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2009 LED Bike Lights Comprehensive Review - Expert Lights
By James Sharp

 

Review Navigation
Introduction
Beginner
Sport
- Expert

 

Expert Lights Navigation
Lupine Tesla 4
Lupine Wilma 5
DiNotte Lighting 800L
Light On! 900
Light and Motion Seca 700 Race
Expert Lights Summary

 

Lupine Tesla 4
(click here to view the images and graphs for this light)
Lupine Tesla 4 The Lupine Tesla 4 could be a game changing light. Really. Here's why: it uses a single LED, yet is about as bright as the 4-LED lights. Why is that game changing? It allows the LED--the source of light--to be treated in a more traditional manner, with a good reflector and lens. Currently, the only multi-LED lights that use a reflector are the TriNewt from NiteRider and the Seca from Light and Motion. All the others use solid state optics, including Lupine. There are advantages and disadvantages to both methods, but one of the strengths of a reflector better beam projection. It's beam pattern is more akin to a HID light, really, but with the advantages of an LED: dimmable, robust, long life, etc.

But, let's get the details out of the way. I already pointed out two differences between the Tesla and the other lights in this review--including Lupine's Wilma--namely, the super bright single LED and the dimpled reflector. It also has the button on the light head, but does not have the programmable brain of the Wilma. Nor does it have the Wilma's stepped battery meter. The button does glow red--and flashes--when the battery is getting low, but otherwise, doesn't tell you how much run time you have left. Not that this is a problem, just different from how Lupine's switches usually operate. The Tesla has three brightness levels: 100%, 35% and 10%. I usually used 35% for climbing, and 100% for bombing downhill.

The Tesla uses the same connectors and chargers as their other lights, so you can update an older Lupine system with just the light head.

I found the Tesla to be most at home helmet mounted--where it spent most of it's time--but it worked well on the bars, too. It makes a good companion light to any crazy-bright handlebar light. The beam pattern is not the best of for handlebar use off road due to a lack of light spill to the sides. However, on the road, particularly fast roads, it's projection is more in demand than it's peripheral lighting so it performs quite well. It moves from bars to helmet easily, though I found the helmet mount to be one of the more difficult to use. It's easy to attach the light to it, don't get me wrong, but it's less easy to attach the mount to the helmet. It works and is secure once on, but it isn't as intuitive to use as the others in this review. Lupine, throw in a D-Ring or something to help cinch down the straps, please. Particularly since this is primarily a helmet light. And a very good one at that.

Price: $488
Weight: 323g
Claimed Lumens: 700
www.lupine.de/web/en/

 

Lupine Wilma 5(click here to view the images and graphs for this light)
Lupine Wilma 5This is the third year in a row that we've looked at the venerable Wilma. Every year it has gotten better. Last year, it doubled it's output. This year, it received a more modest increase. More importantly, the price has come down from $675 to $590. Not bad. The light also lost the remote switch (thankfully) while retaining the user adjustable PCS switch. As before, you, the user, can decide whether it has three steps, two steps, or step-less dimming.

The beam pattern is largely unchanged from last year and is remarkably similar to the beam patterns of the other 4-LED light heads--except for the very flood patterns of the Hope and Lights On! lights. This is a good beam pattern, don't get me wrong. It has adequate spill and good throw, but... well... it could be better. I'm not singling out Lupine here, either. All of these quad array lights tend to put too much light up. Stand on a steep climb and you get a face full of light. Really, though, that's the worse thing I can say about the light.

There is plenty to like, too. Now that the switch is integrated with the light head, the Wilma attaches and is removed faster. There is also less clutter on the bars. My handlebars are always full of lockouts, B-Levers, computers, heart rate monitors, etc., so taking away the switch means there is one less thing I need to find space for.

The O-ring attachment is still one of my favorites. There is nothing to lose and it does a very good job of holding the light steady in even the rockiest terrain.

