Trail LED Halo DS and XXX
From the left: the Trail LED Halo, DS, and XXX lights.

UPDATES: Mounting ring clarification, longer battery life, handlebar bracket included with XXX and DS

Night riding season is upon us and after ten weeks running the Halo, DS, and XXX light systems from Texas based Trail LED, we are very impressed with the industry leading light levels and quality craftsmanship. Set aside the wild looks for a minute and let’s just talk performance. The lights are incredibly bright – Trail LED claims 6,000 lumens for the 10 lamp Halo, 3,000 lumens for the five lamp DS , and 1,800 lumens for the three lamp XXX. While we don’t have the equipment to test those claims, our riding experience demonstrated that each system was significantly brighter than similarly priced systems with roughly the same claimed power. When there are lights with similar claimed outputs, that is – there aren’t too many 6,000 lumen bike lights out there. The single power/mode button is well placed, easy to use with gloves, and offers a satisfying click. The unique if inelegant mounting system -tan colored surgical tubing bands- combined with their helmet hugging shape, reduced neck fatigue and skull inertia compared to traditional coal miner style light mounts.  The surgical tube “mounting rings” hold the lamps infinitely better than the Velcro straps offered by most competitors, they do not snag your helmet pads the way Velcro does, and they will never require zip-tie reinforcement.  The optional bar mount included with the XXX and DS is simply brilliant. The batteries are compact, easy to carry, interchangeable with all three lamps, and spares are half the cost of their competitors. Criticisms, and specifics on each system, after the jump… Across the models, we do have a couple of small complaints around functionality. The tubing used to attach the lights is just plain ugly, especially compared to the exceedingly well crafted components themselves. Trail LED informed us that the bands are clear when new, but they yellow with sun exposure, and the bands included with our demo lights were quite old.  Taking the light on and off is nowhere near as easy as a clip mount, and getting the setup so it is pointing where you want it is tedious. We would like to see Trail LED include a spare set of shorter mounting rings, and perhaps develop a bracket that can stay mounted to the helmet, which a lamp can clip into. This is nitpicking, but there are six different flash options, which we found to be three or four too many. The patterns are not documented in the manual, so even if you do find a favorite, it takes you forever to find it again on your next ride. To completely contradict that statement, we would like a new setting that offered a constant low light that then spiked brighter – versus on and off – so as to serve both your ability to see the road and drivers’ ability to see you.

Trail LED Halo Rear View
The Halo seen from the rear with ugly, yellowed retention rings.

The bayonet mount for the power cord is the same on all three models. It’s sturdy and been reliable, but it is plastic and tiny. We never had an issue with it, and you may never break one, but considering the level of craftsmanship in the light body, we would have liked to see an oversized aluminum knob that would be easier to manipulate in the dark with gloves on, and increase our confidence that we will not accidentally snap it off.

Trail LED XXX Close Up Trail LED XXX Rear Close Up

Close ups of the XXX give a good sense of the quality workmanship on all three light systems. Grady Pace CNCs and assembles the lights himself at his Plano, Texas, workshop. The bling factor here is pretty high, you get to support a small business that supports the DFW riding scene, and you get to dramatically improve the reputation of Plano for the sort of cyclist it produces. On to the individual light systems…

Trail LED Halo
The Halo mounted on a Bell Sweep helmet.

