Harvest Century September 22nd

Product Review: The Light On! DynoLight headlight

Posted by on December 2nd, 2009 at 11:30 am

The DynoLight from Beaverton-based Light On!.
(Photo © J. Maus)

[You can meet Brian Engelen from Light On! (and Fun Reflector) this Saturday at BikeCraft V. He’ll be one of nearly 50 local vendors selling their bike-oriented arts, crafts, and other products. Don’t miss it!

I have owned the Light On! DynoLight dynamo powered headlight since the summer and now that the days are shorter, I can finally spend some time testing it out and making comparisons and judgments.

  • Likes: Lightweight. Compact.
    Solid construction. Waterproof.
    Standlight. No batteries!
  • Dislikes: Awkward bulb cable
    is difficult to mount cleanly.
    Flickers at lower speed than
    others tested (under approx 10MPH).
    No fork crown center mount.

Light On! is owned by Brian Engelen. An engineer by day, Engelen produces and assembles his lights at his home-based machine shop.

You’ve likely seen Brian’s other product offering, Fun Reflector stickers at your local bike shop. While reflective stickers are a supplemental, inexpensive way to help you be seen by car drivers while walking or bicycling, a 6 volt, 3 watt headlight like the Light On! actually illuminates the path ahead of you and is a near necessity for year-round city riding or long-distance touring.

The Light On! dynamo headlightLight On! Lights are available in a dynamo powered version driven by a special front hub (sold separately) or by a sidewall dynamo that you can use with nearly any wheel. Also available from Mr. Engelen, if you prefer, is a lightweight, super-bright, rechargeable battery powered headlight which is suitable for 24 hour racing. (The dynamo version now has an accompanying 3 LED taillight option which I did not test, but which Jonathan noticed at a recent bike show.)

Story continues below


I was excited to spec this two-bulb LED light on my entry in the 77 mile Oregon Manifest Constructor’s Race in early October but the way the race unfolded, the lighting requirement was not put to the test. (Drat!) So, I installed my dynamo powered headlight on two different commuter bikes, one with a Shimano dynamo hub and one with a Schmidt dynamo hub. I compared the Light On! to the two existing headlights for these bikes; a 1 watt Planet Bike Blaze LED for dynamo hubs and a Busch and Muller D-Lumotec Oval N Plus.

Each of these lights has a standlight which stays lit for a few minutes after you stop pedaling so you can be seen while stopped.

The LightOn! installation was relatively simple and required adjusting the cable length and crimping/soldering the connecting spades or using the Shimano specific connector in the case of the Shimano hub. The small aluminum light housing feels industrial strength despite it’s minimal weight and tiny three way switch. The plastic housing on the Planet Bike and Lumotec feel cheap in comparison. Attachment to the bike can occur on the handlebar or sideways on the fork or front carrier in my case. The Light On! switch allows for single or double lamp illumination. I found the low setting sufficient for being seen in most traffic conditions and for lighting my way on suburban streets. The high setting makes more sense at higher speeds or in well lit areas where you have to compete with many light sources to be noticed by other travelers. The Light On!’s output is a very bright, cool blue beam with a wide beam pattern. The falloff is gradual so the contrast between lighted and unlighted portions of one’s field of view are not dramatic, a desirable and major difference between the Light On! and the Planet Bike.

The Lumotec also has a long and wide beam pattern but gives off a warmer light and has slightly better visibility when viewed from the side. Both Lumotec and Light On! flicker at low speed but the Lumotec throws a solid, slightly dimmer beam a couple miles per hour sooner than the Light On!. I have used the Lumotec for three years and the only problem I experienced was a short circuit from a worn wire insulation where the wire exits the lamp housing.

At more than twice the retail price of my other generator lights, the Light On! (US$195.00) seemed extravagant at first. However, its quality construction, very strong light output, compact form and waterproof housing make it an easy choice. If you need further rationalization, consider that it is manufactured in Beaverton, it trumps the claim, “I didn’t see you” and the extra miles you put in by confidently riding more at night will pay off in good health and saved transit fees.

You can check out this and other offerings from Light On! Lights and Fun Reflector this Saturday December 5th at BikeCraft V.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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    velo December 2, 2009 at 1:01 pm

    Looks cool. I’d love to try one at some point. A side by side comparison with a Schmidt Edelux or an E3 would be a good comparison for products at similar price point.

    Personally I really like my Schmidt Edelux paired with a Schmidt SON 28 hub. Having light all the time with no worries about batteries is great. I’ve used battery systems and absolutely love not having to be concerned about running out of juice. It really makes the bike into a vehicle.

    Cool to see some lights being made in Oregon. I think generator stuff is really going to take off as commuting continues to grow.

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    Jabin December 2, 2009 at 1:36 pm

    For those without dyno hubs that want a super bright (200 lumens) light without an external battery supply while still being rechargeable (by USB which I can do at home or office) check out http://www.rei.com/product/795698 the 200 lumen model seems to be out of stock on rei now but i’m sure they are available elsewhere. Great light! Makes even the super dark section of Williams north of the killingsworth T easy on me.

