Remember when bicycle headlights ran on disposable AA or AAA batteries? Sure, it was cool to be able to ride at night, but looking back, it’s a wonder that we got very far- or that other road users even saw us. At some point in the early ’90s, headlights made the leap to rechargeable batteries and the higher outputs they could support. Now, nearly 20 years later, bicycle tail lights are poised to do the same thing- and it’s pretty awesome. Though high-powered bicycle tail lights have been available for several years, Light & Motion’s Vis 180 is the cleanest, easiest to live with package we’ve ridden with yet. Click ‘more’ to get the lowdown.
As a year-round commuter who spends about 4 months each year either riding to or from work in the dark, I’m very aware of my lighting and that of other riders. Watching other cyclists, it doesn’t take long to realize the difference in visibility between a skyward-facing blinky and a properly mounted, decent quality head or tail light. Up until now, I’ve been satisfied with a bright Blackburn Mars 3.0 mounted on my pack and a still brighter Planet Bike Superflash mounted to my seatpost. More powerful alternatives always seemed too fussy (with external cables and cheesy mounts) and too expensive to justify. This summer, however, our local bike shop received some freakishly powerful lights from Light & Motion. The self-contained package and 35 lumen output immediately had me in lust. At Interbike, Light & Motion agreed to send out a light for review.
So how much light is 35 lumens? Though it doesn’t sound like a whole lot in a time of 500-1,300 lumen headlights, it’s about nine times as much output as my trusty Superflash. Do not look directly into the Vis 180. Encased in a largely metal enclosure, the Vis 180 features a single high output red LED that faces rearward as well as a pair of side-facing amber emitters. The belt clip/bracket mount locks into position to keep it from slipping or being ejected from a messenger bag and the seatpost mount uses a simple stretchy rubber strap to fit a wide range of seatposts. The light is charged through a micro USB port on its left side, though neither a cable nor a wall charger are included for the $99 price.
To put it simply, the Vis 180 is bad ass. In a package no larger than many garden-variety blinky lights, the Vis 180 packs a good deal more output, and with it a great deal more confidence. Bright enough to be seen at dusk (when most accidents occur) or even during the middle of the day, there’s no reason not to use it when in traffic. Though the light does have a solid setting, a low pulse setting (8 hours claimed run time) and a low “pace line” setting (so as not to blind your riding buddies), I’ve had little occasion to use anything but the Vis 180’s high powered pulse setting (with a claimed 4hr run time). Doing so ensures that drivers on the high-speed divided road that makes up half of my commute can see me with more than enough time to give me plenty of room- and I’ve noticed that they tend to do just that.
When asked why the Vis 180 pulses rather than strobes like other lights on the market (not to mention emergency vehicles), Light & Motion told us that the pulse was less likely to hypnotize riders and draw them toward cyclists- while still attracting more attention and than a solid red light and distinguishing itself from automobile tail lights. Though that seems counterintuitive (see: emergency vehicles), the pulse is certainly comes across as friendlier than an aggressive strobe. Though easily understood, the pictographic instructions printed on the packaging left me experimenting to find out if the little blinking green light meant charging or charged (charging) or how to remove the light from its seatpost bracket (collapse it completely, then pull it up). If I had to pick one thing to improve, the rubber seatpost strap isn’t nearly as snug as I’d like, leaving it too easy to nudge the light off center when turning it on or off- many other, lighter tail lights have more solid mounts. And while reducing unnecessary chargers is admirable, forcing users to ‘borrow’ their significant others’ phone chargers for the sake of a still-uncommon $3micro (vs. mini) USB cable isn’t always a recipe for domestic bliss.
Still, it’s hard to argue with the Vis 180. Though it won’t be alone for long, light has single-handedly taken bicycle tail lights to the next level. Yes, $100 for a bicycle tail light is a lot of money, but the fact is that it is a piece of safety equipment nearly an order of magnitude brighter than the $30 alternative and is made in the USA by a company with a strong commitment to environmental responsibility goes a long way toward justifying that expense. We’ll be back next fall with a final verdict…