Three Great Lights
By James Sharp
Lights are to night riding what water is to living in the desert. Absolutely necessary. With good lights you can ride the same places that you can in the daytime, almost as fast, too. Without good lights you have to ride slowly, and even stick to wide smooth trails that you know well. All the lights reviewed here are what I would call good lights. They all have NiMH batteries and are relatively lightweight, compared to NiCad or Sealed Lead Acid batteries. Alone or combined with other lights, these will give you the brightness you need to enjoy yourself in the dark. Carpe Noctem, seize the night!
Light & Motion Arc
Light & Motion Cabeza Logic
Planet Bike Alias SC
Light & Motion Arc
Probably the biggest news in lights is the High Intensity Discharge (HID) lamps. Most, if not all, are made by Welch Allyn, under the Solarc brand name. The biggest difference between individual manufactures, then, is reflector shape and power. This is where Light & Motion excels. In addition to bicycle lights, they make lights for underwater cameras. Let me tell you, they make robust lights! Their bike lights are able to handle the worst rain can do. Their top of the line light is the Arc/Arc Cabeza, the latter being the helmet mounted version of the former. The only difference, aside from where they mount, is the shape of the battery. Run time remains the same.
This type of light is nothing short of spectacular. It boasts one of the only dual wattage lamps of this kind, and the only in this price range. It is steppable between 11 and 13 watts, with burn times of 3.5 and 3 hours, respectively. Now before you say, only 13 watts, remember that watts is a unit of power, not light output. These are more efficient bulbs than halogen types, meaning that they put out much more light per watt than halogen. In fact compared to the L&M Arc, other high-end lights look dirty and yellow, while the light from the Arc is almost blue, it's so white. This color of light is much easier to see by, since it heightens contrast.
The handlebar mount uses a thumbscrew for fast tool less mounting. The light head itself can swivel from side to side, making the light easier to mount on crowded handlebars, especially riser bars that sweep back as well as up.
So, it heightens contrast, burns for a long time, is easy to mount and comes with a charger that will charge it completely in 3.5 hours. Where is the drawback? Cost for one. The Arc lists for $399. You had better be serious about night riding, or 24-hour racing to plunk down $400 on one light. Another drawback is that fact that the user can't replace the bulb. There is a ballast in the housing that pumps out thousands of volts to kick-start the bulb. For liability reasons L&M requires that you send the light in to them for bulb replacement. The last anomaly arises out of the fact that there is no filament. The bulb consists of a small capsule of gas that, when charged with electricity, emits light. Well, jar the light and you mix up the gases, this leads to a reddish tint for a second or so. Jar the light hard enough and it can go out. That said, the only time I got the reddish light was when it was mounted on my rigid single speed on rougher trails. I never had it go out.
Summary: This is one amazing light. It is bright, burns for a long time and charges fast. Basically it is everything a light should be. All of this comes at a price, however, and in the case the Arc; it is a bulb that the consumer cannot replace and an entry fee that represents an entire bike to some people.
Light & Motion Cabeza Logic
Let me start by saying that if I were to buy a helmet-mounted light right now, this would be it. I understand that this a pretty bold statement, but bear with me and you'll understand.
The halogen light head itself is very light, practically an unnoticeable increase in weight your head feels. The Cabeza Logic sits centered on the helmet, not on the front. This means that it doesn't affect the fit of your helmet. The light head is adjustable up/down, right/left and focus. That last feature is what puts this light above the competition. You want a wide beam, you got it; you want a tight spot beam, you got it. Show me another light that can do that.
Because the light swivels, there is some concern that it is weak at that joint. It turns out that the light head is designed to break at that joint, in the event of a crash. Replacement parts are included; this saves the more expensive lens if you do land on your head. All in all a very well thought out design.
The battery and charger system is both a hit and a miss. The battery is light and compact (hit) and can be charged with Light & Motion’s rapid charger in 3.5 hours (hit), too bad it comes with a very basic overnight charger that isn’t even “smart”, that is, it doesn’t monitor the charge at all, you have to remember to unplug it (big miss). I don’t care that it is an overnight charger, but make it an intelligent one, please! (All right, I do care that it is an overnight charger, but you can’t have everything.) The rapid charger is an additional $60.
Summary: I don’t feel that any one light is perfect. If you are going to ride fast at night, on single track, use two lights. One mounted on your head and one on the bars. I don’t recommend an HID light for helmet duty due to the amount of light that you can get back in foggy or dusty conditions. The Cabeza Logic is the perfect companion to the Arc, or any other HID. It has a reasonable burn time, has an adjustable beam, making it an excellent companion to any bar-mounted light, and doesn’t weigh down your helmet. That said, at $199 it is not cheap. If you can only afford one light, this is it. If you can afford two, get this one and a bar light of your choice. If 24 hour racing is your thing, get the Cabeza Logic and the rapid charger, it will serve you well.
For More Information:
Light & Motion
300 Cannery Row
Monterey, CA 93940
Planet Bike Alias SC
Planet bike has been making entry- to mid-level lights for a few years. The Alias SC (short for Super Circuit) is its entry into the high-end light market, and a crowded market it is too. Planet Bike needed to distinguish itself from the rest of the crowd right out of the gate, and I think that they have done just that.
The first thing that you notice about the Alias is its absence of a light housing. There is a shroud along the top to shield the users eyes from the light. The bottom is open to allow light to shine straight down, even when the beam is positioned to shine down the trail. This makes for an excellent beam pattern. In fact, I feel that it has the best beam pattern of any halogen light. It allows the rider to see down the trail and right in front of him.
The next thing you notice is all the wires. The battery mounts to the frame and a cord runs from the battery to the Super Circuit, that controls the light output and allows for a “soft start” to extend the life of the bulb. From there cords run to the switch and to the light head. So, you need to strap the battery to the frame, the circuit box to the stem, the switch to your handlebars and attach the light head to the bars. Not that big a nuisance since all the different parts come with the requisite straps, but it all does take up space. The most unfortunate thing is that all the wires mean that this light is all but unusable as a helmet light. Bummer, that beam pattern would be great on a helmet.
Now that you have it mounted and turned on, you notice the beam. It's blue! Planet Bike calls the bulb Spectra Blue and it is a noticeable difference over the usual yellow color that halogens normally have, regardless how bright. Its not to be confused with the blue of the HID lamps, compared to those, it still looks yellow, but it is also half the price of a HID.
With three light levels, 8, 12, and 15 watts and a flasher mode. It has run times of 3.4, 2.5 and 1.9 hours, respectively. The Alias SC is on par with other lights in its $199.99 price range. It comes with an overnight smart charger that goes into trickle charge mode once the battery is charged.
Summary: The Planet Bike Alias SC is a lightweight reliable light. It provides excellent light coverage and is very easy to operate. The battery doesn't use up a bottle cage and it never moved on us during testing. Frankly, if Planet Bike added a faster charger, this would be a fantastic light system, able to compete with any other single-beam halogen light system out there. At least it is a plug-and-forget charger. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this light to anyone looking for a single beam bar light based solely on the better-than-average beam pattern, all else being equal to most other lights on the market.
For More Information:
P.O. Box 259267
Madison, WI 53725
James Sharp is a Contributing Editor to GearReview.com specializing in mountain biking.