Mountain Bike Light Shootout 2018: The Best Lights to Own the Night

The best mountain bike lights 2018

When lack of daylight strips our mountain bike ride time, we have to find alternative ways to get our fix.  Some of us may become weekend warriors, others may ride indoor trainers while the rest just melt away.  A high-quality light is a way to preserve your sanity!  This mountain bike light shootout is here to educate you on choosing the right lights.

I brought in a big gun mad engineer lighting expert to help me out.   At this point, you can call him “Dangerous”.  You can say he is obsessed with high-quality lights that enable him to ride as fast at night as during the day.  During a 24 hour event, he was once told to “turn those fucking lights off” while coming through the start/finish area.  His homemade lights that were likely 3x brighter than most cars lights on high beam were blinding anyone it his path.

Part of what sparked my interest here is the rise in popularity with cheap lights.  Try a little search on your Amazon and you’ll find a shit ton of cheap lights making boastful claims of using Cree LED’s (the gold standard) with hugely exaggerated performance claims.  Many stories are also floating around about these type lights combusting and burning down houses, cars and mountain bikers.

This comparison does include a few of those cheap lights but mainly the current hot high-quality lights on the market.  Some are lights that we know are really good.  Others are lights that some less picky riders think are really good – and maybe they are for their particular needs.

The following are the straightforward thoughts on the lights from “Dangerous”.


Exposure Joystick | $215 | Lumens 1000  | Runtime high: 1.5 hrs | 99 grams


Exposure Joystick

  • Pros
    • Excellent construction, extremely light, no wires, good button feel, intuitive controls, easy to reprogram.  GoPro mounts available.
  • Cons
    • Expensive, standard helmet mount sucks with nylon bolt that strips easily and won’t fit all helmets.
    • Helmet mounting limited to on top due to the length of the housing.
    • Battery indicator can be hard to remember and not that useful.
    • Proprietary charge cable
  • Overall Recommendation
    • Solid output and runtime for its size, excellent light for cable- and frustration-free helmet mounting.  Bright enough to complement a ~2,000lm handlebar light.  Highly recommended for a really simple setup for short XC rides or longer rides where you can meter output during climbs

 


NiteRider Lumina OLED 1100 Boost | $149 | 1100 lumens / 810 actual | Runtime on high: 1 hr | 172 grams


NiteRider Lumina OLED 1100

  • Pros
    • OLED screen is excellent for monitoring runtime remaining and mode selection.
    • Initial output is good.  Cost is better than many single-cell competitors given the feature set.
    • Standard Micro-USB charge port.
  • Cons
    • Programming is not super intuitive and buttons are not labeled correctly for what they do.
    • Max output is only available in hidden “boost” mode, falls short of claimed runtime and drops lumens as battery capacity drains.
    • Large housing, shitty mount that slips and feels like a child’s toy in addition to being humungous.
    • GoPro mounts are only made by K-Edge for $25 extra.
    • Insanely high helmet mounting to get snagged on trees.
    • Harsh cutoff to edge of the spill in the beam pattern.[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”]

      NiteRider Lumina OLED 1100
      The OLED display is a nice touch. When you’re in a hurry to get out for a ride the last thing you want to do is wrestle with this mount. Its a pain in the ass to install.
  • Overall Recommendation
    • This should be a good helmet light, but that renders the best feature of this one (the OLED screen) useless since you have to take your helmet off to see it.  This should be a good handlebar light but the beam pattern is way too narrow unless paired with a floody helmet light (backwards of typical setups).  Overall, this is the best light NiteRider has ever made, bar none, but without a wider beam, it struggles to be ideal for any application.

