It seems that the latest LED bike lights get brighter and last longer every year, but the cost of branded front bike lights always stay pretty high. Therefore a few years back I decided to buy some front and rear bike lights direct from China at ridiculously cheap prices to test them out
This is an initial review after a few muddy and wet night MTB and road rides.
TheBuying from Chinese direct websites is always a gamble as to the quality control on each individual product and whether the bike lights will actually turn up, so hopefully this gives an honest and useful review of my experience for you.
I bought two front U2 CREED style light units and three battery packs to test for consistency and quality and to see if they stand up to the the claims made.
I also bought two rear lights with added laser beams that mark out a red line on the road as a private cycle lane like a few much more expensive places sell.
I bought the lights from the massive Banggood website, they sell everything you could ever imagine at dirt cheap prices, most stuff is pure plastic junk but there a few decent(ish) quality bargains.
The Front lights I bought were called:
CREE XM-L 2x U2 LED Bike Bicycle HeadLamp Front Head Light
1 x 2*CREE XM-L U2 Led Light – Rated at 5000 lumens but I suspect closer to 1500 if that!
2 x Rubber ring for installation on bars or helmet, not ideal but do the job surprisingly well
1 x Battery Pack(4.2V) 4200mah or some lucky people randomly get the 6400mah!
1 x Fabric Velcro holster For Battery Pack – useful little holder
1 x Charger (100-240V) US style
1 x Adapter for UK
Comes in a selection of colours: Black, Red, Blue, silver
They cost me : £13.40 with battery or £10 without. including free delivery to the UK either from their UK/USA warehouse or direct from China. Delivery can be in a week but it’s safe to assume it will take around two weeks from Banggood China.
There is no customs duty to pay as they are too low value. If you order more than one they will normally come in separate packs and avoid customs duty.
The all important review
The light was originally rated at 5000 lumens but that is, lets say, very ambitious and was possibly removed from the website description a bit later I think. On full power with a fresh battery I think they’re the same as a below average car headlight on low beam. To back this up I found when riding in front of a car no real shadow is cast by me because these bike lights are similar to the car headlight.
I would guess output is at around 1000 lumens on full and fully charged, because they have plenty of light for off road mountain biking and also a bit wider and further penetrating than previous bike lights I have used at the 500 to 700 lumen rating, but not as much as branded 1500 lumen units I now use.
The beam is slightly on the flood side of things rather than total spot, it is actually a good width, not too wide that it wastes light but not too spot that there is no peripheral version. I would personally still use one on the bar and one on the helmet but they’re bright enough that using one on the bars did prove adequate for on and light off road when testing. I think the picture above on full shows the light well. The picture below shows just how tiny and lightweight the light unit is, you really don’t notice this on your helmet at all.
The website stated you will randomly get either a 4200mah or 6400mah battery – it is pot luck! I received 3 * 4200mah ones and these lasted an hour on full but slightly fading power before it drastically faded over the next 30mins, but for about 1.5hrs it was usable for off road single-track riding but only really for the first hour if used on full constantly.
Riding on road I was regularly swapping between full and low depending on the road and it lasted for just under 2.5 hours before fading quickly to a very dull beam that could only be used to limp home.
BEWARE though that these have NO side visibility so need to be used with another light to be legal on road. For the first few months the run time has been about consistent with the as new battery performance. But unlike decent branded lights they declined constantly until flat rather than maintain a steady output and then cut out.
The flash mode is actually comparable to the low mode for battery consumption as it seems to flash in full beam, helpfully warning and annoying all car drivers for miles around!
I assume the higher power 6400mah battery would add another bit onto these run times, but that’s a guess.
There are reports of cheap batteries like these exploding or leaking slightly for others but these particular batteries have been fine with no issues, saying that, I would never leave them on charge while out for the day as batteries can be dangerous. Charging takes about 4 hours using the standard charger that usefully goes from red to green when full. Also if you order a spare battery it comes with another useful back up charger plus UK adaptor.
I had very low expectations but the LED light unit is actually made from solid Aluminium and it seems weather sealed to look at (see section below though!). The bar attachment works OK but it is just a tough rubber ring that stretches around so it slips a bit without something grippy on the bars. A bit of cunning DIY taping and it is simple to keep it in place though. On my helmet the light sits really snuggly and I had no issues with using the supplied band.
The battery is wrapped in plastic but not waterproof at the ends, so some gaffer tape and a plastic bag is needed for wet rides. The holster is a simple but effective bag that Velcro fastens onto the frame or the wire reaches long enough to stash into a backpack from the helmet. I had one velcro strap snap off so that’s a 33% failure rate…
The wire joint is a standard plastic push fit with a screw ring to secure and weatherproof it.
I initially ordered two light units and 3 batteries because often with cheap items like this you get a duff one, but the two I have received worked perfectly straight out of the box…….
Long term results – 2017
It’s night riding season again so out came these lights again after last winter. On first use one light unit had failed over the summer. I bought another T6 LED unit that uses the same Aluminium housing as the U2 LED one tested. It performs the same in terms of brightness and run duration and is the same price. But it is far more of a spot and whiter light than the U2 LEDs, good for on the helmet.
