Thursday, May 31, 2012

Sigma Roadster & Tail Blazer Bike Lights: First Impressions

I want to make clear that this is not an extensive review of these two lights. I bought the Sigma Roadster and Tail Blazer yesterday and I've only done a little spin around the block in the dark, so I can't tell you how long the batteries last or how well the lights stand up to months of dark and rainy commutes. I can, however, give you my initial impressions of the lights.

The Sigma Roadster feels like a very well-made product. The Roadster is a powered by 2 AA batteries and is similar in size to other quality headlights like the Planet Bike Blaze or the Portland Design Works Dreadnought. Like those other lights, the Roadster ships with alkaline batteries but works just fine with NiMH rechargeables.

The Roadster comes with a ratcheting bracket that mounts without tools to any handlebar having a diameter of 22 to 32 mm. The bracket has a quick release tab that allows the light to be easily removed and used as a flashlight. Like the Planet Bike lights (and unlike the PDW) no tools are required to change the batteries. The light features an O-ring seal and a rubberized switch and the packaging promises that the light is watertight.

The Roadster features what Sigma calls a two-stage battery indicator, which actually reveals three possible states of the battery. With fully charged batteries a small LED indicator just forward of the switch will remain unlit as the light shines forth with a bright, regulated 16 LUX beam. (A good explanation of LUX and Candellas as measure of light can be found here.) When the batteries drop to a certain point (it's unclear from the documentation exactly what this point is), the indicator LED glows green and the light keeps shining the regulated beam. Eventually, as the batteries deplete, the indicator LED will glow red, and the light will drop out of regulation and dim. The chart included with the Roadster indicates fresh batteries should give 10 hours of fully regulated light with another 10 hours of progressively dimmer light. Experience tells me these numbers are optimistic but I haven't owned the Roadster long enough to get real numbers. I tested the LED indicator light by swapping in batteries I had on hand that were in various states of depletion.

Where the Roadster really shines, so to speak, is in the shape of its beam. I couldn't get any good shots of the beam out on the road, but this staged shot shows light from the Roadster, the PDW Dreadnought and a one-Watt Planet Bike Blaze all pointed at my bedroom wall. The Roadster's beam is much flatter and rectangular, designed to put light on the road and not in the eyes of oncoming traffic.

Iron Rider has some great beam pictures showing the Roadster's larger brother, the Sigma Lightster in comparison with the Planet Bike Blaze. In my brief spin around the dark streets of my neighborhood, I found the Roadster to have the nicest beam (in terms of useful light on the road) of any battery powered headlight I've tried.

The Sigma Tail Blazer is a modern, bright LED tail light featuring a single 1/2 Watt LED and two damn bright smaller LEDs. It can be set to solid or a couple of different flashing modes. It comes with a belt clip and a seatpost clip and with with a tiny bit of additional padding the belt clip seems to work fine for securing the Tail Blazer to my rear rack. The light claims to get 40 hours of solid light (or 80 hours of flashing light) from 2 AAA alkaline batteries. As with the Roadster, the light works fine with rechargeable NiMH batteries. The packaging promises me that the light is weatherproof.

Both the Sigma Roadster and Tail Blazer seem to be good lights at good prices. The German optics (the lights are designed in Germany, but manufactured in China) are very efficient at putting light where it needs to be.

I bought my lights through the shop where I work, but if your local bike shop doesn't carry Sigma lights, they can order them through J&B Importers. And like darn near everything these days, you can find these lights on Amazon.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA


Charlie said...

Nice! I just got a new bike but I'm having some problems to choose a light. I usually ride my bike in the afternoon (around 6pm), do you think this light would be good for me? Thanks!!

Kent Peterson said...

I'm a big fan of both lights and fenders (you never know when you'll get stuck in the rain or the dark) and I like headlights that are bright enough to see by as well as bright enough for help folks see you. These lights do a good job of that.

jnyyz said...

The Tail Blazer looks like the MEC Saturn with a slightly revised mount.

The Saturn is a good little light that sells for $8.75

Anonymous said...

As someone who has spent her fair share of time riding around in the dark over the years, I've come to hate the vast majority of headlight mounting systems, especially on cheap lights. In most cases, it seems like tool-free mounting/removal systems are the first part of the light to fail, and then I'm left with two hunks of expensive, useless plastic. (well, one hunk of useless plastic and one overpriced, oddly-shaped flashlight)

Not too long ago, a couple of friends introduced me to the idea of using Two Fish Lock Blocks as a light mounting system. They're cheap individually (the 3-pack sold for a bike lock is around $12), and when one fails it's simple to replace. For the time being, I'm using a flashlight as my headlight (a Fenix Digital LD20+ - I like being able to replace batteries while on the road if necessary). I had a Cygolite Expilion (probably the 300), but it got water in it somewhere, which has caused it to spontaneously turn on all of the time, draining the battery unpredictably. I usually carry spare rechargeable batteries in my toolkit, but there have been occasions where I've had to run in to a convenience store for spares.

Thank you for the link to the page with a full beam pattern comparison...the one downside to the flashlight is that its beam pattern isn't fantastic. Still, it's bright enough to see by on dark roads, and if it lasts for a long time, I'll be content.

The same complaint about flimsy plastic mounts has been true for me for taillights, too. It appears to be true for a lot of people, given the number of "lucky" tail lights that my father collects around Seattle. It frustrates me that many of the reasonably-priced, reasonably visible taillights lack secure mounting systems, and I haven't settled on a satisfactory light yet. My boyfriend ponied up for a DiNotte, but that's a pretty big commitment for a taillight.