Nothing makes an old trail feel new quite like riding it at night. If you haven’t yet experienced night riding, then you are truly missing out. Night riding with a high-powered mountain bike light is a fun and exciting way to spice up your local trails. Unless you’re afraid of the dark, we encourage all riders to get together and take on their local trails after the sun has gone down. But first, let’s talk lights. To give yourself the best advantage while night riding, you need to equip yourself with a high-powered light—if not two. We often recommend riding with a light mounted to your handlebars and another attached to your helmet. In a pinch, however, a single handlebar-mounted light can get the job done. For this shootout, we gathered five high-powered lights ranging in power output from 700 to 1500 lumens. We mounted each light one at a time to our handlebars and raced lap after lap at one of our local testing grounds to see which light could best light up the night.
Max output: 1200 lumens
Mount types: Bar, GoPro
Weight: 216 grams
Charge time: 4 hours
High: 1.5 hours (1200 lumens)
Medium: 3 hours (600 lumens)
Low: 6 hours (300 lumens)
Manufacturing lights for deep-sea divers, film crews and cyclists, Light & Motion is a company constantly looking to innovate light technology. The Taz 1200 is a fine example of Light & Motion’s commitment to developing better products. Engineered with three LEDs, the two up top are designed to project light down the trails, and the one below provides a widespread flood. The light comes with two mounts—one for handlebars and one that attaches to a GoPro mount. The Taz features side lighting for additional safety on the road, and the entire light can be submerged under 1 meter of water for 30 minutes.
The Taz 1200 was the heaviest in our test, and when the strap was not pulled tight, it tended to fall, especially over rough terrain. We remedied the problem by making sure the strap was looped properly through the mount and stretched slightly further than we thought it could go. We managed to mount this light to both 31.8mm and 35mm handlebars. The light itself was powerful, and the lower flood LED allowed us to easily see what was immediately in front of us. The two upper LEDs projected lots of light down the trail, allowing our riders to charge at full speed.
ETHOS MK-II SMART LIGHT 1500 (MOST ADVANCED)
Max output: 1500 lumens
Mount types: Bar and helmet
Weight: 92 grams
Charge time: 5 hours
High: 50 minutes (1000 lumens)
Medium: 2 hours (500 lumens)
Low: 6 hours (200 lumens)
Smart mode: 13 hours to 30 minutes (25–1500 lumens)
Ethos Components, located in Southern California, is a business passionate about electronics and cycling. Ethos makes some of the coolest lights on the market, built inside carbon tubes with machined aluminum caps. You might recognize this light from our November, 2016 issue when we tested Ethos’ 800-lumen light. The all-new MK-II Smart Light 1500 is one of the most advanced lights we’ve seen. Using a mobile app called the Ethos Tuner, riders can tune their light’s output to match their speed. In the app, you can set light output and speed for low mode and then do the same for high mode. For example, we set our test light for 200 lumens at 5 mph and 1000 lumens at 18 mph. We then hit the trails, and throughout our ride the GPS from our phone app tracked our speed and adjusted the power output accordingly. When traveling at 18 mph, the light provides a full 1000 lumens but slowly fades in or out while you’re riding. Dumb mode is also an option for less tech-savvy riders. These riders can simply tap the button at the back of the light to cycle through the Smart light settings.
One complaint we had with the original light we tested from Ethos was its mount. Unfortunately, the new model features the exact same one. To be fair, the mount actually works really well; it just has an inexpensive look that doesn’t complement Ethos’ exotic light design. The mount uses a sturdy rubber band to hold the mount to the handlebars. A Velcro strap was also included in the packaging, allowing a rider to mount the light to his or her helmet. While we are on the topic of packaging, Ethos provides a nice tin container that keeps everything well-organized.
The Ethos MK-II has more of a sensor than a button; however, a slight vibration when holding your finger over the bottom provides a nice tactile feel. When running the light in Smart mode, you don’t need to touch the light or your phone, unless, of course, you want to tweak your settings. This design makes rolling hills fun to ride, since you don’t have to reach down and adjust your lumen output in order to save power. Our test light provided a nice color that’s not particularly bright but is easy on the eyes. Although this light had the highest-claimed lumen output, we found the NiteRider and Sigma offered a stronger punch. The MK-II has many advanced features that set it apart from the rest. It’s also extremely lightweight and is built in the USA. If you’re a tech-savvy rider looking for an advanced piece of equipment, the Ethos MK-II Smart light will appeal to you.
