Continuing our series on bike lights for safety, we take a look at the first lights we've gotten a hold of that were designed specifically for the purpose we have in mind—visibility. The aptly named Vis360, for 360 degrees of visibility, and Vis180, for 180 degrees of visibility, are designed to push the envelope on performance and safety for commuter lights. They are designed to be lighter than equivalently bright lamps; Light & Motion claims a 26% - 32% weight savings over "leading" rechargeable commuter lights for the Vis360. At 130gr, it's barely noticeable on your helmet (the only place it's meant to be mounted), especially since it's split into two pieces which offers a nice weight balance. The Vis360 features a 110 lumen front lamp which has high, low, and flash settings. The front lamp also has two small amber-tinted ports on the sides of the lamp to alert cars perpendicular to you. There's a long and springy cable connecting the front lamp to a 3 LED, 4 lumen tail-light which is integrated into the Li-Ion battery pack and which runs exclusively in flashing mode. With a white front lamp, two amber side ports, and the rear flasher, it truly does give you 360 degrees of visibility. In a nod to convenience and its target audience, the light is rechargeable by a MicroUSB plug, not coincidentally the same plug found on numerous phones and cameras. And it features a charge status indicator which tells you both when you need to recharge the light and when it's fully charged. The 110 lumen head-lamp is very visible, thanks to both adequate brightness and intelligently thought out dispersion (aka, "beam angle"), even in bright sunlight. The amber lights are also visible, even in relatively bright light. The 4-lumen rear lamp, however, doesn't do much during peak daylight hours and is really meant only for visibility in lower light conditions.
For daytime visibility, the 35 lumen Vis180 (110 gr), however, is plenty bright enough to be seen even from a fair distance during the brightest times of day. The Vis180 shares MicroUSB charging (and charge status indicator), but as it's name implies, it's designed exclusively as a rear light, and is meant to be mounted on a seatpost, on a saddle bag or messenger bag, or on the back of your helmet. The light can be pivoted to remain perpendicular to the ground, so that you are always pointing the light straight back for maximum visibility, as opposed to maximum flashing of the ground. It features 4 modes—turning it on puts it into a "pulse" mode that cranks out 35 lumens at max brightness and which never really turns off, rather it just fades from high to low and back; next there's a flash mode where the light turns on/off, though the max brightness here is slightly less than in what I call "pulse" mode; next is a steady mode at full brightness; and finally is a "peloton" mode that turns off the bright red LED, but which leaves the single side-directed amber LED flashing (the amber light flashes equally bright and equally fast in all modes). The idea of the peloton mode is that you don't blind your friends during a group ride—this light is easily bright enough do so, but still can alert cars via the amber side flashers. The dedicated rear-facing red LED and sideways-directed amber LED combine to give a very solid 180 degrees of rear/side visibility.
Continuing a theme with these high-quality (and high-priced) lights, California-based Light & Motion designs and builds all their lights in house. The company is proud of this fact, and prominently says on their boxes, "Designed and built in Monterey, CA by people who [bike]," though they actually have a picture of a bicycle instead of writing out the word "bike," which is a small touch but which still made smile. The care and craftsmanship is evident in the lights, both of which are beautifully made, have ingenious tool-less mounting straps, and which clearly reveal the input of folks who rely on these lights for their own safety. This quality, however, comes at a price, with the Vis360 carrying an MSRP of $169 and the Vis180 retailing for $99, a potential shock to those folks who are used to seemingly disposable lights like the ever popular PlanetBike SuperFlash tail-light, with it's MSRP of $24.99.
Unlike for the higher end lights, where lumens are the equivalent of grams to weight weenies, most cheap commuter lights don't advertise their brightness. However, in a move that continues to shape the industry, Light and Motion publishes the results of lumen tests conducted on a variety of competitors' lights—as well as their own lights. What's shocking is that there is often a notable difference between the claimed lumens and the actual, measured lumens. What's even more shocking is that Light & Motion doesn't shy away from reporting this, even when it's for their own lights. Light & Motion lists three popular tail-lights that they tested—the Blackburn tail-light (no specific model given)—9lm, the PlanetBike Superflash—3.9lm, and a PrincetonTec tail-light—3.9lm. Based off a quick poll on Slowtwitch, the PlanetBike is the favored tail-light among numerous readers. But the Vis180 justifies it's four-times higher price by cranking out nine-times the brightness. And it also comes with a built-in, rechargeable Li-Ion battery, as opposed to requiring two AAA batteries, which you need to take time to recycle when they burn out. (Please remember to recycle your batteries; throwing them in the trash is really, really bad for the environment).
