- by Christopher Jones
- Published: 29 March 2011
It takes a lot to catch my eye in the candy land that is the Eurobike exhibition, but the flashing blue-red Supernova police lights did just that. They attracted me to the Supernova stand and I only needed to glance at the display to see that the German industrial design company behind the Supernova brand have created a dream range of stylish and effective bike lights. I was able to secure a set of super sleek E3 Pro dynamo driven bike lights, both front and rear, for review.
When we think of German products we tend to think of engineering quality. On my commuter bike I have long run a front dynamo light, the Lumotec Fly N, made by German company Busch & Müller. This light connects to my Shimano hub at the front while my tail light is a battery powered LED light. I’ve found the dynamo powered light to be wonderfully convenient, so a completely dynamo powered light set appealed to me. In addition to quality engineering, German products tend to come with a hefty price tag. The E3 Pro with Terraflux lens doesn’t disappoint, retailing for A$349.95 for the front light and A$129.95 for the rear. In the world of bicycle lights in which LED lights dominate, the E3 Pro is in a different league. The question I sought to answer was: do they justify an upgrade from my existing lights?
Supernova E3 Pro Setup
The first thing I noticed about the lights was that they were beautifully packaged – think of Apple products like the MacBook or iPhone where the presentation of the products is half the joy of owning them. Both the tail light and front light are superbly finished, the housing and mounting are aluminium with anodised colour versions available. It seems that every detail has been carefully thought through – corrosion resistance, heat dissipation, mounting flexibility and quality circuitry.
Supernova packaging, well protected and well presented
Supernova E3 Pro dynamo hub powered light
Supernova E3 tail light “Amazingly small. Amazingly bright.”
Mounting the front light was a relatively easy affair simply involving swapping my current light for the Supernova. The flexible mount of the E3 Pro allowed me to nicely position the unit and avoid having V-brake or gear cables in the way. A titanium adapter can be used if more clearance is required or a handlebar mount accessory can be used which will raise the position of the light and keep it away from the cables.
Supernova E3 Pro front light out of the box, ready for assembly
Optional handlebar mount should you be unable to mount the light on the fork brake mount
The rear light was a bit more tricky to attach and required crimpers for a tidy setup; wires travel from the front light along the top tube to the rear seat tube where the rear light is mounted. The crimpers (or pliers) were for mounting ‘connectors’ so that the rear light cables can be cut to length but still allow the rear light cables to de detached. A ‘shrink tube’ is supplied so there is the option to use a hair dryer and permanently seal the connection, though I prefer the option of removing the rear light.
Compact and sleek E3 tail light
Supernova E3 Pro Performance
During my first ride with these lights, as dusk turned to night, I was immediately aware of the increase in the lighting power; the spill of the light on surrounding buildings was noticable and street signs reflected the light quite effectively. The characteristics of the emitted light were different from what I was used to and it took some time to find the right angle that gave me a good pool of light on the road, was high enough to see distant obstacles and was low enough to properly see directly in front of my wheel.
While riding through well lit streets the front light is not used actively for illumination, rather it functions primary so that you can ‘be seen’ by other road users. While I didn’t undertake a scientific comparison, I felt that cars at night who were about to cross my path were more hesitant – the brighter light is more menacing that a little flashing LED or my low powered dynamo light. Cyclists familiar with old tyre dynamos will know that when you stop at traffic lights you effectively become invisible. Modern dynamo lights, however, have a “stand light” where the front and rear lights shine with lower intensity for five minutes after you stop; the Supernova E3 Pro continues this convention.
Even in standby mode, you are instructed not to look directly into the light.
The rear tail light (in standby mode)
The darker it got, the more effective the E3 Pro lit the way. In a modern city it is hard to find really dark streets, though when I did I find darker areas I was confident that I could maintain a comfortable speed and be aware of any obstacles I was approaching.
The Supernova E3 Pro is StVZO approved, which is means that it can be legally used in Germany in traffic – bike lights there are not allowed to be too bright to avoid blinding oncoming traffic. It uses a ‘terraflux’ lens and generates 305 Lumens in quite a focused beam. The non-StVZO approved 370 Lumen version has the ‘Iris Lens’ which has a broader light beam and is suitable for competitive cyclists, for example during 24 hour events. If you want to go even brighter, the E3 Triple gives you 800 Lumens of lighting power.
- Because the front and rear light are dynamo powered, you will never run the risk of riding home at night with dead batteries.
- The units emit an excellent amount of light and even more style.
- The lights have an aluminium housing, water tight press buttons, are compact, light and will likely outlive many generations of plastic LED lights.
- The Supernova E3 Pro is compatible with most hubs from Shimano, Schmidt, SRAM, Sturney Archer, Suntour and Renak: Hub compatibility overview (PDF).
- The handlebar mount for the front light and the standard mount for the rear light mean the lights are not ‘permanently’ bolted on. If you leave these lights unattended on the bike, they may not be there when you return. For commuters who opt for the Supernova tail light there’s a rack mounted version costing A$79.95
- The cabling of the rear light adds a problem that, unlike a small LED light which can be mounted in various positions, once the cable length is fixed for the E3 it will then only fit on the rear seat post or there abouts. When I was riding with a rack mounted child seat, for example, the light was completely hidden and I didn’t have the opportunity to easily reposition it. For my purposes, a rack mounted version would be the better option.
- They’re expensive for dynamo powered lights.
Is it worth it?
Without doubt you can get a cheaper hub dynamo light that lights your way. The Supernova E3 is, however, far superior to my cheaper Busch & Müller light. Think of the Supernova lighting range as the Mercedes Benz of lighting options; it is the one to go for if you really mean business.
The E3 Pro front light mount allows for flexibility
I found that, while it may not suit all budgets, the Supernova E3 Pro front light is worth every cent of its price. The E3 tail light on the other hand, while performing very well and looking good, is hard pressed to justify the premium price, especially when you consider how cheap LED lights are. If you are investing in the premium segment of the market where weight, quality and performance are the deciding factors, then it is worth taking a look at Supernova.
BikeSportz Imports (www.bikesportz.com.au) is the Australian supplier for Supernova. You can find the lights at local bike shops around Australia, or contact BikeSports Imports to find where your nearest dealer is.
You can see the complete range of Supernova lights including battery powered light on their website: www.supernova-lights.com/en/