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    dsaxena December 2, 2009 at 1:36 pm

    “rechargeable battery powered headlight which is suitable for 24 hour racing”. I think you meant 2-4 hour as the website states?

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    bahueh December 2, 2009 at 1:47 pm

    dsaxena…nope, he meant 24 hour endurance riding…through the night kind of stuff. they’re fun, you should try one. I’ll stick with my 900 lumen rechargable monster…

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    J.R. (Intern Extraordinaire) December 2, 2009 at 2:32 pm

    dsaxena: yes, I should clarify that the lithium-ion Light On! is a rechargeable 900 lumen item with a 2-4 hour runtime suitable for 24 hour racing. 900 lumens is what you might call “wicked freakin’ bright”.
    The dynamo version I tested gives off 350 lumens and is also very, very bright. LED technology is moving so rapidly that today’s versions are 3X more efficient than what Engelen was producing when he started. I’d love to have compared this light to others in a similar pricepoint but I don’t own any of those and nobody is paying for or donating items to be tested.

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    El Biciclero December 2, 2009 at 4:18 pm

    Jabin– That light looks awesome; assuming you use it regularly, what kind of water resistance does it have? I currently use a MiNewt X2, and it takes on water when I commute in the rain–leaks in around the lens so the internal reflector area gets a little puddle in it. Takes forever to dry out, too. Any such problems with the MiliOn?

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    Michael December 2, 2009 at 5:03 pm

    How about some reviews of lights the less financially endowed can afford?

    WAY too many bikes out now riding in the dark underlit and wearing dark clothing.

    The cheap lights I have seen are not adequate.

    There must be something superior that does not cost more than an entire Costco bike.

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    Elly Blue (Editor) December 2, 2009 at 5:04 pm

    Hey Michael,
    We’d love to write about some of the more affordable light set-ups out there. Anyone have leads or ideas they’d like to send us?

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    thefuture December 2, 2009 at 5:19 pm

    You’ll find me rocking the Light and Motion ‘Stella 120’ this winter


    Lists for $130 but you can find it for much less now. It has two brightness options and one blinky setting. Light and battery pack are separate, but installing and removing is pretty quick. Comes with a helmet mount that I have yet to try.

    No I do not work for or own stock in Light and Motion.

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    Loren December 2, 2009 at 5:24 pm

    Here’s a cheap alternative. Go to Coast lights up in north portland off of columbia. Google it, you’ll find it. Their LED lenser lights are AWESOME. Fashion your own light mount with zip ties or a strong rubber band and you’re off. Get some rechargeable batteries, and you can have a nice rechargeable light for under a hundred bucks.

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    spare_wheel December 2, 2009 at 5:51 pm

    “Get some rechargeable batteries, and you can have a nice rechargeable light for under a hundred bucks.”

    I just bought the 150 lumen cygolite at REI for $76 (79.99 -5% REI credit card discount). Its my new blinkie after my planet bike blaze fell apart.

    * its very light and small
    * removable Li ion battery pack
    * usb chargeable
    * sturdy removable mount
    * pressure release from mount
    * aluminum bulb housing

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    wsbob December 2, 2009 at 6:23 pm

    Affordable; the MagicShine: 900 lumens, a 4 cell 18650 rechargeable battery pack, cheap Chinese decent quality for the money U.S. import backed up by excellent quality service…$90.

    I really like the idea that Light On!/Brian Engelen of Beaverton is trying to put together good quality bike light systems locally. His 900 lumen light with similar battery supply seems to definitely be higher quality construction and design than the MS. Quite a lot more money though, at $449.

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    Todd Boulanger December 2, 2009 at 7:43 pm

    Yes dynamo LED lamps and generators are a big investment as an aftermarket item. (Though I got tired of having to buy replacement batteries even for nice high watt lights…)

    If cost is a problem buy yourself a ~$100 front wheel with dynamo (on line) and find yourself a used recent edition halogen or a 1970s Union/ Schwinn bullet headlamp (nice beam pattern) – then upgrade to a LED lamp later on as your funding allows.

    The LED lamps are perfect for riding at speed in dark suburbia. I never thought I needed a Schmidt Edelux (etc.) until our office moved out to Vanmall and I started riding home along SR500 (some nights) too fast for my lighting set up in the winter.

    On my last trip to Europe I ran across several sub 30 euro LED lights (<$50). I brought them back for a future product review…showed them to Todd F at Clever Cycles too.

    …I did not see too many dynamo powered LED lamps on bikes in use in Europe…Most folks in the Netherlands are still using small LED blinky lights (Smart or Knog) or the nice retro LED battery headlamps (<$20 Smart)…or using what came with their bikes or going ninja (50%).

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    Todd Boulanger December 2, 2009 at 7:44 pm

    Oh and I got to see Brian’s lamps too at the show. I loved the tail lamp.

    Good luck with your business and local production!

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    Thom December 3, 2009 at 9:59 am

    Anybody have any experience using a dynohub on a bike that sees a lot of riding on gravel/dirt roads? Basically, do they hold up to those conditions.


