BikePortland

Headlight review: The Giant Recon HL 1800

(Photo: Josh Ross/BikePortland)


(Photos: Josh Ross/BikePortland)

Ridden through the recent fog? Been caught in the dark on a long ride? You need a good light you can count on — especially this time of year.

Earlier this month I shared my take on the Lifeline Pavo Motion 2400 front light, but there are just too many great lights out there to limit it to a single option. This time I want to introduce you to the Giant Recon HL1800.

Giant isn’t a manufacturer you might associate with bike lights but they happen to make one of the best on the market. I’ve been using the previous version, the Recon HL1600, for years but they’ve got an upgrade and it’s even better.

Just to recap, my interest in front lights is specifically lights I think can get you through a night of riding. They need to have long burn times, they need to recharge while shining, they should have road specific beam patterns, and they need to be around 800 lumens at half power. As it turns out, my interest in riding through the night also makes an excellent feature list for riding through the city and never needing to worry about forgetting to recharge.

What does it offer?

Years ago, when the Recon HL1600 light was new it was one of the brightest self-contained lights on the market. As we round the corner towards 2022 the Recon HL1800 isn’t as special when it comes to max power. Even with the additional 200 lumens there are plenty of other options with about the same power.

The Recon is still a compelling product though. The price, with an MSRP of $175, is better than many although I wouldn’t call it a steal. More interesting is that it’s got a longer burn time than most, using a 3400mah Li-Ion battery, and excellent mounting options. The new version added a new trick too. It’s now able to run indefinitely at half power or lower when plugged into an external battery pack.

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Turning the light on and off takes a long press. Nothing complicated and it remembers the previous mode you had it in. To cycle through the different modes a single press is all you need and there are five modes available. Hold down the main button again and the light turns off. The simplicity is nice when you’ve been riding for hours and it’s cold and raining.

To mount the light there are two included options. The first is a handlebar mount with a plastic strap. Just wrap the strap around the handlebars and insert it back into the other side. There’s a single hex head bolt that tightens it down. The standard-length strap will easily wrap over your bar tape if you need it to. If you have oval shaped aero bars there’s a swappable extension included. The other mount included in the box is a GoPro mount. Using that one you can take advantage of the vast ocean of GoPro options available out there. Both mounts allow the light to slide off so it doesn’t get stolen.

A smart mode that’s actually useful

As a rule, I ignore smart modes on lights. I do not want any adjustments to power and burn time. I want to know how bright it’s going to shine and how long that will last. The Recon HL1800 is an exception. It actually has a smart mode that works exactly the way I’d use the light but it’s automatic.

It uses an ambient light sensor. If it’s daylight out the light flashes. Go through a tunnel and it changes to low. When the light drops and day turns to night it switches to medium power. The flashing mode takes almost no power and doesn’t officially change the medium power burn time. That’s it. It just does what you would have already done and you don’t need to touch the light.

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What’s it like to use

There were a lot of questions about beam patterns last time so I’ll address it right away. Road specific front lights use a concentrated, round, light pattern. So does the Giant HL1800. The specifics of this light are that it uses a pair of LED bulbs sitting next to each other each with their own lens. The pattern is slightly more oval than perfectly round and there is light leak to the sides by design. It’s not a lot though and it’s there for cars to see you, not to see to the sides.

Otherwise, turn it on and the button surround will glow with colors that represent the available battery left. Green is 100-70%, Orange 70-40%, red 40-20% and under 20% gets you a red flash. Those percentages correspond to burn times of High (1800LM) 1.5hrs, Middle 3.5hrs (900LM), Low 7hrs (450LM), Smart Mode Day (100LM>450LM) 40hrs; Smart Mode Night (900LM) 3.5hrs, Flash (100LM) 65hrs. If you need to charge it while it’s running the light will pull from a power bank until the pack gets to 20% capacity. At that point the Recon will switch back to the internal battery.

Verdict

If I’m being nitpicky, I’d say there are lights with more power for the same burn times. The Lifeline from the last article is one. I’m also always going to call out lights that haven’t switched to USB-C yet. It’s a better plug design and especially for a bike light. Finally, it’s worth mentioning that it does have the ability to pair with some GPS devices but check the specs to make sure yours is compatible.

The Recon is a light that just works. It’s got an aluminum housing that feels solid, it’s super easy to mount in a variety of creative ways, and it even has a smart, smart mode. The constant battery information is helpful too. Overall, there’s very little not to like about this light. Check it out on Giant’s website and/or at your local bike shop. Portland Giant dealers include Gladys Bikes (2905 NE Alberta St), Evo Portland (200 SE MLK Jr Blvd), River City Bicycles (706 SE Martin Luther King Blvd), Sellwood Cycle Repair (7953 SE 13th Ave), and Cynergy E-Bikes (3608 SE Powell Blvd).

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