Trail LED Halo

The Halo is bright enough to burn ants. The resolution and color you can see is simply remarkable.  You can point the light further ahead of you, not only because even the secondary penumbras are brighter than most lights, but because you are still getting incredible visibility 20 or 30 meters down the trail. On the road, you can practically point the light at the horizon, and feel confident that everyone is going to see you coming. Despite weighing 190 grams, it does not feel heavy. The low profile keeps it out of harms way, and based on our passing knowledge of laminar flow, should create relatively little drag. With the Halo set on high, we were able to ride steep, technical terrain at daylight speeds. The low setting still kicks out 4,000 lumens and doubles life to four hours, which is still brighter and longer lasting than most products on the market, while seeming to produce “better” light. Trail LED claims that the wide lamp array casts light in such a way so that you can better process depth of field. We will not go so far as to validate this claim, but, as stated above, the light just seemed better. If your battery hits critical capacity, it will kick over to emergency mode giving you 30 minutes at a very respectable 600 lumens. In case you live above the arctic circle, at full charge it can run on emergency for days. With that sort of power comes responsibility. On high, the light borders on being dangerous. If you are riding in a group, you are in the front. Period. You have to put the light in emergency mode whenever you stop and talk to someone or you are going to blind them. On tight trails where trees have smooth, light colored bark, or on a road with lots of new signage, the constant glare of reflected light swooshing past you can be distracting. On the road, we definitely upset some drivers, but no worse than when they high beamed us, so honestly, who cares. Also, you look foolish. Everyone we rode with made a joke about it, our favorite being “you look like Predator.” From a distance, you look less post-apocalypse warlord, and more mid-apocalypse headless cycling deity. Given our experience living  in Appalachia, convincing hillbillies that the rapture is upon them – and they didn’t make it – could have some seriously beneficial societal outcomes. Mounting the Halo is not fun. It took us multiple tries to figure out which vent holes to run the bands through so that the light is tilted correctly fore-and-aft on the helmet. Invariably the mounting rings were too long and had to be snaked around the cooling fins to use up the slack. If you start riding, and decide the light is pointing too low or too high, you have to take your helmet off and redo the straps – now in the dark with gloves on – which is annoying. If you want to permanently adhere the lamp to a smooth helmet with the included patches it is going to be a serious endeavor, mostly because there is little chance that the curvature of the light is the same as your helmet. Of course, you could have a spare helmet that the Halo stays on permanently. Considering that you would have already shelled out $1,119 for the Halo, buying an extra helmet probably will not that big an impact on your bike budget.

Trail LED DS
This stock photo of the DS shows much more attractive new translucent tubing.

Trail LED DS

For a seriously bright light that does not require selling a bike to finance, the DS is hard to beat. The shorter width made it much easier to get mounted the way we wanted it, but the distance between the lamps still made a noticeable difference in the contrast and resolution of illuminated objects. It’s 100 grams are barely noticeable when mounted, which is a significantly easier process than with the Halo, and some of the blink settings are so bright and obnoxious that it gets drivers’ attention in full daylight.  Trail LED claims 90 120 minutes of burn time at 3000 lumens and 3.25 hours at 1,500 lumens, which we found to be about spot on with a new battery we did not test. The 300 lumen emergency setting will last for 30 minutes if it automatically kicks in, and on a full battery it will outlast the night. The DS costs $549.99.

Trail LED XXX
Stock photo of the XXX, with much prettier new tubing.

