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words and pictures – Paul Bowker

Over the years, we have read many reviews of lighting systems for cycling. Some are really good but often, they can be overly complex. We think that misses the point a bit as to what is relevant when considering a new light system.

At Criterium Cycles, we do a lot of night riding across a wide range of cycling disciplines. Over the years we have learnt that the demands of a road rider and off-road rider tend to be very different. The best manufacturers know this too so at Criterium, we partner with brands who cater specifically for different disciplines and adapt their products accordingly. Even so, choosing between on road or off road is still just the tip of the iceberg.

To find the lights that are right for you, we start by asking the big questions.

5 Crucial questions

1 – Do I need a light to see or just to be seen?

This is the first question because if you just looking for a daytime visible light (which is really important by the way) what follows in Question 2 onwards is not for you. In this blog, we are going to focus on riding safely in the dark. Since we’ve mentioned daytime visible lights though, it’s worth a bit more info. They tend to be small compact lights that pack a big punch. They usually have off an beat strobe setting that is based on the emergency services patterns. This system gets you noticed and gives plenty of notice for other road users to react to your presence during the daytime.

But if you require a light to be seen whilst at the same time when the sun goes down be able to see…..then read on.

2 – Am I spending 80% of my riding on or off road?

The reason for asking is to get the best light spread for the type of riding you are doing most of the time. On-road specific lights tend to have long and narrow optics to shine the light over a narrow field but far in ahead of the front wheel. This helps give you a better chance of reacting to hazards on the road ahead. Off-road specific lights on the other hand tend to have optics that ‘flood’ the area in front of the front wheel. This is because seeing more height, width and depth will help to pick out technical trail features and line choice.

3 – How many hours will I be riding for?

This will dictate the battery capacity required. Many lights will have both the required spread of light as well as the power necessary for your intended use. However, to save cost and build a product with an what appears an appealing selling price, the battery often only gives a limited usage life on its most powerful setting. Most quality manufacturers will quote a run time on specific light output settings, but be careful; don’t forget that batteries will not run for their quoted run times in colder conditions, so it’s always best to over specify to avoid disappointment and being caught out.

4 – What is the best; helmet mounted or bar mounted?

Very simply, if you are road riding and only want one light then bar mounted will be good. Unless you are a chameleon or similar, your vision is mostly directed forward so if your light has a good spread of light, you will be able to see the detail on the road. Off road riding however has very different challenges to road riding. Tight 180 degree switchbacks and fast 90 degree+ berms require the rider to be able to see around corners (if you know what we mean) and way down the trail. Helmet mounted lights give the rider vision in these circumstances, as the light is following the direction of your head. For faster trails, the addition of a high-power bar light will give extra depth of vision.

5 – What is my maximum speed whilst riding at night?

We think this is one of the most important questions. Why? Because your maximum speed will dictate how much distance you will need to see with your light, to have time to slow, stop or avoid obstacles in the road or trail.

To put this into context, the chart below shows how much time it would take to travel 10 metres at various, constant, speeds. Note: This table does not consider any reaction times or other externalities – it is purely to show how far you would travel at a certain constant speed.

Distance Travelled (Metres) Constant Speed (KM/H) Time to Cover Distance (Seconds)
10m 5 7 sec
10m 10 3.6 sec
10m 15 2.4 sec
10m 20 1.8 sec
10m 30 1.2 sec
10m 40 0.9 sec

Travelling at 5km/h would give you 7 seconds to travel 10 metres. Therefore, in most cases a light that has a reach of 10metres would give enough time to react to an obstacle in your way. However, the same light with a reach of 10 metres but travelling at 20 km/h would cover those same 10 metres in under 2 seconds. Would you be able to react in that time?

A picture paints a thousand lumens

Our two intermediate markers are Bob the Bunny at 5 metres, and Tyrone the Sheep at 10 metres. These are hazards that all cyclists must avoid on a regular basis. The two photos below those of our intrepid heroes were taken from the same point – the fence line at the back of the photo is 20 metres and the side fence line is 5 metres to the left and right.

