Bikerumor Review – NiteFlux Photon 4 – Crazy Bright Commuter Light

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NiteFlux is an Australian brand of bicycle lights, offering a full range for commuters to racers.  We tested the Photon 4 Commuter light, which is the starting point for their line.

All NiteFlux lights are crafted from Aluminum Alloy, black anodized with laser etched logos.  Inside, all of their lights have an electronic brain that controls the power to protect against total discharge, alert you when the battery is too low and keep “Constant Wattage” going to the light.  This last bit is helpful when the battery starts getting low…it keeps the light at full brightness. Instead of dimming, it’ll blink every few seconds to let you know you have a limited amount of time to get where you’re going.

We’ve got about two solid months of night riding and commuting with the light, and we’re extremely impressed.  For a straight up Commuter light, you’d be hard pressed to find a better light that has so many mounting options, has a lot of upgrade options and is so darn bright!

Even if you’re looking for a racing or mountain bike light, read this review, because the technology and features in the Photon are the same for their higher end lights. If you’re into 24 hour racing…you’ll like being able to piggyback chargers to reduce charge time to just 2 hours!  Check out video, pics and the full review when you read “more“…

 

WHAT’S IN THE BOX:

niteflux photon 4 commuter light package led bicycle lite bke commuter

This is my attempt to stick the light back in the package for a “complete” shot, which isn’t quite right, but more or less, this is what it looks like.

Here’s what you get (plus instructions) for the $139.99 MSRP (USD):  Light head, handlebar mount, battery and charger.  Note the little rubber screw cover on the end of the mounting bolt…keeps it smooth and prevents accidental knee scrapings or anything.  Little attentions to detail like this abound on the NiteFlux, though most are things you’ll never see.  (The sticker on the battery pack looks rough because I tried to peel it off, then gave up quickly…it didn’t come like that)

The light head slips into the mount and is lightly held in place by a rubbery pad on the base of the mount.  The battery pack screws into the light head with about one complete revolution.  The battery has a rubber seal the closes off the insides where it screws into the light (not visible) and a second rubber band that presses flush with the mount when it’s screwed tight.

There’s a philips head screw accessible from the bottom of the swivel on the mount, so you can tighten it up if the light swivels too loosely.  The mount is designed to work with both 25.4mm or 31.8mm diameter handlebars.  The cover shot of this review is on my older Gary Fisher with the thinner bar, and my road bike (shown below) has the fatter bar.

MOUNTING:

Here are a couple shots of it mounted to my road bike.  On fully round bars, there likely won’t be any issues unless it tapers down immediately out of the stem.  With flat bars, like mine, I ran into some space issues.  My bar tapers to flat about 3/4″ away from the stem…and my stem’s not that wide.  Because it ended up mounted so close to my computer, I had to rotate my computer down in order to get the light aimed where I wanted it.

The mount ended up about 1/3 of the way into the taper, which made it spread slightly.  It would mount fine, but one unfortunate side effect (shown below) was  the bolt/mount edge scuffed the carbon bar’s clear coat.

I have a feeling that too much use like this could potentially damage my bar…

…so fortunately, there are a lot of options as to where you can mount the light.  Some of the documentation that accompanied the light shows mounting on the stem, fork, steer tube, etc.  I rode the light in this position for a 36.8 mile ride and never once hit my knee on it, though it did make it hard to ride in the drops.

Here’s a better perspective as to the size of the light on a bike.

PERFORMANCE:

The video below shows the light in action on a very dark residential street, a lighted residential street and in a well lit downtown environment:


This Video should appear in HD with the option to turn it off for slower connections.

NiteFlux claims the light can be used for XC night riding, too, so we tested it on the trail.  The image above was shot using “night mode” on a Sony digital camera (nothing fancy) with no flash and is unaltered.  The light is plenty bright enough for recreational riding, and the white quality of the LED light was far better than the standard halogen helmet light I had with me (which was OFF for this picture). We only had the bar mount for this review, but they offer a helmet mount with extension cable to run the battery in your pocket or pack (more on that later).  While I would prefer something brighter for night racing, the light output was perfectly acceptable and capable for general night riding.

