Best mountain bike lights
25th Jan 2013 | 10:12
Stay safe on the trails this winter
A good front bike light frees you up to ride at any time – whether you want to take to the trails at night or just beat the shorter days in winter.
You don’t have to spend a massive amount of money to get all the light you need. In fact some of the cheapest lights we’ve tried in 2012 would have left us slack-jawed with their performance just a few years ago, and they still shame a lot of the far more expensive setups.
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The reason is that Far Eastern light manufacturers have flooded the bottom end of the market with a variety of powerful enough LED lamps at very good prices, in the same way as mass-produced Far Eastern frames are often as good as handmade boutique brands. And whatever the posh brands say, reliability isn’t far off that of most of their gear either.
While you can buy them direct for the cheapest price, paying a bit more and going through a local distributor means much quicker delivery and better back-up if something does go wrong. Whichever manufacturer you choose, the more you pay, the more power and features you should get.
Here, we round up the best trail lights reviewed by Mountain Biking UK, What Mountain Bike and BikeRadar. To find out how we tested them and learn more about what features you should look for in a mountain bike light, read our buyer’s guide. And to see beam shots for the lights listed below, take a look at the image gallery.
Gloworm X2 LED
£150 / US$189
New Zealand light firm Gloworm are new to us, but their small size, medium costume, big feature X2 is one of the best mountain bike light systems we’ve used. The small anodised, ribbed head unit (97g with helmet mount) also comes with a simple but effective bar mount. Two Cree U2 XML LEDs sit behind a flood and spot lens that gives an excellent balance of reach and consistency for bar or helmet use. Spare flood and spot optics are included for super broad or super punchy beams too.
The small remote switch works through four different programs for managing the 1,200-lumen output too, with the three-step ‘trail’ setting proving spot on for biking. The completely sealed rubberised Panasonic 5.8mAh 7.4V battery cell (229g) is a welcome change from damage and dirt vulnerable loose bag systems. The broad strap and belt clip makes it easy to secure on any frame or even under the stem, with an extension lead for helmet use.
The four-step battery indicator is accurate for judging the two-hour, 30-minute max run time (we actually got two hours, 46 minutes out of it) and it’s bright enough to be seen through a bag too which makes checking easy. Considering everything you get, cost is very reasonable too and includes a two-year warranty for the head and a one-year warranty for the rest of the system.
£139.95 / US$N/A
MagicShine’s new twin LED MJ-880 is an outstanding combo of compact head size, powerful, versatile beam and an absolute bargain price.
Gemini Xera 2 cell
£130 / US$199.99
Gemini are a Canadian lighting company that are new to the UK, but their tough, weatherproof Xera light is one of the best we’ve used. As it’s designed primarily as a helmet light, the beam is focused and impressively far reaching, with no dark spots or irregularities – but not a vast amount of peripheral spread. An optional medium beam reflector is included if you want something slightly broader.
Ay Up Ultra Lite
£140.12 / AUS$220 / US$225
The Ay Up Ultra Lite twin lightset has been popular with epic racers for years, but 40 percent more power now pushes it into the trail use limelight.
Full Beam Fusion SpeedLED – MBUK MOST WANTED
£499.99 / US$N/A
Full Beam’s revolutionary light (361g) isn’t totally polished but it’s a brilliant no-brainer unit for flat-out technical riding. The speed steps, fade length and brightness are all custom tunable, and you can also run it as a conventional integrated light.
One23 EX Bright 1000 – MBUK VALUE AWARD
£75.99 / US$123.55
The Lupine style O-ring mount is simple but effective, there are two power levels plus a flashing mode and the relatively small bag battery still gives a massive run time of four hours and 25 minutes.
BikeRay III V2.0
£95 / US$159.99
BikeRay have really done their homework here, and created a far more even and blindspot-free beam than most Chinese lanterns: it’s common elsewhere to find a powerful centre dot with a peripheral halo pattern floating around a dark central band.
Three powerful LEDs (XP-G R5s, built by lighting giant Cree) sit behind the glass optics in a ribbed, hard-anodised 6061 alloy head unit. They give plenty of distance punch for high speed riding, and the big button on the back of the head lets you toggle between the maximum 1280 lumen (theoretical) output, a half power setting and a safety flasher setting. The three colour backlight also lets you know how much battery life you’ve got left (it changes at 50 and 10 percent) far more reliably and accurately than a lot of lights we’ve tested.
With just under four hours at full chat on a chilly night there’s more than enough juice in the battery for most missions without worrying if it turns into a mechanical/puncture infested disaster. There’s a fully rubber-wrapped 6.2Ah battery option for those who go epic whatever the weather, and either type comes in a simple but effective two-strap bag that tucks easily under frame tubes or, at a push, your stem.
The downside is that the hook and O-ring bar clamp don’t hold onto the O-ring securely enough, making it very easy to lose in transit. Still, it’s fine if you substitute it with something fatter or fix it in with a zip tie. The helmet mount comes with way too much Velcro strap, but once mounted performance is very impressive. Note the BikeRay IV adds noticeable extra power for just £15 (US$40) more.
£99 / US$N/A
This light may not be anything ground-breaking, but at just under £100 it’s good value and comes with a carry case, head strap, the battery and a UK charger. The bar mount is a simple and effective rubber O-ring, which makes for easy swapping between bikes, and the headunit adds just 121g to your bars. The battery (283g) case wraps tidily around your toptube and has enough slack to work with most tube shapes. Like many lights, they’re not completely waterproof, but they’ve survived a number of heavy soakings without a blink.
We ran this light on our helmets most of the time, but while the head strap set works well on bare heads it doesn’t play nicely with lids. We found we had to get a bit creative with zip ties to securely attach the mounts.
The 101 is simple to use; the buttons glow in the dark so they’re easy to find. One click gives full power, another gives half power and a third drops output to a quarter. The beam pattern is usable in a less positive way, with a noticeable dark band between the central spot and outer flood beams. Still, the sheer amount of light it puts out helps makes up for the lack of optical polish.
The 101 has more poke than some lights we’ve tested with higher claimed outputs, and though we haven’t rated its own 1,100-lumen claim, it’s good. The battery lasts for well over four hours on full power. The lamp does get pretty warm, but the cooler night air helps dissipate the heat quickly enough; summer 24-hour racers or hot weather night riders should consider other lights.
- My Tiny Sun Pro 3600 (£532.50 / US$N/A)
- Gemini Olympia 1700 6 cell (£209.99 / US$299.99)
- Lumicycle LED3 XPG ATL Elite26 (£275 / US$435)
- Ay Up V4 Adventure (£284 / US$431 / AUS$420)
- Light & Motion Seca 1700 Race (£400 / US$469.99)
- MTB Batteries V2 XML (£89 / US$N/A)
- Troute Spider Eyes (£329 / US$ Price on request)
- Troute Darkness Dominator (£250 / US$ Price on request)
- Luminous Lights 401 Pro (£320 / US$N/A)
- Lumicycle Twin XPG 3 Pro 52 (£450 / US$613)
- Exposure MaXx-D Mk 4 (£325 / US$250)
- Electron Terra 2 (£99.99 / US$116)
- MagicShine MJ-872 (£119 / US$185)