Trail LED XXX

Without a bottomless budget, the $349.99 XXX is the light we would buy. You can leave it mounted all the time, because you simply do not even notice that the sub-50g unit is there. On the high setting, you get 1800 lumens for 2.5 3 hours with a new battery we did not test, low gives you half the light for twice the time, and the dim 200 lumen emergency setting gives you 30 bonus minutes to find the car; on a full battery it will burn for an entire day. High produces enough light for fast or technical riding and the XXX might be the ultimate high end commuter light. Again, there are way too many blink settings, but on long road rides at dusk being able to cycle through different flash patterns gave our eyes a bit of a rest. Trail LED XXX Handlebar Bracket Trail LED XXX Handlebar Mounted Trail LED recently released this ingenious handlebar bracket for use with that comes with the XXX or DS, although we can not imagine why you would use the latter as a bar light. This C-shaped plastic clam shell sits in front of the face plate of your four-bolt stem – a two bolt faceplate is too ovalized for the bracket to stay put. It has no structural value on it’s own, but you sit your light on the flat section above or below the stem, wrap the included tubing, and you are good to go. The bracket comes with a heavy duty Velcro strap so you can attach your battery to the bike frame. We were surprised how sturdy the bracket proved to be, with no slippage or jostling even on rooty trails with the occasional awkward drop. While the bracket will not stay on without the light strapping it in place, it prevents you from having to reorganize the remainder of the crap in your cockpit – we were able to mount the light above the faceplate without interfering with a GPS on top of the stem tube. The mount comes with the XXX and DS, or can be ordered for $19.99 and is not included with any of the systems. Trail LED Battery Ah, the lowly battery. Rarely discussed much, it is what makes or breaks your ride. Trail LED is refreshingly forthcoming about their batteries: the lithium polymer cells will retain 80% of their original capacity after 500 charge cycles. They offer two batteries, both of which work interchangeably with all three systems. Pictured above is the standard battery we tested but Trail LED has since upgraded that ships with the DS and XXX. Spares will only set you back $50, which is remarkably inexpensive. It measures about 75 x 60 x 45mm, weighs 285g (claimed) and is encased in a innertube-like rubber that is just tacky enough to make it sit tight in a jersey pocket. Charge time is two hours with the giant (think 90s laptop) 12-volt charger. The “extended life” battery that is included with the Halo is essentially two of these guys strapped together, measuring roughly 140 x 50 x 50mm and weighing 570g. It also takes two hours to charge. A spare extended life battery only costs $85, will tuck neatly into a jersey pocket with room to spare for tools or snacks, making it a very tempting upgrade to double your ride time with the DS and XXX. For solo unsupported overnight riding, Trail LED offers the Super Dave package which includes the DS light system with two small batteries and one large battery for $649.99 – effectively saving you $35 – giving you enough power to burn 3,000 lumens for an entire night. Trail LED sells all products directly from their website. TrailLED.com

31 COMMENTS

  1. Duuuudes. It’s made in the US, and is brighter than anything else. The high end is certainly a “halo” product, but even the lower end stuff is insanely bright and apparently works really really well.

  2. I bought his top of the line light, the original Darkstar, 5 years ago. I just upgraded to the new DS. If you really want to go full speed at night, for racing or just for fun, a $12 light from China isn’t going to cut it. These lights are priced competitively with anything else of their quality on the market. When daylight savings hits, for me, it’s ride with lights or don’t ride at all. With the DS, I can ride at the same speed as I do during the day, so it’s easy for me to justify the price. I’ve spent much more on upgrades that aren’t as crucial, that’s for sure. It also helps that my 5 year old TrailLED light helped me win the money at a Solo 24 hour race that let me upgrade to the new DS. Serious lights aren’t for everyone, but when you’re ready, these are worth a look.

  3. I love my super bright light on the road but the concept of lighting up the trails like it’s daylight always sort of eluded me, I mean, if you want to see like it was daytime… ride in the daytime?

  4. I’m curious what the advantages of these are over the cheap Chinese LED bike lights that are out there?

    Is is just the build quality? Or the fact that it’s made in USA? Or are there other advantages.

    Because you can pick up a mid-level light for around $50 – $70:

    http://www.fasttech.com/products/1/10007756/1674905
    http://www.fasttech.com/products/1603/10007642/1661101-trustfire-tr-d014-7-cree-xm-l2-t6-4-mode-3200lm

    I’m looking at getting a light right now, and I can’t seem to figure out if the Trail LED prices are justified or not.

  5. Antipodean_G – for some riders, night riding is the only chance they’ll get to ride. I used to ride every Friday night with a group of dads. Once the kids were in bed, they could go out and ride, and didn’t have to be up early the next morning for work again. We’d often ride from 9 or 10pm til 12-1am. Awesome riding at that time of night.

  6. I have an early model TrailLED light that was custom made for me (enormous battery) five years ago and it still kicks serious ass. In this age of disposable chinese lighting, it’s great to have something that lasts made by an American who cares.

