Thursday, December 12, 2013

Philips Saferide bicycle light

After reading a lot about it on BikeForums, I decided to give the Philips Saferide light a try.  At just under $100 on Amazon, it's on par with other similar lights for cost.

The thing that the Saferide brings to the party is a proper shaped beam such as other vehicles on the road are required to have, but for some reason bicycles aren't required to, so the market mostly just give cyclists cheap round beams.

The light comes with a 1 amp charger that uses a mini USB connector.  Charge time was something like 7 hours from totally dead with the included 2450mAh NiMH rechargeables (It was nearly done charging when I went to sleep, I'm guessing at 7 hours)

Don't plan on changing batteries mid-ride with this light - you have to remove the light from the bike, find a hex tool (allen wrench) and remove the bottom to change the batteries.  At least the screw is captive so you won't lose it in the grass or gravel.  The very first time I installed the batteries, I cross-threaded the screw - it's a steel screw into brass with apparently no lead-in so I had to wiggle it several ways to get it in without cross threading.  I'd hate to have to do that on the road in the dark.

For the same reason, I don't think using an external charger is a viable plan - it's just too difficult to get the cover off and on.  You put the batteries in, and use the built in charger, and carry a hand torch or another light for backup if you run long.

You also can't use any external power source - as soon as you plug one in, the light goes out if it was on, and won't turn back on again until you unplug it.

The light does indeed have a very nice shaped beam, with a sharp cutoff.  There is more than enough light on high, and probably plenty on low for most riding situations.

Here is a short video.  The Saferide on low is first, then high, then I switch to the cheap $30 ebay light with a $6 wide angle lens fitted on it.

The quality of the beam isn't really done justice on that video; it's quite good. The video shows a gap in the mid-range, and there may be a slight reduction in brightness there but it's not really bothersome in real life.  Screen caps from the video are at the bottom of this article.

The problem that I had is with the battery.  It uses NiMH and that chemistry does not like cold.  Unfortunately most of my riding where I need a light is in the cold.  This morning was my first outing with the light.  The temp was -18C (-1F) on the road.  The light performed well, I had it on low beam most of the time, kicking it up to high for perhaps a total of 10 minutes for rough patches of road.  After the 2nd time I went to high beam, when I switched back to low, the battery light started flashing a single light indicating critical low battery.  This was at about 40 minutes total runtime. At that point it refused to go back into high. I've now been inside for an hour, the light is warmed back up, and it's still blinking and refusing to go into high mode.

However, I plugged it in to my computer for 5 seconds and unplugged it, and now it says the batteries are nearly full and it's happy to switch into high mode.

Other thoughts:
The difficulty of changing batteries is really a problem as well.  I've heard people say it's not that bad but it's bad enough.

Also, the cover over the charge port is really floppy.  Even brand new, it just doesn't stay closed.  If I push it closed, 30 seconds later it flops open.  Inside the charge port it's just bare circuit board - nothing at all inside to stop the influx of water.  I have no confidence that the light won't have water in it after riding in a hard rain. I'm not going to test it though, as I want to return this light.

Conclusion I was extremely pleased with the light for most of the ride, and was happy with the purchase, but the power problems totally kill it.  I really can't justify spending $100 for a light that has an effective runtime well under an hour in the conditions I'm likely to be using it in, especially when the cheap ebay light performs so well in comparison.  It doesn't have the hard cutoff that the Saferide does, but it does have a pretty darned good beam spread and doesn't throw much light over the main beam.

I really wanted to like this light.  I did like this light for the beam pattern. I think for people who don't ride in extreme cold or rain, it's going to be a good light choice. But it's not for me.

Just to be clear, the estimated run time on high in normal temps is well over an hour, I've heard as high as two hours.  I have no reason to doubt that this is the case, so if you ride at night where it's above freezing, this could be an excellent light for you.  I wish I could keep it, the beam is quite nice.

This light is going back.  Full marks for a great beam design, but the power system is lousy.  If they made a version with LiIon batteries, either internal or external, I'd probably give it another shot.

Philips Saferide on high

Philips Saferide on low

$30 ebay light on high

$30 ebay light on low


Anonymous said...

It uses a "mini-USB", not "micro-USB" connector.

John Ridley said...

Right you are. Fixed. It is of no consequence anyway, except that miniUSB is worse than microUSB - it's rated at many fewer insertion cycles for its lifespan.

Also, Philips has announced that they are no longer going to be making bicycle lights.

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