- by John Hawkins
- Published: 26 November 2012
“Arms race” is a phrase used many times in the BNA forums to describe the advances in bike lights over the last few years, and it’s not too far from the truth. The light output that we could only dream of a few years ago is now readily available and it’s getting cheaper. Light efficiency has improved to the point where we can now rival car headlight outputs, if needed, for several hours from batteries not much bigger and heavier than a 250ml fruit juice pack.
The Ferei BL200 is one of the most recent entrants into this race and, at a recommended retail price of $229, is outstanding value for money. At a claimed 1600 lumens, it generates enough output to paralyse possums and fry feral rabbits around my local trails. While there is a defined hotspot, there is enough beam spread to be comfortable on all but the tightest of twisty trails.
The light head comprises two Cree XM-L T6 LEDs in a robust weather-resistant aluminium housing with one of the most nicely engineered tool-free handlebar mounts I’ve seen. Moulded rubber inserts are included in three different thicknesses to provide a snug fit across a wide variety of bars. The thinnest was a perfect fit for my Easton 31.8 mm mountain bike riser bars. So far there has been no slippage at all, despite using them on some sketchy, rough trails.
The included sealed battery is a compact 7.2V 4400mAh Li-Ion unit, and is supplied in a colour to match the anodised head unit. It comes with a rubber pad moulded in to the body to prevent frame scuffing, though, for riding in the dirt, I recommend applying some clear tape or Frameskin material to your frame first.
Besides the nominal 1600 lumen high beam, it has a tunable low-beam mode and a choice of three flashing modes. High beam is the default, a second click of the button drops the beam to low, and a third turns it off. Flash mode is engaged by starting with the unit turned off and holding down the power switch for a couple of seconds. A small LED flashes to indicate battery charge level and the high beam run time easily surpasses the claimed hour-and-thirty minutes.
As a commuter, it was reassuring to have flashing lights this powerful. I was concerned about not having the ability to aim the BL200’s at inattentive drivers, like you can do with helmet mounted lights, but so far my experience has, overwhelmingly, been that drivers not only notice you, but are more courteous than if you were driving a car.
In flash mode, my previous experience with a high-end Cateye “look at me” type flasher, was that drivers would either not register your presence or, more usually, seem to take the view that “it’s only a bike” and pull out in front of you anyway. With this amount of photonic grunt, drivers both notice you earlier and treat you with respect. The BL200s give you real “presence” on the road, even if you use them during the day.
One potential consequence of so much light output is blinding other cyclists; I’ve had to be careful to avoid using high beam when crossing the Sydney Harbour cycleway after dark, despite having the BL200s head unit pointed a couple of degrees below horizontal. Flash mode seems to be acceptable to oncoming cyclists with no complaints against them vocalised to date, unlike my usual Ay-Up V4s which used to regularly get grumpy comments from the commuter brigade.
The BL200s functionality would be improved for trail use by separating the on/off switch from the mode switch. While most experienced mountain bike riders would be likely to have a separate helmet light when out on the trails, it would be better not to have to pass through “off” before getting high beam again. I also found myself getting confused on a couple of occasions, inadvertently entering low beam adjustment mode when I really wanted flash mode. With time and practice this would be less of an issue.
This brings me to the subject of beam spread. One of the issues I experienced on the fast, tight, descending switchbacks at the Mont 24 this year was the serious tunnel vision effect from my Ay-Ups. Due to the narrow beam, the bar light would point off into space instead of down the trail, and I’d have to use the helmet unit to fill in the gap in front of my front tyre, instead of looking further around the corner. This meant slowly “tippy-toeing” around the corners with the Ay-Ups, riding the brakes hard instead of flowing, all contributing to mental fatigue and really not enjoying the sections of track that had me hooting and whooping at race speed during the day.
For mountain biking, the BL200s are a vast improvement over the Ay-Ups, and if the beam had a little less hotspot and only a little bit more beam spread without the sharp cutoff at the edge, they would have gone from being very good to just about perfect. For road commuting, the Ferei BL200s are exceptional.
I’ll be shopping for new lights very soon and these are definitely on the short list. As a mountain biker, teaming these lights on the bar with a B5 680 lumen light on your helmet will give you a sub-$400 setup that’s competitive with products twice the price.
Beam throw is outstanding
Solid, stable tool free mount
Light and small setup
“Dude, get off my road!” flash mode, even in the day
Outstanding value for money for recreational mountain bikers and commuters
Would have preferred a wider beam spread for off-road race use
The Ferei BL200s are available in black, red, blue, and gold/yellow from Ferei Australia for $229.