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Review: MagicShine bike headlight
me2
johnridley
(Note: I'll be posting photos and a video hopefully tomorrow)
Click the cut tag at the bottom for way more photos and info.

I just received a new bike headlight, a MagicShine P7, purchased from GeoMan in New Mexico for $89 including shipping (USPS priority mail).

Quick info:
Run time (high):3 hours (claimed), 3 hours 8 minutes (tested)
Run time (high, @10*F)2.5 hours (tested, approx)
Run time (low):4.5 hours (claimed)
Cord length total:53.5 inches
Modes: High, Low, Strobe (3hz, high mode)
Charge time, empty to full: 4 hours 45 minutes



I also did a longer term test of the light's runtime, charging it on Wednesday and running it for 40 minutes Thursday, Friday and Monday mornings and again Monday afternoon, which totaled 3 hours. Then I brought it inside to run out, and it died in about another 10 minutes, so it appears that the light is good for 3:10 or so regardless of whether you do it all right after charging or in a few runs over the course of several days.

For this test, I unplugged the lamp from the battery when it was not in use because I did not know the draw of the pilot lamp.

Also, the pilot light on the back switched to "low battery" when the battery was half empty the last few runs, instead of nearly ready to shut off like it did the first time. I'd prefer something in-between; maybe "10 minutes to go" or something.

Also, I tested with the battery in the freezer at 10*F. Unfortunately I was outside picking stuff from the garden when it shut off, so all I know is that it was on at 2:15 and off at 2:45, so I'm putting the runtime at 10*F at 2:30. I'd like to test it colder, at maybe -10*F, since I do ride at those temps. Unless I get some dry ice or something to create those temps in a styrofoam cooler though, that may have to wait until the outside gets down that cold.


Current draw:
I have now put the light on an amp meter and come up with these draws from the battery (7.4 volts)
High: 1.46 amps
Low: 0.5 amps
Off (pilot light): 5.6ma (0.0056 amps)
Strobe: Hard to tell, but looks like about .8 amps average.

On high, I get 3 hours, 10 minutes. This equates to a pack capacity of about 4.5 amp hours, which is about right for four 18650 cells (2300 mAH nominal each, in series/parallel).

I should get 8 or 9 hours on low. This is FAR more than listed by the manufacturer (they say 4.5 hours). I'm going to have to test this but I don't see how I won't get at least 8 hours. Perhaps the current controller they're using has a lower "low" than the one they originally tested with.

The pilot light for 24 hours is .0056*24 = .13 amp hours drawn. This is close to 6 minutes of runtime. So I'd have to leave it on for 10 days to kill an hour's run time, a full month to deplete the battery. This is about what I originally calculated by sheer guesswork.

The strobe measurement of 0.8 amps is probably about right since it's strobing to high power at about a 50% duty cycle, which would make it actually about 0.73 amps. So I'd guess you'd get a 6 hour runtime on strobe.

I'd still rather that the pilot light wasn't on when the unit was off, but I guess at the cost of 6 minutes per day of pilot light, I'll stop unplugging it every day; I'm concerned that unplugging it an additional couple hundred times a year (every day instead of every 3 days, for me) will significantly reduce the lifespan of the connectors.

I also want to test runtime with the battery pack in the freezer at 0*F; yes, I do ride in the dark at 0*F, and I want to know what the runtime is then.


Pros:
  • Plenty bright enough for almost any use.
  • Very cheap for a light of this brightness, feature set and quality.
  • Very respectable run time.
  • Build quality and durability seem very good.


Cons - I had to get pretty picky to find anything much to put here:
  • I would like another mode or two, mainly lower power modes.
  • Beam pattern could be improved a bit, though it's really pretty good.
  • Battery pack could be sealed a little better, I think it may get water inside it when in very heavy rains. I'm going to tape mine.
  • Currently no helmet mount kit is available, but helmet mount kits from other manufacturers do work with it.
  • Lit button on the head stays lit when unit is off.
  • The mount MAY be a weak point - time will tell.


If you're not familiar with bike headlights, you might thing that's a heck of a lot of money. Believe me, this is dirt cheap for a bike light with this level of durability and brightness. One big-name manufacturer sells a light that's almost identical to this one for $500, and other lights go as high as $1500.

High-powered "tactical" flashlights built around the new generation of extremely high powered LED emitters have been getting quickly cheaper and more powerful in the last few years, and people have actually been using flashlights strapped to their helmets and bars for a while now, including some using the P7 driver found in the light I'm reviewing here today. Also many people have been buying the emitters, reflectors, batteries and chargers and building their own lights. Many in the cycling community have wondered when someone was going to come out with a really cheap, purpose-built decent quality light, and IMO this is it.

Flashlights are still a pretty good way to go. A light like this mainly gives you a longer run time (flashlights this bright rarely run more than about 1.5 hours per charge) and the ability to mount the light and battery separately.

