With the HUGE array of white LED bike light products and dual-purpose flashlights on the market, how can YOU, the serious cyclist, make a smart decision for your headlight needs? Is it enough to just cruise Amazon or Ebay for the latest uber-lumen cheap light from China and call it done? Perhaps… but the discerning cyclist may want to take a few more factors into consideration in order to really make riding with high-powered lighting an enjoyable experience. Let’s take a look at some of the aspects of a well thought out headlight solution.
So much as happened in the LED world over the last few years, and now it seems as if the LED updates are coming as fast as the next i-phone. With regard to lumens, it’s very tempting to say “more is always better,” and many light manufacturers have depended on consumers having this attitude. I call it the “lumen wars,” that is, more and more XM-L emitters crammed into yet another flashlight-like housing for the sake of publishing a higher lumen number. So how much is enough? It’s very hard to give an answer to this question that satisfies every possible scenario, but for 99% of all road riding, it would be hard for me to justify the need for more much more than the 1300 to 1400 well-shaped lumens coming out of the DS-1300. The reality is that throwing more lumens at the road from a single source can have a VERY diminishing rate of return, and in fact can end up being detrimental to your overall night riding experience by having a “blinding effect” when you need to look outside the main beam (remember the spots that you see when someone takes a flash picture). A MUCH better use of higher lumens is to spread them over a much wider/larger area as opposed to simply concentrating more power into the same beam. As long as you have enough power to illuminate a dark (freshly paved) and wet road at night (pretty much a worst case scenario), then there is no need for more. Also remember that since bike lights do not have the same horizontal cutoff scheme as car headlights (save for the Philips Saferide and a few German lights), you shouldn't use much more than 700 lumens when riding into oncoming traffic. Trail-riding is obviously a bit different, but some of the same general principles apply.
Just about any LED headlight today (externally powered) has the capability of generating 1000 or more lumens, so the question of theoretical vs. real lumens is becoming more and more irrelevant. To borrow a tired expression (with humor), I would sum it up like this, “Picking a light purely based on lumen output is Soooo 2012.” Now, more than ever, with so many choices I’m going to go out on a limb and say that a decision should be made more so on what I like to call the “goodness factor” of the light. Here are just a few criteria that could fall in that basket:
Color Rendering Index (CRI)
As the DS-1300 has evolved over the years, I’ve tried to directly address all of these issues as I’ve spent many hours in the saddle with this light considering how to make it even better. Here are just some of the development highlights.
Mounting/Aiming Characteristics (weight, stability)
Ease of Use (in traffic, with gloves)
Effective Daytime Flash Modes
Safety Factors (heat management, battery protection, reliability, etc.)
Color Rendering Index
Ever had a car coming at you with those obnoxious “blue-ish” headlights? Lights like this are considered very “cold” as opposed to “warm” and in general the color of an LED light is described by a number referred to as the “color temperature.” As an extreme example, these “blue-ish” headlights might be 10,000 Kelvin (K), while the nice warm incandescent lights we used to have in our lamps would be somewhere in the 2500K range. For the same amount of power used, the colder color temp light will have a much higher lumen rating than the warmer color temperature light, which is why the inexpensive lights gravitate to the colder LEDs. They may also use a very low BIN quality, meaning the variation from one LED to the next can be dramatic. However, as you know from experience, the colder, higher lumen lights are not always better, as they can be very unpleasant to look at or to use for illuminating objects. The Color Rendering Index (CRI) is a number that is used in the LED industry for determining how well the light from an LED can faithfully render the color of surrounding objects. An LED with a high CRI will make things look “real” and “alive” whereas the super-cold, high-lumen lights can have a very sterilizing and flattening effect. This is particularly NOT good for trail riding or for spotting small rocks in the road ahead of you. Consequently, I’ve tried to use the optimum blend of color temperatures and high CRI Cree LEDs as possible in the DS-1300. The resulting light is very “easy” on the eye and gives a very natural rendition of greens and browns at night. In general, I would look for a light with color temps in the 5500K range and a CRI of 80 or greater. The DS-1300 falls squarely in this range by design.
Beam Shape Quality
Without a doubt, this is the one area where bike headlighting (particularly for road use) has the most room to grow. Most of today’s popular LED bike headlights employ a conical reflector of some type in order to produce a usable beam of light, usually characterized by an identifiable “hot spot” surrounded by a larger, but much less intense ring of “fill” light. Some reflectors are now using a dual-coating (orange-peal AND smooth portion) to reduce the difference between the spot and fill areas, which is a nice innovation. However there is an inevitable hard cut-off around the perimeter of the light due to the LED being set back inside the reflector. Other designs, such as the DS-1300, use a collimating optic rather than a reflector. One of the advantages of this design was that it allowed me to use two different LED-type/Lens combinations. With the first bank of XP-E2 LED and SPOT optics from Carclo, I’m able to produce a narrow beam that’s very effective for distance penetration. However, on the second bank of LEDs, I took advantage of the larger XP-G2 LED and medium angle optic to produce a very wide and diffuse fill beam. The two of these together form a fantastic combination; however, there is another feature, unique to the DS-1300, that puts the icing on the cake. With the use of any LED optic comes the inevitable loss of some the light energy (10% - 12%) out the sides of the lens. The idea from the beginning was to effectively harness this light and use it for side marker lighting and ground fill lighting around the bike. The end result is a headlight that produces light that fully encompasses the bike (even under your feet), leaving no dark shadows to your side or dark rings anywhere on the road or trail. The experience is so “open” that you can literally forget that you’re riding at night.
