Top 50 lights for commuting
Our Lights test 2012 ranks the best 28 front and 22 rear bike lights to keep you visible when riding in the dark. Simon Vincett reveals the very human art of selecting the best lighting.
The 2013 test results, incorporating and building on these 2012 results, are now online.
Meet our lux meter, the newest member of the Lights test team. We’ve always preferred humans to judge effective visibility of bike lights, so the lux meter’s involvement is an innovation for this, our seventh year of testing.
To our satisfaction, we were right to trust people. The human judges didn’t agree with the lux meter in the complex business of rating which lights were most visible to people. For instance, the brightest front compact light in lux (17 lux) was rated eighth out of 11 lights. The most visible front compact light according to the judges was 5.8 lux.
Before you write off mere humans as unreliable, just think about whom is operating the vehicles on the roads.
Dr Scott Mayson, who heads up the RMIT design team that is Ride On’s partner in the annual Lights test, suggests the difference between lux measurement and human rating is that people interpret “a combination of environmental factors, perception of the flash rate and the actual output of the light.”
The visibility test is conducted after dark on an urban street to be as realistic as possible. The judging panel view the lights from 200 metres, which is the minimum distance at which lights must be visible according to Australian road regulations. Judges are drawn from Choice, Victoria Police, VicRoads Pedestrian and Cyclist Safety, RACV, RMIT Industrial Design, the bike industry and bicycle user groups. However, the method is a ‘blind test’ where the judges aren’t told which light is which, so their expertise doesn’t influence their judgement. After rating each light relative to a control, the lights are then brought to 50 metres from the judges for them to rate each for the visibility on a 45 degree angle.
The lux test is a separate process in a controlled environment. Each light is measured from ten metres, in line the strictest regulations for bicycle lighting in the world, the German StVZO standard. We measure first head on and then on a 45 degree angle, as per the visibility test, and take an average of the two readings as the final lux output.
Read more about the Lights test method.
The 2012 top 50 is the result of testing 30 new lights and comparing these lights to those tested last year that are still currently available. Some of this year’s lights didn’t make the resulting top 50 list for this year because the lights of last year are superior.
All results from this year and last were put through the same formulas, which are slightly different from last year. This explains why last year’s lights may have different scores this year. The important thing is that all lights are judged the same way.
The increasing convenience of bike lights continues, with many of the new crop being USB rechargeable and mounted with easy-to-use silicone straps. Weight and size is also not an issue now, with technology so improved. The Best in test front light of this year at 36 grams is nearly a third of the weight of last year’s Best in test.
Visibility has improved in the front lights without a corresponding hike in price. In fact, the Best in test this year is more visible and $20 cheaper than last year’s.
It’s amazing how many lights ratchet down and end up pointing at the ground
The other major aspect of the Lights test is the design testing conducted by a team from RMIT Industrial Design. As experts in the field, they assess the design and construction of each component of each light and provide ratings in the categories of useability, durability and waterproofness. Areas assessed include the quality and toughness of the mouldings and the mounts, ease-of-mounting and operation, including quality of instructions provided, and waterproofness.
This year we asked the team to also consider how easily the switch is turned on accidently, such as inside your bag during transport, as this was a factor readers requested we investigate. This score was incorporated into useability, which is one of the ratings that adds to the overall rating but isn’t shown in the table here. Durability also adds to the overall rating but isn’t shown in the table here.
As part of the durability testing, the RMIT team drop the lights from handlebar height to simulate a number of scenarios. There were three significant casualties of this test this year. The Moon Gem 3.0 broke apart, revealing that the back and front of the casing was simply glued and not clipped like most lights on test. The housing of the central LED of the Serfas TL-ST Seat Stay Taillight broke and with the Ilumenox Vega the connection between the light and battery became loose.
The lights are also mounted in their brackets and the bike is lifted slightly and dropped to simulate riding over a sizeable pot hole. RMIT team leader, Scott Mayson, remarked, “It’s amazing how many lights ratchet down and end up pointing at the ground.” The NiteRider Cherry Bomb 1W was particularly notable for this and needs its mounting bracket tightened securely.
We think waterproofness is an important attribute of lights for commuting riders. A few lights did notably poorly in this regard. The Ilumenox Vega allowed a relatively large volume of water in, which compromised the battery contacts. The X-tech front also allowed water in around the batteries.
Many of the USB rechargeable lights allowed a small amount of water just inside the USB cover but no further. Two to watch are Moon Power 500 and the Serfas TSL 500, which allowed a bit more water inside. The two Cygo-lite Expilion models on test were the most effective in keeping water out of the USB port.
High-powered lights for commuting
All the high-powered lights included in the test are considered for how well they suit the commuting rider. That is, they are considered in flashing mode for their effective visibility and not in steady beam mode for how well they light the way for the rider.
For urban riding, most people don’t need a light designed for night mountain biking. Street lights illuminate the way and flashing bike lights show other road users where we are. Flashing is the mode considered because it is the most visible when riding with other traffic.
Bear in mind also that lights that are too bright temporarily blind other riders and drivers, which is obviously not conducive to safety.
Assessing the output of high-powered lights for lighting your way through unlit commuting routes is a test we look forward to conducting for a future issue.
The Ilumenox Vega front light has been developed to restrict glare in accordance with the German StVZO standard and has a capped and narrow beam. It’s the brightest in lux, with a combined front and angled measurement of nine lux. However, by people it was judged to be seventh most visible out of 11 front compact lights on test, with a visibility score of 67. The Best in test front compact light rated 86 for visibility, though it has a combined lux measurement of 3.5 lux.
Similarly with the high-powered lights for commuting, the brightest in lux were not judged to be the most visible. The LiteRover Supernova measured 42.5 in combined lux but was found fourth for visibility (rated 78). The most visible high-powered light for commuting was (rated 81) measured 9.5 in combined lux, more than four times less output.
The Cateye Rapid 5 performed surprisingly poorly. It seems to be a new version of a Cateye model that has long been regarded as one of the best rear lights but it dropped to 13th ranking in our test this year. To its credit, its waterproofness has improved.
Ride On thanks the following people for their time for the visibility testing this year.
- Rebecca Gatto of Choice
- Juliet Bartels of VicRoads Pedestrian and Cyclist Safety
- Blake Harris of RACV Vehicle Engineering Team
- Scott Mayson of RMIT Industrial Design
- Joe Coleman of Museum BUG
- Phil Gray of Bicycle Network
- Paul Shub of Velo Cycles
Thanks also to the Scott Mayson and the RMIT Industrial Design team for conducting the design testing again this year.
The Ride On Lights test supports National Light Up! www.bikeslightup.com.au
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