03 March 2009

bikefix Exclusive Review: Cateye EL-450 light

note: After this review was written, Cateye told us that the problem had been realized and that all EL-450s in production were being changed over to the bracket used by the company's Uno light. One is on the way and we'll let you know if our problems are solved!

Back in November, we posted an initial review of Cateye's startlingly bright EL-450 light. An update on the fantastic EL-410 and EL-400 before that, the EL-450's 400 candlepower more than doubled the previous version's 180- without its size (or price) growing significantly. As noted in my Initial Review, however, I found the revised mounting bracket to be less than ideal and took away from the EL-410's success as a helmet-mounted blinky by making it stand much prouder of the helmet itself.

When the EL-450 first arrived, I found my old EL-400, pulled the bikefix Pick EL-410 off my helmet, grabbed the EL-450, and lined them up in a dark room. This is what I saw. Sure enough, the EL-450 is significantly brighter than its predecessors. As a result, Cateye can afford to spread that light around a bit more, which makes it visible from a wider angle. There is now a low(er) beam setting to go with the blinking and high beams, and the still-waterproof magnetic switch now has a lock on it, in order to keep the light from burning through its batteries while illuminating the inside of your messenger bag.

With the EL-410's strap, some had a hard time getting the light tight enough on the bar. In a move improve that situation and to make folks who lock their bikes outdoors all day happy, with the push of a little button the EL-450 can slide off of its strap/bracket, making the strap tightening a one-time affair. A side effect of these changes is that, where the EL-410 nestled down among a helmet's vents (see photo here), the EL-450 sits high and proud. The revised strap can no longer be pulled through the mount to double back on itself and take up slack and the light sits quite high, as you can see from the photo below. I can't say that the look has grown on me- but then I look pretty silly with or without a helmet and light. Still, I wouldn't mind things being a bit sleeker.

The old and new mounts aren't interchangeable (I checked). Worse, the rubber pad that would normally sit between the light and handlebar (see top photo) is held in place by a ~2x14mm piece of double-stick tape, which let go almost immediately. A bit of superglue set it straight (for a few months, when it fell off again), and I could see it getting lost pretty easily. A better way of securing the pad shouldn't be hard for Cateye to work out.

After several months of commuting with the EL-450 on my helmet, its finally getting light for my morning commute. As a result, I've pulled my high-powered rechargeable light from the bike and moved the formerly helmet-mounted EL-450 to the bars. To my surprise, I found that the EL-450's mounting bracket doesn't really fit my new oversized (31.8mm diameter) handlebars. In order to get the cam to lock completely, the mount has to be pulled rearward a few mm, which means that it doesn't sit on the bar properly. Not a huge issue once you know about it, but the cam popped open on my first ride because the bar had prevented it from locking completely. Given that oversized bars are quickly becoming the norm, this is unacceptable- nobody needs their light popping off in traffic (or in the dark). Also annoying is the buzzy rattle that has developed. It seems to be coming from between the light body and the long pivoting portion that mates with the handlebar bracket. Sure, the light can easily be removed when not in use (to prevent noise), but doing so increases the chance that the light will be left at home and not on the bike when needed. I could superglue the pivoting bit to the light body, but that won't help when it comes time to pointing it straight when helmet mounting.

Riding to work, with the EL-450 mounted such that it shines wherever I point my head, seeing reflective license plates and street signs lit up so brightly (even at dusk) is very confidence inspiring. The helmet mounting also give the rider a better chance of catching the attention of merging traffic and oncoming left-turners. On the bars, though, the buzzing and poor mate with oversized bars make the EL-450 an annoying little guy to live with. The quality and output of the light itself are awesome and a great step forward from the EL-410. The $45 retail price would (bracket issues aside) be reasonable given the light's construction. Even the reduced battery life (when compared to the EL-410) has not been an issue- 30 hours' blinking time saw me through 3 1/2 months of near-daily 30 minute morning commutes. Its just a shame that the bracket is such a frustrating step backward. If Cateye could resuscitate the EL-410's mount without changing the EL-450's light, they'd have probably the best "be seen" front light around. Until then, it's a hard light to recommend for anything but helmet use.



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