To my surprise the batteries all seem good still with decent run times, it’s just one light units that to be honest seem useless. A few rides into winter and it was absolutely chucking it down on a night ride. The next day guess what another light unit had stopped working. Hmmm maybe the weather seals are not as good as I thought.
I had bought a replacement and the new one is fine, but this was the T6 LED rather than the U2 that’s wider and warmer light beam. I think this shows longevity and sealing isn’t as good as a branded equivalent, but I guess we probably knew this.
In total I now have 6 battery packs to cover 24hr racing and all but one is performing well (20% failure rate on batteries), it is just the light units and prolonged wet Scottish riding that seems to be the issue with a 100% failure rate. I ride a lot over winter and I’m now done cheap lights. Do I buy another light unit to use with the batteries or call it quits….The best branded lights I reviewed a selection here, as I have been using Exposure and Hope lights and love them. They really are worth the money in the long run if you have the cash.
This year I will be using Lezyne lights so watch for a review on them coming soon.
I spent £26.80 for two light units and two batteries
and £6 for a spare battery.
That’s a a lot of light power for 32 quid, but the rate of failure is just not acceptable from a cost and a environmental point of view in regular UK winter conditions. Then there are safety issues around them failing mid ride and leaving you stranded, essentially meaning you need to carry a back up with you on all rides.
While initially they work well enough, thinking long term you’d be gambling and you’re better sticking with branded lights as I have discovered.
Rear Light with Laser beams Review
At the same time I splashed out on a rear LED light with a difference: It has added Laser beams!!!
Basically it has a normal 5 LED red rear light that uses 2xAAA batteries. Then on either side it has a laser beam that draws a red line either side of your bike on the road, therefore creating a personal bike lane. It’s super cool looking, it might look a bit weird for drivers but it certainly seemed to slow drivers down!!
It costs a mind bogglingly cheap :
C £3.72 including free delivery
Or you can get the very expensive £8 rear light that draws a picture of a bike on the road with a laser beam.CLICK HERE to see the details :
The LEDs are pretty bright and effective I estimate at around 0.5 watts and last long enough that after 5 hours use they are still going strong and as bright as when I started. The website claims up to 36 hours which sounds about right and is pretty standard for a blinking rear LED. The fitting onto the seat post is a standard design but the screw is only hand tightened-able so can loosen a bit and droop down, so worth keeping an eye on or you can just replace it with a small bolt.
The Laser Beams
They are easily bright enough to be clearly seen in the dark but they do understandably fade a bit under bright street lighting. In the pure dark however they are really clear and effective.
The main negative is that any water or dirt that regularly splashes onto the laser exit port and does easily dull the or totally block the laser so mud guards or regular cleaning are needed.
I assume the lasers will reduce the battery life but I have used them intermittently for 5 hours and they show no signs of fading. The website claims 9 hours as the shortest run time on two AAA batteries and I imagine that is about right with the LED and Laser on constantly.
The laser can be seen in picture below just under the LEDs.
Note : Do not look directly at the laser lights!
Long term Conclusions
These lights have not fared too well long term, surprise, surprise I hear you say. I don’t use mudguards and they got sprayed with water and put simply they’re not waterproof and they rusted inside quickly after heavy rain dampness. They are good if you commute in the dry but a bit of a waste of time for daily all weather commuters. I won’t get another set, lets put it that way. I bought some USB rechargeable rear lights that are brighter more convenient and safer.
If still interested buy them here
Re the CREE XM-L 2x U2 LED Bike Bicycle HeadLamp Front Head Light
The battery packs have a tendency to fail. The soldered connections for the power lead break. I have had to resolder the connections on 3 packs now
Interesting, I’ve never had a battery pack go wrong in two winter’s use. It was the light units that have failed on me like I have updated. I have been using branded lights this winter so far as a new test.
I did have to soldler one of them. The lead was a bit short though and it often got tugged which I suspect was behind it. For me, the quality of the batteries in the packs was the issue which I why I went for a sep holder and LG bats from trusted supplier. Torches been fine for me, but perhaps not as much rain as you. Even so one light got used for years and is still going now. I greased the seals.
Any updates? I have used the round ali magic shine cheap chinese lights since 2010 and plenty of wet rides, with no problems. Worth taking two to be safe. The sep waterproof bat holders are good, I have two, a 4 pack and a six pack. I have just bought proper branded LG 18650 bats from fogstar they have a 20% off offer each friday and are a trusted supplier, so genuine LG bats. I have had pot luck with cheap battery packs over the years. Also the LG bats have way more capacity, when they say it is 3500mah, it genuinely is or very close. And they last 400 cycles. Some of my cheap bat packs did not last long at all. The torches for me have been good though, so opposite to you. I carry two one on bars and one on helmet, this gives extra brightness for safety and also extra relability. The cases for the bats are strong and look fire proof and have good seals. Claim of multiple protections too although I also made sure got protected bats. I did treat my torch seals with silicone grease which I find helps to keep the water out. A good tip!