Nathan Friedman specializes in living the good life and making it look easy. Mountain biking all summer and skiing all winter, Nate is a rock star of the outdoor opportunities in the Southwest. To get some inspiration on living life to the fullest, check out his blog, Handlebar Sandwich.
I’ve had the chance to review the Axiom Spark headlight and tail light for the last couple months. I’ve been using the headlight on my cargo bike to replace a broken LED headlight which used AA batteries, and the tail light has become semi-permanently attached to my CamelBak for the ride back from the trail to my house after a night ride on the mountain bike.
Let me give you a quick rundown of the general gist of these two lights. They are both LED-based lights, and are quite small (you can see the headlight sitting in my hand for caparison, and no, I’m not a giant). The headlight uses three brilliantly white LEDs; two smaller ones on the sides, and one larger on in the middle, and has a rubber strap with a plastic hook to mount the light to your handlebars. The headlight has four modes: two blinking and two steady.
The tail light utilizes four bright red LEDs, and has the option of a clip mount or a similar rubber strap to the headlight which has an adapter for the clip so it can be mounted on a seat post or other suitable round tube on your bike. The tail light also has four modes; two steady and two blinking.
Finally, both lights have integrated batteries and are charged via a standard mini USB cable. I really think this is the killer feature on both these lights. I’ve used a couple larger lights in the past which have a USB charger as well, and although they work well, the USB charger takes a very long time to charge the light.
On the other hand, with these lights being fairly small, they charged fairly quickly and the battery life was very good.
The quoted battery life is six to seven hours on both lights depending on mode. In practice, I got a fair bit more than that out of the tail light, and based on some rough estimation, I think I got more out of the headlight as well. Both have a low battery indicator as well.
Once you put them on the USB cable, they charge up in less than three hours from fully depleted. I’ll usually take the headlight in to work in the morning after my commute if the low battery light was on from the night before and toss it on the computer throughout the day to replenish the charge.
The tail light is plenty bright, and on the ‘epilepsy blink mode’ is certainly going to get a driver’s attention without a problem. I typically use the blink modes on tail lights, and both of them seem reasonable for being seen. Unfortunately, according to the specifications, both of the blink modes are fairly similar in run times. I like having one blink mode that I can put the light in to extend the battery life if necessary, and neither offers a distinct advantage for battery life.
The headlight is great for being seen by a driver, but as a light for making out much of what is going on in front of you, it comes up short. My commute home involves some pavement and some packed dirt urban trail (think rails-to-trails but without the rails). On the ride home the light will give you a general indication of what’s in front of you, but not a lot of warning when you’re headed for a pothole or an unexpected obstacle in the road. About half of my commute has street lights and half does not, and when there were street lights, I felt it was adequate to supplement them, but when they’re weren’t, I just wanted a bit more light.
As an I aside, I also noted was that the order of ‘modes’ seemed a little off to me. They go: low-high-flash-strobe. Most other lights I’ve used start on the high mode, and so several times I found myself riding home thinking it was particularly dark out, only to realize that I was still in ‘low.’ Not a deal breaker by any means, just something that threw me off and left me scratching my head.
The biggest downside of these lights, however, is the mounting setup.
I’m a big fan of the rubber straps, as they allow for many mounting options on several different size bars, but the plastic hooks that the straps attach to are extremely flimsy and both ended up breaking in the end.
The one for the tail light actually had a small crack in it when it arrived, and didn’t last more than a ride strapped to my seatpost. I initially gave the benefit of the doubt and assumed it was a manufacturing flaw, hence it was clipped to my CamelBak instead. The clip seemed solid, and had the requisite “hook” on the underside to keep it from sliding off, but I still back up most of the blinky lights with duct tape on my mountain biking setup (as I’ve had a few meet an unfortunate demise as a result of the bumpy terrain). The headlight made it about a month and a half, and then one day when I tossed it in my bag to charge it, I pulled it out to find that the clip on that one had broken as well. I simply felt like the clips could have been much stronger and thicker plastic, and that wouldn’t have been a problem. Unfortunately, short of some MacGyver-esque fix, it’s pretty useless now.
In the end, I really like the concept of the USB-charging commuting lights and I think Axiom has done a good job of implementing this part of the package. I think it’s the right size light to charge via USB, as the battery life is good, and the charge happens fairly quickly. The tail light has plenty of light to help being seen. The headlight could use a bit more light if you need it for making out obstacles, but if you just need to be seen, it’s a good brightness. The only downside, and unfortunately it’s a big one, is that the mounting hardware is fragile and can break easily.
The Axiom Spark Headlight and Tail Light sell retail for about $25 each.