  7. I bought his top of the line light, the original Darkstar, 5 years ago. I just upgraded to the new DS. If you really want to go full speed at night, for racing or just for fun, a $12 light from China isn’t going to cut it. These lights are priced competitively with anything else of their quality on the market. When daylight savings hits, for me, it’s ride with lights or don’t ride at all. With the DS, I can ride at the same speed as I do during the day, so it’s easy for me to justify the price. I’ve spent much more on upgrades that aren’t as crucial, that’s for sure. It also helps that my 5 year old TrailLED light helped me win the money at a Solo 24 hour race that let me upgrade to the new DS. Serious lights aren’t for everyone, but when you’re ready, these are worth a look.

  8. @Antipodean_G, The riding season in the North continues even after Daylight Savings Time ends. This means you need lights to ride anytime after 5pm. So, for weeknight rides, you have to have lights or you don’t ride at all.

    Depending on your area and desired speed, 300-1000 lumens is plenty of light for most riding. You don’t need more unless you want to descend at really fast speeds.

  9. I’ve been using Trail LED lights for a few years. I love the solid construction, ease of connecting the battery (even with winter gloves), and that it’s longer than advertised run time has gotten me safely off the trail on more than one occasion.

  10. Hmmm, since the batteries are always the big question with Chinese lights, wonder if I could pick one of these up for $50 & get a known good battery to use with the cheapo light…

  11. After pondering different brands and models, I decided to invest in a versatile USA made light, the XXX. At first i wasn’t a fan or the surgical bands. I thought they were ugly and appeared hard to adjust. But in reality the simplicity is genius. It’s less to go wrong on a ride. I’m not one to plan ahead so the 2 hours charge time is a huge plus.

    Can’t wait to put the XXX to use!

  12. I’ve chatted with these guys a few times at some local 24 hour races and they are super nice. However, if I’m going to get made in the USA lights, I’m going to give Dinotte a call. I’ll Save some coin and I can buy some Rapha climbing shoes…….

  13. I have not stepped up to the plate yet. however i have tested one and its on the list to buy.
    it seems like every time i go to an event in Texas either Cyclocross or MTB the Trail led guy is there. they have actually been using his lights to Light up the Wednesday Night Cross races down here in Dallas.
    People down here that have them love them(the company & the lights) and that DORBA crowd is tuff to please.

  14. For the last year I’ve been using two of the Gloworm X2s (bar and helmet mount). I was pleased with them but this year I’ve stepped up my training and when night riding season came along I didn’t have enough light to allow me to ride at my normal daylight pace (good thing right?). This sent me on my quest to find something better.

    I have a couple of folks that I ride with that have the DS and after riding behind them and seeing how well the light performed as a by-stander I decided to check it out for myself. Grady (Trail LED owner) does demo rides here in Dallas and I took the opportunity to check it out first hand.

    It’s hard to do a comparison of lights by just looking at beam shots and lumens output. I wanted to see how these lights compared in real life so I did a side-by-side comparison while riding. To do this I ran my X2s in their normal configuration one on the handlebar and one on the helmet and the DS on the helmet as well. Due to the way the lights mount I was able to run both without any obstruction or interference between the two. Below are my observations. I did a 12 mile ride on a local trail in Dallas for a little over an hour. Throughout the ride I rode with the pack and by myself to get an idea of how the light worked in different situations. The weather was cold (in the 30s) and it was very misty and also had some snow flurries mixed in. Below are my observations.

    Output:
    I was very impressed with how much more “usable light” the DS provided as compared to the X2s. By usable light I mean it had a great spot and throw as well as a tremendous amount of spill that made peripheral vision more usable while being able to see down the trail. The spill also made a huge difference in the turns as I had enough light on the sides without having to completely turn my head to get a preview of what was around the corner.