 


Lupine Piko R4 | $385 | 1800 lumens | Runtime on high: 1.15hrs | 214 grams


Lupine Piko R4

  • Pros
    • Incredibly small housing for 1,800lm, wireless remote that works consistently.
    • Good beam pattern for helmet mounting, light enough with 2-cell battery to mount entire system on helmet (some may find it too heavy, but balances well with the pack on the back and light head forward).
    • Can mount light head forward for a very low profile helmet option.
    • Excellent construction quality, accessories for just about every setup you want.
  • Cons
    • Way expensive for its class.
    • Single button makes programming difficult and impossible to remember the flashing sequences to get what you want so you’ll just set it once and leave it forever.
    • The low-profile and stiff button on housing is hard to find with thick gloves, even harder to press without tilting the mount.
    • Small size leads to poor thermals and quick thermal rollback if left on high at low-speed.
    • Proprietary charger.

Lupine Piko R4

  • Overall Recommendation
    • If you want close to 2,000lm on a low-profile helmet mount and you don’t mind cables, this is the light to get.  Great beam for helmet, quality construction, solid performance, wireless remote that actually works, short rated runtime on max but if you use the remote to control output for your speed you’ll get 2-3hr rides without too much issue.

 


Light & Motion SECA 2500 Race | $430 | Runtime on high: 1.5 hr| 334 grams


Lights & Motion Seca 2500 Race

  •  Pros
    • Best beam pattern in the market currently, period.
    • Front face angled to prevent glare to the rider when standing.
    • Lightweight light head makes silicone strap mounting actually effective.
    • Decent battery life even on the smaller pack.
    • GoPro mount available.
  • Cons
    • 6-freaking-foot-long cable from the light head is crazy and makes handlebar mounting a pain in the ass every time you mount it to not snag/drag/rattle.
    • Proprietary charger interface is limited and forces you to go through weird useless pulsing mode if you want more than 2 light levels.
    • Lots of plastic pieces feel cheap.
    • Large light head for helmet mounting, no remote.
    • Battery indicator only has three levels so is basically useless.
    • Weather sealing isn’t great on front lens and can lead to condensation inside in some environments.

Lights & Motion Seca 2500 Race

  • Overall Recommendation

The beam pattern alone makes this the best handlebar light available due to its wide, even distribution and spill.  If using one light on a helmet, then it’s pretty good for the same reason, it fills in everything in the field of view.  That said it is built with the least expensive construction practices available for an expensive high-end light and it has some very frustrating features, but it’s simple and it works, which will be enough for most people.

 


Extruded Chinese Garbage | $25 | 1200 lumens (claimed) 330 actual | 271 grams


Cheap POS Light

  • Pros
    • It’s $25.
  • Cons
    • Literally, everything else.   The incredibly narrow beam pattern is useless on the trail.  It falls short of every single performance claim by an insane amount, dimmer than any “legit” lights.
    • Color is extremely blue on most to the point that it doesn’t even register as “white” light when tested.  Weather sealing is shit.
    • Thermal design is atrocious, lumen drop off rapidly, fraudulent LEDs (Cree clones) are used.
    • Construction could not possibly be any cheaper.  The battery pack is not sealed in any way shape or form, cells used are lowest capacity/quality available.  MOST lights actually are mis-wired or have fake cells included in the pack.
    • No battery protection, mounts are terrible.
    • The battery indicator is useless.  The user interface is the dumbest thing ever requiring cycling through Strobe, SOS, AND OFF before getting back to High.  Jesus these lights are awful.
  • Overall Recommendation
    • If you hate yourself and hate riding at night and don’t want to spend more than $25 on lights despite your $5,000 bicycle, then these lights are for you.  If you give any shits at all about riding at night, DO NOT buy this garbage.

 


Round Chinese Garbage | $25


** We figured you know what a pile of poo looks like, so we’ll spare you the photos**

  •  Pros
    • It’s $25.
  • Cons
    • See above, only it’s round with one LED instead of two.
  • Overall Recommendation
    • Fuck these lights are awful.

 


Gloworm X2 Adventure | $209 | 1700 lumens | Runtime on high: 1.5hrs | 366 grams w/22g remote


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Glowworm X2
The Gloworm X2 has a very high-quality build with nice machined alloy head and high-quality nylon composite handlebar mount.

