Cateye Volt 1200

As the days grow a little longer, and the need for a big powerful commuting light starts to wane, there’s nevertheless a new lighting arrival at chez Roubaix. The Deca Drive has gone to a new home. I wanted something with a little more oomph. We’ll get onto that in a bit.

My daily commute is, near enough, 20 miles each way, and, when I’m taking it a bit easier in the winter months, roughly an hour or so each way. It’s rarely dark all the way in (or home) but, on the very shortest days, my main light will be required to be on one of its higher settings for a longer period of time. Once I arrive at work the business of recharging begins. I guess this isn’t ideal. I’m recharging a battery which has not exhausted itself. Given that we don’t yet have the magical high capacity one hour recharge batteries (well not using USB 2.0 anyway) having a light with a longer run time means that there’s more capacity left at the end of each commute and less to top up.

Occasionally I also venture off the roads and onto the trails. That’s certainly the case this coming March when A Cycling’s Battle on the Beach event is preceded, the night before, by the first Battle in the Dark event. If you’ve not tried Battle on the Beach, then you should. It’s a brilliant event. At the time of writing it’s all sold out, you need to stay up on New Year’s Eve to be sure of your entry. It’s a 3 lap, roughly 10km per lap, multi terrain event which utilises the beach, forest, sand, and single track winding through Pembrey Country Park. Battle in the Dark is a singe lap of the main race and takes place, as the name suggests, in the dark. Unless there’s moonlight then Pembrey will be absolutely pitch black for this event. So I wanted a light which I could use for that, but one which wouldn’t be absolute overkill for commuting.

The truth is that there is a bewildering array of lights available that can meet my requirements. Some with fewer lumens, some with longer running times, some cheaper, some staggeringly expensive. So there’s nothing that marks the Cateye out as special in the sea of blisteringly light lights. Generally, as you pay more you tend to get more lumens and a bigger run time. Ok, there are plenty of cheap cree LED based lights on eBay. There are also your Magicshine et al, with their separate batteries. But this review is about a single bar mounted headlight. Straight forward and simple. And while I may refer to other manufacturers this isn’t really a comparison piece, it’s simply about whether this light is any good and whether, if you’re after something of its ilk, its a good one to consider.

Given the sheer number of lights out there it’s perhaps surprising that I chose Cateye at all. Most people have heard of Cateye, but if you don’t know who anything about them, they are a Japanese company whose predominant range is bike lights. They sell some other bits and pieces as well, such as cycling computers and even the odd handlebar mirror, but chiefly they deal in lights. Unusually for a Japanese company they were arguably always a little behind some of the bigger players. It took them an absolute age to come up with a GPS cycling computer, by which time Garmin had pretty much cornered the market. They still sell a few but, predominantly, their cycle computer market is at the cheaper end.

But lights were always their real forte and it’s pretty much the case that an awful lot of people have owned a cateye light at some point in their cycling lives. Be that a little safety blinker or something a bit more substantial. I can vaguely recall owning one in the early 00’s in my first commuting exploits (before I was fat). But I can’t remember much about it or where it came from. I can’t remember whether it was any good or whether I used it for seeing or being seen. They’re extremely commonplace. Pop into Halfords and they’ll occupy quite a lot of space. As I write this review I’ve just returned from Go Outdoors and there was a large display of them there. They even turn up in Tesco et al. Cat Eye lights are ubiquitous.

My perception of them was that they were popular because they were common place. Safety in volume sales. Not sexy but probably dependable.  Perception is a funny thing, easy to skew, difficult to dismiss if you don’t do your research. And the truth is, since becoming a serious commuter, I’ve pretty much ignored Cat Eye. They just weren’t even on my radar. And when I did look at them my perception was that they were playing catch up to the mega lumen cree generation. Amongst the more premium Lezyne lights and the mega premium Exposure range, I never gave them much thought.

But, over those recent years, there’s been a slow but noticeable mission change in perception. Regular visitors to the bigger cycling review websites would have noted a more modern looking product, less of the old bulb technology, less of the opticube stuff. A move to bigger output LED’s, rechargeable batteries and USB cable charging. A move into the modern world. Are they still playing catch up? Or is it already too late? Let’s be clear, they’ll always survive because of their commonality. But can they offer anything special or, if not, anything competitive to the super commuting marketplace? Let’s see………..

