Written by Nathan Cloud on Tuesday, 05 Jul 2005.
|Who:||Headstrong Performance Bike Lights|
|What:||Bike Lighting System|
|Where:||Headstrong Performance Bike Lights|
|How Much:||$149.00 USD|
|Our Rating:||8 out of 10|
Well... it finally happened, people foolishly agreed to do one of those 24 Hours of Adrenalin races with me. Thus began my search for another lighting system.
So here I am, doing my daily eBay scour, patiently waiting for that poorly listed item, or even that 1 in a million chance item that everyone just happens to overlook. I spent hours looking through the over-bidded brand name lighting system on there, skipping over the ton of garbage on there, and wondering if some of these 'home-brew' looking lights thrown into the mix are any good. All in all though, nothing is catching my eye. Then I come across a set of lights by a company called HeadStrong Lights.
Several thoughts fired through my tiny brain:
- "Hey these are in my price range!"
- "These look like really nice, can it be?"
- "HeadStrong Lights? Who's that?"
Ok, so I am intrigued. So I search around and find the HeadStrong Lights home page. A nicely done site: clean, informative and to the point - but not much in the way of reviews - just a few quick blurbs really. I like reviews. I really need a third party review if I am going to pull the trigger and drop some of my hard earned cash for a set of these. So I continue my search. I check Mtbr.com, nothing. I search google only to find lots of nonsense and this - which took me some time to figure out what was actually going on there. Basically, there was nothing out there.
Ordinarily at this point I would abandon ship, but I had a good feeling about these lights. So I emailed HeadStrong asking if they could point me towards any third party reviews, and, naturally, I pimped Crankfire.com a little. A few email's later a set of lights were on its way for us to review (not to mention keep).
I like these guys already.
The Initial Inspection
The Headlight itself is stunning - a gorgeously machined chunk of aluminum with a clear anodization for good measure. Very sleek indeed. Housed within this aluminum creation you find a 20 watt halogen bulb set in a 30 degree beam angle reflector.
Headstrong claims the light is also water resistant - and to be honest, I didn't really test out this theory very much, but I believe it. The light itself seems like it could almost be water proof! From the looks of it, the only places water could penetrate it is near the lens and the plug. The plug itself has a thick tight fitting rubber gasket while the lens is said to be sealed with double o-rings. The thing is, for lack of a better description, tight.
The Mounting Clamp
Now once you get past the aesthetics and overall shininess of it, you will notice the mounting clamp: It's very simple. A clamp, a grippy rubber liner, and a thumb screw - clamp it right onto your handlebars. Very simple, very fail-safe. East to put on, easy to take off. And when its off, it leaves no mounting brackets or other errata behind. Clean.
Opening up the rugged cordura battery pouch reveals 2 12V Panasonic Sealed Lead Acid batteries. Sealed Lead Acid? GASP! Taboo! I kind of thought so as well. Ok, I have to stop for a second here and set things straight: This is a review of a lighting system and not a debate over what type of battery is best - so if you really want the details, read up for yourself.
In the meantime, allow me to break this whole SLA debate down for you: Price, price, and reliability.
SLA batteries are cheaper. SLA batteries are 'easier' to charge. Sure, NiMH and NiCd batteries can last longer, can provide longer run times, and are lighter - but (and this is a big but), these batteries are only as good as the charging systems you use to charge them. And hey, guess what? Quality smart chargers are big bucks. Try to find an inexpensive NiMH or NiCd lighting system with a smart charger... chances are you won't. A lot of them out there tell you to plug your battery in and they put the responsibility on your unplug it after 18 hours. But what if your NiMH battery is already half charged? What if you overcharge it? To be blunt, without a smart charger and NiMH or NiCd batteries, the status of your battery can become quite the mystery. SLA batteries on the other hand tend to be a little more straightforward, and it simply becomes evident that they are not going to surprise you and go dead 30 minutes into your ride.
