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Axiom Ultra Spark LED Headlight

Editor’s Note: Most of us in the United States are enjoying a day off from work as we celebrate Independence Day. I decided to take the day off as well and am happy to provide you with an excellent product review from triathlete and fellow-blogger David Clancy. I am a frequent visitor to his blog, College Tri, and hope you can visit it as well.

All fifty states require that cyclists have at least a headlight and a rear reflector on their bike (please note—this is the minimum, there are states that require more). And quite honestly, common sense says that as a cyclist at night, it is very important to be seen by drivers! Many car-bike accidents happen in the evening and the chances of fatality sky-rocket at night. In fact, according to the City of New York’s website, while most riding occurs during the day, 45% of bike fatalities occur at night! Although you may not live in New York (I sure don’t), chances are the statistics tell a similar story in your area. Lights are essential to nighttime riding and your options are many and varied.

Performance Bicycle LED Headlight

Tool free, extremely quick mounting!

LED technology continues to evolve and the result is lights with good power that are lightweight and affordable. I don’t do much night riding at all because, in general, I don’t need to. But I knew that I needed a good light for instances where I’d be out during the evening or even early in the morning. So, at Performance Bicycle I found the Axiom Ultra Spark LED Headlight. The light is a 5 LED USB rechargeable headlight. It has 4 modes: low, high, strobe, and flashing. The highest setting is 70 lumens. The battery life is decent with 3 hours (high), 6 hours (low), and 8.5 hours (flash and strobe) run time.

This light, in my opinion, falls under the safety light category. Don’t expect to take this light on the trails or lengths of poorly lit well. This light is made for you to be seen but it still does a pretty decent job for lighting your path. This is a lightweight, extremely compact light that is very easy to take on and off of your bike. If you are a roadie who rides at night occasionally on fairly well-lit roads, this is a great choice for you. Heck if you are one of those weight weenies, check this stat out… This light weighs 36 grams! That’s right, this light is light! Even if you’re worried about aerodynamics, this light can easily fit into a wedge saddlebag or your jersey pocket when you aren’t using it.

Performance Bicycle Axiom Ultra Spark Headlight

Mounting system in action… Incredibly efficient!

One thing that is great on this light is the side visibility. The way the light is designed it really shines to the sides so you are visible from all angles, not just head-on! I must point out something though. If you do a lot of night riding, you should really consider splurging on a high power headlight that is more useful. This is not a product I’d recommend for every night use or trail riding! This is a safety light which gives a decent beam for when you need it.

The Ultra Spark has a list price of $49.99 at Performance Bicycle (don’t bother shopping around, Axiom is a house brand of Performance) but I’ve never seen it being sold for more than $40.00. This light can fit into any budget because, let’s be honest, your life is worth it. This is a safety light and a great value at that. There are a lot of competitors in the safety light world including some names like the Blackburn Flea, but in my opinion, the Ultra Spark has to be one of the best values on the market. Ease of use, battery life, visibility, and size make this a great light for a roadie who rides in the evening on occasion!

 

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Portland Design Works RADBOT 1000 Bicycle Taillight

Portland Design Works RADBOT 1000

Portland Design Works RADBOT 1000

The Portland Design Works RADBOT 1000 Taillight is an excellent product and one of the brightest bicycle taillights you will find. While most people think taillights are only for when they ride at night, the RADBOT’s 1-watt LED light is powerful enough for daylight use as well. This taillight offers three different flash patterns: always on, zZz, and my favorite, the cornea blitz (also known as zZzPOP). The RADBOT 1000 comes with clips so you can mount it to your backpack, seat bag, seatpost, or seat stay.

Portland Design Works claims this light will run for 15 hours in steady mode and up to 30 hours in flashing mode. This has not been my experience, but I don’t think anyone actually gets the battery life that most manufacturers claim. However, this does not mean they are trying to mislead you. Battery life is dependent on many factors, including the age of the battery, how it has been stored and weather conditions. While I have never been able to get 30 hours of flash time out of a set of batters with this light, I am not the least bit disappointed. The RADBOT 1000 is an extremely powerful taillight and I think my life is worth considerably more than the price of a set of batteries (your opinion may vary). By the way, I never run a taillight in the solid (always on) mode—I’ve found the flashing light pattern to be far more effective.

I bought two RADBOT 1000 taillights over 18 months ago and they are both still going strong, even after a couple dozen sets of batteries and a really bad Chicago winter.

Any review of the RADBOT 1000 would not be complete with a mention of it’s main competition, the Planet Bike Superflash Turbo Taillight. Both of these lights are made by excellent companies and I honestly could not claim that one is better than the other. I’m sure you have heard of Murphy’s Law (“Anything that can go wrong will go wrong”). In my opinion Murphy was a flaming optimist. Riding with only one taillight will eventually mean a ride home with no taillight at all. Batteries run down, mounting brackets break, and a taillight is probably the easiest thing for someone to steal from your bike. I use both of these lights on nearly every ride I take at night. Since the Planet Bike Superflash is fairly lightweight I attach it to my seat bag. The RADBOT 1000 has a great built-in reflector and I keep it on the seatpost. Because these two lights use different flash patterns it really makes it easy for motorists to see you a long way off.

