- Solidlights 1303
- £250 (kit with one battery); £280 (kit with two batteries and doubler cable)
While it’s USE’s Exposure light system that’s been grabbing all of the attention, another high-power, low-weight LED/Li-ion system has been quietly selling away (and winning races) for several months now. Solidlights are the brainchild of Chris Jones, and come in two models. The 1103 is a single 3W unit, while the 1303 we’re looking at here is a triple-LED 10W system.
The first thing that strikes you about the 1303 is the distinctive design. The housing is made from an anodised aluminium extrusion with aluminium end-caps bolted on to each side and a window in the front. The result is not by any stretch of the imagination pretty, but it does look sturdy. More importantly, it actually is – there’s no glass to break, the extrusion is strong and it’s all weather-sealed to the extent that it’ll withstand brief immersions.
Unlike the rival USE system, Solidlights use traditional external batteries. They’re dinky little Li-ion packs, about the size of mobile phone batteries, and come in bags with Velcro straps to attach to whatever part of the bike takes your fancy. They’re small enough that we strapped them on to the side of the stem – the only downside to this arrangement is that it leaves you with quite a bit of spare cable to hide away, but it can be tucked away under the Velcro quite happily. The light unit mounts to the bars with a nylon quick-release bracket – the bracket is secured to the bars with a thumbwheel attachment and the light clicks into the top. Neat and simple. There’s a helmet mount available too, which can be used with the 1303 although it’s really intended for the smaller 1103 unit.
There’s two versions of the 1303. The “basic” £250 unit comes with one battery, giving a run-time of 1hr 20min on full power. Or for another £30 you can get a two-battery system with a splitter cable that lets you hook both batteries up at once to extend the run time to 2hr 45min on max. In both cases the unit’s control circuitry detects an imminently-flat battery and switches to “reserve” mode, giving you an extra 20-30 minutes of get-you-home 1W light. The connections are all twist-lock types, so there’s no chance of any of the plugs falling out.
The single control is a push-switch on the side of the light unit. Operation is simple – push and hold to switch on, push to cycle through low, medium and high power, push and hold to switch off. A remote handlebar switch is in the works, although the existing switch is reasonably large and easy to find. You don’t get a flashing mode, although the low-power mode is claimed to run for 10 hours on one battery.
It’s an evolving product, with new bits and bobs coming out all the time. We’re particularly intrigued by the forthcoming PC interface kit, which’ll let you connect a Solidlight to your PC, test the battery life and even fine-tune the power output on each setting to your personal taste. Just when you’ve got the hang of setting up platform shocks, along comes something else to fiddle with…
Since everyone’s going to ask, we can’t help drawing comparisons with the Exposure lights. After all, if you’re in the market for £250+ UK-built LED bike lights, it’s going to be one or the other. One key difference with the 1303 is that it uses three LEDs instead of two, and the central one uses a Fresnel-type lens to provide a tighter, longer beam. Solidlights doesn’t claim any “halogen equivalent” wattages, but it does say that its control circuitry drives the LEDs harder than rival products. We’ve been out doing pictures again:
|USE Exposure Race||Solidlights 1303|
Our first observation when riding was that the 1303’s lens arrangement gives a really good beam pattern. It carries considerably further than the Exposure on high beam. Again, the markers in the picture are at 10m intervals, the nearest being 10m from the bars. If you look carefully at the Solidlights “high beam” shot, you can just about make out a tree that the beam is just reaching – that’s about 70m away. This is a boon at speed, making us a lot more confident on the trail. We were also pretty pleased with the medium setting – it falls between USE’s low and high settings for brightness but again has a useful bit of extra penetration. Low is very much a “be seen” safety setting.
For out-and-out light performance, we’d give the 1303 the nod. But there’s more to lights than power. The obvious trade-off is runtime – the brighter your lights, the less long they’ll be lit. While Solidlights’s high beam is brighter than USE’s, you’ll get an hour more out of the USE system. That said, given how much more useful the 1303’s medium setting is, you’ll spend a lot more time using it and it only draws a third of the power – you’ll get over four hours just running on medium with a single battery.
The other trade-off is weight, and USE is streets ahead here – the 1303 weighs 295g with one battery and 428g with two, versus 185g and 275g for the Exposure Race and Enduro systems. The 1303 is a lot lighter than a halogen or HID system, though. By way of comparison, a Lumicycle NiMh halogen system weighs 790g and the HID system 869g.
Then there’s the form factor, which could be a win for USE or Solidlights depending on how you look at it. Having a QR mount is definitely a bonus, and while the regular separate-battery setup is versatile it’s inevitably not as neat as USE’s all-in-one solution.
Positives: Excellent beam for an LED system, robust, versatile battery setup, light for the power, useful power settings, forthcoming PC cleverness.
Negatives: Not very refined in appearance, limited run-time on full power, separate batteries not to everyone’s taste
Verdict: Given the choice between an Exposure and a 1303, we have to say we’d struggle to make our mind up. The 1303 is ahead on power and beam pattern, but if those are your priorities then you can get a HID for similar money. Then again, the Solidlights offering is lighter. But not as light as an Exposure, but then an Exposure’s not as bright… Cop out it may be, but we find ourselves compelled to declare a draw. Your own needs and preferences will guide your choice. The Solidlights 1303 is definitely a very good product, though, assuming that you can live with the slightly quirky looks.