There’s a lot of new bike lights out there but with few radical innovations. That’s why we were extremely excited to try the new Philips SafeRide. This light is completely unique from the crop of available bike lights because it attempts to completely control the beam pattern. The beam pattern is not round like a flashlight. Rather, it is wide and rectangular like a car headlight.
a Weekend Warrior
from Melbourne, Australia
Date Reviewed: February 10, 2012
Strengths: The outstanding aspect of the Philips LED Bike Light (which is how it is referred to outside the US) ("LBL" for short from here on) is the shape and strength of its beam: while nominally less powerful than my recently upgraded Ay-Ups (and less powerful than some torches I own), and whilst the LEDs it is fitted with are generations older than what is currently cutting-edge, in practice it's beam is so much brighter and more useful that I haven't used my Ay-Ups, or other road lights, since I bought it. The LBL's beam is shaped to comply with the German StVZo standard, which requires that the light not produce any glare above a defined horizon: in other words, it's the dipped beam of a car-light. This is mandated in Germany so that bike lights don't dazzle other road users, and I understand that the same standard is in practice also used in other parts of Europe. The LBL has a very sharp cut-off above which there is little spill of light. In common with other lights with shaped beams, the light is of a uniform strength for much of its range: it's not simply bright near you and then darker further from your wheel. Compared to the Busch & Muller Ixon/Ixon IQ the LBL produces a wider, brighter and deeper beam. Some reviews have claimed that it's as bright as a car headlight: that is an exaggeration, but it is noticeably bright - I find myself wondering what it would be like if the Rebel LEDs it uses were replaced with XM-Ls instead. I am able to set the light on my handlebars so that it illuminates 40 or so metres down the road, but the top edge of the beam hits other cyclists and pedestrians around chest height, with little light hitting their eyes (hence, no dazzle).
There are several important caveats though: I am primarily a road commuter. When I started riding again five years ago the bike I bought came with a Busch & Muller Ixon light: I loved the beam, and the fact that it wasn't blinding other bike riders but needed more power. The Ixon also had reliability problems, particularly with the switch, and was quite fragile: the Ixon IQ I replaced it with also had switch failure and has a different beam pattern to the Ixon, having terrible artefacts, including a "bat-wing" shaped beam pattern. Acting on recommendations I bought the Ay-Ups but then discovered that if I pointed them far enough down the road to match my speed they became less useful than the Ixon or Ixon IQ (i.e., the illuminated part of the road was smaller and less-brightly lit) and pointing them directly down at the road surface meant that on faster roads I was largely riding in the dark as there was a bright patch near the bike which then got progressively darker. They were also seriously dazzling for riders coming towards me and people did complain about them. For MTB riders actually riding off-road those problems will probably be less of an issue - although I wonder whether the LBL paired with a helmet light might actually be more effective than lights with cone-shaped patterns like the Ay-Ups.
I rarely use the LBL's low beam, however it is still quite useful.
In photos the LBL (particularly the black one) looks like it is typical black plastic - but it isn't, it's actually very robust cast aluminium. In the hand it is more like an industrial instrument than the typical bike-light is. The mount has proven to be more reliable than the Busch & Muller one that came with the Ixon/Ixon IQ and unlike the Ixon IQ the LBL did not have dust on the inside of the front glass! I found out the hard way that the Ixon/Ixon IQ could fly open if dropped and would then spread batteries around the area where it was dropped (on one occasion a battery went down a grate on an exit ramp from my office building) - no chance of that with the LBL as it is closed with a very long bolt only openable with an allen key, and the join is sealed with an o-ring.
Weaknesses: The LBL has an amazing achilles-heel: its electronic circuitry limits it to about 1.5 hours run-time on high, even where the batteries are nowhere near empty! There has been quite a lot of internet discussion about this and there doesn't seem to be any way around it: some people have tried removing the batteries and reinserting them, but that didn't work for me and given the difficulty of accessing the batteries is not particularly practical anyway. I tried higher capacity batteries but did not notice any real difference in run-time. Philips have not explained to anyone why they did this: it's extremely odd. I could understand a thermal cut-out, or it automatically dropping to low when the batteries are low, but why a time-based cut-out? As my commute home in winter is in the dark and is roughly an hour, this means that in practice I have to recharge the LBL every night: if it was dark on the way to work (as it was when I lived in London) you would probably have to recharge the light at work during the day. In terms of practicality this compares poorly to the Ixon IQ which, despite its other faults, does have a 5 hour run-time. It also means that I have to periodically remove the batteries and properly discharge them.
I have also found that the switch on the LBL intermittently fails: while it's non-responsive you can't turn the light on or off or change from high to low. If it fails completely I will send it back to the on-line seller.
As a German light the LBL does not have a flashing mode, so I use a second light (usually a Cateye EL-530) as a front flasher to get drivers' attention.
It's a step forward in terms of commuting lights but the bizarre and inexplicable electronics turn what could be a brilliant light into a flawed one.
In relation to the overall rating, if the electronics were fixed I'd give it a 4. If it also had Li-Ion or LiPoly batteries it would get a 5. In terms of value, I paid E83.95 for the light (at current exchange rates that's US$110.71) plus E19.95 for shipping to Australia. That compares very favourably to other "one piece" commuter lights available in Australia (and is about 75% less than I paid for my Ay-Ups).