- Trading Post
Friday, October 28, 2016
Long Term Review: Lezyne Power Drive and Strip Drive Pro
Last year I wrote about wanting to update my battery-powered lighting with something that was bright enough to ride confidently in the countryside, simple to recharge, and convenient to share between different bikes. I ended up with a set of lights from Lezyne that fulfill all of these criteria: the Power Drive 900 XL (which Lezyne has since upgraded to the 1100 XL) and the Lezyne Strip Drive Pro I have been using these lights for about 10 months now. And as the season of early nightfall is once again upon us, I thought it was about time for a review.
The Power Drive 900 XL was actually not my first choice of headlight. I initially bought the even-brighter Deca Drive 1500 XXL (the model numbers refer to the lumen output) while getting the 900 XL for my husband Gary.
However, I soon realised I'd made a mistake. Don't get me wrong: The Deca Drive 1500XXL lit up the road like a floodlight. But it was quite a bit heavier than I expected (truth be told, like having a brick attached to the bike). And, with its screw-on mount and system of shims to accommodate different handlebar diameters, sharing it between bikes proved a cumbersome process.
In comparison, Gary's 900XL was featherweight and took milliseconds to attach and detach to any bike. He insisted it was bright enough to light up the country roads. So I tried his light and immediately realised that this was the model I should have gone for as well. I then returned the Deca Drive 1500 XXL and exchanged it for a second 900 XL. We now each use a 900 XL and remain very pleased with the choice.
As this backstory illustrates, the benefit of the Lezyne Power Drive 900 XL is not in its brightness alone - but in its brightness, to weight, to ease-of-use ratio.
While the model is not the most luminous available, it is sufficiently bright for me to cycle confidently on unlit country roads and forest trails for the duration of my commute, which fulfills my brightness requirement.
At the same time, it is lightweight (146g). And let me just say that I never thought I cared about the weight of lights until I tried its heavier sibling. I could actually feel the awesome heft of the 1500 XXL in my handbag, whenever I had to shlep it around with me all day. At nearly half the weight, the 900 XL is a much easier light to live with.
And, at the same time, it is extremely - ridiculously - easy to share between multiple bikes. This is because instead of a screw-mount system, this headlight is lightweight enough to use with a silicone mounting strap. The strap is not only quick to affix and detach. But, by virtue of being stretchy, it fits over any size and shape handlebars without requiring finicky adjustments or the use of shims.
The Lezyne Power Drive is charged via USB lead. And it does require regular charging. In its brightest (900 lumen/ "overdrive") mode, it lasts only 1 hour and 15 minutes, in its second brightest (650 lumen / "blast") mode 1 hour and 45 minutes, and in the more economical 450 lumen "enduro" mode 2 hours 40 minutes.
There are modes that are more economical still, but in country-dark conditions they are insufficient, so those three are the ones I alternate between - which means that I need to charge the light after every use. It's a pain, but for a non-dynamo light that is shared between bikes it is inevitable, and still beats disposable batteries. So what we've done now is set up a dedicated charging station for our lights and instituted a ritual. We come home at night and immediately put the lights on the charger. That way, they are always ready to go.
Getting back to its illuminating properties, I use the Lezyne 900 XL both on homeward commutes and on road rides that run late. Over a variety of circumstances, the light has proven sufficiently bright for me at both commuting speeds and roadie speeds, on very dark country roads. I have also ridden with it on trails, albeit slowly (I do not think I would feel comfortable riding trails at speed at night with any lighting setup, so I am the wrong person for feedback in that context).
Aside from repeating that the light is sufficiently bright for my needs, I am afraid I don't have any nuanced feedback about how its beam pattern compares to others, etc. I just know that it works for me, to the extent that I can see bends coming up ahead and potholes directly in front of me, and I am able to ride with a calm confidence even on moonless nights.
The elastic strap and pivoting mount make the beam easy to adjust from both the higher position of upright handlebars and from the lower position of drop bars. The only problem is, using it on a bike where a hefty front bag blocks the beam. I have yet to rig up an elegant system (i.e. one not involving the use of a tree-branch) for attaching the light to the very thin tubing of a front rack. But if you are dealing with an unobstructed front end, adjusting the aim of the beam is a wizzy-wig process, even on the go. Switching it on and off, and changing modes, is also easy: There is just one large button, which you press multiple times. It remembers the mode you last used after being switched off and on.