Price: $590
Weight: 354g
Claimed Lumens: 920
www.lupine.de/web/en/

 

DiNotte Lighting 800L
(click here to view the images and graphs for this light)
DiNotte Lighting 800L Like Lupine and Exposure, DiNotte has been updating its flagship light every year. First, it went from a single 5W light to the 500L--with three LEDs--then those LEDs were updated to make the 600L--brighter and more efficient--now, with the addition of a fourth LED, we get the 800L.

The 800L is larger than its predecessor--necessary to accommodate the fourth emitter similar to what we saw with the MaXx-D--and does a nice job of getting that extra light out in front. As I mentioned above, it's beam pattern is similar to the Wilma and MaXx-D and has similar brightness. The 800L's batteries are identical to the 600L's, so upgrading the light head alone is possible. The downside to using the same 4-cell battery is reduced run time. The 600L got about 3.5hrs out of the battery, while the 800L gets a little over 2.5 hours. However, since the 800L ships with two 4-cell batteries, long rides--as long as 5 hrs--aren't out of the question without having to spend more money on additional batteries.

The 800L also retains the two button back. As before, the right button cycles the light through its modes (high, med and low) while the left button is dedicated to high beam. Having used this system on the 500L, 600L and now 800L lights, I can honestly say that I like it. I never have to question whether or not I'm in the brightest setting and getting to that brightest setting is very fast. No need to cycle through any other mode when I want all the light available NOW.

Speaking of available light, even though DiNotte doesn't claim as many lumens as some of the others, it's still plenty bright and holds its own in that regard. Looking at the beam shots, there is very little difference between the MaXx-D, 800L and Wilma 5. This is pretty much my own real life experience, as well.

The mount is also carried over from the 600L and while functional, it's time for an update. The light head is nicely machined and looks good, but the mount looks a little out of place. It works--holds the light secure, is easy to use, accommodates different handlebar diameters, doesn't shake--but it looks unrefined, industrial. There are also a few parts to it (read: shims) that can get lost in the summer, when the light is put on a shelf for 3 months.

Still, the 800L is a very worthy successor to the 600L. With an improved, more polished housing, and the additional emitter, it is very much an updated light. Keeping with DiNotte's "ship lights with two batteries" philosophy keeps the 800L in "good bargain" territory--something that can't be said for the others in this category.

Price: $439
Weight: 449g
Claimed Lumens: 800
www.dinottelighting.com

 

Light On! 900
(click here to view the images and graphs for this light)
Light On! 900 Speaking of updated lights, Light On! went back and made some excellent changes to their lights. Sold now as a single light, they've nearly doubled the output from the lights they sold last year. In addition to updating the emitters, they've tossed out the proprietary NiMH batteries in favor of Li-Ion cells that are easily replaced. This has reduced the weight a little, while giving a small bump to the run time. In LED lights systems, the battery is the first thing to give up the ghost. Making the batteries replaceable by the end user extends the life of the system.

As well as tossing out the outdated batteries, they inexplicably eliminated the connectors in the wire leading from the battery housing to the light head. I've only seen this done once before and I didn't like it then. I don't like it now. It makes routing the wires more difficult, particularly when using the light helmet mounted. You can't really stuff either the light head, or the battery holder through a vent.

Light On! kept their rotary switch, and that's a good thing. It's easy to find with gloved hands and, more importantly, easy to use. This is a simple light, with a low and high beam--no flashing modes here. But, the lack of modes does not detract from the light.

Like Lupine, Light On! uses a very industrial O-ring to attach the light to the handlebars. As with the Wilma and Tesla, it works well.

Light On!'s 900 uses wide angle lenses on all four of its emitters. This makes the light a very nice flood, but doesn't allow the light to project very far. I couldn't help but wonder what the light would be like with two spot lenses in addition to the flood. Off road, the light works very well in tight singletrack, but on faster descents on on the road, I was able to outrun the light--I felt like I couldn't see far enough ahead to avoid an obstacle should one appear. The 900 works well with a tighter-beamed helmet light.

One drawback to having easily replaced, individual cells is that they need to be removed from the housing for charging. Since the cord doesn't unplug from the light head, they should also be removed for storage. It doesn't take long, but can get old. The light includes two chargers, too. Each charger will charge up to 2 batteries, so it takes both chargers to charge the 900's 4 batteries.