Looking at the quality of these lights (and not to mention using them), Headstrong should stand up and proudly proclaim to all: "We use sealed lead acid batteries!" It's absolutely nothing to be ashamed of, especially if this fact can bring affordable quality lights like these to the market.
These batteries are held within a cordura bag, a rugged as hell cordura bag. The batteries are also fitted with a layer of foam to pad the batteries from your bikes frame along with 3 heavy duty velcro straps for mounting. Top notch stuff. Lastly, all the plugs that connect the system together all have nice tight solid fits to them. There is no chance that they are ever going to shake loose mid ride.
The Battery Charger
A smart charger is a great thing. The Headstrong charger is perfect, fool proof, and even (thankfully for me) idiot proof. Let me break it down:
- Plug the charger into the wall.
- Plug the battery into the charger.
- Walk away for as long as you want.
- A little green light will come on that says "Ride When Lit" or "Rouler Quand Allumee" (hey don't forget about Quebec)
- Go ride.
You can even leave your battery plugged for as long as you want. Upon full charge, it switches to 'trickle mode' - which essentially keeps the battery topped off, fully loaded and ready to go.
This set of lights went for 2 rides with me so far. The first ride was a snappy 7 mile night ride out with friends, while their second outing was the recent 24 Hours of Adrenalin race in Dalton, MA. I am thinking there would be no better test of a light than one of these races.
How did they do? Let's get to it.
I touched briefly on the clamp system employed to attach the light to your handlebars - well, I can now say that it works beautifully. The light held fast and stayed true through every bumpy high speed run that was offered up. I even discovered their mounting scheme to be rather handy - I found myself reaching up and adjusting the aim of the light higher or lower depending on what I was riding. Downhill's I liked it aiming up the trail a little higher, while in some of the slower technical areas, I pointed it lower. Most lighting systems would not offer such a luxury without a screwdriver or allen key.
One issue though: I noticed that the lights housing and my brake cables were coming in contact with each other. I tried to wedge my cables out of the way but they just kept bouncing back against the light. I had fears that there could be some melting here, so I kept a close eye on things. The housing itself got warm, but never seemed to get hot enough to do any damage. No harm, no foul - but it is certainly something I will be looking out for.
[Begin Slightly Out of Place Rant]
"Oh, and Hey! Thanks guys!" Santa Cruz managed to eliminate nearly every possibility for mounting the Headstrong battery (or any battery for that matter) to the frame. With my th Element shock, there will be no water bottle cage installed. With their suspension setup, strapping the battery at the top tub / seat tube intersection as Headstrong suggests is not happening. Even trying to cheat it a bit and strapping it at the top tube / steerer tube intersection is blocked by its big old gussets.
[End Slightly Out of Place Rant]
Now the battery has 3 tough velcro straps in which to attach the battery to your bike and it can also just drop right into a water bottle cage - so most people will have several options as to where to put the battery. But as you may have noticed from the above rant, not my Heckler - we don't have many options. Luckily, I am a crafty one, I managed to strap it around the rails of my seat and on to the seatpost (I suppose picking up one of those seatpost water bottle holders would have worked even better).
Since I was mounting the battery somewhat unconventionally, I was short a little bit of cable and had to mount the switch onto my stem. Which was fine, but I was kind of wishing for just a few more inches of power cord (just to be clear, I would not chalk this up as a negative toward Headstrong). Altogether, it mounted rather well and stayed put. The cables running to the switch thoughtfully had a couple small velcro straps for securing the wires along your frame. They kept things tidy, a nice touch indeed.
The most important thing you need to know: On both rides, everything stayed in place just fine.
The switch mounts with a velcro strap as well. I initially thought that the switch would rotate around on your handlebars (or stem in my case) while riding or when attempting to press the button - but this was not the case. It stayed in place surprisingly well and I had no spinning issues when I was using it.
Furthermore, as with everything about these lights - the construction of the switch itself proved to be quite rugged. The button has a nice solid 'press' to it, and the cables coming in and out of it are well secured and sturdy. This switch is in it for the long haul.