Glowworm X2

  • Pros
    • Excellent price for a high-end 1,700lm light, quality construction.
    • Good thermal design ensures consistent output.
    • Extension cables available if you want to stick battery in your pocket while leaving the option for mounting everything on the helmet with the 2-cell battery.
    • Multiple mount options including GoPro and QR handlebar clamp.
    • Interchangeable optics give user ability to tune beam pattern for a helmet (narrow/narrow) or bars (medium/elliptical) depending on primary use.
    • The battery indicator is relatively useful.
    • Extremely flexible cable on the light head is easy to snake through helmets.
  • Cons
    • Have to hold the switch for 5 full seconds to turn the light off after going through minimum mode which is AN ETERNITY when on the trail.
    • The wireless remote is ridiculously inconsistent when helmet mounted because the signal isn’t strong enough to penetrate the housing, rendering the remote more frustrating than useful, which will make people not even use it.   We did receive an update from Glowworm on this issue. ” Gloworm became aware of the problem with the remotes and have implemented a tweak to the design that triples the effective range.”
    • The battery indicator is only on the pack making it less useful while actually riding.  The extension cable is thicker and stiffer than light head which can make for annoying bends and such when sticking battery in your pack.
    • Can be programmed but the process of doing so absolutely requires instructions and is incredibly tedious to the point that no one will do it except nerds like me.
  • Overall Recommendation
    • Gloworm makes the best economy options in the high-end light market.  The optic options make it viable for either bars or helmet, which no competitor offers.  The performance and construction are solid.  If you don’t want to pay a ton, this is an excellent option for a higher output light, would pair well on the helmet with a L&M SECA on the bars, or on the bars with an Exposure Joystick or a Gloworm Alpha on the helmet.

 


Ravemen PR1200 | $99 | 1200 lumens | Runtime on high: 2hrs | 213 grams


bicycle headlight PR1200


  • Pros
    • Excellent beam pattern for handlebar usage, nice even spread around wheels and sides of trail with one emitter and decent throw down trail with the other
    • Battery indicator isn’t perfect, but having numbers accurate to within ~7 minutes or so is SO much better than green/amber/red LED indicators that are nearly useless
    • Ability to choose between wide flood beam at low levels (slow climbs) and all beams on high (fast descents) is nice for the finicky user
    • USB charging is standard with addition of USB port for charging phones/accessories as a bonus
  • Cons
    • Mount is proprietary, only available for handlebars, no 35mm bar option, and easily broken cheap plastic
    • Heavy, built like a brick shit house for only 1,200 lumens
  • Overall
    • For how inexpensive this light is it has a number of novel features not even available on some high-end lights.  Like an actually-useful runtime indicator, in addition to optics that are at least attempted to be optimized for the application.  For budget handlebar lights, this head and shoulders above the rest of the sub-$100 field.

Outbound Lighting Focal Trail Series | $250 | 1800 lumens | 416 grams


  • Pros:
    • Incredibly well-engineered beam pattern, wide and even illumination, no wasted light searching for snipers up in the trees
    • Reduces eye strain by eliminating harsh hot spots
    • Silicone bar mount fits any size bars easily
    • Pigtail cord is only a few inches long so you don’t have several feet of cord to wrap around the frame when bar mounted
    • Battery pack neoprene pouch does not move at all when mounted to the frame AND doesn’t scratch your pretty bike with a hardshell case
    • Ridiculous runtime compared to nearest competitors
    • Includes GoPro adapter for helmet mounting and the light head itself is very lightweight
  • Cons:
    • Battery pack neoprene pouch feels cheap despite its function
    • Only pack option is 4-cell, which is fine for bar mounting but with a 2-cell it could be light enough for mounting everything on the helmet
    • Some odd features in software make it somewhat frustrating to operate on the helmet when you can’t see the indicator LEDs
    • Too many modes whose brightness levels are too close together with a smooth fade between them which leaves you wondering if you changed modes or not
  • Overall Recommendation:
    • The most direct competitor is the SECA in terms of beam/size/etc, but the Focal is half the cost. The Gloworm is comparable price, but the Focal gives significantly better beam for handlebar mounting (it’s not even close). The Focal Trail would be my recommendation for anyone looking for a handlebar light to complement a ~1,000lm helmet light.  If you want a solo-helmet light this will work pretty well, but trades down-the-trail punch for even illumination, so on really fast DH runs you may outrun it a bit.  The worst thing about it is the software, which is well worth the novel performance factors of this light that you can’t get elsewhere.  Can’t wait to see what they come up with for a dedicated helmet light…

