As the days get shorter and the weather turns gloomier, most of us are rooting around in drawers and boxes, trying to find those misplaced winter commuting essentials – gloves, tights, jackets, mud-guards, over shoes… and lights. For most riders, a bike light is a fairly mundane bit of kit that we hope will blink and flash enough to stop us getting run over by motorists with winter blues and steamed up windscreens. However, there is another side to bike lights – a fun side.
Around the country, cyclists are kitting themselves out with big, powerful headlights and heading for some after-hours adventure, either on the unlit road or at their local MTB trails. It is not as crazy as you might think – a group of road cyclists at night looks like a mobile Christmas fair, with each rider’s light reflecting off the hi-vis kit of the bike in front. In many ways, it is safer than riding during dull daylight hours.
However, getting involved in these floodlit frolics is going to require an investment in a decent front beam – it is going to take more than a couple of AA batteries to light up a pot hole on a rapid road descent or show the finer details of a root-ridden forest trail. We gave 4 powerful lights a run for their money on the muddy trails of Cannock Chase in October.
In many ways the lights are all very similar – a LED casing that delivers between 1500 and 2500 lumens, powered by a separate battery pack. All of these lights come with 2 mounting options. Option 1 is to mount the light on the handlebars, with the battery pack strapped onto the front end of the top tube. We prefer this option when road biking, as the bike is generally pointing in the direction of travel.
Option 2 involves strapping the light to the top of your helmet, then running an extension cable down your back, with the battery either in a rear jersey pocket or a back pack. We definitely prefer this option when off-road since you often change your field of vision – sometimes you need to scan ahead along the trail, sometimes you are focussing on your front wheel, sometimes you are looking for the exit of a corner before your bike has even started turning. Having the light on a higher point also helps reduce the length of shadows behind obstacles. The only downside is the discomfort of having a big light strapped to your head, wobbling around.
We don’t have the capacity to carry out scientific tests on light output or battery time, but you can geek it up with the manufacturers’ specifications if you wish. What we will say is that all 4 products provided ample light to negotiate the red-grade trails at Cannock. Remember, even the most powerful of light beams can’t shine around corners or through trees. Similarly, with proper management of the battery (turn the light down on fire-road climbs and off when resting for a chat) all four lights were more than capable of dealing with a couple of hours mountain biking, without showing signs of battery exhaustion.
Light & Motion Seca 1500
This was our least favourite of the lights on test. It gives off a fine beam, but the build quality feels cheap and flimsy. This is particularly true of the charging accessories and various international adapters.
The length of the cable is not adjustable meaning there will be lots of excess cable when mounted on the bars. The bar mount system is simple, but not very secure. On the plus side, it does feel light when mounted on the helmet.
Price: £299.99, available from Madison.
Hope R8 Vision 2200
No complaints on build quality here – this unit feels solid, very solid. We like the curly wurly cable from the battery, and the extra extension cable for helmet mounting. We don’t like having to fiddle around with an alan key to adjust it – as you might imagine, much night riding is done in the winter when hands are cold.
There is no denying that this is a big cannon of a beam, but the battery pack is a proper brick (although the charge indicator lights are a nice touch). The main problem with this light is that it looks like something you might see on stage at Glastonbury – it is a big industrial bit of metal and you need some serious neck muscles to keep your head steady.
Price: £309.30 (RRP £349.97), available from
NiteRider Pro 1800 Race
This light is far better suited to the slender necked among us. It is fairly lightweight and gives a slightly wider beam than the other lights on test. The battery pack is long and flat, which is comfortable in a jersey pocket and less likely to swing around on the top tube. The mounting system allows you to swivel the beam in various directions, but it is fiddly and prone to getting jammed, especially with lots of mud about.
The extension cable is also a pain to plug in, with delicate pins requiring precise alignment. Basically, this is a good light that has been let down by a lack of attention to detail in the things that actually matter – getting the thing on and off your helmet in a rainy car park without swearing profusely. From straps to cables to mountings, this light is just too awkward.
Price: £270.00, available from
Moon X Power 2500
The winner! Not only does it have a whopper of a beam, but it just feels easy to set up and use. Put bluntly, it makes sense. The cables are easily assembled with cold hands. The battery pack is long and flat against your back in the jersey pocket, with very clear indicator lights showing how much juice it has left. The helmet and bar mounts are simple, no tool affairs.
It is still quite heavy on top of the helmet, but moderate neck strength will suffice! And as if all that wasn’t enough, it comes with an optional remote control – a discrete cable with a button that you can attach to your chin strap, if reaching above your head is too much for you. Oh, and it all comes in a very nice case, proving once more that technical specifications are often trumped by clever design that really thinks about the end user.
Price: £199.99 (RRP £280.00), available from Merlin Cycles.
So, what are you waiting for – strap a big light to your head and postpone the mid-week winter hibernation. Just because the northern hemisphere has tilted away from the sun for a while doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy your sport. Of course, you miss out on the scenery, but night riding does build a wonderful sense of camaraderie between cyclists as they boldly explore the eerie world of nocturnal riding together. Enjoy!
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