Unless you have the luxury of being able to ride only during daylight hours this winter, you are probably like me and face darkness or low light conditions on your training rides or commute. Lighting that allows you to be seen is cheap and common, but lighting that will actually light your way usually comes at a price. The Chinese brand Xeccon have tried to solve the problem producing a 1200 lumen bike light for around $80. Cheap, good or bright – do you have to choose only two?
Buying from China
The Xeccon S14 light is available direct from the factory in China. Before we look at the light’s details and performance, let’s first look at what it means to buy directly from Asia. While China and Taiwan produce most of the worlds bicycles, typically you buy well known brands locally and expect that the brand looks after the quality control.
When buying direct from a young or unknown brand, you could be forgiven if you get cold feet. Without a local importer, who do you turn to if there are problems? Is the equipment safe? Will it even arrive? It make sense to be cautious and to do your homework. The internet is making the retail world smaller.
If you think you have seen this light before, just as a different brand, you’re probably right. Xeccon was established in 2007 and since then has provided OEM flashlights worldwide. More recently, the company has been aiming to establish Xeccon as it’s own retail brand. This means you can buy directly from the manufacturer, cut out the middle man, and remove a lot of the markup.
The Xeccon S14 under the Spotlight
The Xeccon S14 Cree XM-L U2 has a pretty technical sounding name and the ‘Cree XM-L U2’ part is pretty important because this refers to the type of LED used. Cree are one of the most well regarded brands of high powered LEDs and they’re used by military and police forces in many countries. We’re off to a good start.
The S14 light is new product from Xeccon and the test unit arrived about three weeks after confirming the review. Everything was well packaged and presented on arrival. Inside the box you will find the light itself, a bulky battery in a pouch, an extension cable (which can be used optionally to extend the cable length from the battery to the light), an elastic head/helmet mount as well as O-Rings for fastening the light directly to your handlebars.
The light looks well made and features an aluminium body which has been machined with grooves for better heat dissipation. It is a good looking light, compact and refined. It also has a little bit of weight when you hold it in your hand, which is actually reassuring.
Mounting is self-explanatory, the light mounts onto handlebars and an O-ring clips on to fasten the light. The battery sits in a pouch with velcro straps that allow flexibility to mount the battery on various positions on your bike frame. I chose to hang the pouch from the top tube, just behind the headset where it fitted quite nicely.
The velcro straps are important because you need to regularly charge the battery, so unfastening and re-attaching the battery needs to be convenient. If you lock your bike in a public place, the light can also be removed in seconds flat.
Bright Lights and Action
On my 5 AM training ride it is pitch black; perfect conditions for testing this light. The S14 has three light modes: high beam, medium beam and flashing. Starting in blackness, the high beam was the best selection with the 1200 lumen light illuminating the road so that I could clearly see every crack and pothole in the path of the light beam. The beam is quite focused with a dominant hotspot and while there was still peripheral light generated, I would have preferred a smoother and broader beam. To give you an idea of the amount of peripheral light, street signs would glow in the distance without being directly targeted.
To best see the road ahead, so as to avoid potholes and debris, the light should be dipped. As a courteous road user, I keep my light dipped anyway so that oncoming traffic, motor vehicles as well as cyclists, are not blinded. The beam worked best when focused around 4 – 6 metres ahead, any higher and I couldn’t see the road surface in clear detail.
During sunrise, the S14 still lit the road and once there was enough ambient light I would switch to the medium light. A green glowing silicon button at the back of the light indicates that the light is charged and pressing it switches through the light modes starting with high, then medium, flashing and then off.
I don’t see much use in having a high powered flashing light and instead usually run a second light, a small LED blinker. Not only is this a backup if all else fails, a flashing light is helpful for getting other traffic to notice you while a ‘steady beam’ light is useful so that other traffic can judge your speed.
For normal daylight riding, the medium beam is a nice setting and it will be hard for oncoming traffic and traffic in side roads (who check first) to overlook you. On the side of the packaging it warns “Don’t shot the eyes directly” (sic). I admit that I sneaked a look at the medium beam, but just a glance, because the intended warning was not lost in translation.
Room for Improvement
The Xeccon S14 is well suited to commuting and road cycling. For off-road night riding however, since the beam lights up the path with a two dimensional effect, it is hard to recognise depth. Even though the S14 delivers a lot of light, a broader ‘spotlight beam’ and a second bright diffused beam would be more suited for off-road riding.
The main failing of the Xeccon S14 is thankfully easy to fix. During normal riding, vibrations make the handlebar mounted light move slowly forward so that the light eventually points down. The obvious first solution is to use a rubber strip on the handlebars which creates the necessary friction. I discovered that mounting the light underneath rather than on top of the handlebars meant that there was less movement though this still needs the rubber strip. Mounting up-side-down does make the cockpit neater, particularly if you have a bell, cycle computer and bike camera all competing for real estate.
The kit comes with a cable extension, which I didn’t require. The cable from the battery that plugged into the cable from the light was long enough, perhaps a bit too long in fact; on my first ride I found it rattled about a little. My solution was to twist the battery cable around my bike’s gear and brake cables to remove some of the slack while still allowing for plenty of flex to be able to freely turn my handlebars.
The battery needs to be regularly removed for recharging and the cable from the battery connects directly with the cable from the recharger. The connectors (plugs) are a little fiddly due to over-design; there are bumps and groves on each plug end so when they are connected together it’s not immediately obvious where the actual connection was. I sometimes found myself trying to pull it apart on the wrong section. This isn’t a deal breaker, however, though from a product design perspective it could be simplified and improved.
The Xeccon S14 Shines Through
On paper the Xeccon S14 has 4.3 hours battery life on the high beam. I recorded 5 hours 10 minutes. In the last 15 minutes the battery charge indicator switched from green to red. This test was in my office and the aluminium light casing became too hot to touch. On the bike, with the oncoming early morning wind, the light remained much cooler. Over time the battery performance will obviously decline, though for my 2 hour training ride this is more than enough time.
The Xeccon’s ease of use is excellent, once you solve the problem of the light moving about. The single button to turn it on and switch modes is simple. Un-mounting the light and battery and mounting them again is quick, so quite convenient for regular charging or removing the light if you lock the bike in public.
Where the Xeccon really shines (pun intended) is its value for money: it costs US $76.99, so lets say $80 Australian, plus postage from China. There are a number of quality lights on the market in Australia that will deliver the same power, but not at this price point. The narrow beam and hotspot could be improved, though considering the price, the Xeccon S14 makes it affordable for a cyclist to move up from a “be seen” light to a more powerful light that will illuminate the road.
You can view the Xeccon’s specs in the online shop: Xeccon S14 1200 Lumen Light
The Little Brother
The Xeccon S12 is the little brother of the S14 and it still pushes out 1000 Lumens. You can get this online from Xeccon or check out FYXO in Melbourne who are now regularly stocking the S12 in their online shop priced at $79: Xeccon S12 at FYXO