I got bitten by the LED (Light Emitting Diode) bug about a year ago when I was looking for a light for commuting. Even at that time, it was clear to me that LEDs were the future of night-time riding. Now there is a whole new generation of high-power LEDs on the scene that have really lit up the whole market for night-time mountain biking.
Until recently, LED technology had not advanced enough to meet the demands of off-road riding; they simply weren't bright enough. Nonetheless, they were perfect for night-time commuting - just bright enough, small, and cheap. Now there is a new generation of LED that fits the bill - the 3 watt regulated Luxeon LED. Given that companies focused on commuting lighting products have been using LED technology for years, they are poised to enter a whole new market with this new more powerful technology. Last year we saw Cateye enter into the off-road lighting space in a serious way and in 2007 enter Princeton Tec.
Princeton Tec, with it's new Switchback series of lights, is poised to make some serious in-roads in the off-road market. They sent me the all new Switchback 1 to review and, although I've yet to take it off-road, the features and design are quite impressive. It couldn't be better timing either, as this year I have started to do some night riding and have been in the market for a new light.
During the next few weeks I'll review the Princeton Tec Switchback and also, write some about lighting and night riding. I'll be pairing the Switchback 1 along with a Cateye Tripleshot. I may also be able to get my hands on the Nightrider miNewt and really give it a full comparison review. I can tell you now that I like the form factor of the Switchback a whole lot better, but the real test will be how they perform on the trail.
Ok, I'll give you the specifications, but first some of my own observations of the design and utility of the light:
The packaging was reminiscent of that of an Apple iPod. It was beautifully resting in a bed of foam with clear and concise labeling. While packaging says nothing about the performance of a light, it does tell me that Princeton Tec is serious about this line of lights and feels it is important to their corporate success. Good news for mountain bikers as more options usually means better products and better prices.
One thing's for sure, there will be no loose cabling with this light. Cables attach to the light and battery with a very secure locking screw cap. It's intuitive and strong. Plus, if you pair the light with either the Switchback 2 or the Switchback 3 all of the lights and batteries will be swappable.
Now, here's the English language version of the specifications:
Light: The light itself is a regulated LED, which means that when it is switched on it will be at maximum brightness and will not dim as long as there is adequate power. There are four "burn" modes; high, medium, low, and flash.
Battery: The Lithium Ion battery that is at the heart of this system is quite advanced. It is equipped with a rapid charge system that can fully charge the battery in two hours with no worries of overcharging as with many other systems. The battery is incredibly light-weight and solidly wraps to the top tube of your bike. Here's the kicker, it comes with a car charger as well, so you can generate some juice on your way to the trail.
Extras: Not quite completely water proof, however, it is rated as having water resistance to splashing and "quick dunkings." The cable housing and connectors definitely play a role in maintaining a mostly waterproof system. The helmet and handlebar mounts are sturdy and work with an intuitive quick release system built onto the light itself.
The whole system weighs in at a svelte 436 grams.
The only flaw I could find was with the documentation. The system comes with a CD that includes a .pdf version of the documentation, a nice touch, since this allows you to keep an archive the for a time when you'll need it down the road. However, it would be nice to have at least a paper "quick-start" type document that shows how to attach the battery to the bike, etc.
Ok...you can probably tell that I'm smitten with the design of the Switchback. Now if I can find some time to get my ass in gear and get out on a few night rides, I'll let you know how the Switchback performs.
BTW: I want to give credit to James Sharp at Lactic Acid Threshold for being the source of much of what I have learned about lights and the corresponding technology. He too is testing the Switchback series along with many other LED lights so check it out.