Price: $475
Weight: 605g
Claimed Lumens: 900
www.lightonlights.com

 

Light and Motion Seca 700 Race
(click here to view the images and graphs for this light)
Light and Motion Seca 700 Race In 2008, Light and Motion did away with every non-LED light they produced. Goodbye Arc, we'll miss you. Coming up with a replacement had to have been a nerve-wracking job. Here they had one of the best HID lights with an excellent beam pattern. Up until this year, the best LED light they had was the Stella 200 which isn't exactly HID-killing, if you know what I mean.

What they came up with, was the 6-LED Seca line. There are two levels, the Seca 400 and the Seca 700 (reviewed here). There are two Seca 700's, with the battery size being the only difference. The Race model we've been riding is the smaller of the two.

The Seca is not like any other light on the market. It doesn't look like any other light and its beam pattern is similarly unique. The light head is essentially one big heat sink--it does an admirable job of keeping things cool--with the switch located on the top of the light. The mount is all new, and relies on a very wide rubber belt. The whole light head is lighter weight than you'd expect. The first time I hefted the light, I was surprised to find that it felt... hollow. As expected, the vast majority of the weight is in the battery.

The 6 LEDs are arranged in two rows of three. The upper LEDs have the job of throwing the light far out in front, while the lower row of LEDs provides the up close and peripheral lighting. I'm not going to beat around the bush here: It's a fantastic beam pattern, equally at home on the road as on the trail.

I was much less enamored by the button. It was vague, providing very little tactile feedback. The button also sits flush with the top of the light head, making it difficult to find with gloved fingers.

There are three light settings with a flashing mode. Pressing the button cycles through all of the modes--like the Princeton Tec's Switchback lights--starting on High, Med, Low, Flash then back to High. I find it a bit annoying to always have to cycle through flashing to get back to high, but, thankfully, Light and Motion included a Race mode. Hold the button for 5 seconds and the light comes on. Pressing the button then toggles the light from High to Low then back to High. Until you turn the light off. Unfortunately, there is no way to select Race mode as your primary mode. Too bad.

The Seca battery is the familiar Light and Motion fare. It charges in 2.5 hours and uses their proprietary connector. It's an excellent connector, by the way.╩

Aside from a few niggles, the Seca lights are a true successor to the venerable Arc. The Seca 700 is brighter and has a better beam pattern. In addition the new mounts have fewer moving parts and fit a wide range is bar diameters without having to swap out anything.

Price: $549
Weight: 512g
Claimed Lumens: 700
www.lightandmotion.com

 

Expert Summary
These are all fantastic lights. I'd happily use just about any one of them as my daily light. While most of the lights in the category sport 4 emitters, the Tesla and Seca 700 show that that's not the only way to get light onto the trail... and depending on use, might not even be the best way.

Really, the standout as far as beam pattern goes is the Seca. Using 6 LEDs and a custom reflector, Light and Motion is able to better control where the light is going. On top of that, the front lens--partially clear, partially frosted--diffuses the peripheral light, smoothing it out in the foreground, but still allowing good throw from the upper row of LEDs. However, it's the second most expensive light in the review. Clearly, Light and Motion spent a ton on R&D and need to recoup some of it, but--excellent beam pattern notwithstanding--the light is not the brightest of the bunch.

The Wilma and 800L are evolutionary improvements over previous models, not revolutionary. The Tesla, though, has the possibility of being revolutionary... only time will tell as that emitter gets put into different arrays and is made more widely available. For now, though, Lupine has the perfect companion light for the Betty and Wilma--and it's not bad on its own, either.

But what's the best of the bunch? I'd have to throw that honor to Light and Motion, but it's only by the narrowest of margins. Sure, the switch needs revision. It's costly. But it gets the light where you want it, both far in front and broadly, up close. It took Light and Motion 6 LEDs to get the beam this shape, but I think it paid off.

 

James Sharp is a contributing editor for GearReview.com. More of his expert advice can be found, expertly posted on his expertly crafted blog -- Lactic Acid Threshold.


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