    Light Color/Temperature:
    This is one thing that immediately stood out to me. I really like the color of the DS as compared to the X2s as well as most of the other LED lights I’ve used over the years. It has a natural color, almost incandescent-like. I’ve seen posts questioning the reasoning behind using a more natural color as opposed to the cool white that seems to be the popular color/temperature for LED lights but for me I can easily scan what’s ahead as opposed to having to focus and concentrate on what I’m looking at. I also found that the DS’s color pulled out more detail of the terrain as compared to my X2s.

    Detail of Terrain:
    I have always ridden with a bar and helmet light to get the shadowing effect to help pull out the details of the terrain. I was concerned with only using a helmet light that I may lose some of that detail. That definitely isn’t the case with the DS. I had more detail with just the DS on the helmet than I did with the X2 handlebar/helmet combo. I can’t say for sure but I believe it has to do with what I mentioned above about the light color/temperature. Whatever the reason it works and is no longer a concern.

    Mounting:
    I’ve always used lights that had a helmet specific mount, so I had some concern about the mounting and how difficult it would be to get the placement correct. I do want to state that my opinion may be a little skewed as I have a dedicated helmet for night riding. This allows me to get it dialed in and leave it, so I don’t have experience with having to take it on and off. My current night riding helmet is a Giro Pneumo, which I feel is one of the hardest helmets to set up for a light. It has a high center ridge and the vents don’t fall where I would like them to. With all of these obstacles I didn’t have a problem getting the DS mounted up for the demo ride. Since that was my first experience with the DS, it took about 10 minutes to get it mounted. It wasn’t a perfect placement (was angled just a little downward) but with the amount of light the DS puts out I forgot about it after the first mile. After I purchased the DS and had a chance to really dial it in, I was able to get the angle I desired. Even though I have it on a dedicated helmet, if I had to take it on and off I don’t think it would be an issue. I will say that the X2 for me has better mounting system. It does take me longer to get it mounted up but the light head pivots on the mount so I can do a wide range of on the fly adjustments. The DS is limited to how much you can tweak while riding but in all honesty unless I hit it on something, I never adjust my helmet light.

    Quality:
    If you read the reviews you know what I will say, quality is top notch. I loved the quality of my X2s and I would rank the DS a step above those.

    Run Time:
    In the demo I used the standard pack that comes with the DS. I ran it on high for little over an hour without issue. When I bought my DS I upgraded to the Halo batteries so that I could run on high for 4 hours. For the price difference it was a no brainer. I don’t have that much run time on them so I cannot personally vouch for the extended run time but for the guys I ride with they get a little over 4 hours on the Halo battery and just under 2 hours on the standard DS battery while running in high mode. One thing that is nice is that the batteries have a 1:1 charge/discharge ratio. So if you do night races all you need are two of the same batteries. For example if you start from a full charge and run it for 2 hours then swap batteries, it only takes 2 hours to get it back to full charge.

    Overall Impression:
    I really like the output and color/temperature of the light. It definitely is an improvement to what I had so I’m very satisfied. I know some people balk at the price but considering a pair of X2s cost $600, the DS actually comes out cheaper and provides more usable light and more flexibility with its charging and run times. I would highly recommend this light to anyone for night riding and especially for someone doing night racing or endurance events.

  15. This isn’t a criticism of these lights per se, although the fact that the Halo is virtually wrapped around the entire circumference of the helmet brings it into sharp focus (no pun intended).

    I haven’t seen any research – but is anyone else concerned about the effect of helmet mounted lights on the helmet’s ability to protect your head in a crash (the so-called Schumacher effect (too soon?))?

  16. Sean P – you might want to wait a bit on the rapha shoes. i hear they’re coming out with nightriding models soon, one for flat terrains and one for hilly nightrides.

  17. @Frank. check out jet lights, also made in the USA. They use a breakaway helmet mount that is designed specifically to address that issue.

  18. “we definitely upset some drivers, …….., so honestly, who cares.”