You should consider this review as a long term test. I’ve been using the light for a week in a variety of conditions and will continue to update the review in the weeks that pass. I’ll let you know how it, and I, fare during the Battle in the Dark.

I read a load of reviews myself before buying this light. One of those reviews referred to the design of the light as being pretty plain but of the packaging being very Apple in nature. It’s not quite true but there’s certainly more attention to detail than you’d see from some other manufacturers. A bit more in terms of aesthetics if not the practicality of the protective cases that come with some of the Exposure offerings.

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The packaging is pretty nice, as it happens. The outer box hinges up to present you with the product housed in a nice protective piece of bespoke foam. The cardboard is thick and looks like it will last, though I’ve no idea why I’d want my packaging to last. I guess it looks good if I decide to eBay it in due course. And while the packaging is clearly not Apple minimalism it’s actually a pretty nice experience, if that’s important to you. It gives the product a quality feel before we begin. This isn’t a plastic blister pack which cannot be opened with anything short of a space grade laser. It’s premium and it’s simple.

Then there’s the light itself. Here are some shots of it.

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Top shot
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2 Led system
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Bottom mount

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In the box there’s a short instruction manual, a single mount and a USB charging cable but no charger. That’s not unusual. I haven’t received an actual charged since an Exposure Strada a little while back. It helps manufacturers cut the cost and they figure most of us have one anyway.

You’ll see that there’s rubber bung covered port on the base of the light which opens to allow you to recharge the light. It’s a pretty easy thing to open and seems well protected from the elements given that it is at the bottom of the light. It doesn’t flap about and it sits tightly in the hole when pushed in. You’ll note that the charging indicator light is on the top. If you don’t want the light pushing down on the micro USB then you’ll place the light on its side or on its back when charging. So, checking whether the light is charged, via the indicator light on top, will mean turning it over. Tiny issue but, overall, it’s much better that the charging port is underneath so as to protect it from the elements. There’s no complicated door opening procedure to plug in a charger and, for me, this looks like a decent weatherproof option.

You can see that the attachment which slides into the bar mount is a separate plastic piece attached to the bottom of the light. Quite a few more component parts than a Lezyne light where the metal case forms the slot to attach to the bar mount. But it actually works very well. Once you slide the light into the mount it clicks nicely into place. You’ll see from the picture named bottom mount (above) that there’s a small button which you press in to release the light from its mount. All good, all easy. It all seems very safe and secure.

A lot of lights have ill thought out mechanisms of attachment. Many of them come with knurled bolts or thumbscrews and some come with allen bolts. Some work well. Some have all the sticking power of limp lettuce. I wasn’t sure that the Cateye one would work, certainly a lot of online reviews of their previous lights mention the mounts as being (or continuing to be) a sticking point. I’ve mounted the Volt on a fairly standard pair of 31.8mm  diameter flat bars. The mount sits right next to stem on the thickest part, i.e. the part that measures 31.8mm. That’s the over size standard and, so, these comments apply to oversize drop handlebar as well. Indeed, as long as you’re not fitting these to something like a Deda 35 then you should be fine. If you’re going to fit them on a smaller diameter then get another rubber shim in there. A medium width shim is supplied. There are no spares so if you want to go to smaller bars you’ll need to get creative.

Once the ring is round the bars you remove the thumb wheel and thread the ridged strap through a hole. Then reattach the wheel and tighten. I didn’t think this would work all that well. My previous experience, with knurled bolts,  is that considerable force is often needed to tighten the bolt sufficiently and that, occasionally, a pliers has had to be used to really tighten it. But not here. I tightened the wheel by hand and it’s very solid indeed. If I want to take it off, it will take about 20 seconds. If I wanted to cut down on this frankly irrelevant amount of time and fit it to one of my other bikes, I could purchase another bracket for about £4. A further bonus in relation to the bracket is that, as I understand it, it’s usable for pretty much the entire range of bigger lights and some other accessories.

It’s a very LIGHT light. It weighs in the region of 220g (not including the bar mount itself.) That’s very competitive. Some of the similar Lezyne lights are about 20g heavier. Indeed, my old(er) Deca Drive was about 40g more. That might not sound much but it’s pretty considerable in practice. It also helps because there’s not quite so much weight on the mount and less chance of it changing angles when you hit the inevitable pot hole.

