L&M Lights NSMB AndrewM (5).JPG
EDITORIAL | FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Alone. In The Dark: Min-Maxing your Night Rides

Words Andrew Major
Photos Andrew Major
Date Aug 4, 2020
Reading time

And. It. Rains.

It rains, and it rains, and it rains, and I crash. There's always a cheaper light system somewhere but there are a lot of reasons, including consistent performance and aftersale support, that I've stuck with established brands for years. I night ride as much as anyone I know, I do it a lot in the pissing rain of the 'off-season' on janky armoured trails and I'm generally good to break a few mounts and drown at least one light every season.

I have plenty of friends who've tried their luck with cheaper systems that were initially good - except the ones that were only okay, and the ones that were awful - but dropped off quickly in terms of performance with only a fraction of the hours I've put on my systems.

Value in a light setup comes down to a combination of factors. It has to be able to handle torrential November evenings and the hottest August mid-night rides. It has to run long enough that, with good light management, I can get home with plenty of juice to spare. It has to have enough resiliency that I can take a hit and know that when I get up enough of my systems are running that I don't have to spend a night in the woods.

L&M Vis Pro NSMB AndrewM.JPG

Vis Pro 1000 Trail: Just over 120 grams, GoPro mount compatible, 1000 lumens for 90 minutes, and a really sweet fit and finish for 135 USD.

Blackburn Lights NSMB AndrewM.JPG

Dayblazer 1100: Just over 200 grams, GoPro mount compatible, 1100 lumens for 60 minutes, and a mean, machined industrial look for 95 USD.

7iDP Project 23 Helmet NSMB AndrewM (9).JPG

For most of my night riding I wear a full face with a GoPro mount on the chin bar. It must have maximal venting and removable chin pads for the climb, like this 7iDP Project 23.

A lot of things changed for me in 2018 when I both managed to trash three helmet light extension cables (battery in my pack) and I tested Bontrager's self-contained Ion Pro light-system (claimed 1300 lumens). On its own, the Ion Pro is fine for chill single track rides. Combined with a more powerful handlebar light, it's perfect for some decently high-speed night rips on technical trails. It fits a standard GoPro mount - which all the lights in this class now do - and it's held up to biblical showers, a thorough smashing into asphalt that resulted in a broken bar mount (commuting home at night via the local pump track), and getting knocked off my head by a low hanging branch (broken helmet mount). Once I ditched my extension cable I was never going back!

The Ion Pro also delivered 1.5 hrs of run time, on high, out of a battery-on-board package for only 100 USD. It's fully fun to ride aggressive trails with one on my helmet and one on my bar for a combined investment of less than half of what my last top-end system cost. Now, I'm not saying that when STRAVA introduces their King & Queen Of The Night category you won't need to spend five times that amount to be competitive, but here I'm talking about having fun and gaining fitness, on the level of trails you normally ride in the day time.

To that end, I've been comparing a couple of excellent self-contained lighting packages that min-max the night riding experience with a lighter weight helmet mount option and more robust, and heavier, bar mount option.

Setup #1: from Light & Motion (L&M): the Seca Comp 2000 (formerly TAZ 2000) on my bar and the Vis Pro Trail 1000 up top.

Setup #2: from Blackburn: the Countdown 1600 on my bike and the Dayblazer 1100 on my lid.

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Blackburn Countdown 1600: 170 USD scores 1600 lumens for 80 minutes. The system weighs just over 360 grams.

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Light & Motion Seca Comp 2000: 2000 lumens for 90 minutes for 230 USD. The system is impressively light at about 220 grams.

Bonus Interlude Rant

My fellow mountain bikers. Where the f*** are your tail lights? If it's a life goal to get smoked by a car on your way home, or back to your car, then I have to commend you for jumping in with both feet to chase your dreams. A basic tail light could save your life, a brighter one will alert drivers to you and your companions' presence from kilometres away. And they cost very little and basically weigh nothing.

L&M Lights NSMB AndrewM (6a).jpg

Do you see me now? Waterproof to 1 meter and pumps out 50 lumens for 8hrs.