Question? How do you cram over 15 watts of LED power dissipation into 4 cubic inch box? Answer: VERY carefully. Seriously though, this is not a trivial task. Heat is the great killer of LEDs over time, so a lot of attention was given to the design in terms of getting heat OUT of the LEDs and into the surrounding environment. Through the use of some sophisticated CNC machining techniques, the DS-1300 is milled from a solid billet of 6061 aluminum and, despite it's remarkably small size, has nearly 30 square inches of cooling area. Some of the best permanent thermal epoxy in the industry is used to couple the aluminum substrate LED boards directly to the housing for the best possible thermal cooling. Is this cheap? No. Is it easy to do? No. Is it worth it? You bet, especially when industry leading performance is the sole objective. All of this great engineering and machining work is dependent on some air-flow over the housing to keep the light cool when running at the higher power levels. So what happens if you come to a dead stop for a few minutes and forget to turn the light off? This is where the microprocessor takes over and looks at the actual temperature of the housing compared to a predetermined trip point (determined by much lab testing), and if the temperature rises too high, the light will automatically throttle back to level 2 output, which can run indefinitely with no air-flow without the risk of overheating.
Power Under Control
Just like with the taillight, the DS-1300 headlight is capable of producing an immense amount of light, to the point where running the full 1400 lumens on the road at night can be unnecessarily dangerous. However, even though the 700 lumen output is just about perfect for full time night road use, it's still really fun to bump up to 1400 lumen on occasion. This is where the new power button and steady operation mode is particularly nice. If you like to run at the full output level, but occasionally encounter cars, a simple click of the power button toggles between 700 and 1400 lumens. Riding at 700 and a car is still coming at you with it's brights on? No problem.... just bump the power switch twice to give them a "subtle" reminder what it feels like to be hit with the high beams. With the rock-solid mounting system, you never have to worry about holding the light in place while you push the power button, since the light will remain perfectly aimed.
Universal Battery Support
As high-powered bike lights have become more and more popular, the 7.4V lithium-ion battery has emerged as the standard. Lupine, Dinotte, Magicshine, Gloworm, Gemini, and several others, all use packs configured for 7.4V (nominal) output (sometimes referred to as 8.4V max). The DS-500/1300 both take advantage of the widespread availability of these "consumables," so you'll never be very far away from a battery replacement when needed. If you purchase one of the recommended batteries from on the Batteries Page (thanks to our partner vendor Action-LED-Lights), then you'll be able to plug directly into the DesignShine lights. However, even if you have an existing Lupine or Dinotte battery, a simple adapter made from an extension cable is all you need to get up and running. I'll be making some of these adapters, so check the Accessories page for availability. Each light also ships with a separate wired pigtail connector that you can use to connect to any battery of your choice, should the need ever arise. The DS-1300 is the ultimate universal headlight with regard to batteries, since it will also support 11.1V and 14.8V li-ion packs with a few simple changes to the controller through the user-programmer mode.
Rugged Quick-Release Mounting
If you want to mount a DS-1300 headlight to your bike, or any other platform, all you need is a mostly-round bar between 10mm and 32mm diameter. Both lights take advantage of the fantastically robust Cateye quick-release mounting system. These glass-nylon mounts are virtually indestructible and will keep your lights securely attached to your bike, no matter what kind of terrain you're on. At the end of the ride, if you need to take the lights with you, just press the spring-loaded lock-release slider and slip them off. When you come back to the bike (or any other bike on which you've mounted some clamps), just click the light in place and it will be perfectly aimed, exactly as it was before. Once you've dialed in the aiming, it stays exactly where you want it. Each light ships with one mount (size of your choosing), but additional mounts for multiple bikes are available on the Accessories Page. The mounting system for the headlight is particularly flexible with offset mounting holes to move the light closer to the centerline of the stem no matter which side it's mounted on. Over- and under-bar configurations can also be achieved just by reversing one screw. Left-to-right adjustability is built in to the function of the Cateye clamp and gives extra flexibility for crowded handlebars and if you ever need to throw some extra light into a high-speed corner on the fly. The extender bar concept means that you won't have to give up your "top of the bars" hand position.
Last But Not Least - Safety and Buying Confidence
At the end of the day, this is really what it's all about. We all have friends and family that we want to come home to after a great ride, and this is exactly why I starting building these lights in the first place. No light can protect you 100% of the time, nor should it replace practicing good road awareness, but it's becoming more and more important to arm yourself against distracted drivers. If you want to see what one of these lights can do for you, just pick one up and take it for a spin. Run it hard for 30 days and really see how it performs under a variety of lighting situations. Not only can you have more confidence on the road, but you can also have confidence in your purchase, knowing that even if you get it dirty or run it in the rain, etc. you can still send it back, no questions asked. My only request is that there be no obvious dings in the case or lens cover.
Happy and SAFE riding!