It’s lighter because, well, it’s plastic. Tough plastic, but plastic nonetheless. How durable is it? I have no idea and I am not about to try and find out. If it hits the road it has the look of something that will survive but might be scratched or dented. But then, so will any metal light. It doesn’t scream quality to look at it but, in the hand, it feels very solidly made. I’d say it’s about as well made as any plastic light I’ve come across. It may not have the perceived quality of aircraft grade milled aluminium but, in practical terms, it’s all good.

So, to the headlines. What does it do? Well, it “does” 1200 lumens. From a bit of googling it’s not clear whether this is achieved through actual LED output or clever opticals or both. And it doesn’t really matter, as long as it does the job.

It has 2 main modes. Assuming that the light is off then a quick double click of the top button sends you into a pretty standard flash mode. Flash will last around 100 hours on a charge, which is pretty good indeed. If you are in flash mode then pressing the top button again does nothing else at all. It’s flash, or nothing. A long hold on the button turns it off. A long press on the button turns it back on. Then you’re into “normal” mode and have a choice between 4 modes within that mode. They are as follows:

  • Dynamic (12o0 lumens)  – 2 hour runtime
  • Normal  – (450 lumens) – 5 hour runtime
  • All night  – (150 lumens) – 17.5 hour runtime
  • Hyper Constant – 14.5 hour runtime

The tech manual doesn’t have those measurements. But they are on the box and there’s also a nice little app available for both Android and iOs called the Beam Chart App. It allows you to enter your light and see how each mode might light the road ahead. It also has the respective measurements. Give it a go, it’s a pretty good representation of reality. It doesn’t have all their products. Just some of the more common high output ones. It’s not absolutely up to date either. The Volt 1600 is missing for example.

Charging takes between 8 and 14 hours. As is fairly normal it depends what you charge it with. Anything more than 500mah with USB 2.0 will, allegedly, fast charge it. I can only assume that’s the 8 hour option. Anything else takes the whole shebang, but, to be fair, it’s 80% done after 10 hours. The battery will apparently last 300 charges, but, good news, it’s replaceable so you don’t have to bin the whole thing. It’s a pretty easy operation as well, undo the allen bolt at the bottom of the light, slide the case apart, pull out old battery and insert new one. It’s not cheap though, the cost of a replacement is around £6o. But that’s still well under half the original RRP and much cheaper than a new light. In terms of charging then the best charger to use, in my view,  would be the original iPad and iPhone big charger. It’s powerful and efficient and a good investment to make. Fast charge is indicated by a flashing light on top and normal charge is indicated by a solid light. Once charging is complete the charing light on top extinguishes.

So, before we get to how it works, there are two more features worth discussing. The first is that is has memory mode. I like that. Too often you have to cycle through modes to get to where you were last. So it’s a good addition to have. The second is that it has a low battery indicator. Yes, you read that right, a low battery indicator. It comes on when it’s low. It doesn’t do a progressive indication, it doesn’t tell you when your half way there. Indeed, the manual says it comes on when there is “little remaining battery power.” Well, ok, that’s a little scary. So, be sure you do your mental arithmetic and charge properly each time you use it. Remember you can drop to a lower mode to save power. It would be nice if the Cat Eye could tell me when it was, say, half full as opposed to imminent darkness. But I’m a big boy and I should be able to keep on top of it.

In addition, it also has a thermal protection circuit. So if it gets too hot it will drop to  a lower mode. If you ride at midnight in the summer this might kick in. So be aware of it. I haven’t had it happen at winter temperatures yet and, bear in mind, they’ve been practically spring like.

Whilst I don’t want to get into the whole business of debating whether it’s better to have more or fewer lumens it’s only fair to say that, on the specifications at least, it would be hard to claim that this is a traffic friendly light. And, from looking over it, it’s clear that there are no hoods which might restrict lighting up the sky as well as the road. There is a 1mm protrusion at the top and bottom but I can’t really describe them in any meaningful was as a hood. The manual recommends that you point it downwards and it would be better to do so in order to minimise the risk of blinding oncoming traffic.