Full photo set for this review

Unboxing:
The package contains the light, two very thick, durable O rings for mounting to different sized handlebars, the battery pack (made from four 18650 LiIon cells) and a nylon holder, and a 100-240V, 50-60hz charger. The cord on the lamp is 45.5 inches, and the battery pack has an additional 8 inches of cord attached, for a total of 53.5 inches, probably long enough for those who prefer to mount on their helmets, if the pack will be in a pocket. GeoMan says they'll have extension cables soon for those who want the light on their helmet and the pack on the bike.


Light output:
The company claims that this light puts out 900 lumens on high, but these ratings are almost always overstated. I have no way to objectively measure the output of this light, but folks online think it probably puts out more like 600-700 lumens, which is still pretty darn bright.

The light has 3 modes, high, low and strobe. The strobe mode is about a 3 hz flash in high mode. This is probably not terribly useful since strobing at 3 hz at 700 lumens is incredibly irritating. I suppose I might use it in daylight; certainly not at night. But at night I'll be running it on continuous mode. I could hope for an even lower setting, maybe 1/4 power.

There is a donut to the central beam, but it's not too bad and I didn't find it objectionable. The spill seems to be about right for my tastes.

Initial tests:
I charged it up and ran it in front of a fan (it requires airflow for cooling). In front of a household fan set on low, it reached 105*F when the room temperature was 80*F. When I took it outside for about 5 minutes with it running to do a beam shot, it reached about 120*F.

The lighted switch on the back switched from green to red (low power warning) at 3 hours 5 minutes, and the light shut itself off about 3 minutes later.

Recharging from totally empty took about 5 hours. The LED on the charger goes from red to green - red until it's nearly charged, then the green starts to come on and slowly over the next half hour or so the red goes out and the green gets brighter. There was still a little red showing at 4:45, all green by 5:00.

One thing that's weird about it is that the green light on the switch in the back stays lit all the time, even when the light is "off". Assuming that LED draws 20ma at a couple of volts (hopefully converted fairly efficiently from the 7.2v pack) (.04 watts) as most small LEDs do, and the pack is 4AH at 7.2v (28.8 watt hours), the LED will take 720 hours or 30 days to run the battery pack dead. That's probably optimistic, it'd probably kill it in a couple of weeks. Also some people are concerned that a glowing green light is a thief magnet. I'd prefer the light not be on when the lamp is off.

Build quality:
I admit that I have not really ever touched a $500 bike light, but this thing seems very well built to me. Everything is very sturdy and appears to be well finished. There are no machining burrs, rough spots, or aluminum flecks in the assembly. The front screws onto the housing engaging what appears to be a fairly high quality orange silicone O ring seal. The front is glass, and the reflector is machined aluminum with a very shiny orange peel reflector surface. The wires leading to the LED from the driver board are silicone insulated for heat resistance. There is white thermal paste between the lamp assembly and the case.

There has been some concern about the mount, and that may be justified. A single screw holds the plastic mount to the lamp. Still, I'm willing to leave that alone and see how it holds up.

The connectors seem waterproof and they push together quite solidly. The battery pack is well wrapped in heat shrink plastic. It's probably not actually waterproof, and since I do ride in heavy rain sometimes, I will probably seal the seams with some additional plastic tape.


Really, I suppose it's possible to build a more durable light, but since I don't plan to regularly beat the light with a hammer, I expect the build quality on this light to be more than sufficient for my purposes.




NOTE on this photo; those are real seals on the front of the glass and on the threads (the red rings at the base of the threads on both the screw-on silver ring and on the black body). They feel like silicone. They seem to me like they're going to be very water resistant.

What I'd like to see:
I'd prefer that the cord was shorter, and that an extension cord was either included or made available for those wishing to helmet-mount. There's no earthly reason for the cord to be nearly this long except for helmet mounting.

I'd REALLY like to see a light in this brightness range to be made available with full cutoff optics like cars have. This thing is so bright that if not carefully aimed, the user runs a risk of dazzling the eyes of drivers of oncoming vehicles, and that's no good for anyone. Even if the optics were an add-on, just a lens that replaced the current flat glass, it would be a great option.

Here's a cockpit shot, for some sort of idea of size of the pack and light:


Here's my standard garage door from 30 feet away shot. ISO 80, 1/2 sec f/2.8


Edited to add:
Took a little video of what my setup looks like from the side of the road. Even though in general the planet bike superflash is a pretty good taillight, in this video you can see that it's completely obliterated by the Dinotte. Surprisingly, when I put the headlight in high mode with it aimed about 50 feet in front of the bike, then walked about 100 feet out, it wasn't that bad to look at. I was afraid it would be blinding.



Also, I took a few photos, and here I've tried to pick the one that's most like what the beam really looked like to my eyes. It's amazing how much brigher this is than the Dinotte 200L next to it.


Hmm. That's pretty nice looking.

Do you know if the O-ring will fit a 31.8mm (oversized) mountain bike handle bar?

I'd really like to put this side by side with my TriNewt, just to see how it compares. If I can find some spare cash I may have to pick one up. Dual lights would be outstanding come autumn, and the TriNewt has a great helmet mount, but the bar mount doesn't fit my bike.

