Cheap Mountain Bike Lights, too good to be true?

December 04, 2013

Dodgy Chinese imports or a genuine bargain?


Our thirst for more light on the trails has led to some amazing leaps forward in lighting technology. The cost however can be eye watering high, and the disappointment factor equally so. Not so much with the power, but with durability. Electronics and mountain bikes really don't go together. 


We came access a whole bunch of Amazon and eBay products that seemed to promise the world. High Power, long life, cheap price. We had to take a closer look. What we found was fascinating, and eventually led to us having done enough research to give us the confidence to sell these ourselves. We were impressed, but it took a long time. 



The famous name in lights is CREE. Cree electronics are responsible for the LED bulbs in almost every brand of Mountain Bike light. Don't believe me; take a look at Hope, Exposure, Lumi, etc and all will boast about the power of the CREE Led bulbs they use. They are readily available, and reasonably cheap, which is why we find them on nearly all the non branded versions too. The most common bulb is the CREE X-ML T6 which is a stunning and tiny piece of engineering in itself. 


The other major component is the Lithium-Ion batteries. These are made by lots of factories, and feature in almost all wireless electronics now. The most popular type is the 18650 size, and is used by almost every brand. They can be made by big name brands such as Samsung and Sanyo, but there are also hundreds of other brands. Just take a look at this website dedicated to selling Lithium-Ion Batteries. 


The next major hurdle is the casings. These need some serious design and commitment from a brand to engineer. To design, test, and machine parts is expensive. Annoyingly; with modern CNC machines etc, once set up they can churn out casings fast and cheap. This makes innovation difficult, because to achieve the competitive prices we love, a brand but commit to a very large order of casings. Often in the 100's of thousands. This is one major reason why the lights we sell, and many others sell are a lot cheaper. They use stock casings, readily available and patent free. Every case we have seen has been machined and anodised really well. 


Orange Peel reflector


Although there has been variety with the reflector, with the 'orange peel' reflectors being a little harder to manufacture. The benefits are a more constant beam, easier on the eyes, but with a reduced throw. The cost difference is pretty negligible. 


CREE CircuitsSo the three major components are reasonably cheap, and are reliable common technology. The difference now comes from the circuits, and the quality of the build. This comes down to the product specification demanded by the customer, more so than the quality of the work the factory is capable of, in most cases at least. That is why you will see lots of very cheap prices on Amazon and eBay, and why little UK companies like ourselves, mtb-batteries, Torchy, and magicshine all appear to be offering very similar products under different brand names.  

In this picture you can see a cheap build on the right, where the electronics are not sealed. Compared to the one on the left where everything is glued down, and rubber grommets are in place. If you are not worried about waterproofing, then there is nothing wrong with the build on the right. 


So why are the Mapdec lights any different?  Well, I can't say for sure, but we can be very clear on exactly what you are getting with our lights. We believe we have put together a reliable, powerful combination with good ethics and quality components. The factory we choose after a lot of searching, checking and negotiating is called O Star Tech. They have an admirable culture, and their service is excellent. They make their own Lithium-Ion batteries and circuits under the name Sanguan. They are based in the technology district in Hong Kong. Over all the lights we bought in, tested, and dismantled this factory showed us the best quality. Their circuitry included chips to balance the battery charging process, aiding their durability and safety. Their work is meticulous and almost impossible to dismantle. 


We demanded that both the light and battery pack was made to be waterproof to the IP66 standard. Which is dust and water jet proof, and that all the chargers have the UK mains plug. So, on our lights you will see a full silicone wrap encasing the battery, and rubber grommets on all ingress points. You will also see a high quality battery pouch with useable straps. 


CREE Lights review

We love them and are positive you will too. The MTB Batteries version even won a great review, we can't tell if they use a waterproof battery or not.


Mapdec won't go into naming ours something different, or adding cost by engraving our brand. We think the Sanguan brand is just fine. We will of course handle any of your questions, concerns or returns. We offer a 6 month warranty on the battery, and 12 months on the light. At these prices though, you can by a new set every year, because after all, in a years time everything will be brighter, lighter, longer lasting and more expensive anyway.

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