There are plenty of better-than-nothing options available for a few bucks but I think the distracted breed of night-blind drivers we have here on the North Shore necessitate investing in a lot more oompf. I've been clipping a NiteRider Sentinel - on long strobe mode - to my hip pack for a couple of years now and I'm very impressed with the Light & Motion VYA Smart that I'm currently testing. Having drivers roll down their windows to tell me that my rear flasher is obnoxious remains an amazing confirmation that I'm being seen on the roads on my way home.

I haven't had a close call at night since I started running really bright tail lights, and I've started using the VYA during the day as well. Anything to improve my odds of not getting written off by someone checking the 'gram while driving their F150 at 70km/hr through residential side streets.

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The Vya Smart weighs 30 grams, recharges in 2hrs, and costs 40 USD. It's seriously bright - day or night.

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Though I usually leave the Vya in my hip pack until I need it, the light is dropper compatible for hitting urban trails on the way home.

Light & Motion vs. Blackburn

One is a long-established player in the high quality night riding game with a history of building underwater lights. Did I mention it rains a lot on the shore? The other is a newcomer to the offroad at night game with a well-established track record for value and customer support. In both cases, I've been riding these lights on the same trails where only a few years ago I'd be on a pair of systems worth more than all four lamps put together.

Whether it's new parents, folks with inflexible work schedules, or just riders I know trying to do it all, I've been a long time advocate for night riding. In the summer it's an opportunity to beat the heat and in the winter when days get shorter it's the best way to ensure I'm still getting out on the trails multiple times a week. I haven't had any of these lights out on a truly obsidian night with sideways rain, so these are first impressions in the strictest sense. It's always amazing how wet rock work and October rain will swallow lights that seem amazingly bright on a dry and cloudless July evening.

L&M Lights NSMB AndrewM (3).JPG

Both the Vis Pro and Dayblazer have driver-friendly side-lighting that murders my eyes when running them on the chin bar of my full face.

L&M and Blackburn Lights NSMB AndrewM.JPG

A swatch of electrical tape on the offending side is a simple fix. Obviously this is not an issue if running a light on the top of my head.

My first impressions are just those. Whether on the L & M lights, Blackburn lights, or a mix of both, I've had nothing but good night rides since I started running these self-contained systems. The Light & Motion Seca Comp 2000 is the obvious winner on output and I really like the Lo-fi, high-grip, rubber strap mount. It's brighter than many significantly more expensive and complex systems from just a couple of years ago.

Even compared to Light & Motion's 100 USD more expensive Seca Race system, I can see the Seca Comp absolutely eating its lunch in terms of sales. The only reason I can see spending more on a more complex, more expensive system with the same run time and lumen output, is for a weight reduction on my helmet. But, then I'd be back to extension cables and carrying a battery, in its own separate housing, in a pack or pocket. Yuck. Ditching the separate battery and light housings and extension cable has other benefits than just cost, too. The Seca Comp 2000 weighs more than 100 grams less than the Seca Race despite bringing to bear the same brightness and max run time.

The number of riders I know who have fully ditched any sort of pack - back or fanny - and their efforts to carry water and tools onboard their bikes reinforces my belief that all the lights that matter in the future will have built-in batteries.

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I love the Lo-fi rubber strap mount of the L&M Seca Comp lineup. It's lightning quick to install and adjust, can fit weird shapes like the Fasst bars, and I've had zero issues with it staying in place.

Blackburn Lights NSMB AndrewM (3).JPG

The Blackburn Countdown's hinged clamp works well but unless I am leaving the clamp on my bar it takes much longer to install. I'd choose a rubber strap à la Dayblazer 1100 and Seca Comp.

For under a C-note in USD, the Blackburn Dayblazer 1100 has industrial good looks, a rubber-strap bar mount, and is compatible with GoPro helmet mounts. I can completely envision riders picking up a pair of these to cover all their night riding needs - one on the bar and one on the lid - and never looking back. Unless they want to blind a friend trying to roll something steep and janky. Which is a total night riding foul, unless they first did it to you?

