at night (there are no streetlights in that park so it gets very dark). It also has a visually pleasing day-pulse mode which saves battery when using it in daylight. The body is tough shiny plastic rather than alumnium but thats fine as it saves a bit of weight. I normally carry a laptop bag and bike lock so saving weight and being efficient is important to me.

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Following that is a decent and simple LED rear light from ApaceVision – again from Amazon. It has several light modes but I just use the blinking one to keep it simple. The LED light is bright and makes you feel safe that you are being seen. What I liked about it is the memory function and the “it just works” factor. Also nicely waterproof and comes with plenty of rubber mounting bits for different size tubes. ApaceVision customer support was also very good when I lost a rubber clip thingy and needed a replacement. It uses a Micro USB charge port. I would have liked some indicator of low battery though because it has mysteriously lost all charge sometimes…

I tend to keep this light attached to the bike when I lock it. The reason is that it does not stand out a great deal and unlike the Lezyne Microdrive below, it is not that expensive.

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Moving on we have a ViaVelo LED front light which I bought from Tesco for £15 some years back. Unlike the others this one uses 3 AAA batteries rather than USB charging. Now this light is not going to win any awards for the amount of light it throws out (maybe 150 lumens) but what it does have is a visually pleasing 3-flash pulse mode for daylight rides :) It also has a quick release handlebar clip which many other lights (even the CatEye) do not have. You could easily mount two of these for a kind of “car headlight” effect and get better light output, in fact I saw a rider have just such an arrangement this weekend.

I use this ViaVelo light on my fast training bike for daytime rides. The downside is the light it throws is pretty poor for dark areas with poor or no streetlights. The upside is that on/off switch is easy to use even with gloves, it has a positive microswitch-style button. This model seems to be made by generic Chinese manufacturers under the name M-Wave Apollon 1.3 1W Front LED Light and I have seen good UK traders selling them on eBay. A good choice for a simple no-nonsense, mainly daylight, front light.

Sidenote: I would love it if CatEye XC400 had a seperate quick-release bracket like the ViaVelo above. It has a clip and rubber mount which is pulled around the handebar to make a secure loop. It fairly easy to clip it on and off but not as easy as the ViaVelo one.

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Moving round to the final light is the Lezyne Microdrive rear light. This little guy is compact and solid with a metal case and USB charging. It has it’s own holder clip bracket which stays on the bike thereby allowing you to easily and quickly remove it. The on/off button is a large rubber blister which is easily accessed even with gloves. The button will briefly glow green, yellow or red depending on the charge level – very fancy! It has a Micro USB charge port. All this shows it’s premium Lezyne brand heritage but you pay for it in the price. It’s a fine light and I might use this rather than the ApaceVision is that one ever gets stolen.

The absolute best thing about the Lezyne though is the lighting modes – it has one mode which is like an angry red pulse and reminds me of the murderous A.I. “HAL 9000″ from the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey”

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Which Lights I had trouble with…

Lezyne Microdrive front light – I actually got this as a pair with the Lezyne rear light described above. I bought it from well-known UK bike retailer Halfords. It throws out a serious about of light, about 500 or 600 lumens. I bought it for evening and night mountain biking. However I found that attach/reattach was a bitch and the button did not have a positive feel so turning it on and off was not easy wearing gloves (you kinda have to hold it down hard). I think newer models have improved this but try it out yourself in-store. I also lost the rubber USB charging port cover at least once :/ It’s kinda this big hunk of rubber with no clip attaching it to the light body. It’s really just suited to mountain bike riding in my opinion where the lights need to stay firmly attached to the handlebars while subjected to large bumps and shocks.

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ApaceVision Eagle - on the face of this, this combo of front and rear lights looks like a winner. Waterproof with multiple light modes etc… However I found the battery life was just average and the lighting modes were either too bright or too dim. The pulse mode was also too bright and I remember passing one pedestrian who remarked “I’m glad I’m not epileptic!”. The on/off button was a bit fiddly too but at least had a memory mode. I found the light also got warm after 30 minutes use, not sure whats up with that.