    Really?! Please keep your anti-car opinions out of a review. Pissing off drivers is NOT a good thing.

  19. @Victor Hooi I’d say that based on the beam sample pics, there’s no way those lights are putting out 2000+ lumens. They look like they might make a fine commuter light though.

    I have a friend who ordered one of the knockoff lights that claims 4000 lumens–and while he concedes that it’s probably only like 2000 lumens at full charge and tapers down with time from there, he *did* only pay $60 for it a couple years ago. So to answer your question, yes, I do believe the build quality and standards of the US stuff is pretty darned high, and they tend to be durable, long-lasting lights. Light & Motion is another company that manufactures domestically and sources something like 80% of their parts domestically. Some of their lights can be on the pricey side too. Worth it? Sure, I like to support domestic producers whenever possible. If that holds no value for a person, then sure, they could get a decent light for less, with a small step down in beam pattern, durability and/or performance. Then again, if you don’t mind throwing away batteries, I suppose you could buy a china-light annually if needed based on the price 😀

  20. @Mike D
    You are totally wrong.

    The cheap chinese lights are MUCH BETTER than the expensive, overpriced brand american lights like Trail LED or Light $ Motion.

    Yes, the majority of chinese lights has fake lumen claims, but who cares? For example the claimed 4000 fake lumen 3x XM-L LED chinese lights in fact they are “only” 1500 lumen. What does this mean? You can buy a real 1500 Lumen light for ONLY $30. Buy 2 of them, and you have 3000 lumen for only $60. It’s much better than lights from any overpriced american brand.

    Here is a great video about why the cheap chinese lights are better than the expensive lights.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ai7CJAgNQt0

    And the Trustfire TR-D014 light is the brightest and best quality chinese light. It’s a REAL 3000 lumen light, and it’s only around $80. It’s brighter even than the Lupine Wilma 7 which is $600! You can read the review on forums.mtbr.com/lights-night-riding

  21. @Mike D
    Looking at a beamshot and saying how many lumens the light is putting out is laughable. There are so many variables involved and any one could throw off how the light is perceived in the picture. Yes given all things are equal, you can use a picture to compare between lights but you still can’t say how bright a light is from a picture. Based on your comment I’m assuming you’ve never personally used or seen the DS or you would know that it is putting out well over 2000 lumens. If you ever get a chance to demo one do so and you will see what I mean.

    As for the logic of buying multiple knock-offs to total up to a DS well that’s a tough one. In my experience using the knock-offs as well as name brand lights and now the DS, I can say that you can buy multiple lights to get to the lumens of the DS but the usefulness of the light won’t be the same for a few reasons.
    1. The beam pattern the DS puts out is fantastic. This is due to the LEDs being in the same fixture and being focused all in the same plane. To try and replicated this with knock-offs, you’d have several lights on the helmet and to get them all on the same plane would be almost impossible in a usable configuration.
    2. The light temperature of the Trail LEDs is excellent. I’ve never seen a knock-off with the same color temperature as them, I’ve only seen them with a bluish/white color. Could one exist sure but I know Grady doesn’t use the bargain bin LEDs that the knock-offs do so I would think its safe to say getting one with the same temperature is pretty slim.
    3. Quality, quality, quality. You aren’t going to get the same quality. Sure that may not be important to some but I for one want to feel pretty confident that when I’m 2 hours out on a 4 hour ride, my light isn’t going to crap out. Having owned knock-offs I feel pretty confident their failure rate is pretty high. Also if you night ride a lot, you’ll be lucky to get a season out of a knock-off battery. I know folks that are still on their original Trail LED batteries after 3 years and they pretty much have the same run rate as when they were new.

    If someone rides once or twice a week and they aren’t trying to roll an aggressive pace, then the knock-offs will probably work just fine. However if someone wants to get much more out of their night riding then a high-end light is the way to go.

    It really comes down to this, do you want the Porsche or the Yugo.

What do you think?