Unfortunately, the switch is where I found my first complaint. To use the switch, you give it a solid press to turn the lights on, and to cycle through the 3 different power settings (9, 14 and 20 watt) you hold the button down and it does its thing. Personally, I would like to see it work the opposite - having to hold the button down for a few seconds to turn it on or off, and quick presses to change between the different power settings. Why? Well I had a bit of a scary moment on one of the downhills at the race, I was starting to move along and decided that I needed a little more light. I started pressing down on the button, then hit a root (or something) and my thumb jolted off the button. Thus switching it off. Obviously this left me in sweet sweet darkness. I was probably going about 15 mph, in the woods, at night... I think I may have soiled myself. Consequent switchings I practiced more care and had no other such episodes though.
So these aren't HID's. They don't eminate this insane bluish blinding glow. Then again, these are actually affordable. Honestly though, I found the 3 brightnesses they put out are more than enough. I found that 9 watts is more than fine for climbs and most flat slower singletrack. In some of the more faster and flowing singletrack I found myself hopping up to the 14 watt setting - which proved to be more than ample. At 20 watts, which I used exclusively on the downhills, there was no question that things certainly could put out some light!
There was only one minor thing I noticed here: the 30 degree beam angle at times did not seem wide enough for me. Other light systems I have used all seemed to have a wider beam pattern, which I grew somewhat accustomed to. I did get used to the beam angle rather quickly though, and the only times it got to me was coming around corners - things seemed to surprise me a little more than usual. Of course a lot of this issue could be resolved with having this light helmet mounted - and Headstrong does have helmets mounts for these. I just did not have one at the time.
These Headstrong lights performed beautifully. There were no surprises, everything stayed in place, no cables came loose, the battery held up like a champ, and I felt plenty confident riding in the light it offered. The amount of light they produce is near perfect - certainly not too little, and certainly not overkill (though I suppose you can never have too much light).
HeadStrong the Company. Bob Barkley.
Headstrong is based out of Toronto. Apart from bike lights, they also make 'barrel harnesses' for canoeing and apparently for toting around kegs of beer on ones back (that last parts all me, but it does seem logical). A little more investigation and you will find that Bob is an engineer who left the automotive industry to use his talents to design better products for doing the things he loves to do. And guess what? Bob loves 24 hour mountain bike racing.
In fact I had many chats about biking and he enthusiastically offered us up a lot of valuable advice on 24 hour races. We came in 2nd didn't we?
So back to things. Apparently, Bob was never really happy with any lighting systems out there. So he designed his own. That is the important part. And for those of you out there that do not understand why that is important, let me spell it out for you:
- 24 hour mountain bike race enthusiast.
- Engineer (i.e. probably smarter than you or I).
- Unhappy with other lighting systems.
- Has the smarts to build something better.
- Builds something better.
The moral of the story here? Great things come from people that are passionate about what they do.
- Solid design, solid construction, solid components.
- Did I mention these things are solid? It needs to be mentioned again.
- Plenty bright.
- Overall mounting system is great.
- Charging system is perfect.
- Sounds goofy, but the provided instruction manual is also perfect.
- At 9 watts, you can get almost 4 hours of run time!
- Sealed Lead Acid battery? A great debate for sure, but after using these lights you will not think this is a bad thing.
- These are certainly not HID's! But these are affordable.
- Switch mechanism? It's good, but I would prefer to see it operate opposite of how it works now.
- Mounted light can come in contact with brake/shifting cables, a possibility of melting?
- A smidgen heavier than some other systems out there.
For some reason the word 'Workhorse' comes to mind when I look at these lights. By just holding them in your hands you just know that nothing is going to go wrong with them. They are smartly designed to be minimalistic, and there is nothing at all that feels cheap about them. You get the feeling that they are in it for the long haul and nothing is going to go wrong with them.
I would recommend these lights to anyone (especially 24 hour racers!).
Son after this review was complete, Headstrong did send me their helmet mount for this light. It is a nice simple low profile design. Works like a charm. Only downside is figuring out what to do with the switch to make it safely accessable while pedaling.