01 March 2010

bikefix Quickie Review: Exposure MaXx-D lightset

Back in November, the guys from US Exposure Lights distributor Ibex Sports sent out the company's full-range demo kit for us to have a look at. We organized several nights in addition to our usual weekly outings and found the company's self-made, self-contained lights to be impressive in construction and output- especially given their distributor-direct pricing. Several months on and faced with a potential solo outing at Tucson's recent 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo, I was scrambling for additional lighting and managed to borrow Exposure's top of the line MaXx-D for the weekend from a friend.

As it turns out, I found a partner who was willing to commit to 6 hours' racing so was only scheduled to ride about about 9 hours at night. In combination with my Diablo helmet-mounted light (fueled by a pair of Exposure's 3-cell external batteries), I knew that the MaXx-D could see me through most of the night on the bars. CNC machined in the UK out of aluminum, the MaXx-D uses four LED emitters to generate a claimed output of 960 Lumen for 3 hours on its highest setting. Having used Exposure's demo MaXx-D at full blast, I can say that it combines with the Diablo's 700 Lumen to provide more than enough light for fast night riding. Figuring on up to 5 hours for a triple lap, I opted instead to run the light on its middle output, which has a claimed run time of 10 hours (lower-level outputs are not specified). Occasionally bumping both lights up to their highest output, I figured that I'd be good (with a backup light) for at least 7 or 8 hours.

Compared to other lights I've owned and used, installation of Exposure's lights is a pleasure. The self-contained MaXx-D mounts using a nicely forged, unobtrusive handlebar mount (shims are provided for standard or oversized bars) that uses three sets of mating tapers to compensate for wear and ensure that the light never rattles. Tilt and left-right rotation each require 4mm Allen keys to adjust, but make up for the need for tools with solidity. At 320g with its mount, the heaviest Exposure is still a relative lightweight. Without external electrical connections, it is also weatherproof (though neither waterproof nor submersible) giving the rider one less thing to worry about should the skies open up mid-ride. The lack of wires also means that the MaXx-D doesn't interfere with wireless cycling computers- especially nice for keeping a running totals and averages over several 24-hour race laps.

The MaXx-D's Seoul P4 LED emitters sit behind individual decollimators integrated into a single lens, which produce a relatively broad and even beam- there's no distinct spot and the beam is nice and even overall. Compared with other lights on the trail, the Exposure puts out relatively warm illumination, not as startlingly blue-white as some others'. I'm not sure if this is a 'good' or a 'bad' thing, but it bears mentioning. Riding alone, it's not noticeable in the least and the eyes adjust to allow for fast riding on either high or medium settings.

The ability to run an external tail light (see my description in our Strada review here), switch or auxiliary battery is a bonus- though it will only be possible to use one at a time. The 1- and 3-cell external batteries will extend the light's run time by 25% and 75% respectively but aren't used preferentially. Because they actually charge the internal battery rather than power the light, it's not possible to drain the external battery and have it charging between laps while running off a fresh internal battery. Given the light's 16 hour charge time (12 hours to 90%, 4 hours for the remaining 10%), racers will need to think ahead to ensure that the MaXx-D is fully charged before it's needed- most everyone else will be able to plug it in after their weekly night ride and forget it.

Tailed by other riders, even with the light on high, the MaXx-D feels a bit outgunned. I don't think that it's the light's output that's to blame. The 960 Lumen output is right up there with all but the highest-end (and most expensive) lights on the market. While the wide, even beam is useful in tight singletrack, the 360-degree pattern results in a great deal of light being shot off into the heavens or wasted immediately in front of the bike. As a result, it lacks the punch of some more focused beams. For a bar light (especially when used alone), this isn't necessarily a bad thing- it allows for better peripheral vision and the ability to follow the trail as it twists and turns. Still, the company's Strada light (reviewed here) actually uses decollimators designed in such a way as to spread the emitters' output horizontally rather than vertically- I can't help but think that replacing two or more of the MaXx-D's four decollimators with those using the Strada's design would help to put more light where it can be used and make it feel a bit brighter without sacrificing spread.

Guessing runtimes while switching outputs can be tricky at best, but after about 4 hours' riding with the MaXx-D on medium (with occasional descents taken on high), the switch/battery indicator was red, signaling a remaining charge of somewhere between 5 and 25%.
From that point, mine was a medium-only race. The cold (40 degree) temperatures may have been a factor and the lights that I borrowed area year or so old and see regular use. Still, the runtime I experienced did seem a bit short. Happily, on medium, a 25% charge equates to around 2 1/2 hours of riding, so the change of the battery gage from amber to red isn't nearly as worrisome as it might be with other systems.

Despite what are intended as constructive criticisms and an unfortunately long charge time, the MaXx-D remains an excellent light for $400 (and is currently on sale for $350). The design and construction is fantastic and the price unbeatable for anything made in a first-world country. Exposure make better use of their laser etcher than anyone else in the industry, marking the lights with a good amount of useful information- like runtimes and brief instructions. The broad beam isn't to everyone's liking and could probably be tweaked to be flattened out a bit, but paired with a punchier helmet light (like the Diablo), it provides more than enough light for fast singletrack riding and as such is certainly worth looking into.

James from Ibex has been in touch to add that the solo men's winner at 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo, Ant White, won riding an Exposure MaXx-D / Joystick combination, underlining the value of the lights' light weight and long run times. Congratulations to Ant and Exposure!



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