Posted by: dolan | January 13, 2014

Six months with Magnic Lights

NOTE: this is a review of the original Magnic Light, not the upcoming Magnic Light iC, currently under active development

It seems like ages ago that the original Magnic Light concept debuted.  The online gadget press went gaga over the idea with numerous hastily written articles. They looked sleek and sexy in the manner of the best bike porn: tiny yet powerful lights ensconced in a carbon fiber shell.  One Kickstarter campaign later ensured, in the spirit of a normal product development lifecycle, that some of that lustworthniness was traded for practicality.  The hard edges were refined, as fitting challenges and manufacturing complexities collided with the minimalism of the original design.  However, their initial alluring promise held true: plenty of light with low weight, great simplicity, and minimal drag.

 At the time of their release I was sorely tempted to order a set, but the ordering process was daunting, as was the exchange rate.  The dollar was low, the euro was high, and having a nice dyno setup already, there was little reason to pull the trigger.  That was, until a local shop called Clever Cycles was kind enough to become the first (and so far, only) importer in the great U.S. of A.  On finding out last August that I could get a pair right away, a colleague and I made the short ride over the Willamette river and promptly bought two sets.  The next day, with a thinner wallet, they were installed on my daily commuter with additional mounts on my road bike.

The mounts, while effective, are my least favorite part of the design.  To be fair, they work, and work well.  They keep the light close to the rim without easily being moved out of position.  That is their primary objective, and it’s a more important and difficult task than one would expect, especially given the variety of brake and fork designs (cantilevers, calipers, disc brakes, etc) that they have to adapt for.  Only a handful of times has the light been moved out of position, and those were due to some major inadvertent pressing on the light on my part.  The design drawback is more apparent when you attempt to move the lights from one mount to another.  The first few times you do it it’s reasonably easy.  You press on the two tabs down with your fingers and pull the light backwards.  It subsequently pops out and you can either take the light with you, or move it to another bike.  The problem is when you try to do this repeatedly.  With my lights, getting them out has gotten harder and harder, to the point that I have to wrench and wiggle the light much harder than I’d like to get it free.  Luckily they’re very solidly made so this has not caused any breakage, but it certainly causes me concern, and I don’t switch them around nearly as much as I’d like.  Ideally I’d love to see the mount lock and unlock as easily as the Garmin half-twist mount.  I realize making this happen would be easier said than done, and all things being equal, I’m largely happy that they mounts succeed at their main mission.

Another small issue with the mounts that I’ve seen come up several times in discussions is that a very small screw and nut is used to combine the piece that anchors the light to the arm that is attached to the brake bolt.  It’s exceedingly easy to affix this screw backwards and potentially  damage the mount.  I did it myself when first assembling them.  Luckily I noted the issue before it became a problem but I’ve encountered several dissatisfied customers who had fallen into this trap.  Using different diameters for the bolt and nut might make this much less error prone.

 

IMG_2642

So, lights in place, how bright were they?  Well, Dirk Srothmann, the creator of Magnic Lights has claimed 30 lux at maximum brightness.  This seems about right compared to my B&M IQ Cyo dynamo light, which is rated for 60 lux.  Riding them back to back, the Magnics indeed seemed about half as bright.  However, the beams are different.  The Cyo has a distinct beam cutoff in accordance to the German StVZO reguations.  The Magnic Lights however do not have a beam cutoff, which is more akin to more lights sold in the US market.

The big question for most potential Magnic Light customers is whether or not 30 lux is sufficient, and after riding them for half a year, coming from a system that was twice as bright, my answer is a resounding “yes”.  There were virtually no situations where I found the amount of light insufficient, and they were often brighter than lower-end battery powered lights.  For high speed descending one could make the argument for more lighting, but for general riding they are plenty bright.  When my rear light was aimed too high it drew complaints from riders close behind me, so proper beam aim is pretty important.

