My cycle commute is a little over 6 miles each way, and takes me through unlit country lanes for part of it. At this time of year, my working hours mean that both journeys are in the dark, particularly the homeward leg. I have been riding this route for about 11 years, and during this time I’ve used a Cateye Stadium 3 lamp (which is no longer available). This is said to pump out an equivalent to an 84W halogen lamp. It’s given me good service over the last decade, and indeed its durability does seem good. It’s always been a bit of a faff to take on and off the bike (it effectively has three parts: lamp, ballast and bottle battery). Charging the battery is a bit problematic, the charger that was supplied blew when I connected it by mistake to the output cable; it was prone to overcharge (so the lamp wouldn’t light). The replacement charger couldn’t be relied upon to fully charge the battery. Recently I was plunged into darkness en route to work when the battery ran out of juice. Time for a change, I thought.Browsing the Lumicycle website, one thing was striking: the modularity of the lighting systems. Initially, this makes deciding what to buy a bit complex, but it does mean you get to select the lamp configuration that is best suited to your needs. In my case I like to have something that really will illuminate the road ahead in the pitch dark of country lanes at night. I chose the high end LED4Si lamp.
This is a very compact four LED lamp, with an impressive array of features. The lamp unit has a single switch and a single power input. There is a multicolour LED indicator that indicates the brightness mode (of which more later) and the battery state.
The switch operates by upward or downward presses, and is sensitive to short and long presses. This enables the user to select four different brightness levels and modes. At first this seems complex, particularly when confronted by the switching diagram in the manual (below), but in practice seems very intuitive. The base level that the unit is in when the lamp is turned on is very bright. A short downward press switches to the low setting. Alternatively, a series of short upward switch presses take you to high and then boost brightness levels. The first boost level is set to operate for 3 minutes before dropping back to high. This is particularly useful when negotiating stretches of dubious road surfaces or conditions. A long upward press takes the unit to permanent boost. Obviously the brighter settings use up battery power more rapidly. This arrangement is illustrated below (click for larger version). Trust me, it’s easier than first sight might suggest!
The beam pattern seems to be very even – more so than one might expect from a set of four super-bright LEDs. It’s helped by the shape of the housing, which encourages a downward spread. The lamp unit itself has a simple quick release clamp that can be used on either standard or oversize bars. This makes it very easy to move the lamp between bikes – unless of course they have different diameter bars. Fortunately I’m a fairly conservative road cyclist, and most of my road bikes have standard bars!
So, what sort of battery life does one get with such a high spec lamp? I selected the top option, the Li-ion bottle battery, because it seemed the easiest to attach to the bike (in the bottle cage) and because of its high charge capacity. The battery comes with a neat charger that seems well designed to avoid over-charging. A full charge is indicated by the LED indicator changing from red to green. The small (but very informative) manual is very clear on how to treat the battery – it is a general manual, so it also covers NiMH batteries as well.
Run times (claimed by Lumicycle) range from 4.5h at boost level through 19h in mid brightness to 63 h in low. Using the flash mode gives a whopping 144h. On the very limited testing so far (I generally prefer not to let rechargeable batteries discharge too much), I’ve no reason to doubt these figures. Indeed since I commute using the lamp in high or medium with a short period in boost, I’m unlikely to see the battery discharge unless I miss several daily topups.
So far, and on the basis of only a couple of commutes (four rides), I’m very impressed with the system, and highly recommend it. On the long term durability, I can’t of course comment yet, but I do note that all the components are available separately. It’s not a cheap system – the system reviewed comes in at £305 – though cheaper (and indeed more expensive twin lamp systems) combinations of lamps and batteries are available.