I don't have a means of quantifying the accuracy of any company's lumen ratings, but the Dayblazer 1100 is very similar in usable output to the Light & Motion Vis Pro 1000 and I know that Light & Motion put in a lot of effort certifying their lumen claims, so I'm confident that the Blackburn rating is fairly accurate.

The Vis Pro 1000 certainly has a nicer fit-and-finish, weighs much less, and it runs for an additional 30 minutes on full-high (90 minutes 'High' vs. 60 minutes 'Blitz' for the Dayblazer 1100) but with good light management I think Blackburn can make a strong argument for their 40 USD cheaper system.

Blackburn Lights NSMB AndrewM (4).JPG

Some riders will really appreciate the minute-by-minute doomsday clock of the Countdown. Personally, it gives me heart palpitations to the point I had to cover it up with tape.

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Instead, I prefer the 'Green Means Go' and 'Orange Means Go Home' battery life indicator of the Seca. I'm fully prepared to accept that that's weird.


The number of riders I know who have fully ditched any sort of pack - back or fanny - and their efforts to carry water and tools onboard their bikes reinforces my belief that all the lights that matter in the future will have built-in batteries.

I'll be back in the fall with run-time measurements and more in-depth experiences featuring pissing rain, hack-level, and dark, dank, nights. I'll also be taking advantage of testing two systems in tandem to drag some of my friends who don't night ride into the woods after dark which will hopefully result in some hilarious and/or introspective tales of riding the Shore after sundown.

For a twin-light set up and an investment between 200 USD and 365 USD, the financial barrier to opening up socially-distanced Shore-level trail riding in the other half of the day has never been smaller. Some of my friends seem to still have excuses, most commonly "I have to get up early for work tomorrow," but if you need to ride and are pressed for time when the sun's out, check out Light & Motion and Blackburn as two options to keep you rolling under the stars on a budget.

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Comments

Grif
+1 Andrew Major
Grif  - Aug. 4, 2020, 9:50 a.m.

Very timely! I've recently discovered the joys of pre-work rides, and I'd like to keep the habit going once Fall rolls around. A pair of dayblazers seems like a good starting setup.

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AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Aug. 4, 2020, 9:25 p.m.

Definitely a good starting setup! If you decide you need more juice on the bar then you have a spare and if you decide you need more run-time all around then they'll make a great gateway to introduce friends to riding at night. 

Cheers!

Reply

Vikb
+5 Dan Andrew Major dave_f Andrew Collins Harris
Vik Banerjee  - Aug. 4, 2020, 10:03 a.m.

If I can add a couple more rants to the light discussion:

1. Lights without a vertical cut off [like a car headlight] are not friendly for oncoming riders or traffic. It's hard to safely manoeuvre my truck or even my bike around someone on a bike blasting 1K, 2K, 3K+ lumens right into my eyes at night.

2. #1 gets exponentially worse when said rider decides they are "safer" putting their high powered light on a fast strobe.

These ^^^ comments are about getting to/from the trails. At least where I ride at night running into another person coming the opposite way on the trail is very rare.

Reply

AndrewMajor
+2 DanL Vik Banerjee
Andrew Major  - Aug. 4, 2020, 10:41 a.m.

I always turn off my helmet light riding home on the road. Nothing like waving 1000+ lumens around at driver eye level.

Plus, if some asshole passes me with <1cm of breathing space it’s just a quick double tap to flash him (always a him) in the face at the next red light (there’s ~ always another red light).

Reply

DanL
+2 Andrew Major Andrew Bruce
DanL  - Aug. 4, 2020, 10:43 a.m.

Self contained lights are getting better every year, I'm so tired of the weird cable routing I have to do for my head mounted gemini and bars too, I'm looking forwards to ditching them soon.

And to see someone with $300+ worth of front lights and no $15 back light blows my mind. Those small back spots are just for getting to/from trails either, we found them great just for finding each other on trails when front lights were off to save batteies and they also work well as a backup tool light.