Recently a commenter on an article about the Magnic Lights claimed that dynamo light setups were effectively “dinosaurs” given the current crop of battery lights.   This was my reply:

“Most battery lights don’t have a good charge indicator, so people tend to run them even when they need to be charged and are barely putting out any light at all. A dynamo will always put out full power.

An additional downside of battery lights for those of us who commute in very cold weather is that batteries lose their efficiency and are apt to go out much quicker than expected. I nearly got T-boned for exactly this reason. Had I been on my dyno-lit bike it would have been a non-issue.

Don’t get me wrong, battery lights have gotten *much* better in the last ten years, and I think the USB chargeable ones are great — I own more than one — but there are still significant advantages to a dyno setup. Aside from cost, Magnic Light kills the last significant argument against dynos (drag). And even on cost, the Magnic light set isn’t much more than a good USB chargeable set.”

Another question that seems to come up often enough in online comments is whether or not they’re truly efficient.  I’ll be the first to tell you that they’re very, very, very efficient.  As in, efficient enough that I challenge you to notice if they’re installed or not without looking.  My previous dynamo setup was extremely efficient for a dynamo setup (Schmidt SON with B&M IQ Cyo and D Toplight Line), and yet I could clearly notice even the minimal drag it caused when it was running.  Consequently I left it turned off if it wasn’t dark out.  The Magnics are efficient to the point that, not only do I run them in daylight, adding to my overall safety, I run them on a fast lunchtime club ride (the Portland Lawyer ride) and haven’t noticed any significant slowdown.  So, is the energy free?   No, it’s not a magic light.  But it may as well be.  Not only are they extremely efficient, they are also quite lightweight.  Each light is roughly 70 grams, so the full set of three weighs in right around half a pound.  Significantly lighter than virtually any dyno setup, and on par with higher end battery light sets.

Maintenance has been minimal.  Getting the mounts set right and the beams aimed correctly takes a bit of flddling.   A handful of times I’ve had the mounts come out of position and had to push them back into place.  The other day I took a damp cloth and wiped off the road grime from the lenses.  Other than that, just set them and forget them.

So, how would I improve on the Magnic Lights?  In this order, I’d give them a standlight (staying lit when the wheels stop moving), make them brighter, and have them cost less.  Finally, I’d rework the mounts to make changing them easier.   Luckily enough, all but the last of my requests will be accommodated soon enough with the release of the Magnic Light iC.

Dirk has started a second Kickstarter campaign aimed at bringing the next generation of these lights to market.  Visually little if anything has changed.  To keep costs low much of the tooling is being reused.  However, the internals are upgraded.  There is an integrated circuit (thus the iC in the name) to keep the light output even across varying speeds, to add a standlight feature, and to optimize the light output for maximum brightness.  Dirk claims they will be around 30% brighter.  Finally, the lenses will be reworked towards a true beam cutoff in the interest of not blinding drivers and fellow riders, and meeting German lighting regulations.  All in all, a solid upgrade, especially when one considers the full set will cost less than the originals.  The set of two headlights and one taillight sells for $180 USD on Kickstarter while the project is running.  Individual lights are $70 each.  After that point they are projected to be significantly more expensive.

Luckily for those interested, there are plenty of sets remaining as Dirk has added additional later target dates to keep up with demand.  The second project is already wildly successful with about three times the original target reached as of the time of writing.  I’m glad to have my order in the earliest group, and look forward to getting my new and improved set.   Perhaps sometime next winter I’ll get the chance to write a second review.  Until, I’ll keep on enjoying my Magnic Light “Classics”.

Magnic Lights:  http://www.magniclight.com

Magnic Light iC project on Kickstarter: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/dynamodirk/magnic-light-ic-intelligent-contactless-bicycle-dy

Magnic Light on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MagnicLight

Clever Cycles: http://clevercycles.com


Responses

  1. Thanks for the great review. I was really excited about Magnic Lights when I first saw them, but without a standing light, I just couldn’t justify buying them. I supported Magnic Light ic Kickstarter campaign and can’t wait to get my set in May!


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