The light is also highly visible to oncoming road users. One time I was cycling home after dark form town, when I heard shouting behind me. "Hey, wait! Jeez, will you wait!" and so on. I realised it was my husband. He had come to meet me half way, so that we could cycle home together. But as he intercepted me on the road, I ignored him. He had to make a U-turn and chase me down.
That's odd, I said, I did not see you coming toward me. In fact, I've seen no other cyclists on the road tonight. Only a motorbike a little while ago... Oh!!!
Only then did it dawn on me that his headlight shone so brightly and appeared so large from a distance, I had mistaken him for a motorbike. Come to think of it I did wonder why that motorbike was so quiet.
Like I said, the Lezyne 900 XL is not the brightest model available. But we find it bright enough - which, together with its other features, makes it the ideal light for our purposes. According to the manufacturer's specs, the recent 1100 XL update should have those very same features (the stated weight seems to remain unchanged), with 200 lumens of additional brightness. And the 900 XL remains available from many online sellers.
When both of my Cateye TL-LD610 tail lights broke after seven years of use, I was drawn to the Lezyne Strip Drive because of its similar shape, combined with its versatile silicone mount and direct-charge USB design. Also, since I was already going with a Lezyne headlight, I thought it would be nice for the tail light to match.
There are two versions of the Lezyne Strip Drive model: the regular, and the "pro." The latter offering greater luminosity for only a marginal difference in cost (at least for the European market), that was the version I chose.
With an output of 50 and 25 lumens in its highest two constant modes, and 100 lumens in its highest flash mode, the Strip Drive Pro is pretty bright for a tail light. When I cycle behind my husband (who uses the same model), I can see his tail light, no matter how far ahead of me he is, as long as he hasn't gone around a bend. When I cycle alone, cars overtake me in a way that suggests they'd seen me a good deal in advance. This alone has increased my confidence cycling at night along the utterly unlit country roads.
As I always use tail lights in constant mode, rather than as blinkies, my run times tend to be on the lower end of the range manufacturers boast. When used in its two brightest constant modes, the Lezyne Strip Drive Pro gives me between 1 hour 40 minutes and 3 hours of run time. (There are more economical modes available with up to 15 hours of run time, but they are useless to me).
So, as with the Power Drive headlight, the Strip Drive does need to be charged every single night. But again, I prefer this to using batteries. Not only because it is less wasteful and allows for the light to be more lightweight, but also because the USB gives me better control over ensuing the light is freshly charged at all times. It is especially convenient to stick it into my laptop's USB port while I'm working, should I want to top up the charge.
As with the headlight, there are no complicated or screw-on attachments involved with this tail light. The silicone mounting strap makes it quick and extremely versatile to use on any bike. It will fit seat posts of any shape and diameter. But if you don't have enough seatpost showing on your bike, or if you are sporting a saddle bag, the light can also be fitted on seat stays. Even super-skinny and unusually shaped seat stays. The mounting straps are stretchy, adaptable, and do not require superior dexterity. I can attach and remove the lights even with gloves on - which is useful in the winter cold.
Unlike other tail lights I've used, it can also be turned on and off with gloves on. The switch is in an intuitive location, and fingertip-shaped. When you turn the light off and on again, it remembers the mode you left it in. Easy.
Another thing I will say in favour of this tail light, is how durable it has been for me so far. The co-molded lens/body construction is rubbery and bouncy when dropped. And I've dropped it quite a few times. How long it will last in my clumsy, abusive hands only time will tell. But I'm hopeful.
One final thing I will note about the headlight and tail light both, is the side visibility. Lezyne describes both products as having "built-in side visibility." And they do, to some extent. But in my opinion, this isn't their strongest point (compared to, say, the Bookman Curve lights, and some of the Light & Motion models). Now, for my use case scenario, side visibility is far less important than extreme front/rear visibility. But those who frequently navigate intersections in the course of their nocturnal travels, should perhaps do some research into this particular feature.
Lezyne is a California-based company founded by a German designer, which could explain why they've always had pretty good European distribution. The Lezyne Power Drive 1100 XL retails at $99.99 USD, and the Strip Drive Pro at $49.99 USD. The prices from EU and UK sellers seem to fluctuate considerably, and (as of last time I checked) if you do some online stalking you can get a pretty good deal.
The lights reviewed were a personal purchase, and not items I was requested to review. They are not the first products I've owned from Lezyne. For years I have used and loved their wonderful mini-pumps, which I am never without. When I decided to try their lights, I was hoping for the same quality, reliability, compact design, and user-friendliness. And after 10 months of use I am not disappointed.