A survey of upcoming new high-powered LED bike headlights for 2012 revealed the usual expected change: lots more emitter efficiency as the technology continues to progress. Consumers can therefore expect to see yet higher outputs at similar power draws as in years past – meaning run times aren't affected – or lighter systems with smaller battery packs than previous models with similar outputs.
So does this mean LED light technology is destined to follow the same steep development curve as computer microchips? Not so fast.
Actually, the major players tell us that while LED lighting technology – as least as far as bike lights are concerned – enjoyed a fierce boost this past development cycle, things are beginning to plateau given the limitations in heat management. Heat sinks can unfortunately only do so much and without a better way to siphon off that extra energy, it seems we're just about topped out.
According to Niterider's Mike Ely, bike light outputs are nearly at "the maximum we can get" while Gretnabikes (the North American distributor for Lupine) marketing director says we're "getting to the end of the road."
Thankfully, though, 2012 looks to be a banner year for LED lights so while we may be reaching the foreseeable peak in practical technology, it's still a pretty good view from up there.
Impressive offerings from Niterider for 2012
Niterider's line is topped by the new Pro 3000 LED, which as the name suggests, pumps out an astounding 3000 lumens (claimed) via two trios of Cree XML emitters. The total system weight is a rather hefty 812g but run time on full power is still a reasonable hour and a half. This flagship model will continue with Niterider's DIY user programmable feature and retail price is US$700.
The Pro 1500 LED is a little more realistically priced at US$550 while still offering a hefty 1500 lumens of output, the programmable DIY feature, and a 2hr30 run time at the highest setting for a total system weight of 605g. Racers looking for something a little more svelte can ditch the DIY feature and switch to a smaller battery to save 170g and US$200 but burn time drops to 1hr30.
Niterider's MiNewt Cordless all-in-ones provide up to 600 lumens of light
Perhaps most impressive is the new MiNewt Pro 750, which puts out 750 lumens but weighs just 215g and costs US$250. Run time is again a little modest at 1hr30 on full power so users will want to manage the light levels on longer rides but riders on a budget that don't particularly need to go all night will likely still find the price and weight appealing.
Niterider's all-in-one MiNewt Cordless units get a big bump in power as well with new 600 and 350-lumen outputs while still boasting sub-200g weights, handy USB charge ports and US$150 and US$110 price points.
Finally, there's Niterider's 'be seen' range, including the AA battery-powered Mako lights with up to 130 lumens of output, the astoundingly bright one-watt CherryBomb rear flasher, and the tiny Lightning Bug range with colorful silicone rubber bodies and up to three LED emitters.
Light & Motion's Urban all-in-one collection now in production
Light & Motion's all-in-one Urban commuter light
Light & Motion's Seca and Stella ranges are unchanged since we last saw them at the Sea Otter Classic but while the all-in-one Urban range was then just a prototype, it's now in full production and shipping to dealers. Common features include very compact anodized aluminum bodies, USB-rechargeable Li-ion batteries, amber side blinkers, battery status indicators, svelte 112g weights, and simple O-ring mounting systems that work with a wide range of handlebar sizes and shapes.
Coming in at US$99 is the Urban 180 with 180 lumens of output followed by the US$129 Urban 300 – both with two hours of claimed burn time on the highest setting. US$159 buys you the much more powerful Urban 500, though, which is arguably bright enough for light trail duty while still packing in an hour and a half of run time on high.
Modest power bumps and new accessories from Exposure
Exposure's new Boost Cable allows less power-intensive devices to draw power from the light's battery
Exposure's trademark all-in-one LED headlights get modest power bumps across the board for 2012 – about seven percent on average.
The top-end Six Pack Mk.2 (US$599) now puts out a maximum 1,925 lumens, the MaXx-D Mk.4 (US$499) offers 1,285 lumens, the Toro Mk.3 (US$399) and Diablo Mk.3 (US$299) throw 975 lumens, and the Strada Mk.3 (US$349)climbs to 645 lumens. Even the diminutive Joystick Mk.6 (US$229) and Spark Mk.2 (US$139) get upgrades to 325 and 255 lumens, respectively.
New accessories include the Boost Cable, which draws power from an Exposure light to charge other less power-intensive electrical devices such as GPS units, and a new headband for the Joystick that allows for general hands-free outdoor use.
Finally, the Smart Port expansion plug on all of Exposure's lights get a new Storm Cap rubber cover for better protection against the elements plus gold plating on the contacts.