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    Toby December 3, 2009 at 12:13 pm

    @wsbob – I agree 100% on the MagicShine. No other rechargeable headlight can hold a candle to it (so to speak). I’ve had mine about a month, and it’s stunningly bright (it puts my old CatEye Double Shot to shame). Not as nicely made as Brian’s lights, but a lot more affordable – I have bought a lot of his reflective stickers, at least…

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    FT Admin December 3, 2009 at 1:37 pm

    Nice review. Even though the light maybe a bit on the pricey side, it certainly has the quality to provide adequate illumination when required. The generator component is an excellent idea, but then I have fond memories of the old Raleigh and Rudge workhorses.

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    wsbob December 3, 2009 at 2:08 pm

    “If cost is a problem buy yourself a ~$100 front wheel with dynamo (on line)…” Todd Boulanger #13

    Todd, who makes/sells that wheel? Sounds very affordable compared to another online seller’s product that comes up in websearch.

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    Borgbike December 3, 2009 at 3:50 pm

    Great story on a useful topic! The quality of Light On! is immediately apparent when see one up close. These folks were at the Bike Fair thing this summer.

    I recently built a dyno hubbed wheel. Which light to use was a tough decision but I went with the Planet Bike dyno led. Mostly this was a budget thing (I found a bike shop selling a return cheap) but also I wanted a bike with a light that I could reasonably lock up in Portland. I’m re-wiring the Planet Bike light so that the cord is on a plug. This way I can lock the bike up and take the light with me by removing it from the mount and then unplugging it like a regular battery light. (For lack of finding anything better, I’m using RCA plugs.) It seems pretty silly to me that Planet Bike makes a dyno light with a quick-connect mount but you can’t use it because the fixed wiring keeps it connected to the dyno.

    My only reservations with my system is a concern for my soldering, this is complicated by the extremely thin gauge wiring on the Planet Bike light. We’ll see how it turns out. I was soldering last night but screwed it up so I need to try again.

    Buying local is important to me so maybe someday I’ll upgrade. This would be an easier decision to make if Light On! had a quick disconnect option.

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    f5 December 4, 2009 at 12:11 pm

    Almost always, you get what you pay for. Has the Magicshine been around long enough for there to be long term reviews? I wonder if it holds up over time, either the construction, or bulb intensity.

    @Toby: I bet it’s a lot brighter than your doubleshot. i have a cateye tripleshot and it’s barely brighter than a 25 dollar blinky. Several blinkys that I’ve tested it against in fact. I think the cateye ‘shot’ lights set the gold standard for overpriced, overweight, and underpowered lights.

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    wsbob December 4, 2009 at 12:59 pm

    “Almost always, you get what you pay for. Has the Magicshine been around long enough for there to be long term reviews? I wonder if it holds up over time, either the construction, or bulb intensity.” f5 #20

    Has anyone tried the Magicshine 900 lumen?

    Anybody that’s interested, go read and draw your own conclusions. The light seems to performing just fine, especially for the price. I noted after posting my earlier comment that Brian Engelen’s light appears to be using a different emitter(Cree XR-E Q5) than the Magicshines P7. He uses four of them rather than the Magicshine’s single.

    Why four? I couldn’t say for sure…a beam pattern he likes, feels is better?. Probably partially accounts for the expense. I believe the Q5 is a newer emitter. If I remember correctly, it’s supposed to be more powerful than the P7. I believe some discussion of it has gone on over at bikeforums.

    Word is, Magicshine is working on a tail light too.

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    f5 December 4, 2009 at 1:08 pm

    Regarding the magicshine, It is what it is…aparently chinese direct knockoff of the Lupine Tesla. From what I’ve read here and elsewhere, it really isn’t a 900 lumens light. It’s more like 600-700, with a narrow beam pattern at that (think peripheral light of a 200 lumens light).

    (there’s a link to customer reviews as well):

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    wsbob December 4, 2009 at 1:42 pm

    “…it really isn’t a 900 lumens light. It’s more like 600-700,…” f5

    Cool. Which raises the question: ‘Is Brian Engelen’s 900 lumen battery really a 900 lumen light? The answer to that question may not be so easy to answer as it seems. Over on the bikeforums thread I provided the link to, the light geeks have argued this issue in considerable detail.

    Some of them apparently are highly trained with access to professional test gear which they used to test out the light. Even having done that, they still argue back and forth about the results.

    They readily acknowledge the light actually is a 600-700 lumen light when various light loss considerations are factored in; emitter housing, reflector, lens, etc. The 900 lumen rating is, if I remember correctly, the rating that the emitter manufacturer designates their product with. Light manufacturers just use that rating to assign their lights to a class that’s relatively easy to recognize.

    I would think that none of this matters too much to most people that simply need an affordable, well performing light. Both lights are bright. Both lights seem to be decent quality…Engelen’s is certainly nicer and locally made. One costs less than the other. Much less.

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    Kevin December 7, 2009 at 12:45 pm

    can someone give me some review info on the Cygolite millon 2000

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