The RADBOT 1000 retails for $32. Portland Design Works guarantees their products for life against defects. Their Website has a rather humorous explanation of what constitutes a defect, i.e., “Defect does not include damage caused by a drunken bicycle crash, ghost riding your bike off a bridge, act of God or normal wear and tear.”

 

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Planet Bike Superflash Turbo Tail Light

A few weeks ago I published a review of the Planet Bike Superflash Tail Light. I started using the Superflash last year and liked it so much I bought four of them (one for each bike I own). Well, the folks at Plant Bike have not been resting on their laurels—they’ve come out with the Superflash Turbo, a tail light with twice the power of the original Superflash!

Planet Bike Superflash Turbo Tail Light

Planet Bike Superflash Turbo Tail Light

If you look at the two Superflash units side-by-side you will not see much difference at all—they are the same size and weight and the only difference you will notice is in the color scheme. They both run on two AAA batteries and the batteries will last around 100 hours (in flash mode). If you turn both units on and hold them at arm’s length I doubt that you could tell them apart (they will both just about blind you). The real difference is seen as you get further away from the units. At 100 feet away you can easily tell the two flash units apart, and at 1,000 feet the difference will blow you away!

The Superflash Turbo has two different operating modes: steady (always on) and turbo flash mode. I think the steady mode on any tail light is a waste of time—even a bright light gets “lost” except on the darkest of nights. I always run my tail lights in the blinking mode since it seems to draw a lot more attention. However, the turbo flash mode is not just an on/off mode. The turbo mode is intermittent—the powerful one-watt power main light on top flashes first, then the two LEDs in the lower part of the unit flash in an irregular pattern.

The Superflash Turbo comes with brackets that should allow you to mount this tail light on just about any bike. It also has a clip so you can attach it to you seat bag or jersey pocket.

The Superflash Turbo retails for $35, which is just $5 more than the regular Superflash. To me, the choice between the two is a no-brainer: just buy the Superflash Turbo. The extra $5 gives you twice the light and a better flash pattern.

 

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Planet Bike Superflash Tail Light

I love cycling at night, but I also like living, so when I ride at night or in the rain I always have a Planet Bike Superflash Tail Light on my bike. This tail light can run up to 100 hours on just two AAA batteries and the half-watt LED light can be seen from up to a mile away.

Planet Bike Superflash Tail Light For Bicycles

Planet Bike Superflash Tail Light

The Superflash has a steady mode (light on all the time) and a unique flashing pattern that really helps motorists see you (this is the mode I always use). Last fall I went for a long off-road ride at night but I forgot my water bottles, so I phoned my wife and asked her to bring them to me at a park I was going to pass through later. My wife said that when she turned down the road going to the park she saw my flashing lights from over 3/4 a mile away and thought it was a police car in front of her! I now own four of Superflash tail lights (one for each of my bikes).

From personal experience I can tell you that you should never look directly into this tail light (you will be seeing red spots for at least 15 minutes). Considering how bright the Superflash is it is an incredibly compact unit, measuring only 2.75 inches tall, 1.5 inches wide and 1.5 inches deep.

You can mount the Superflash on your seat post with the included mounting bracket or clip it on your seat bag. Over the past ten years I’ve probably lost a dozen tail lights (from several manufacturers) when they fell off my seat bag after hitting a bump. Though I’ve not had this problem with the Superflash I now secure my tail lights to the seat bag with a simple cable tie (see the photo above). Cable ties are really cheap and you can cut the cable anytime to remove the light (I use cable ties for all sorts of things on my bikes). Planet Bike claims this tail light is weatherproof. I’ve used the Superflash in both rain and snow storms and in temperatures down to zero without any problem. As you probably know, the battery life of any light will be considerably shorter when the temperature drops below freezing.

The Planet Bike Superflash has a retail price of $30, but you can find in on Amazon.com for around $25. I believe this is a very fair price for a quality tail light. You could buy a cheap tail light for about half the price, but it is truly a case of getting what you pay for. If you choose to take the cheap route please remember to always carry your driver’s license and an organ donor card (the driver’s license is needed to help the police identify the body).

 

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JetLites A-51 Bicycle Headlight

Have you ever purchased an item for your bike and after a few months wondered, “Why doesn’t everyone have one of these?” That is exactly how I feel about the A-51 LED Headlight from JetLites. I purchased my A-51 late last September when it first came out and I have not regretted it one bit!

