Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Light and Motion Stella 300

Here it comes, one of my mini reviews.

Recently, I bought myself a new bike light, the Light and Motion Stella 300.

The box comes with the light with its built in mounting harness and cord, a battery, a bracket for the battery, a charger, a helmet mount, and a Light and Motion sticker.

Physically, the light is very small and is fashioned out of a single piece of machined aluminum with a glass lens. There are "heat sink" veins cut into the housing to dissipate heat. This is needed as the single super bright LED does throw off a bit of heat. If I cover the light with my cycling gloved hand to avoid blinding another trail user, my glove comes away warm. One nice thing though, the glass so far has not gotten very wet in the rain as water does not stick around very long on it.

The Stella 300 mounted on the handlebar.
The back half of the light, as you can see, houses the on/off/mode switch and is made of a very tough plastic. The switch is rubber, with an LED in it which glows green when the battery charge is good and blinks when it is starting to go. The light appears well sealed against the elements.

The power cable comes out of the back of the light and is not removable. It is also insanely long which has prompted my to coil it up and secure it with zip ties. If I was using it on my helmet, I would like it since the battery could easily slip into a jersey pocket with room to spare. It is long enough that when the light is mounted on the handlebars, the cord can reach the rear panniers.

Mounting the light to the bike is very easy. Simply set the light on the bar and hold it in position, and wrap the rubber strap around the bar and hook it to the provided tab on the underside of the plastic housing. It stretches, and the rubber holds it in position. I was initially concerned about the longevity of this mechanism, but a friend of mine who has been using the no longer made Stella 150 with the same mounting style for a couple of years reports no problems with his, despite being used in all weather and all temperatures. It is very tough. The battery mounts the same way - I attach it to the stem of the commuter bike, and the top tube of my cyclocross bike. The light swivels a little from side to side allowing for slight adjustments to compensate for handlebar curving. This is a nice touch. Once set up, the light does not move or jiggle around at all.

The Stella 300 mounted, turned on, with its nice new scratches.
As you can see from the above picture, the light does not take up a lot of handlebar room.

So how is it in use? 

In a word, it is excellent.

It is not without fault though, and there is something I feel needs to be mentioned before I go on. There is a fairly large blind spot where not much light reaches right in front of the wheel which takes some getting used to. This blind spot contributed to a nasty crash I had on the way to work about five weeks ago. The rest of the fault for the crash was all me - being tired, and a mental blank moment did not help me much.  Since then, I have used the light a lot and have found that blind spot (unlit area) to be much less of an issue now that I have adapted to it. It is caused by the light reflector in the light aiming the beam very far forward. Little to none lands directly in front of the bike. All of my previous lights did, and I did not twig to this fast enough and landed hard when I missed seeing an obstacle. The real piss off, besides cracking my knee a good solid whack with a curb and the bike handlebar, was that the light got all scratched up. And this was the first time I had used it!!!

A design flaw or simply a different design? I am thinking a different design compared to what I was used to. In other words, once accounted for, this is a non issue for commuter use. That said, be aware that it is there. Now that I am aware of it, I have not been caught out by this again.

The switch is a bit stiff as well and I find I need to grip the light to switch intensities of the beam in order to  prevent the aiming of the light from being knocked out of line. I don't mind this though as other switch designs might not be as water tight.

The light has a "race" function which is very handy. Normally, to turn on the light, just press the button. The light cycles through the following settings: 300, 150, 75, (lumens all) and a bright blinky. However, if you turn on the light by holding the button for just over one second, you get the lowest and highest settings with the rest missing. Very handy for MUP usage. Press and hold the switch for two seconds to turn it off.

Burn times are very good for a light this bright. The company promises 2.75 hours at 300, 5.5 hours at 150, and 11 hours at 75lum and 100 hours on flash. I see no reason to doubt this as I have noticed run times similar to these figures. The battery takes about five hours to charge and is a lithium ion two cell unit which does not weigh much. I cannot feel the weight when the whole unit is mounted to the handlebars.

What does the light output look like?

Well, like this:

light from the Stella 300 at 300lum
I did not mess with this picture in LR4 or Photoshop. This is right out of the camera.

The light this unit throws is good enough for commuting. As you can see, objects in the distance are easy to see, and people will certainly see you coming. Reflective stuff light stop signs, killer suicide gates over trails with reflective tape on them, etc are visible up to three or four blocks away. Side views of buses and EMS vehicles are kind of hilarious actually.

I find that it is most effective when there is no other light around, but even when there are other interfering light sources, other trail users - including ipod zombies dressed in black and bike ninjas with no light or reflectors - are easy to see. People are easily able to tell when they are being over taken which helps reduce startle. This is a nice feature.

I had one pedestrian comment about how bright it was. I agreed. She did appreciate it though when I mentioned how much easier it made it for me to see her and other people and slow down in time to avoid near misses which are all too common when people cannot see each other well.

Thus far, I have not over ridden the light, but I could imagine it would be easy to do if I unwound the bike a bit. At normal commuting speeds with lots of ambient light, or on rail trails with no other light, it is very effective at speeds up to around 30kmph.

I would not use it off road on single track as an only light source. I would use a very bright multi LED unit (two "wide angle" LEDs and two distant ones with at least four times the output would be nice) with the Stella 300 on the helmet for directional use.

So far, I have not used it on the helmet. I may run it that way for a bit with my "look at me!!!" blinky on the bars and see how it goes.

That's it for now. If I have more observations I will add them at a later time in another post.

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