Beam Comparison

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Beam Pattern Exposure Joystick
Exposure Joystick:  Smooth, even gradient to overall beam from hot spot to spill (less like “a circle of light”).  Soft edge.  Radially symmetric

 

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NiteRider Lumina 1100 Boost
NiteRider Lumina 1100 Boost OLED:  Clear hotspot plus spill. Harsh reflector cutoff to spill makes periphery look extremely dark. Radially symmetric.

 

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Gloworm X2 Beam Pattern
Gloworm X2:  1 Medium and 1 Elliptical optic installed.  Wide beam spread lights up periphery really well.  Very even spread over overal while maintaining desent throw. Non-symetric beam.

 

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Lights & Motion Seca 2500 Race Beam Pattern
Light & Motion Seca 2500 Race:  Extremely smooth, even, widespread.  Good scatter in low and wide peripheral.  Non-symmetric beam

 

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Cheep Garage beam pattern
Extruded Chinese Garbage:  Dim as shit.  Extremely narrow spot with harsh cutoff on edge of the beam (not visible in pic because it’s so dim).  Radially symmetric

 

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Lupine Piko R4 beam pattern
Lupine Piko R4:  Smooth, large/broad hot spot.  No harsh edge, but quick drop-off from large hot spot to darkness.  Radially symmetric

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Outbound Lighting Trail Edition
Outbound Lighting Trail Edition – Broad, smooth and bright spot

Final thoughts from “Dangerous”

Personally, I want a ~2,000lm handlebar light with a ridiculously wide beam and a ~1,000lm helmet light with a narrow, soft spot and NO wires (I hate having my head attached to my pack). The helmet beam allows you to use it to fill in gaps and where you want the light to be, while being narrower helps it appear brighter with fewer lumens because it is focused in one spot.

The bar light, needing to cover more area, should be nice and wide so that your periphery is filled in nicely.  This will help eliminate the bouncing hot spot that happens with narrow bar lights, while keeping your eyes better adjusted to the darkness. A combination like the SECA 2500 on the bars with the Exposure Joystick on the helmet is pretty choice, with some room for improvement as all designs do, but that would be my go-to every time from the current choices.


Thanks “Dangerous”!  The Light & Motion Seca 2500 and Exposure Joystick combination is incredible.  Bang your buck the Glowworm X2 Adventure at just over $200 would be my personally choice if I were buying just one unit though.  With the Gloworm’s very high quality build and great beam pattern it’s pretty hard to beat as a single unit.

 

 

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This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Matt Conte

    Hey Chad! Let’s talk. :) I think the Outbound Trail light would make for the perfect handlebar light for your needs, and then even though the Road version does require a battery pack, it comes with an extension cord long enough to throw in a backpack, basically complete forget about it! Just released the lights in June, so I hope to get your 2019 shootout!

    http://www.outboundlighting.com

    1. Chad Davis

      Hi Matt,

      The Outbound lights look great! Definitely lets talk. My email is cdavis@crankjoy.com

  2. Gareth

    Hey chad, I’ve been reading review sites on lights all night and hands down you are the best I’ve found. You Know your stuff, make me laugh, and are a real person ne can trust. I am though very keen to hear your thoughts on the outbound trail edition after checking out there site. Their product isn’t really featured in reviews perhaps due to their infancy but don’t want to rely solely on their own site. Have you tested this one by chance?

    1. Chad Davis

      Hi Garett and thanks for your feedback! Funny you mention Outbound, the guy who helped with the light shootout has been talking about Outbound and how intrigued he is with their offerings. I’ll try to get some feedback from him here.

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