JetLite A-51 LED Bicycle Light

JetLite A-51 LED Bicycle Light

This LED bicycle headlight puts out 720 lumens of beautiful light and runs for over three hours on a full charge. The JetLite Website only claims a three-hour battery life, but I have been about to get three and a half hours out of it on when running on maximum brightness. You can also run the light in low mode and should get five and a half hours of light from it, or get twelve hours in the strobe mode. The connector between the battery and the headlight is threaded and waterproof. I carry the 9 ounce Li-Ion battery in my jersey pocket.

The “smart charger” for the A-51 LED Headlight is the best I have ever seen. Once you plug-in the 7.4 volt Lithium Ion battery into the charger it quickly determines how much of a charge it needs and once the battery reaches full the charger goes to sleep. The charger also wakes up every twelve hours to keep your battery topped off.

You can buy the A-51 LED Headlight with either a helmet mount or a bar mount. I chose the helmet mount since I like to have my brightest light on my helmet and a secondary light on the handlebars. The first time I rode an off-road trail with this light I noticed that some bikes ahead of me were pulling off to the side of the trail when I got close—they thought I was a car or motorcycle. When I caught up with them everyone wanted to know where I purchased the light!

You will probably never see a JetLite product in your local bicycle shop. You are going to have to either visit the JetLite Website and buy one online or find one of their few certified dealers to buy one of their lights. I bought mine online for $249, but I noticed on their Web site the price for the light, charger and helmet mount is now only $229.00 (folks, this is a steal).

This light comes with a one year warranty and it is made in the USA. If you ride at night you really need one of these lights!

 

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CygoLite ExpiliOn 250 LED Bike Light

Riding off-road trails at night is a blast! I started night-riding several years when the Chicago area was experiencing an unusually hot summer and riding after sundown seemed like the only way I was going to get my miles without suffering heat stroke.

During my first few years of riding at night I purchased several underpowered headlights and I never really felt safe because I was outrunning my light, i.e., my headlights did not throw a beam of light far enough down the trail for me to safely ride at the speed I was traveling. It was like driving your car at 90 MPH down a foggy country road using only your parking lights. That all changed last summer when I purchased a CygoLite ExpiliON 250.

CygoLite ExpiliOn 250

The ExpiliOn 250 is one-piece compact unit that throws out 250 lumens of intense LED light and fits on either your handlebar or helmet (it comes with mounts for both). Since it weights a mere 130 grams you will probably never even notice it if you wear it on your helmet. Using the high beam I was able to get nearly three and a half hours of light out of it (CygoLite only claims a 3 hour battery life). It is powered by a quick release Li-Ion battery and it recharges in about 5 hours. How good is it? After my first ride with an ExpiliOn 250 on my helmet I ordered a second one for my handlebars!

This light has six different settings (High, Mid, Low, Daylight Flashing, Walking and SOS). The flash setting is very interesting—it sends out a quick pulse of light, pauses, then sends out two more pulses in rapid succession. This flash setting really grabs the attention of oncoming traffic. During the winter months in the Upper Midwest the sun never gets very high in the sky so our few hours of sunlight are accompanied by long shadows, but the sad fact is that most of our days are rather cloudy anyway. Riding with the ExpiliOn 250 in flash mode allowed cars to see me a long way off. I was having cars stop me at least once or twice a week to thank me for using the light. Some motorists claimed they saw me over mile away which gave them plenty of time to avoid a head-on collision.

Now the best part: I’ve had to call CygoLite’s customer service twice and I have been extremely happy with them. My first ExpiliOn 250 had a small problem (it was probably my fault) and when I called customer service they insisted that I return the unit for a new one—no questions asked. The guy on the phone made an interesting comment. He said, “We are really trying to protect the CygoLite name and we can’t afford to have dissatisfied customers.” WOW! It is wonderful to deal with a company that is trying to build a reputation instead of resting on one.

The CygoLite ExpiliOn 250 has a list price of $140.00, but I was able to buy mine for around $110.00 from Amazon.com.

 

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Planet Bike Blinky 3H Tail Light

I do not think it is possible to be too well seen at night. In my opinion, being seen falls into two categories: passive (reflective gear) and active (lighting). I am amazed that so many cyclists are willing to put their lives at risk by not making a better effort to be seen by motor vehicles at night.

Planet Bike Blinky 3H Tail Light

Planet Bike Blinky 3H Tail Light

In addition a good tail light on my saddle bag (and a lot of reflective clothing) I also use a Planet Bike Blinky 3H Tail Light mounted on my helmet. The helmet mount is self-leveling which means it will always be visible to traffic directly behind you, regardless of whether you (and your helmet) are looking up or down. This light has three bright LEDs and a built-in parabolic reflector. In flash mode the light should run for about 100 hours on a single AAA battery. You can also run the light in continuous mode, but I think a blinking light draws a lot more attention. The Planet Bike web site claims the Blinky 3H can be seen from up to a mile away.

The Blinky 3H comes with both a helmet mount and a seat post mount. The helmet mount is Velcro and you can attach it to your helmet in under a minute. The list price is $23.00, but I got mine from Amazon.com for $18.00.

 

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