by Colin McCoy
In an effort to upgrade the lighting system used by the officers of our agency, I set out to find the best quality lights at a relatively affordable price. Our unit operates during the dark hours of the early morning, and well into the night, both during regular tours of duty and the many special events held in our city. Therefore, a quality lighting system is essential to our bicycle patrol function.
A huge benefit to attending the 25th Annual IPMBA Conference in Chandler, Arizona, was the vendor area. It was there that I met with representatives from Cygolite and Police Bike Store, which gave me the chance to test and evaluate (T&E) two different light systems. Cygolite provided one of their P3-800 headlights, and Police Bike Store provided the C3Sports MaxPatrol-600 light system. Upon my return from the conference, these light systems were deployed for use by members of our full-time bike unit.
As with anything, we identified both pros and cons to each lighting system. Purchasing decisions are rarely easy, and that will be the case when choosing between these two units as well.
The Cygolite P3-800 just looks tough, and it is. The aluminum housing is approximately 6” wide, and holds three forward-facing lights: a white-beam light in the center, flanked by red and a blue lights. The white light has a maximum output of 800 lumens, which is extremely high. There are three brightness modes for the white lights, and modes for the red and blue lights, for a total of six brightness modes. The light attaches to the center of the bike handlebar via two durable thumb-screw mounts that make it easy to attach and remove the whole system. The light itself can also be detached from the mounting unit if needed. A large, illuminated button on top of the light itself serves as the on/off switch, as well as the control for the brightness levels. This illuminated button also serves as the battery gauge, changing in brightness so that the rider knows when a re-charge is needed. The “Main” side of the button controls the white light, while the “Aux” side controls the red and blue lights. It is well-labeled and easy to use.
The rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack that powers the light mounts directly to the bike frame via hook-and-loop strap. The wire from the battery has a connector that plugs into the light, is extremely durable, and holds fast when plugged in but also detaches easily for charging. The company’s claim of a 20-hour run-time for this battery was found to be true, as the light lasted more than a week without needing to be re-charged, even when used for several hours a night.
Our team found that the 800 lumen light was rarely needed on full power, due to its brightness. The light bounced back off of nearby objects, so the full-power setting was mainly reserved for longer distances, on areas such as roadways. The lower settings still provided plenty of light for the officers to see. The officer-safety capability this light provided was lauded during one particular encounter. The testing officer approached a suspicious vehicle with particularly dark tint one night. He advised that this light illuminated the entire interior of the vehicle and the occupants even through the closed window, while he was able to off-set from the window itself. This kept him at an advantage during the entire encounter.
The Cygolite unit retails at $299 and does not come with a taillight. This might be seen as a drawback by those who desire the ease of an integrated, one-touch on/off lighting system for the whole bike. I was advised by a company representative that a tail light is being developed for the P3-800, but it will require retrofitting for the headlight unit. It will also cost an additional $60.00. While an integrated taillight is in the works, it is still several months away from completion.
Another potential drawback is that the cord running from the battery to the headlight is fixed at the battery end. The Cygolite reps at the conference handed me the demo unit they had on the floor in Arizona, so the unit we tested came with a shorter cord, while company representatives say there is a longer, three-foot cord. The testing officers initially secured the battery cord to the frame of the bike via zip ties to avoid tangling issues, and to keep the look of the bike streamlined. Since the battery pack did not disconnect from the wire, we had to cut the zip ties to remove the battery pack and charge the unit or bring the entire bike to a power outlet in order to charge the battery. Neither of these scenarios is ideal. One potential design fix would be to have the same type of durable connection at the battery that is at the headlight itself. A much simpler solution on the user’s part might be to use Velcro straps instead of zip ties to secure the wire to the frame.
The C3Sports MaxPatrol-600 touts its compact size as part of the selling-point, and rightfully so. This small-but-mighty unit fits in the palm of your hand. The unit attaches to the handlebar via one thumb-screw mount. It has three protruding lights that are all clamped together: a center white-beam light, a red light, and a blue light. As the name suggests, this light emits 600 lumens from the center white-beam light at full power, which our team members found to be more than enough light for patrol during hours of darkness. This unit has two settings: low (240 lumens) and high (600 lumens). The testing officers reported that they rarely used it on the high beam setting because of the power of the light, likening the illumination to “something you’d find on an airplane” because of its brightness.
The on/off switch for this unit is a separate button with a cord running to the light. This two-button touch pad has a control labeled with an “O” for the center light as well as a button labeled “OO” for the side (red/blue) lights. The side flashers are rated at 400 lumens. The unit we tested came with a taillight that is operated via the same switch used to power the headlight, providing one-touch activation for headlight and taillight. The integrated light retails at $339.99.
The rechargeable lithium-ion battery for this unit is housed in a fabric enclosure which attaches to the frame via hook-and-loop closure. The run-time for the unit was extremely solid, lasting several shifts. Unfortunately, a true test of the longevity was unable to be conducted due to a major drawback: the connection for the battery cord.
The cord running from the battery is fixed to the lower portion of the light unit. The wires run into an opening at the bottom of the unit, where they are soldered to the electronic panel within. Affixing the battery pack behind the light on the frame of the bike naturally places torque on these wires. While moving some bikes around during maintenance, the handlebar of a neighboring bike accidentally caught on the wires of the MaxPatrol, tearing the wires loose from the light housing. A more durable attachment or, better yet, a break-free connection would prevent this type of situation.
As it stood, we were now down a light to be tested. The representative from Police Bike Store assured us that a remedy is already in the works for this particular issue, and that if we had purchased this light, it would have been covered under warranty and replaced free of charge.
The Cygolite P3-800 is a very durable, well-built unit with good ergonomics and battery life. The light was almost too bright, but certainly got the job done. Its drawback is that it has no taillight, which is a must for night-time patrol operations. The length of the battery cord was also an issue.
The C3Sports MaxPatrol had some durability issues, but it did come with a good quality, integrated taillight. The light was plenty bright for patrol use at 600 lumens, and provided all the illumination needed for the testing officer.
Both lights are very good, and super bright. I would like to thank Cygolite and Police Bike Store for the chance to evaluate their lighting systems. Both companies were very good to work with, and extremely receptive to feedback.
The vendor area at the IPMBA conferences are a HUGE benefit to any rider, whether you’re outfitting your bike team or just looking for some better gear. Having the chance to meet with so many suppliers for cycling equipment in one area is a phenomenal opportunity.
Be safe, have fun, and we’ll keep the light on for ya.
Colin McCoy is the Sergeant of the full-time Bicycle Unit at an agency in the Tampa Bay area. He is dual-certified by IPMBA and LEBA as a rider and instructor, respectively.
(c) 2016 IPMBA. This review appeared in the Winter 2016 issue of IPMBA News.