Monday, 4 November 2013

Review: Lezyne Superdrive XL Bike Light

I love a good torch I do - who doesn't? It reminds me of being a kid and eagerly awaiting the dark so I could use my pitifully dim torch! Not much has changed in me but thankfully a lot has changed in the world of portable lighting.

At the end of last year’s season as the nights were drawing in, I decided I wanted a rechargeable front light for my daily commute. I settled on a Knog Blinder (for its coolness) and because my main priority then was being seen by other road users. The Knog has its place but eventually I came to realise I needed more lumens in my life!

I had no idea what I wanted or needed for night riding but knew that I wanted it to be USB rechargeable and self contained, as opposed to having a separate battery pack. A friend of mine suggested I look at Lezyne. After looking at the site I was fairly happy to try them and as usual I had a budget in mind so finally settled on the Superdrive XL.


Bear in mind the new 2014 model has now been released and the version here is the 2013 model. Specs/features are as per below:
  • 500 lumens max output (Blast - brightest setting)
  • 4 modes: Blast, Enduro, Economy and Flash
  • 1.5 – 5hr battery range
  • Battery indicator (4 stage)
  • USB rechargeable (4-6 hours)
  • 137g (inc battery)
  • Handlebar and helmet mount options (provided in '”"Fully Loaded” pack
Initial Impressions
I bought the Fully Loaded Pack which includes a spare battery, a helmet mount and comes in a purpose made box. I don’t use the helmet mount, the box has no use once it delivers everything safely and the battery (a LIR 18650) I could just buy online separately - so the pack is only worth it if you get it cheap.


The first notable point that struck me on opening the box is that the light looks chunky and weighty but in reality the weight is very good at 137g. It won’t win any design awards but I guess you’ll be using this in the dark so probably won’t be an issue for most!

The handlebar mount is simple, tough and just works. It can be adjusted horizontally for the best possible light position via a swivel plate, but I feel its harder than it should be to get a tight fit as the thumbscrew is hard to tighten with bare hands. Once its on though, you won’t need to adjust it again and mine has stayed put on my oversize bars without issue.

The light itself is very bright and provides enough light to comfortably hurtle down unlit country lanes – albeit with the usual caution! The 500 lumen mode (Blast) is plenty good enough for cycling in complete darkness and the Economy mode perfect for cycling on lit, city roads. Quite handily, there’s a ‘Race’ mode which incorporates these two modes for easy access, rather than having to cycle through all of the modes each time. This is the mode I use most and never really feel the need to revert back to the standard setting.


Long-Term Observations
Overall, I love the Superdrive XL - for its function if not for its beauty! I find the chunky looks are just a bit too much, especially when mounted to my compact, narrow-width road bars.
I don’t use this light for commuting anymore but instead use it exclusively for my weekly night ride in the lanes surrounding Coventry. As soon as I leave the suburban lit streets, the light goes from Economy to Blast mode and I alternate between these two settings as necessary. The Race feature is great for this as it reduces button presses when flying down dark lanes – always good!
The battery life is pretty good considering its size and output and I do get the full, claimed 1.5 hours from Blast. In real life though, my night rides are longer than this, but with careful use of the Race mode, I can get in excess of 2 hours riding. I carry a spare just in case but, to date, I’ve never had to use it.
The on-button is also the battery/charge indicator and cycles through 4 different modes to indicate how much charge is left:
  • Solid green – 100-70%
  • Half green/red – 50%
  • Red – 20%
  • Flashing red – 5mins or “GET HOME FAST”

Recharge time is around 4 hours if using a USB wall adapter and 6 if charging by laptop/computer. A downside I find is that you have to charge the battery in the light itself (by simply plugging in the USB cable provided), unless you have suitable battery charger, your spare battery can’t be charging one whilst using the other. A bit of an annoyance but not a deal breaker.

Its not just about your lumens, it how you use them…
There’s no denying that on unlit roads you want as much light as you can throw at the tarmac, particularly when some of those roads are single track with a high probability of debris and are poorly maintained. The reality is that 500 lumens doesn’t seem like that much when you look at the highly affordable 700-1200 lumen offerings from X power and Cateye. However, as my cycling brethren have recently discovered, its not just about your lumens! When compared against my neighbours brighter (and lighter) Exposure Axis, the Superdrive XL seems to throw out a far wider and brighter light at its brightest setting. I think this is a combination of the the side cut-outs (to allow a wider beam pattern) and the lens.


Instead of the bright, spotlight effect of the Axis, the Superdrive XL sends out a wide, flood-like beam that illuminates the gutters/kerbs as much as the rest of the road. The sad thing is if the Superdrive could look like the Axis then we’d have a perfect combo! The new 2014 version of the Superdrive XL offers 575 lumens for the same run-time and, in this package, can only make it a better light than it already is. For now, this light suits for road cycling after dark and the only addition I’d like to see is a separate charger for the spare battery as part of the Fully Loaded pack.

So, this light along with my Moon Comet rear will see me recklessly racing through the lanes this winter – and, I hope, many more to come. There really is no excuse for cycling without lights (for safety) and now lighting really isn't a reason not to go cycling! At the moment its extending my season when ordinarily I'd be wimping out indoors, so its fair to say I'm loving this light right now and is as good as any in this price range - The 2013 light, mount and battery is currently going for £59 on PedalPedal!