Oh, also, how easily does it pivot side to side? Because of the sweep on may bars I really need to point the light a bit to the side. This is specifically where the trinewt fails.

Edited at 2009-08-22 05:20 pm (UTC)

Here it is with the larger O-ring, mounted on a hammer handle which is 28mm x 35mm and it's nowhere near at the limit of the O ring. Plus you can get any size O ring you like, I've seen 4 inch ones in the hardware store.


It doesn't have any facility for side-to-side motion. I've had acceptable luck swinging my Dinotte maybe 5 degrees one way or the other, but this light has a better grip on the bar, and I don't think it'd swing much. My bar bends around, so I can usually get it pointed right by picking a good spot along the bend to attach it.

If you only need maybe 5 or 10 degrees, I'd make a shim if it were me. Either that or put the lights on an accessory bar like the Minoura space grip; might be a good idea anyway with more than one light.


Edited at 2009-08-22 06:47 pm (UTC)

Hrm... That'd be a problem. Mostly, because I've still got a riser bar, it's got a couple weird bends to it. I'd have to get a flat, or one of those accessory bars.

I keep meaning to get another stem and fashion a replacement stem cap / light / camera mount, but I still haven't gotten around to it.

That is one nice light.

I've recently been using one of the 900 lumen flashlights (Aurora AK-P7-4 2 mode light) from DealExtreme strapped to the handlebars - works quite well, and while I've never run the battery completely down, I can get several days (nights?) of riding to/from work before I feel the need to charge the battery. (I only have a ~4 mile ride, one way.)

It does get warm, but not alarmingly so. (One of my cow-orkers has one of these lights he uses on his bike, and he rides a *lot* further than I do. He also uses the light for doing tunnel search-and-secures. He's never reported a temperature problem.)

Using the Aurora flashlight turned out to be much easier than building a light out of the emitters/drivers that I bought. (Which reminds me - are you still interested in a couple of those? I never sent them on, but it seems pointless now with the other choices available.)

Yeah, not much point. I was willing but not eager to DIY a headlight. I'm not going to build one just for fun, and I think I have all my bases covered now.

This light has a C bin P7 emitter. Some people have reported a somewhat greenish tinge but I don't see it in this light.

I may wind up getting one of the P7 flashlights that use an 18650. Ideally it'd have med/low/high, I'm not sure I even care about strobe. I can't imagine using high very much, med would be fine most of the time, low (maybe about 1/5 power) would be nice for hunting around under the seats in a car or in a tent. At $40, those are pretty good deals too.

I've been thinking of assembling from parts - after all, I have 600WHr of battery and SMPS chips that will do 5v from 24-48v very efficiently.

I had a pair of superb single mode flashlights (I'm really not interested in multimode flashiness) that I picked up in a Sam's Club last year - stolen with my bike and I'm not sure what the model was.

Must have a look arond to find if there are cheap, powerful singlemode flashlights I can take a hacksaw to....

www.dealextreme.com has both a wide variety of flashlights with various emitters including the 900 lumen P7 that this has, and the emitters, controllers, heatsinks, reflectors and glass that you might use to build from scratch.
Here's the flashlight DIY section:
http://www.dealextreme.com/products.dx/category.917

and here are SSC based flashlights (there are also Cree flashlights and others):
http://www.dealextreme.com/products.dx/category.903
There are a number of P7 flashlights in the $35 range. The cheaper ones take a single 18650 so they'd want about 3.6 volts input. Some take two and will take more, but since you're regulating down anyway it probably doesn't much matter which one you start with.

Ah, thanks - extremely useful links!

Your *rear* LEDS are causing a blooming line on the CCD.

I now know why Chelsea has had so many UFO reports.

Get some blue LEDs, swap the lights fore-and-aft, and watch the cars in front of you get out of the way.

Huh, they all load for me. I tried pulling it up in Chrome where I am not logged into the gallery at all and they work there too.

http://www.hauntedfrog.com/gallery2/d/9904-1/20090821-155007-.jpg

What I thought was a second broken one was Privoxy blocking your counter app.

Hey, saw your post on bikeforums. :)
AWESOME review. So, what say you about the 90 day warranty? That kinda scares me. I have a cateye supershot plus and I love it, but whoa, this blows it out of the water. I just really respect cateye as a company- they actually repair/refurb/replace items and send it back for free, whereas most companies have no concept of customer service and manufact warranty. This magicshine seems to be cheaply made, right? I am so torn. Man, it does look great.

The magicshine isn't CHEAPLY made, but it's also not super durably made. It's middle-of-the-road. Really it only has two weak spots IMO for durability - the battery pack isn't really waterproof, and the wires and connectors tend to fray, going by reports.

I haven't heard of any reports of the lighthead failing. A few people have had problems and all have been the wires or connectors failing, or the battery getting soaked in very heavy rains.

A little tape on the battery and a ziplock bag takes care of that. As for wires, honestly, I have yet to have a light where the wiring didn't fail and I had to replace it. I'm already planning that for the Magicshine, when it fails. I like the rubber trailer connectors, I've put them on previous headlights and they're ugly but they always work.

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