But where do you source your ano bolts/washers from?

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AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Aug. 4, 2020, 10:55 a.m.

I've collected coloured Ti bolts from a few places over the years. I feel the need to note that I replace them every couple of years by moving the high-stress / high-risk bolts (stem faceplate) to lower stress applications. 

I used to only run Overlord stems (but NSB doesn't do a ~30mm for 31.8) so I had a bunch of M5 bolts for them. The purple ones in these photos, I believe, came from Racebolt UK: https://raceboltuk.com/technical-information/anodised-range/

The place I used to get washers from (and aluminum bolts for water bottles) doesn't exist anymore.

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Aug. 4, 2020, 11:03 a.m.

Self-contained lights are so good now in terms of performance. I see a future of longer run times, lighter weights, and lower prices but that will strictly come down to battery technology. 

Definitely notice the difference between L&M's Vis Pro 1000 and the Day Blazer in run time on high and also weight on the helmet. Weight matters even mounted to a full face and I think blazing double black trails trying to beat Strava is the only place riders are still going to need to spring for 'systems' with separate battery and lamp at this point in time. 

If L&M can find a way to get the Seca Comp (previous Taz) down closer to the weight of the Vis Pro then I can't see myself buying anything other than that looking at what's on the market today.

Reply

DanL
+1 Andrew Major
DanL  - Aug. 4, 2020, 11:16 a.m.

My lighting system is feeling strictly legacy right now. Battery tech is coming on leaps and bounds and I always get the heebie-jeebies charging black packs of 18650s unless I'm actively watching them.

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AndrewMajor
+3 AlanB JVP Tjaard Breeuwer
Andrew Major  - Aug. 4, 2020, 11:47 a.m.

Back in the days of lead-acid powered 2.5w-5w lights, there were a couple of times on the trail I can remember everyone in the group firing off their backpacks with great urgency to try and figure out who was on fire. 

I used to always charge my lights in a baking sheet and now that I think about it I should probably come up with a less complacent plan than just having them on my workbench. 

Cheers!

Reply

Tjaardbreeuwer
+1 Andrew Major
Tjaard Breeuwer  - Aug. 9, 2020, 6:48 p.m.

I worry about runtime with the all-in-one lights. Most of my night riding is fall and winter.

Winter time means cold. If it’s -18 C / 0 F, run time goes down by a lot from the claimed times.

Then batteries lose capacity over time.

So a listed runtime of 1.5hours, after a few years, might be last for 45 minutes in mid winter.

Remote batteries tend to be bigger, and you can keep them in a warmer spot.

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Aug. 9, 2020, 9:23 p.m.

I haven't ridden any of these lights in winter conditions - and our winters rarely drop much below 0°C, although maybe the cold rain equalizes somewhat? - but with the Bontrager Ion I had surprisingly similar runtimes in the winter as summer despite my understanding that it would really drop off. Certainly, a separate battery would be much easier to keep out of the wind/rain/cold if it's making a much bigger difference at -18°C.

Reply

JVP
+1 Andrew Major
JVP  - Aug. 4, 2020, 11:09 a.m.

You guys who can run a ventilated full face or even the best Gore-Tex jackets when pedaling are lucky. Can't. Too much sweat, steam and ensuing fuss. Trail lid with cable to bum bag is sticking around, for me, due to weight and longer run time. No real loss since I need a bum bag for many winter rides for glass management, and to stash the windbreaker (my sweaty-ass version of your emotional support jacket).

Once I learned to use a simple rubber band to secure the cable to the bottom-rear of my helmet, then suddenly the cable wasn't annoying anymore. Certainly less annoying than the weight of an integrated light up top, which requires headache-inducing clamping force or my helmet slides down over my eyes at bad times. Your FF low mount would fix this, if it were an option for my physiology and how I ride.

Reply

AndrewMajor
+1 JVP
Andrew Major  - Aug. 4, 2020, 11:49 a.m.

