Every now and then consumers like us luck out and get a really well thought out product. Case in point: the Princeton Tec Switchback 3 light system (MSRP $349.00). This system comes with everything you need to produce reliable, bright, and long lasting illumination both on and off the trail.
Saying the Switchback 3 comes with everything you need is an understatement: it comes with more accessories than you could possibly use, unless you plan on racing on multiple continents. The small packaging may fool you until you open it up and find levels of components. Not only do you get the light unit with 3 powerful Maxbright LEDs, 2 mounting options (helmet and handlebar), and a large capacity Li-Ion battery, but you also get a car charger adapter and a home charger. The home charger even has its own options with North American and European plugs. To top it off you also get an extension cable for mounting the battery behind your seatpost or in a hydration pack. Like I said, Princeton Tec has thought of everything.
Follow the directions when setting this system up for the first time. Be especially mindful when mounting the lights and pay attention to the straightforward charging instructions.
My original MTB light system configuration used two clamps and two separate light assemblies, occupying a lot of bar space. In contrast the Switchback 3 took up very little space and installation was a snap. If you choose to mount the unit to your helmet you’ll need to use the extension and carry the battery in your hydration pack or jersey pocket. The battery weighs 626g and the actual light and head lamp bracket weighs about 175g with cable so keep that in mind when choosing where to mount the Switchback 3.
Mounting the battery to my top tube took very little effort and made for a clean installation. Since my cables run underneath my bike’s top tube I added some vinyl tubing to each side of the brake and shifter cables to give a bit more support to the battery (probably unnecessary but it was a slight improvement). Total time setting this up was less that 5 minutes – I was off and running shortly after that!
Now for those of you who are planning on using the Switchback 3 for 24 Hour competitions, this set works well and will go the distance. The first battery charge will take 3-4 hours but subsequent charges will take just 2 hours to full power. Under full load the Switchback 3 will run for 6 hours (12h in medium load and 50h in low). Unless you’re Tinker Juarez or Chris Eatough you’ll probably run out of juice out before the Switchback 3 does!
Great battery life usually comes with a trade-off in terms of illumination but somehow the Switchback 3 seems to avoid this pitfall. The Switchback 3 produces focused illumination far into the distance and at the perfect width for singletrack riding. The beam pattern is rectangular (length wise) and is not adjustable but for me that’s fine – like I said, the distance and width is just right for singletrack.
In the image to the right you can see how the Switchback 3 lights up the entire width of the trail and then some. This system provides good illumination from about 4 feet in front all the way out to about 120 feet down the trail (90 feet in med 70 feet in low). In my tests the light allowed me to see great details – everything I would see during a day run but with shadows. The width of the light pattern is about 12 feet across which is adequate for riding on pitch black trails. The photo on the right was taken at midnight with overcast skies (with lots of fiddling with my camera settings so the shot came out without a flash).
The Switchback 3 is dead simple to operate in the field. The yellow button on the top can be used with or without gloves and it’s easy to find even in pitch black darkness (the button has a different texture from the rest of the unit). The button itself is a soft touch button which requires very little force – simply keep pressing the button until you get your desired light level (high, medium, or low).
The Switchback 3 is designed to to be water resistant to rain and splashes, just don’t submerse the unit in water for any length of time (guess that means no nighttime bog snorkelling). Because this unit uses LED lights you won’t have to worry about blowing a bulb due to excessive trail shock. One word of caution: keep your hand off the light body during use – the body doubles as a heat sink so it will get hot!
Even if you don’t plan on racing, the Switchback 3 will enhance any night ride, giving you a good field of vision with a deep, even column of light. If your night ride includes lots of sharp turns, you may want to get a supplementary light source such as the Switchback 1 or 2 mounted to your helmet for added vision – but that would simply be icing on the cake. If you just plan on riding on the streets, this unit will surely keep you safe and noticed. You may even want to turn it down a level or two on the road – no sense in blinding oncoming traffic
Overall I would have to say this is a great choice for anyone who wants a complete, high performance lighting system that is easy to install and rugged enough to take the abuse of the trails. Get one of these and you’ll eliminate one more excuse (darkness) for not riding more! Cheers folks and safe riding.
We found one of these systems at BackcountryOutlet.com for just $227 earlier today. Better snap yours up while they last!
Specifications from Princeton Tec for the Switchback 3:
LAMP: 3 Maxbright LEDs
BURN TIME: 50 Hours (low), 12 Hours (med), 6 Hours (high), 6.5 Hours (flash)
BATTERIES: Li-Ion Rechargeable – 10 Cell
WEIGHT: 826g total weight (Light, bracket, battery)
Designed for water resistance to splashing and quick dunkings.