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FWE Evans front light 450 lumens – I really wanted to like this :( It is keenly priced for a 450 lumen unit, throws out an excellent amount of light, has a smooth premium aluminum body and a nice microswitched on/off button which is backlit with a blue LED when it’s switched on. It even has a seperate handlebar clip so you can attach/reattach quickly… So what was the problem? For one the battery did not last very long or maybe I had a duff unit – this was a big source of annoyance because after charging it I went out for a ride and on getting on my bike in the evening… only to discover that the battery had died! I do not need to tell you how nerve-wracking it is to cycle on roads at night without a bike light. In the dark areas on the way home I actually had to let it accumulate residual charge and then switch it into pulse mode, after which it died after 30 seconds. At least my rear light was charged and OK… Anyway, that experience led me to return the light. A real shame as in all other areas this was almost up there with the CatEye XC.

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I later read in some of the reviews on the Evans website that newer lights have an upgraded Samsung battery so maybe I had a non-Samsung one? At any rate, it was bad quality control and put me in a dangerous situation so I was majorly put off.

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BTwin CL 500 LED clip light – as an additional/backup light you really can’t go wrong with these little bad boys! Keenly priced, waterproof and with micro USB charge port. They also have several clip options so you can attach them to BTwin brand pannier bags or your handlebars. The light has both white and red LEDs built in with two modes – constant or flash.

Bike Security Reminder: Please lock your bike properly!

I’m here today to relate a story about my friend who had his bike stolen last September from Gunwharf Quays. It was in broad daylight in a busy area with lots of shoppers and people walking close by.

This photo was taken by me when we discovered the missing bike. It should have been there next to the red foldable one.
This photo was taken mere minutes after we discovered the bike had been stolen. It should have been there next to the red foldable one.

How did this happen? The answer is simple – the lock my friend had used was little more than a piece of a wire. Quickly and stealthily cut with a pair of pliers.

Here is a similar cable (lock with glove for scale) - this is only good for securing your helmet.
Here is the kind of cable lock I mean (with glove for scale) – this is only good for securing your helmet.

Do not make the same mistake my friends, get a decent U-lock or D-Lock such as this. This lock conforms to the Sold Secure “Silver” certification standard – which is an independent lock testing standard. You want to aim for “Silver” or above when it comes to choosing a lock for your bike. Another good lock is this one from Kryptonite.

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May 2019 Update: this is the lock that WG has been using for the last year – tough and compact and Sold Secure Gold rated:

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If I’m cycling somewhere like the New Forest where I’m not sure that cycle lock hoops are available then I will take a thick cable lock like this one below so it’s easier to attach to posts and fences etc:

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At the very least when locking your bike you MUST put the lock through the rear wheel, large triangle of the frame and loop it around a fixed bike post.

So, what to do if your bike is actually stolen? Sadly not that much. You can report it to the Police and if they recover it they might contact you. Some Police forces have a Twitter account where they publicize recovered bikes (like this one).

In my friends case above I actually located the bike on Gumtree a few days after it had been stolen. What I did was to set-up a search alert using the keywords and location of the theft (in this case “mountain bike” and “within 5 miles of Southsea, Hampshire”). Normally the thief will live locally (these unfortunate people normally sell them on to fund a drug habit or other addiction).

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After I set-up a daily search alert on Gumtree I made sure to check the alerts every day for a week… Sure enough a few days later his bike appeared! It was being sold by a guy in Southsea – within about a mile of Gunwharf Quays. The seller’s name was “Jordan” and I contacted the guy feigning interest.

I sent my friend the link and he reported it to the Police. Sadly the Police probably would not be able to recover it and are generally have other more important crimes to deal with :/
That was no comfort to my friend but he is of a chilled, live-and-let-live disposition so it was cool with him.

He did relate one tale of someone finding their stolen bike on Gumtree, arranging to take a test ride of it.. and then cycling off into the distance, re-united with their bike once more. I can’t ever condone that though since it might incur a violent encounter with the original theif.

Stealing your own bike back though? I’ve love to see a video of such an incident – complete with a Go-Pro rear-facing camera capturing the look on the face of the original miscreant ;)

Further reading: How Not to Get Your Bike Stolen