24 March 2010

bikefix Exclusive Review: Magicshine MJ-808 lightset

Since participating in my first off-road night rides over fifteen years ago, bicycle lighting technology has progressed at an incredible pace. 5W halogen AA-powered VistaLites have given way to higher power, rechargeable halogen lights, which in turn yielded to high-powered HID lightsets. Over the past couple or years, the HID's have been largely replaced by lighter weight and more robust LED lights. With each evolution, the price bar has been raised. In the early days, $150 was pretty close to the price ceiling. HID's pushed things into the $300-500 range and some LED systems have come in well north of $1,000- in other words, a lot of money.

Early adopters, of course, always get stuck with the biggest bills. As LEDs and lightweight batteries batteries have become more commonplace, their technology has improved and prices have been driven downward. For some reason, the UK bike industry seems to have closer ties to Far Eastern manufacturers. It may be because that country's riding community is fairly tight-knit, or because products that are commonplace Stateside are hard to come by, but word of really cool far Eastern-sourced stuff tends to spread like wildfire over there.

Keeping, as we do, our fingers on the pulse of the bike industry at home and abroad, we began hearing murmurs of a ridiculously inexpensive, high-powered LED lightset early last year. With a claimed output of 900 Lumen, a run time of 3 hours, and a retail price of under $100, Magicshine's MJ-808 lightset seemed far too good to be true. Come fall, my curiosity got the best of me and I sent $85 plus shipping to US distributor and fellow New Mexicans GeoManGear for my very own Magicshine.

The MJ-808 arrived (though not exactly lightning fast as claimed) in a surprisingly nice box with a foam lining cut out foe the light's components. Very clearly inspired by Lupine's Tesla 4, the Magicshine uses the same Seoul P7 LED emitter (actually 4 emitters on a single chip) and a solid feeling o-ring mounted enclosure. The battery is housed in an inexpensive but effective Cordura-esque case, which is small enough to mount under most stems. The charger looks to have been stolen from a cell phone- not that there's anything wrong with that.

Right away, we took the light to our friends who had a Lupine Tesla on hand to compare. In a darkened room, the MJ-808's claimed 900 Lumen clearly weren't quite as bright as the Tesla's 700- hardly a surprise given what we had read about the difference between calculated maximums and actual light outputs. Still, the two lights were close, and the beam pattern nice and evenly distributed. Not as wide as Exposure's beams, the Magischine puts out what I would consider a medium flood with a well defined spot at its center. The high, medium, and low modes were well spaced, the flash mode likely seizure-inducing to epileptics, and the SOS mode a nice 'why not' addition. So far, it would be hard to complain for twice the price.

In the five months since, the Magicshine has been along for four days' commuting and one or two off-road night rides per week as well as a 24-hour mountain bike race. At least 6 or 8 friends of bikefix have picked up their own and none seem to have had any complaints. The MJ-808 puts out just enough light for 30mph road descents and plenty for night riding. Having seen oncoming riders using the light commuting, it is remarkably visible even at dusk and dawn and makes me feel that much more confident about getting to and from work safely (especially when paired with a flashing helmet light). Off road, the Magicshine works just as well as much more expensive lights I've owned. The beam pattern has a good amount of punch and the fainter periphery is still plenty bright enough to illuminate the sides of the trail. The light head is well balanced and unobtrusive and the o-ring keeps the light from moving unless moved intentionally.

If I were to nit-pick (and I shouldn't for the money), I would ask that the beam be squashed a bit to make it less axisymmetric and more football-shaped. This would put even more light where it's needed and make the output seem still brighter. A deeper bezel (possibly anodized black rather than silver) would keep the rider from being blinded when standing (an issue for me on both the road and in the dirt). It seems like the 12in cable (a 3' extension is included) could be a bit shorter- it's more than long enough to reach the battery when mounted on the top tube and can flop around a bit. Finally, the battery connector is a bit difficult to disconnect- but that's better than one that comes loose on its own. The $10 helmet mount is hideous (though really no worse than Light & Motion's) and, while functional, allows the MJ-808 to do a pretty good periscope impression and could put the light at unnecessary risk in wooded areas.

I've been riding the Magicshine regularly for five months, waiting for something in line with its price (like catastrophic failure) to happen. So far, nothing has. From an intellectual property perspective, I wish that Magicshine had taken the light a bit further from the Lupine- I can only imagine how Lupine feel about such a clear knockoff undercutting their German-made product. Still, it goes to show that the LED technology isn't inherently complex or expensive- especially once the product development has been sorted out. At $150, the Magicshine would be a scorching deal. For $85, there's no excuse for any commuter or even the fairest-weather night rider not to have a high-powered light. No question here- the Magicshine MJ-808 is a Bikefix pick.




The Bikeworks Crew said...

So, I've heard some interesting things about this light. Not owning one personally, wondering if you have experienced:
really high heat issues when stopped. As in a long trailside repair, and the lack or airflow allows the light to get extremely hot. Like melting your helmet hot.
Also, from a competing light company, I heard stories about the light and charger not being "UL" rated. I don't know the specifics about "UL" ratings, but I believe they are intended to keep your house from burning down, and such, and competing light company hinted at dangerous findings with the charger.
I don't think the 900 lumen rating is anywhere near to being true, I think it was a number that was picked to help sell the light. You will find apparently identical lights listed under different names in UK mags with much lower ratings.
I gotta hate on it a little. Still, it's crazy bright for under $100.

bikefix said...

Dan- that's a good point about electrical safety. For what it's worth, I've had a look at my charger and it is UL listed- the number provided is E241618. I've noticed the heating you mention, but it's no worse than HID and high-powered halogens I've owned. To be safe (and preserve battery life), it makes sense to drop the output to low when fixing mechanicals. The real impact of heating lights like these is the impact on the electronics and emitter- I've heard that high temps can shorten their lifespans. marc

Anonymous said...

Did a search on that UL number.

Check this out:
UL warns of a bicycle light with unauthorized UL power supply

Probably not a big deal, but something to be aware of...

bikefix said...

Yikes! That's interesting- I pulled up the UL number and the description made sense (battery charger from some company in China). I'm not sure if I should be reassured or worried that my charger looks nothing like that one despite running the same number. Maybe we can get GeoMan to weigh in. Thanks,


Anonymous said...

The charger in question shown in the UL report is only offered by Deal Extreme. Check out their Magicshine light sets. That is the old style charger.

Anonymous said...

What is the weight of this interesting light?

John Javellana said...

Wow the light has a brand name over there? I've bought them here from where I am (Manila) and they're pretty cheap compared to the other "branded" products. So far it's been value for money but the heat issue can really be scary. It's really melt your helmet hot. Plus, I guess it's straight to the garbage can once the bulb or the battery pack gets all used up since I don't think I could find replacements for them here.

bikefix said...


These lights look to have been branded in the far east, but are distributed locally so have a bit more support than when bought from Dealextreme... The LED emitter should be pretty bombproof- when your battery goes, you should be able to source one from geomangear.com if nowhere else. Mine is still going strong...


rearviewmirror said...

I now charge my MagicShine batteries w/ an L-Ion capable RC Car charger. I don't trust the supplied charger's ability to control electrical flow to the battery in the event of a fault, which is how a fire is started anyway.