Purely in the interest of science, I even tested it on our December “beer ‘n’ bikes” ride during a slight drizzle.  The light never faltered despite accumulating a good bit of moisture.

I also used it during some day rides when it was overcast, figuring the extra attention it would provide would be welcome.  On “Flash” mode, I noticed a lot of cars (particularly oncoming and on cross streets) looked over at me, meaning they were less likely to turn or pull in front of me.  I doubt any little $30 head light would get that much attention.

Simply put, this is an extremely bright light for the commuter category, and NiteFlux claims it’s the brightest single-bulb LED light there is.  I wouldn’t doubt it.  From a pure light output perspective, it’s got what you need for most riding occasions.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE…

Sure, the bulb is bright.  But the technical features is where this light really shines.  Here’s the highlights:

Multiple Light Modes: You can choose from 1watt low (8 hours), 4 watt high (2 hours) or 4 watt flash (8 hours).  Recharge is a very quick 4 hours.  It puts out 270 Lumens on High, 70 on Low.

By comparison, on “High”, NiteRider’s Minewt USB is 110 Lumens and MiNewt X2 is 150 Lumens.  Light & Motion’s Stella is 200 Lumens.

(To be fair, the L&M and NiteRider lights have longer run times on High with their original battery.  The MiNewt USB is about $40 less than the NiteFlux, but the X2 is about $40 more.  The Stella is about $110 more than the Photon 4 Commuter.  However, the Photon 4 Enduro, which comes with the 3-cell battery plus a helmet mount, is about $210 and has a 6-hour runtime on High, making it a real bargain.) 

Intelligent Charge Control: The Li-Ion battery uses a proprietary protection circuit to manage charge input and keep all cells charging evenly and completely.  Perhaps most importantly for racers, it allows you to connect TWO chargers with a Y-adapter and cut charge time to just 2 hours.  Meaning, if you’re pulling double laps during the night, you can usually recharge your light completely while your teammate is out on course.  This works for any of their batteries, charging their 3- and 5-cell batteries in just 2 hours!

Easy Charging:  The battery has an LED on it that glows orange during charging, green when it’s ready.  Because of the internal circuitry, you can leave it plugged in without fear of harming the battery or overcharging it.

Heat Sinks: I didn’t know this, but apparently LED’s can get really hot, too.  In fact, the hotter they get, the worse they perform.  The reason NiteFlux LED lights are a little larger than some of the competition is due to more than just their custom reflector profile (which, BTW, they claim puts nearly 100% of the bulb’s light on the trail), it’s also because they use internal heat sinks to pull heat away from the bulb and diffuse it throughout the alloy body.  The bulb never felt hot to touch, so I imagine it’s doing a pretty good job.

Battery Protection: Unlike a lot of lights that start dimming as the battery gets close to dying, the NiteFlux lights use Constant Watt Technology to keep them full bright right up until they shut off.  So how do you know when that might happen?  The light will blink intermittently, more and more frequently as it gets closer to shutting down.  Once this starts, you have about five minutes to get where you’re going.  This protects the battery from total discharge, helping it last longer and work better.

Battery Expansion: Because the circuitry controls how much power goes to the LED bulb at all times, you can swap between the included 1-cell Li-Ion battery and the available 3- and 5-cell batteries (and extension cords) to dramatically extend run times.  The bulb will never know the difference.

It’s a Flashlight: Need to do a trailside repair?  Simply twist the battery and bulb apart and reconnect outside of the mount.  Presto, change-o, you have a flashlight, making it easy to see into your pack or seat bag or make repairs.

(NOTE: For more detailed specs on this and their other lights, I’ve copied parts of an email from Adrian Konings, NiteFlux’s rep, at the bottom of this review.  We covered some of their other lights in a previous post, and there’s a lot more technical data on the lights on their website.)

