10 August 2012 ~ 1 Comment

CygoLite Turbo 740 Xtra Bike Light Review

The Cygolite 740Xtra with the large battery.

Introduction As a relative newbie to the long distance cycling scene, I had the unbiased choice of which lighting system to use: battery operated or the venerable hub generate type system. The battery operated systems are less costly, and put no load or drag on your bicycle system. (A hub requires a custom-made wheel which can be pricey). In the book Long Distance Cycling, the author states that the drag of a Dynamo (hub generator) system is about one MPH. But the nice thing is that a hub system doesn’t “run out” out of battery life, so one can cycle through the night without fear of running out of light. Primarily due to cost, I have stuck to battery systems.

I have tried various battery systems and although there a lot of AA-battery bike lights out there, they typically are not voltage regulated…that is the brightness of the light dims as the battery runs. As you ride, you don’t notice it as it is very slow, but it can dim to less than half the original brightness. Because of this, I have always stuck with a system with proprietary rechargeable Lithium Ion batteries. Over the past few years I would buy a new system and test it inside a controlled environment. As a commercial photographer I use a digital “incident” light meter and have tested many bicycle lighting systems on the market. This type of meter allows me to test the intensity of the light is hitting the pavement and how wide the spread of the beam is, not a theoretical “lumens” output. Some day I will assembly all my notes and post them on a blog page, but since LED lighting changes every year, it would be quickly outdated. My tests were all done at 5 meters (from light to light meter), a distance that is roughly similar to the throw of most bike lights. Some of the lights I have tested had multiple LEDs which personally I don’t care for — at least for road cycling as the beam spread was usually too wide. A wide beam is great for mountain biking, but some of the energy gets wasted on the edges, whereas in road cycling, due to the higher speeds, a beam that has more “throw” or distance is better.

Criteria Here’s what I look for in a lighting system:

Weight: Under 500 grams (18 oz.)
Cost: $200 to $300
LEDs: Only one or two max., for a more defined beam
Battery: Rechargeable with voltage regulated (constant) light output
Burn time: 5 to 8 hours
Output: Produce an light-meter reading of at least E.V. 6.0 at 5 meters (for me, that translates to “decent road visibility” for downhills at 25-35 MPH)

The Review The 740 is rated as a 700 lumen output light which I sell on my website. The last lighting system I used and tested was the 2011 top-of-the-line Sigma Power LED EVO which they claim, puts out 900 lumens. The 740 Extra was over twice as bright as the EVO (converting the EV setting on my light meter to lumens, the EVO was putting out 300 lumens, compared to the Cygolite, which put out 555 lumens at 10 meters). The beam spread on the 740 was narrower, which explains why it was brighter, despite less lumen output. But the spread, for road cycling, was just where I like it — not too wide, not too narrow or focused. It had a round even beam which is due the deep parabolic shaped reflector.

These tests were done early in 2012 before I had to chance to road test it. During July of 2012 I did Colorado High Country Grand Randonnée, a 1200km brevet (750 miles in 3-1/2 days). On day three, four of us left at about 4 a.m. from out motel. In the early morning hours, away from city lights, I did a side-by-side test with another cyclist that had a late model (2012) Schmidt Dynamo hub generator with their latest LED light, their Edelux. We were traveling on a flat section of road, traveling at about 15-18 MPH, well above the maximum output range for a hub. The CygoLite on it’s medium setting (they call it “high”) matched the output of the Edelux. The highest setting (they call it “Boost”) on the CygoLite was actually brighter than the Edelux. The Edelux has a more rectangular beam, which is designed to not blind oncoming motorists or other cyclists, but otherwise they roughly had similar beam width.  I was tickled to finally see a sub $200 light match the output of a German-designed hub generator.

As far as build quality goes, I personally like the Sigma products better, but I can’t argue against raw output. So far, the handlebar mount for the CygoLite is holding up fine, but I always worry about the integrity of any plastic-looking part. I used the 740 in a very rainy 400k brevet earlier in the spring of 2012 and did not experience any issues. (On my first successful 1200k I used a PrincetonTec bike light which did not have a watertight housing and shorted out, causing intermittent use. Since then I have taken the time to disassemble any new lights [if possible] and place a dab of silicone caulk near the cord where it exits the light head as a precaution. I also did this with the 740.) The 740 doesn’t include a helmet mount bracket, but it is available separately. Personally, I use a 3-AAA PrincetonTec light on my helmet for reading street signs or for nighttime mechanicals. I mount my primary light on my bars (underneath as I used aerobars on top).

The 740 Xtra comes with their largest battery. They also sell a model called the 740, which has exactly the same light brightness, but comes with a smaller battery. I have found that for most 300km brevets, when I might be riding for two to three hours in the dark, the smaller battery is fine. The larger battery will usually get me through a 400km OK, whereas if I am doing a “straight through the night” 600km brevet, I take both batteries. I typically ride with this light on the medium setting (good to about 30 MPH for me), unless I’m climbing and then I kick it down to the lowest setting to conserve battery life. I wish the lowest setting was even lower to conserve battery life. Some Sigma lights have had a battery life on their lowest setting of 20+ hours. Sometimes that is just a little extra peace of mind…knowing I can fall back to something when my battery is on it’s last leg.

Meanwhile, LED lights just keep getting more efficient…at a trade show this summer I saw a sneak peak of a new bike light by Fenix (late 2012 or early 2013 release) that claims to put out 800 lumens for under a $100!

2014 Update: Cygolite has replaced this model with the 800 for about the same price point.

Other Brands Listed below are other models have tested (all with rechargeable batteries), using my standardized photographic light meter. To date (Oct. 2014), none have meet my criteria as stated above (most were simply not as a bright), other than the Cygolite 740 or 800.

Light and Motion Stella 500 (500 lumens, Oct. 2015)

Lezyne Super Drive (450 lumens, Feb. 2012)

Cygolite Expillioin 680 680 (680 lumens, Jun. 2014)

NiteRider Pro 1800 Race (Oct. 2013)

Sigma Power LED EVO (900 lumens, Sep. 2011)

Sigma Power LED (500 lumens?, Sep. 2011)

Sigma Karema EVO Pro (320 lumens, Jun. 2011)

NiteRider MiNewt.x2 (150 lumens, Dec. 2009)

Cygolite MityCross 350 (350 lumens, Dec. 2009)

NiteFlux 4 Watt Commuter Head (from AU, Dec. 2009)

PrincetonTec Switchback 2 (Jun. 2008)

PrincetonTec Apex Pro headlamp (130 lumens, 2009)

One Response to “CygoLite Turbo 740 Xtra Bike Light Review”

  1. bill 6 October 2014 at 2:44 pm Permalink

    No way does a hub generator’s drag slow you down by 1 mph, unless you are a very weak rider. The drag is about 5 watts, which will slow you by 0.1-0.2 mph. Maybe the 1 mph reference is from the pre-LED days when it was common to power two halogen headlights. Then the hub would consume 10-12 watts and the drag was noticeable.