I run pretty hot (hence taking the cheek pads out where many don't) and the 7iDP is pretty breathable but I hear you because my brother, Crash Test, is that guy who is comfortable in shorts and a light jersey at 5 degrees and never needs more than an emotional support jacket on wet rides (and therefore dying as soon as it's above ~15°c). He has a removal chin bar full-face (Leatt DBX 3.0) and I think it would be easy enough to side mount a light onto that chin bar if it was a priority.

Reply

JVP
+2 Andrew Major AlanB
JVP  - Aug. 4, 2020, 12:38 p.m.

Yep, it's hard being this hot. Ha! It's really about glass management, I don't mind being warm or damp (merino saves the day). After a few scary incidents, I decided that wearing glasses is a safety priority, so FF helmet comes secondary to that due to fogging. I'd rather break my teeth out than lose an eye - but if I lived 100 miles north with more rock and fewer sticks, this risk calculation might be reversed.

Weird shaped head (narrow+tall) isn't helping matters, takes years to find the 'right' helmet. Dialed on trail lids, dialed on DH FF, but still searching on the new breed of vented FFs.

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Aug. 4, 2020, 7:29 p.m.

What glasses did you settle on? I feel I’ve tried a healthy cross section and most the year they’re either dogged out or my face sweats double.

I also like to ride in them (usually clear lenses) but find it takes a lot of management (on/off)

Reply

JVP
+1 Pete Roggeman
JVP  - Aug. 4, 2020, 11 p.m.

I’m on older Smith Pivlock V90s. Fit my face well, better nose bridge than newer Smiths I had with adjustable bridge. Replacement clear lenses are still available. 

Glasses are always a worthwhile hassle for me in wet conditions, and the anti-fog from all the fancy brands I’ve tried is meh when it really matters. These are a decent balance, but I still have to toss them in the bum bag most of the time in the wet season on climbs.  Sometimes I dangle the glass bag from the belt webbing on my shorts, and then zip the still-attached glass bag in a pocket on the DH. Allows going packless, but this hack doesn’t work if it’s raining. 

I might try a wee little frame bag for them if I can find one.  Everything else is strapped to mY bike, so why not?

Next time around I’m buying from Smith’s tactical line. All the quality and safety without wasting dimes on fancy tinted lenses I won’t use.

Reply

agleck7
+1 Andrew Major
Agleck7  - Aug. 5, 2020, 2:09 p.m.

Think about adding a mouthguard.  At least get some teeth protection with the half shell

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Aug. 5, 2020, 9:16 p.m.

I ride with a guy - whose nickname, as an aside, is actually 'the smoother operator' - who always uses a mouthguard with an open shell. I did years ago. 

We have two very different experiences. It drove me insane trying to breathe but he's unbothered by it. No doubt it's a great piece of safety gear that takes up zero space in a pocket or pack. It does cut down on the banter when installed (may be a pro or a con). 

A few folks have suggested they are much much better now than when I was using one so I've been considering giving it a shot as well.

If you chomp on it let me know how it goes for you!

Reply

agleck7
+1 Andrew Major
Agleck7  - Aug. 6, 2020, 11:36 a.m.

Nice. Yeah, I started using one after I had some dental work that did the 3d tooth model so it was only $85 to get a full custom-fitted one.  I don't mind it at all as far as breathing.  And like you mention, usually put it in my pocket for the climb/lift to chat.  I definitely recommend it. 

What I don't know is the actual tooth protection trade-offs between mouth guard and fullface

tehllama42
+1 Andrew Major
Tehllama42  - Aug. 4, 2020, 1:06 p.m.

As somebody who owns over $2000 of flashlights, one would think I've be smart enough have more than just two Petzl TakTikka's hanging from around my neck... yet here we are, and I see no reason to change that.
When I get them lined up usefully, I can get a fairly acceptable spread, and overall weight is pretty good to where I typically just have these in my hip pack ready to party.

Reply

Pnwpedal
+2 Andrew Major Pete Roggeman
Pnwpedal  - Aug. 4, 2020, 5:04 p.m.