Lupine future-proofs its lights with easy upgradeability
Lupine's Wilma (left) and Betty LED lights respectively throw up to 1,500 and 2,600 lumens of light
German lighting specialists Lupine again showed off a remarkably powerful range of LED lights, topped by the Betty X Pro model with its seven Cree XML emitters with up to 2,600 lumens of claimed output – though North American Lupine distributor Gretnabikes actually recommends the 2,300-lumen option instead for its slightly more concentrated 22° reflector and lower power draw. Even at with highest-output emitters, though, the Betty will still run for up to 3hrs20 when paired with Lupine's biggest 12-cell battery while weighing just 440g for the complete package.
Speaking of batteries, Lupine has replaced its long-running soft-sided Li-ion packs with new hardcase models that are not only more resistant to water but also sport an on-board capacity gauge.
Meanwhile, the mid-level Wilma's output now grows to 1,500 lumens (with 1,300 and 1,200-lumen options) while the tiny Piko head throws 750 lumens at just 180g for a complete system.
Lupine also houses all three ranges in more convenient (and lighter) all-in-one form factors though the Betty TL is likely a little too big and bulky to mount practically to a handlebar.
Regardless, one of Lupine's most enduring sources of appeal is their upgradeability. Simple screw-on bezels and removable circuit boards lend themselves to easy user serviceability and Lupine indeed offers kits to update most of its older LED models. Likewise, the company's battery connectors haven't changed in ages and all of the light heads and battery packs are fully interchangeable so that users can custom-tune the systems to their needs.
Cygolite's high-value 2012 collection of LED bike lights
The single button on Cygolite's TurboJet series doubles as a battery indicator
Cygolite's new TurboJet series strips away some of the frills of its upper-end models in favor of simpler, lighter, and cheaper systems that offer lots of light for relatively little cash.
The top-end Turbo 740 Xtra costs just US$199 yet provides 740 lumens of output with a generous 3hrs25 of run time while still weighing only 360g. Cygolite also offers the same head with a lower-capacity battery for US$169 that drops the burn time on high to a still-useful two hours.
Sitting at the bottom of the range is the Turbo Mini 330, which boasts 330 lumens of light and a two-hour burn time on the highest setting at just US$110 and 150g.
Also new are the Expilion all-in-one lights with user-replaceable, USB-rechargable Li-ion battery packs. The top-end Expilion 400 USB churns out 400 lumens for US$140, 320 lumens will cost US$110, and just US$80 will still net 170 lumens of light for safer commuting.
Cygolite's multi-LED Centauri, TridenX, and MityCross ranges get power boosts nearly across the board and retain the company's trick OSp feature. Unlike other user-programmable systems that require a connection to a computer, Cygolite'sOSp-equipped lights offer tunable stepped light outputs right on the lamp head.
Finally, Cygolite also adds a high-powered rear LED flasher to its 2012 range with a bright 2W emitter, five flashing modes, and even user-adjustable flash speeds. US$50 buys you a HotShot 2W with a USB cable and wall charger while users who just want the light and cord can save themselves US$10.
Less weight and more power from Hope
The on-board display on the new Hope Vision R8 light shows the current light output, the selected mode, and remaining battery life
Hope's 2012 light range will be topped by the new Vision R8, which sports a bank of eight Cree XPG LED emitters that delivers up to 2000 lumens of claimed output. Hope tucks all of that hardware in a tidy machined aluminum body that also contains a unique top-mounted backlight screen that graphically displays the current light output, operation mode (race or trail) and battery life. Burn time is 1hr15 with the included 5,200mAh Li-ion battery.
Also new is the Vision R4, which is now roughly half the weight, a third smaller, and 65% more powerful than its predecessor thanks to new Cree emitters. Claimed output is a full 1,000 lumens with a corresponding 1hr15 of run time at the maximum power setting.
Hope acknowledges that its new District rear LED light may be a bit of overkill but riders seeking the ultimate in visibility will take comfort in its three Cree XR emitters, 84 lumens of output, and 270-degree viewing angle. A separate battery adds to the bulk but offers eleven hours of burn time.
Less power but time to burn from Princeton Tec
The new Princeton Tec Push commuter light runs on standard AAA batteries
Outdoor lighting specialist Princeton Tec's new Apex Rechargeable won't set any records with its relatively modest 200-lumen output but the cost is reasonable at just US$149 and the burn time is unusually generous at five hours at the highest setting – plenty of time for your planned ride plus maybe even the unplanned time lost in the woods. Once you're back, recharge the system with the handy USB port.
Also unique to the Apex Rechargeable is its four-plus-one LED configuration, which allows for switchable flood or spot beam patterns.
US$50 gets you the company's new Push all-in-one commuter light with 100 lumens of output, high, medium and flashing modes, plus blinking side markers for extra visibility.