A Tail of Two Lights pt. 1: Light & Motion Vis 180 review

Since last fall’s arrival of Light & Motion’s Vis 180 and the subsequent arrival of Exposure’s Flare, I have been swapping between the two lights, which each represent a different take a new breed of self-contained, high-powered, rechargeable bicycle tail lights.  Bright enough to be seen in all conditions (but no, not bright enough to “blind” anyone except those foolish enough to put it against their eye) and convenient to use, mount, and unmount, both lights have proved themselves- though for different riders.  Here’s my take on the Vis 180:
While the claimed 35 Lumen output doesn’t sound much when compared to 900+ Lumen headlights, Light & Motion are notoriously rigorous when it comes to quantify their lights’ actual (rather than theoretical) output, meaning that 35 means 35.  Coming from one main red LED and a single side/back-facing amber LED, this output is still nine times as bright as Planet Bike’s venerable Superflash tail light.  Though not quite as bright as a car tail light’s 250 lumen, that’s a whole lot of light for a bicycle.  Pulsing (rather than flashing), the Vis 180 is visibly different from anything else on the road.

Bright enough to be seen not only at dusk but during the day as well, the Vis 180 is a huge confidence booster.  Light & Motion claim that the Vis’s pulse is less likely than a flash to hypnotize drivers and draw them toward cyclists- while still attracting more attention (and lasting longer) and than a solid red light and distinguishing itself from automobile tail lights. Though that seems counterintuitive (think about emergency vehicles’ chosen pattern), the pulse is certainly comes across as friendlier than an aggressive strobe. The beam itself is more focused than some, so relatively little light escapes the horizontal plane, making the Vis 180 seem brighter still than its output would suggest.

The brown anodized aluminum enclosure is reassuringly solid and features a locking mount angle adjustment for the included bracket, which also serves to lock the light to bags’ blinky tabs- important when shelling out $100 for a tail light.  The large on/off switch is easy to find but surprisingly difficult for me to use with even thin gloves- a more prominent bump and longer-throw switch would ease that nit.  Since my initial review, Light & Motion have begun shipping the Vis 180 with the required Micro USB cable (an Initial Review complaint).  Also since my initial review, the seals have been upgraded to meet IP67 standards, which means that the Vis 180 should be not only dust tight, but also submersible in 1m of water for 30 minutes.  This is a good thing, as early samples (mine included) could (and did) leak (and die).

Thankfully covered by a lifetime warranty, the original Vis 180′s replacement has been subjected to far more rain than the first and has shown no symptoms of ingress.  The pictographic instructions included aren’t great (I still can’t tell if the light is charged or charging based on the blinking indicator).  Edit:  Light & Motion have been in touch to let us know that the full manual is available online here. I would also still like to see a more stable strap on the seatpost mount- the current mount is easy to use but rotates around the seatpost during normal bike handling and switch use.  Though I prefer the seatpost mount myself, a higher mount would keep the Vis 180 from bouncing around as much when mounted to bags’ blinky tabs.  The light’s size (slightly bigger than a Planet Bike Superflash) with a long seatpost mount) does preclude mounting on smaller bikes with saddle bags- something for shorter riders to keep in mind.

Ultimately, the fact that Light & Motion have kept most of the Vis 180′s output in a single plane means that light goes where it’s needed- easily making it the brightest self-contained tail light I’ve come across.  The 4hr run time can go by fairly quickly, but there is a medium setting that doubles the time needed between charges and the light does drop down to an amber-only flash mode before dying altogether.  For anyone who is good about charging and can stretch to the $100 price, the Vis 180 would be my recommendation.  Nothing else has made me feel as confident around New Mexico’s notoriously inattentive drivers.

marc

www.bikelights.com


Comments

Ben G - 10/25/11 - 1:23pm

The review is pretty right on- my roommate has one of these and it is indeed bright enough to be seen during the day as well as on those dangerous dawn/dusk commutes. We set our bikes up next to an outlet so we could each plug in our head and tail lights every time we parked our bikes for the evening, so charging wasn’t much of a hassle. And those 35 lumens blow most of the AA and AAA powered lights away.

Editz - 10/25/11 - 1:42pm

I’d like to see how these stack up to a DiNotte 140R or 300R, since both can be had for about the same price.

wvcycling - 10/25/11 - 2:17pm

Too many places for the connecting plastic to break, and/or f*ck up Sorry. No deal.

Joe - 10/25/11 - 7:59pm

I picked one of these up a month ago. So far I love it. It’s a substantial investment, but if you ride daily, you don’t want to be doubting your visibility. Several of my teammates have this same light so I know how visible it is (in all conditions). I’ve never owned a tail light of this caliber, before the vis 180, so it’s hard to draw a comparison, but It’s head and shoulders above me super flash.

This review is pretty much spot on.

Powerful Pete - 10/25/11 - 11:40pm

Great light. I ride with one daily for 1.5~2 hours in the dark. Very solid, recharges quickly, provides peace of mind in terms of making me visible to traffic at night. Highly recommended.

C - 06/07/13 - 5:43pm

Optimistically bought one and think the performance of the light is great. However, the bracket, rubber USB and switch covers degrade rapidly making the light useless after just 8 months of use. The service group has been un-supportive and simply told me that there was nothing wrong with their product.

I don’t recommend this unit at this price. If it was a $25 throwaway then yes. But at $100, I expected this would last years.

Jacob - 06/18/13 - 9:17pm

C – I work at Light & Motion and am surprised by your experience. Did you submit a support ticket?? Pretty rare to find any comments about our customer support being un-supportive.. Email me at jthompson @+ lightandmotion D0t com and I’ll make sure you’re taken care of.

The density of the rubber on the USB plug is fairly soft to get the best water protection and seal. The truth is, most people haven’t worn this out since the product was introduced, but they may not ride as much as you. We’re just in Monterey, CA and can certainly find a solution for your light.

It is definitely not a 25 dollar throw-away light and we only make products that we are proud of – so you should definitely let us fix the problem and not sit on a 100 dollar light that you’re not satisfied with.

Steve - 08/12/13 - 2:08am

The light unit itself seems well designed. I am a little concerned about the lifetime of the USB port seal as I’m moving to Seattle in a few weeks, but only time will tell.

However, the bracket that attaches to the seatpost is chintzy for a tail light that costs $100. At that price point, I expect something more robust and durable than a rubber strap – - – and I’m pretty certain that’s a common sentiment. A plastic bracket with a quick release to disconnect from the seatpost would be a huge improvement.

Mark Kastner - 08/17/13 - 8:27pm

I have purchased one about a year and a half ago, and two more recently for my boys. I love the lights, but my USB port became loose, difficult to charge, and finally it broke off and fell into the body of the unit. I have contacted the company to see about a repair, but after a week, there is no response. A little disappointed in the lack of customer service. Bottom line is I need a light, and I’m not sure i shouldn’t look for another brand.

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