That said, in terms of not annoying other people, the beam that the Volt produces is pretty good. You could almost describe it as square. It doesn’t flood the sky or bleed at the edges. You can see some examples in the photos below. There will be some better ones in due course, including some taken on my actual commute. Providing that you angle it correctly it should illuminate only the lane you’re in with less of a pronounced effect on other traffic than some of the more floody lights on the market. In heavy traffic I’d stick it in the 450 lumen mode and overall I’d be pretty happy that I was not being anti social or, crucially, dangerous. If you want real traffic friendliness then look in the direction of something German certified such as the Philips Saferide 80. A great light but it does not pump out as much light as this. And, for my dual purpose of road, unlit paths and occasional single track, I wouldn’t really consider the Philips.

Before going on to demonstrate the output of the light it’s worth giving a particular mention to the Hyper Constant mode. It’s a good way of being seen. It’s a combination of a flash and solid light at the same time. It’s not enough to cycle by, even on a dark trail, but, anecdotally at least, seems slightly more visible than pure flash mode because it never turns entirely off. Given that the days are getting longer it’s a nice mode to have, very useful in the time leading up to dusk to get you seen and you can then switch over to a bigger lumen output so that you know where you’re going. This mode uses very little power, marginally more than flash mode, so even if you’ve run it for a decent amount of hours in that mode, you know there’s plenty of juice left for the rest of the ride.

My commute starts in an urban environment so there are street lights for 2 miles, the next 14 or so are a mix of no lights or well lit areas and the final 4 miles are on the Taff Trail and completely pitch black. It’s a pretty good route to test lights. You need to be able to see, avoid blinding motorists and, when you get to the pitch black Taff Trail, see without making other users veer off into the River Taff. It’s very very easy to cycle at fast pace in both of the higher output modes. At moderate speed in urban lit environments it’s entirely possible to cycle with the 150 lumen output but I wouldn’t use that routinely unless I was close to running out of juice.

So, how does it actually look? It’s really hard to photograph this stuff. But I’ve had the best go that I can. I’ll see if I can get some better results with the digital camera shortly. I’ve used my garden to show you the beam pattern. Trust me when I say it’s pretty much completely dark. There aren’t any streetlights directly casting light over it so what you see is pretty representative of a typical dark commute. Here are the shots I managed to get on 1200, 450 and 150 lumens respectively. You will note that it is, once again, raining heavily. The light is angled roughly in the same direction on each occasion. I’ll try and update this review, at some point, with photos taken on the Taff Trail so that you can see how far the beam is cast.

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The throw of the beam on full power is excellent and lights the way a considerable distance ahead. But, even the 450 lumens mode is excellent for lighting even a fast commute. To that extent, on most of my commute, that is the mode I use. If I venture wholly off the beaten path into the back country lanes then I tend to use the highest setting so that I can a) light the way a little more comprehensively but also b) so that any traffic coming can see light being cast above the hedgerows as it approaches. And, of course, as I see it coming I adjust the output accordingly. It’s a single click but you will need to cycle back through the settings to get back to the high output again. You should be able to make out the square nature of the beam, it doesn’t really fade out at the edges, just stops.

It’s a damn good light in my view. But what’s particularly good, at this price point, is the run time. There are a number of similary powered lights to this but the run time on each of them is also a little shorter. A quick bit of net research shows that the majority of retailers are selling it at £110 but with a few sellers below £100.

That’s pretty good value IMO. Solidly built and stress free. Puts out a good amount of light in a usable beam. I’m not going to make any claim that this is the best light out there. That would require an extensive test. There are places you can look for comparisons with other lights. But a lot of those comparisons are simply about what the beam looks like with not a great deal of other information. In relation to this light it ticks all the boxes. For commuting I don’t need any more than it. Arguably I could get away with less than it. It should prove excellent for my off road exploits in March. Let battle commence………..

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2 thoughts on “Cateye Volt 1200

  1. Beam and run time look excellent judging by your review but no charge indication beyond “uh oh, you’re in trouble” really is a deal breaker for me. The only reason to buy a light from a name manufacturer rather than an eBay Cree is the extra confidence that it won’t give up unexpectedly miles from home. My experience with lights makes me wonder if any of the engineers actually commute themselves as none of them seem to have nailed the features commuters really need, besides power and runtime. Looks like the search goes on.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Niterider look like a good bet in that regard. Proper indicator I think. Also, have a look at the Fenix BC30r. That looks like just the sort of thing we should be seeing. It goes without saying that most of the Exposure lights have either indicators or a “fuel gauge” but, the prices………

      Like

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