30 November 2009

bikefix Initial Review: Exposure Lights Strada lightset

This time of year, commuting by bike can be a bit of a challenge. Not only is it colder and often wetter than other seasons, but the end of Daylight Savings Time means that all but the luckiest riders will ride at least half of their commute in the dark. As we mentioned in our overview, Exposure are big into not being into cables. A regular commuter who locks a bike outside and switches lights between bikes, the appeal of a simple, self-contained unit was immediately clear to me. The idea of a road-specific light was a new one, though.

Exposure bill the 480 lumen, $280 Strada as the "the first high output LED cable free light designed with an eye on the road." That's an awfully fine niche, but as the Strada is the first road-oriented light that I've noticed with enough power to both see and be seen, I've got no reason to doubt the claim. What, then, makes the Strada road-specific? The light's two Seoul P4 LED emitters are fitted with lenses that give the light an interesting beam pattern. One emitter creates a nice, distinct spot to allow its half of the output to travel a good distance while the second is fitted with a horizontally-oriented decollimator, creating a wide (though not tall) flood, ensuring a decent lateral flood and good visibility to cars but without wasting valuable output on the front tire or signaling overhead aircraft.

The Strada comes shipped with the same (very nicely) forged quick-release mount as the rest of Exposure's handlebar line and a (wired) switch that cycles the light through high, medium and flash modes. The internal lithium-ion batteries are good for an impressive 3 hours' run time on high, 10 on low and, apparently, "days" when flashing- this means that all but the hardiest commuter should be able to go an entire work week between charges. The Strada also shares Exposure's Smart Port Technology with the rest of the range. This allows for a number of accessories- most interesting for commuters will probably be the seatpost-mounted 80 lumen(!) RedEye rear light, but additional external batteries can be added to increase the Strada's runtime by 50 or 150%. The whole light is built in the UK by people who clearly know their way around CNC machines and (coming from someone who makes things has things made for a living) appears very well made.

Seeing as I couldn't see any reason not to, I mounted the Strada below the bars, parallel to my stem. The narrow bracket, unobtrusive placement and ~200g weight (without the remote switch) meant that the light didn't interfere with normal bar-top hand positions or otherwise make a nuisance of itself. Mounted under the bar, it took a bit of care when attaching the light to its bracket to ensure that it didn't foul my rear brake cable- though that was only an issue once. The Strada was also the first high-powered unit that I've tried that didn't interfere with my analog wireless bike computer.

On the road, the wide (but not tall) beam pattern seemed perfectly natural- because the light was where I needed it, it worked nearly as well as some 700 lumen lightsets I've ridden. Even off road, the Strada performed very well- it doesn't flood the trail, but again- the light is focused where it's most useful. When combined with the company's Joystick helmet-mounted light, it provided more than enough light for spirited mountain biking. In fact, combining the Strada (on high) with a flashing Joystick on my helmet made for some very confident commuting. The Strada provides enough light with which to ride confidently and the pulsing Joystick is very effective at capturing the attention of oncoming left-turners and drivers merging from side roads.

While the $50 Red Eye accessory is appealing for it's powerful output, the non-angled seatpost bracket means that a good deal of that output is used to illuminate the road. Exposure feel that this provides a unique pool of light behind the rider, but by the time a driver at 50+mph notices a reddish pool of black pavement 15' behind me, I can't help but think that they're a bit closer than I'd like. Add in the fact that the tail light does not flash (likely due more to British traffic laws' prohibition of the use of flashing lights on anything but emergency vehicles than anything else), and you've got Exposure's greatest opportunity for improvement. If the bracket were adapted to accommodate standard seatpost angles and a the light to flash, a Red-Eye upgrade would be a no-brainer.

While not inexpensive, the Strada is a very well thought out, well made light. Given its apparent solidity, first-world manufacture and the cost of competing products, the price is very reasonable. In fact, though it this light is most at home on the road, I have to wonder why off road lights don't have similar beam patterns. Commuters should certainly give the Seca a look. As good as the Seca is, for another $70, the company's TORO lightset puts out 700 lumens (in a more traditional, axisymmetric beam) for 3 hours/charge or a comparable 480 lumens for 10 hours. Sure, it's another 25% on an already pricey product, but when it comes to seeing and being seen, that $70 may be money well spent. Depending on how elastic your budget is, the TORO could be awfully tempting- otherwise the Strada will serve serious commuters very well (look for a review of the Toro in a week or two).

marc

www.ibexsports.com (USA)
www.exposurelights.com (UK)

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