Light manufacturer Princeton Tec is well known in the outdoor industry but has not yet been a big player in the bike category. However, if it continues to create performance lights with the smart details featured in its Switchback series, that may soon change. The series consists of three lights (each one 3 watts): the Switchback 1, featuring one Maxlight LED; the Switchback 2 with two LEDs; and the Switchback 3, with three LEDs. For this test, we used the middle-of-the-line Switchback 2.
Before we ever even mounted the light to a helmet or bike, we were impressed by just how quick and easy it is to charge. It takes just two hours to juice up the six-cell lithium ion battery, which made it quick and easy to get out on a spur-of-the moment night ride. We even pulled off a few 15-minute charges on a dead battery before taking it on a quick spin to the store.
Our biggest concern about the Switchback was that it would not be bright enough for anything more than rugged commutes in the dark. These are, after all, LEDs. But these are not nearly your standard LEDs, and Princeton Tec uses an optic collimator – which is fancy terminology for a lens that is designed to focus the normally scattered LED light into bright, focused parallel rays. And while the light was not quite as bright as race-ready halogen systems, the performance downgrade was minimal. LED’s start to look even better when you consider that halogens can take up to 10 hours to charge for a much shorter burn time. It’s also a fairly lightweight system, weighing in at just 586 grams (20.7 ounces). We rode it under cover of darkness on technical singletrack and felt quite comfortable. We would, however, recommend using the Switchback 2 or 3 mounted on handlebars as well as a Switchback 1 on a helmet for truly rough singletrack or races.
While riding with the light, one of the first things we appreciated was just how easy it was to turn it on and change modes using a simple push button on top of the light. That button was operated easily even with gloved hands. The light operates on four brightness modes (high, medium, low and flash), coaxing 5.5 hours of burn time on high and 16 hours on low (the Switchback 3 runs for a whopping 50 hours on low). Princeton Tec credits the long burn times to the high-end LEDs themselves and to its heatsink technology, which keeps the LEDs from overheating. Furthermore, the LEDs run on a regulated circuit , which ensures that they won’t dim as the batteries run low. No matter the technology, one tester said the light performed as advertised when he took it out on the trail at midnight. He rode up to four hours with the light on high and never noticed a decrease in performance. He then let the light die at home, and it expired just a bit after the advertised 5.5-hour mark.
Beyond the light itself, what pleased us most about the Switchback was the thought that went into accessories. Every extra in the box proved useful. Top among them was the car charger. Usually, when we’re camping or taking a long trip, there’s no place to plug in a light, but the car charger got more use in our test than the wall charger. It proved useful during a long weekend of camping and riding in Fruita, Colo., but even more of a benefit when we were simply driving around and wanted to juice up the light while we ran errands. The light kit also includes U.S., U.K., and European adapters, another big plus when traveling. And the mounting systems for either a helmet or handlebar were intuitive and effective.
Furthermore, Princeton Tec is already in the process of making the light brighter. By the end of the year, the LEDs in the Switchback series will be updated with Luxeon Rebel LEDs, which Princeton Tec claims will double the brightness of the light and last longer. So, the only real downside to the light, beyond shelling out almost $300 for a bike light, was the need to attach a clunky battery to our frame or in our pack. That’s a problem with all performance bike lights, however, and won’t change anytime soon. In the meantime, this is quite simply one of the most user-friendly bike lights we’ve tested on the market.
SNEWS® Rating: 5 hands clapping (1 to 5 hands clapping possible, with 5 clapping hands representing functional and design perfection)
Suggested Retail: $269.99
For information: princetontec.com