NITERIDER LUMINA OLED 1100 BOOST (BEST OVERALL)
Max output: 1100 lumens
Mount types: Bar (K-Edge and helmet mounts sold separately)
Weight: 172 grams
Charge time: 3 hours
Boost: 1 hour (1100 lumens)
High: 1.5 hours (900 lumens)
Low: 6 hours (225 lumens)
NiteRider is likely the most well-known bicycle light company in the business—and for good reason. Its products are awesome. The Lumina OLED 1100 Boost is NiteRider’s top-of-the-line, self-containing light before stepping up to its line of ultra-high-powered lights with external battery packs. The Lumina’s best feature, setting it apart from the other lights in our shootout, is its OLED screen, which displays helpful information such as battery life and power-output settings. The Lumina OLED is compatible with 31.8mm and 35mm handlebars, but the mount can be a bit troublesome to put on. Once mounted, the light can be easily removed or installed onto its mount with the help of a quick-release tab. The mount uses a strap that wraps around the bars, which stayed secure throughout our testing, even over rough trails.
The light itself was very impressive and was the brightest of the bunch. The Taz 1200 had the upper hand when it came to widespread flood lighting, but NiteRider’s Lumina OLED projected the strongest beam, allowing us to see further down the trails. Due to this light’s awesome display screen, quick charge time and powerful beam, we can easily name the NiteRider Lumina OLED the winner of our shootout.
Max output: 800 lumens
Mount types: Bar (Helmet and stem mount sold separately)
Weight: 150 grams
Charge time: 6 hours
High: 1.5 hour (800 lumens)
Medium: 3 hours (450 lumens)
Low: 6 hours (200 lumens)
Bontrager is a company that needs little introduction, but for those of you who don’t know, Bontrager is the in-house component company for Trek Bicycles. Believe it or not, Bontrager offers a full line of cycling accessories. If there’s a piece of equipment that Bontrager doesn’t make, you likely don’t need it. Bontrager’s Ion 800 R has a clean and sleek look, making it ideal for any type of cycling. The light comes with a great mount that can fit handlebars ranging in diameter from 31.8–35mm. The mount uses a threaded knob similar to Sigma’s Buster, but with a wider opening and a larger knob. The Ion’s mount was arguably the best in our shootout. Throughout our testing, the light stayed in place and continued to perform as expected. Bontrager offers a helmet mount as well as an integrated mount for its Blendr stem; however, both mounts are sold separately.
The Ion 800 R performed similarly to Sigma’s Buster, but was slightly brighter and offered just a touch more visibility. Bontrager designed the light with five modes—high, medium, low, night flash and day flash. Each mode requires a click of the top button to switch into the next. When the light is turned off and back on, it starts in the setting it was turned off in. Cycling through the five settings can be a bit of an annoyance but becomes second nature quickly. Overall, Bontrager designed an awesome compact light with great power output and a solid mount.
SIGMA BUSTER 700 (BEST VALUE)
Max output: 700 lumens
Mount types: Bar and helmet
Weight: 160 grams
Charge time: 4.5 hours
High: 2 hours (700 lumens)
Standard: 4 hours (350 lumens)
Eco: 8 hours (170 lumens)
Founded in 1982, the German electronics company know as Sigma has been passionate about sports for over 35 years. Shortly after the company launched, Sigma debuted a cycling computer called the Cyclecoach. In 1997, the company began manufacturing bike lights and released a mountain bike-specific light in the year 2000. Today, Sigma Sports develops cycling computers, sports watches, lights and much more. The Buster 700 is Sigma’s highest-powered self-containing light, designed to be worn on a rider’s helmet or placed on the handlebars. In the packaging, Sigma includes a helmet mount with Velcro straps. Although the Buster 700 had the lowest lumen output, the light makes the most of what it has.
Out on the trails, the light projected well with a nice balance between deep projection and up-close flood lighting. We did have some issues getting the Buster to mount with oversized 35mm handlebars, but after cutting out a few layers of rubber, we managed to make it work. The mount features a threaded knob that allows a rider to really tighten down the mount, ensuring a snug fit. The included helmet mount was a nice bonus, since helmet mounts for the Bontrager and NiteRider are sold separately.
The light was simple to use, and the button requires a double click to turn on, which makes it harder to accidentally turn the light on while traveling. A battery-capacity indicator is included, and once the Buster’s battery goes below 71 percent, the top button lights up green. When the battery drops below 30 percent, it lights up red. Overall, the Buster didn’t wow us in any one category, but it managed to do everything we asked of it well. The Buster offered the best value due to its lower price, long-lasting high-power setting and additional mounting options.
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