BIKERUMOR RATING:

If you’re looking for one light that can do it all, or if you’re on a budget but want something you can upgrade in the future, the NiteFlux Photon 4 Commuter should be on your shortlist.  Its 270 Lumens blows away other “commuters” and puts it ahead of most other brands’ entry level mountain bike lights, but for a good bit less coin.  The versatile mounting options and expandable battery power combined with the long life of the LED bulb and sturdy construction means it’s a light that’ll last you for a good long time, regardless of how you use it.  Really, there’s nothing negative we could say about it, and your friends will think it’s ridiculous.  With that in mind, we give it Five Thumbs Up!

AVAILABILITY AND BONUS OFFER:

NiteFlux lights are available via their online store and through J&B Importers for U.S. and Canadian bike shops.  When you purchase one of their lights, there’s a redemption form inside to get one of their sweet jerseys (below) for only $39.99 ($120 MSRP).

The jersey uses a full-length zipper and is made of a really lightweight, cool-feeling fabric.  It’s very comfortable, and it has areflective panel on the back for safety (and to annoy the you-know-what out of competitors during a 24 hour race).  But the real secret is the custom built battery pocket with wire guide:

There’s a thin pocket that runs underneath the normal jersey pockets that’s made to hold NiteFlux’s 1- or 3-cell battery.  It velcro’s shut, and the white stitching just behind the velcro patch is a wire port.  If you’re a racer, this lets you run the helmet mount without worrying about the battery flying out of a jersey pocket or having to wear a hydration pack just to hold the battery.  During the day, it’ll holster most mini pumps.  Genius.  (The only downside is this positions the normal jersey pockets a little higher, making them a bit harder to reach into while riding…but that’s a minor complaint)

Want more?  The first ten people to order a NiteFlux lite off their website and mention “Bikerumor” in the comments field will get a FREE jersey. (IMPORTANT: This offer was discussed prior to us using this light and is offered as a bonus to our readers.  It has absolutely no effect on how we have tested or reviewed this product.  It’s our Chrismakah present to you.)

 

ADDITIONAL TECHNICAL INFORMATION (directly from NiteFlux rep):

Charge Control
Is the heart soul and engine of the rechargeable system – key word is “rechargeable” when talking about high performance lights.
NiteFLUX have a background in making in industrial charge application for specific purposes – Industrial charge applications involve systems that quite often are used everyday, 24hours a day, everyday of the year – most charge management systems supplied to the general public are cheap off the shelf charge solutions that lack the purpose built sophistication to maintain optimal charge performance over the battery. NiteFLUX ICC (Intelligent Charge Control) delivers true AAA Gold stand Charge control ensuring optimum life and performance is maintained – further more it ensures the battery can not be under or over charged no matter how long you leave the battery on the charge.

Heat Sinking
With out great heat sinking you don’t get the heat away from the chip inside the LED, quality LED manufactures like Cree and Luxeon spend millions just trying to improve on this one area, this is because it the area that if improved can yield the best performance gains.

Once the LED becomes oversaturated with heat it loses efficiency / lighting intensity and if greatly heated they can be damaged – basically the cooler your LEDs run, the brighter they are. Hi-wattage LED’s are radically more sophisticated and more expensive to make, cheap LED only handle the 10% of 1watt when you run extra wattage as in 1watt and 3watt LEDs you get a huge increase in heat and if you run them with extra wattage like we do to achieve optimum lighting intensity you get even more heat – Great heat sinking is absolute necessity to ensure that you maintain the thermal stability and maintenance of LED structure ensuring that LED achieves the best possible illumination over its life span.
The commuter/VisionStick series all have Multi-Stage Heat sink that radically increases the size of the heat sink internally and ensures that the heat is evenly and efficiently transferred to the allow outer casing and in the case of the Commuter some of the heat is even passed on to the battery casing.

Super compact LED head units might look great but they are thermally compromised designs because:

  • There is less mass/material to transfer the heat too
  • There is less surface area to transfer the heat too which slows the rate of heat transfer
  • The smaller internal design often does not allow for the optimal attachment of the Hi-Watt LED to the external heat sink
Click here to download a PDF showing comparative LUX and Lumen tests versus competitors’ lights at Interbike.

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