Glad to see this article! I'm at the point where my old Light & Motion HID either needs a new $120 Li-Ion battery pack.....

Or I can just put that towards a new light. It's been a debate for a while and I want to solve it by fall.

Reply

Shoreloamer
+3 Andrew Major JVP Pete Roggeman
Greg Bly  - Aug. 4, 2020, 6:36 p.m.

I purchased a Feonix 800 lumen light. It has one feature that almost all bike lights omit. I can change the batteries.  Light gets low on power. No problem shove in a new battery. They all use the exact same batteries. Only my light is not a disposable unit like most. 

My rear Blinky is a blinding 180 lumens. And it's  unfortunately garbage when the battery dies. 

I always carry a back up light as well. 

One more thing. If your on pavement point your light down  at your tire. Bike lights blind people in cars.

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Aug. 4, 2020, 9:34 p.m.

Always have had the hardest time with this re. lights v. cars. As I noted I turn off my headlamp and I usually turn down my bar light but even when I don't, in a world of seen-versus-dead my headlamp is no higher and no brighter than the headlamps of every other pickup truck driving around North Vancouver?

Reply

Shoreloamer
+1 Andrew Major
Greg Bly  - Aug. 5, 2020, 7:54 a.m.

Agreed bike commuters need to be as visable as possible.  I try to show motorist respect and courtesy and in North Van most people in cars and trucks are warming up to the increase in cycling traffic.

It's great more people on bikes . Still on trails or on the road we need to set an example as responsible individuals. But if that red neck has his hi beams on. Blast that mofo with your 1000 lumens!

Reply

pete@nsmb.com
0
Pete Roggeman  - Aug. 5, 2020, 8:34 a.m.

Height is one thing, but bike light reflectors are designed around a narrower field than a car's headlights. So, despite not necessarily wielding a huge lumen count when turned down, that bar-mounted light can still be piercing. Agree with you about my life vs a motorist's inconvenience, though.

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Aug. 5, 2020, 9:20 p.m.

I don't know Pete, maybe my eyes are just getting old but there seem to be a lot of cars and trucks on the local roads with headlights that blow my eyes out. A few years ago it was just a few obvious aftermarket upgrades but now I'm guessing it's stock headlamps just based on the sheer numbers.

Reply

mint355
0
mint355  - Aug. 4, 2020, 10:44 p.m.

I didnt read all the comments.

I live in Alice Springs NT Australia. I've had a fair few light setups, high daytime temps make night time riding the norm.

I've settled on EXPOSURE Toro for the bars and a Diablo on my helmet, built in batteries for the WIN!

Reply

martin
+1 Pete Roggeman
Martin  - Aug. 5, 2020, 7:06 a.m.

I love my Lezyne lights from a few years ago, back when they had "Infinite light" (replaceable batteries). The 1200 lumens Mega Drive came with two battery packs (which were two 18650 packed together) and the SuperDrives were 600/800 lumens with one 18650 battery. I've got many batteries but now they're not holding much anymore. 

It's so convenient to just bring along a few replacement batteries in my backpack. I'll look into finding good reliable rechargeables 18650 for the SuperDrives. The lights are still as new!

Reply

Harris
+2 Andrew Major Reuben.Sandwich
Harris  - Aug. 5, 2020, 7:36 p.m.

I've still got a set of Light & Motion Secas from a couple of years ago, and the beam pattern on them is incredibly hard to beat. The mix of focused beam and wide patterns is fantastic. The rubber strap on their Seca/Viz line is great too. I've found the strap easier to use if you pass it through the slot in the mount, and then pull it bag down to attach on the peg. It's easier to put on and feels more secure, as well as keeping the free end away.

I'll gladly get self contained units when the time comes to replace, but have a hard time as a brighter headlamp feels like the best way to go.

Reply

JFO
0
JFO  - Aug. 12, 2020, 11:20 a.m.

Does anyone know any local shops that carry the Vis Pro 1000? Or any Canadian online source? The light looks great, but I can’t figure out how to get one.

Reply

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