Light and Motion clearly set out to make the best lights they could, and the price is a reflection of that focus. But it's not surprising given that in addition to all the information about lights that the company provides, they also provide a very thorough and well thought out guide to bicycle safety. You can download their Bicycle Safety PDF at www.BikeLights.com/SafetyInfo.pdf. The heading really sums the article up well—"Improving rider safety with new generation of lighting." Again, I promise I didn't plagiarize the idea. But it's nice to see that a company shares the same focus that I've tried to have with these articles. The article talks a lot about the various types of accidents, and also goes into some detail about why most cheap lights are so inadequate from a visibility standpoint. For reference, a standard car tail-light puts out 100lumens. I think that goes a long way towards knowing why it's important fire up the heavy artillery —lumen-wise—in order to really get cars to notice you. Cars, in my experience, don't expect to see bicyclists, even on well trafficked roads. Bicyclists may not be a *surprise,* but I don't think cars ever really expect cyclists. Cars expect other cars. And that means making yourself as visible as a car. And that means more lumens. MORE POWER! Light & Motion's PDF sums it up nicely: "When asked to rank the most critical safety equipment for avoiding accidents, the overwhelming top choice was a "really bright" headlight and tail light. Interestingly while we cyclists understand safety, we don't act on it. There were over 18 million bikes sold in the US last year; more bikes than cars! Yet Leisure Trends reports that just over 1 million bike lights were sold in a similar time period at an average price of $27.
A lot of bikes, very few lights, and the lights we bought at $27 can hardly be called an investment in being seen or safe." Let's go people, people; make the investment.
While this review focuses on the commuter-specific Vis360 & Vis180, Light & Motion makes a wide selection of more "traditional" lights, all of which feature a flashing mode. A logical supplement for someone looking for a good all around addition to the Vis pairing would do well to consider the featherweight Stella 200 (216gr total weight with battery). Pumping out 200 lumens (the number following all L & M models besides the Vis360 and Vis180 is the lumens output), it steps up to a Li-Ion battery, as opposed to the Stella 150 (191gr) and 120 (191gr), both of which rely on lower capacity/performance NiMH batteries. For someone strictly focused on daytime visibility, though, the Stella 120 has plenty of runtime, is plenty bright (similar to the 110lm Vis360 front lamp), and is both lighter and cheaper than the Stella 200—191gr vs. 216gr and $129 vs. $239. For riders who do a fair amount of night/low-light commuting, you can look at the 3-cell Li-Ion powered Stella 300 (single lamp / 289gr / $279) or Stella 400 (dual lamp—one narrow beam, one wide angle beam / 313gr / $299). And for those people who are interested in a real light cannon for 24hr racing or similar pursuits, check out the SECA700 (341gr / $499) or absurdly bright SECA1400 (500gr with 6-cell Li-Ion battery / $599). In all cases, the battery connection is the same, so you can certainly power a SEC700 or 1400 in flash mode for quite a while even using just small 2-cell Li-Ion battery designed for something like the Stella 200. It'd easily last for even a long ride; for reference, the SECA1400 cranks out a 1400 lumen flash for over 100 hours with it's 6-cell battery, so even at a third of that capacity, you are still looking at over 30 hours of runtime while flashing.
So far, though, the Vis360 might be my favorite "single" light I've tested. Even though the rear flasher is not ideal for the height of daylights, the front is plenty bright, and the side amber illumination is a nice addition not found on any other lights I know of. And for low light, the rear is more than visible enough as it's as bright as most other popular stand-alone tail-lights. It really does offer 360 degrees of visibility, something that no other single light offers (at least not that I have found). And it does it in a light, small, easily rechargeable package from a company with a great reputation for quality. $169 is not cheap, but it's also not expensive when you consider what you're investing in. While I certainly think this is a light that benefits from supplemental front and rear lights on the bike, if you want to just get one light, the Vis360 is a great one to get, either for yourself or for someone that you care about who could use a little extra visibility.
As with the other articles, seeing the lights in action is way more informative than reading my admittedly verbose ramblings. Apologies in advance for some un-steady-cam action in the following video. And also, I made a mistake that I only picked up later; the Vis360 has a 110lm headlamp, not 105lm. Again, my apologies for the error. You all probably tune me out anyway…
You can buy Light & Motion lights through many great local bike shops. Light & Motion's website is BikeLights.com and it has a tool to find places to buy locally. While there are several online retailers, both Light & Motion and Slowtwitch would like to encourage you to purchase the lights, if possible, from your local dealer.