Bob the Bunny - 5m Marker
Tyrone the Sheep

Bob the Bunny (Our 5m marker)

Tyrone the Sheep (Our 10m Marker)

Bontrager Ion 350

This image was taken using a Bontrager Ion 350 light. With 3-5 metres of good vision, at 15km/h, you would have around 1.2sec to react.

Exposure Toro 2000

The Exposure Toro 2000 on the other hand has a light spread of over 30 metres, giving you 7.2sec to react at 15km/h

So you can see that the choice of which light to buy is not just a case of “which has the biggest number of lumens”? Instead, a number of other questions need answering before deciding on the right product.

The Criterium approach and our brands

Since 2013, we at Criterium Cycles have prided ourselves in giving great advice and following these 3 simple values:

  1. Only supply high quality products, from reputable manufacturers, who give great aftersales support
  2. Make every effort to understand what it is the customer needs the product to do and, with our increasingly wide experience, offer a product that will meet or even exceed our customers’ expectations
  3. Give a comprehensive handover to ensure that all the functions and method of use and maintenance is explained and understood.

With lighting systems, we supply two main brands:

Bontrager

Bontrager is not just the Trek parts, accessories and clothing division. Instead Bontrager, as supplier to the world’s best bike frame manufacturer, design and build some of the best developed complementary products we have seen.

Their daytime lights are excellent, and go up to 800 lumen day and night lights.

Exposure

Exposure have a relentless R&D and quality control programme. The innovation and functionality of these lights has to be seen to be believed and for night time riding, they are pretty hard to beat

Once we show you what these lights are capable of, you will be as passionate about them as we are!

Compare and Contrast

Below is a simple table of some of our recommended products (and their most appropriate application), all of which we keep in stock. We have a much larger range in store, and if you are looking for anything in particular from either Bontrager or Exposure, it can be quickly ordered for you.

We do hope this blog has been useful and look forward to seeing you in store soon. And if you live outside Edinburgh, it’s absolutely no problem – just call us on 0131 663 6220 and we will be delighted to assist you and ship the product directly to you.

Manufacturer Model Max Lumens Expected Run Time Hours (Hi-Lo) Terrain best suited Approx. max light distance (metres) Helmet / Bar mount Who is it for? SRP
Bontrager Ion 350 350 1.5 – 6 On/Off road 5 Helmet / Bar Helmet light to back up brighter bar light, or slower speed leisure rider on short riding hours £44.99
Bontrager Ion 800 800 1.5 – 6 On/Off road 20 Helmet / Bar As per Ion 350; however, mid mode is 450lumens, for 3 hours, so will give longer run time, or brighter boost when required £89.99
Exposure Joystick 1000 1.5 – 24 On/Off road 25 narrow beam Helmet / Bar Off road helmet light / bar mount commuter light £159.95
Exposure Axis 1150 1.5 – 24 On/Off road 25 narrow beam Helmet / Bar Off road helmet light / bar mount commuter light (features Tap Technology) £184.95
Exposure Diablo 1500 1 – 24 On/Off road 20 flood light Helmet / Bar As per Exposure Axis. Brighter, with more LED’s for greater flood light £209.95
Exposure Strada 1200 3 – 36 Road 25 + wide angle Bar Fast road or over night endurance rides. £289.99
Exposure Toro 2650 (Reflex+) 2 – 36 Off Road 30 flood light Bar Technical off road or endurance events £294.95
Exposure MaxxD 3300 (Reflex+) 2 – 36 Off Road 40 flood light Bar Technical off road or endurance events £374.95
Bontrager Ion 350
Bontrager Ion 800
Exposure Joystick - static

Bontrager Ion 350

Bontrager Ion 800

Exposure Joystick

Exposure Axis on Bontrager Ralleye Helmet - static
Exposure Diablo - static
Exposure Toro

Exposure Axis on Bontrager Rallye Helmet

Exposure Diablo

Exposure Toro

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