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WARNING: The battery pack of this light has been known to ignite while charging, causing a fire that destroyed a home.

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Back in November I ordered the 5,000 lumen SolarStorm™ bike light on Amazon.com for the too-good-to-be-true price of $17.56 (plus free shipping). Here’s my review for those who are considering taking a chance and purchasing this or any other “cheapo” light from Amazon or eBay.

Ridiculous Delivery Times

I placed my order on November 22, 2014 and was given a delivery window between December 22, 2014 and January 9, 2015. I was cautiously optimistic that I might actually receive my light before Christmas, but it wasn’t really a gift so I wasn’t in a huge rush.

A few weeks after placing my order I mentioned my purchase to a biking buddy and he remarked that the delivery was probably slow because they still had to invent a 5,000 lumen bike light that cost less than $20. Ha!

In all seriousness, these lights are typically sold and marketed directly by the manufacturer (or at the very least, a company that’s located overseas close to manufacturing) so long lead times are to be expected. For such a low price (and free shipping!) I figured my light was making the slow journey from Asia on a boat rather than a DHL jet. The DHL tracking number I received was invalid but sometimes that happens, right?

No Show

The shipping information on Amazon.com said my light would be delivered by 8pm on Friday, January 9. It turned out that the price really was too good to be true, since the light never arrived! On Monday I decided to contact the seller to let them know about the problem but, surprise! No response.

Ok, again, I shouldn’t be shocked: at such a low price, how can anyone afford to offer reasonable shipping or customer service? Clicking over to the seller’s page I quickly realized I wasn’t the only person who was having problems. In one day alone the seller had received at least a dozen 1-star reviews with all the reviewers stating they never received their goods. Uh oh. I think I got scammed.

In writing this article I went back to the product page and lo and behold, there’s a new seller (the old one was probably tanked from all the poor reviews) and the new seller claimed to have 9 lights left in stock. Sure, the price went up a few cents to $18.00 but that’s still a deal–and the lights are in stock!  Even if I end up paying for this twice, it’s still a 5,000 lumen light for under $36. You know how the old saying goes: fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice…

The Light

Here's how my 5,000 lumen SolarStorm™ light illuminates the trail. Ha!

Here’s how my 5,000 lumen SolarStorm™ light illuminates the trail. Ha!

Clearly I don’t have the light, but after looking through reviews from customers who presumably did receive a light at some point, there are some red flags. Amazon reviewer Scott A. Hauert says:

Charged and tested in dark garage side-by-side with the 2800 [lumen] SecurityING. They are the same.

Ok, so the light might actually produce just half the claimed 5,000 lumens. I guess that’s ok. On our light buyer’s guide the closest (legit) thing we found was a 6,000 lumen behemoth… and it costs about $1,200. Not only does it seem the bulbs aren’t as bright as claimed, but other reviewers point out there are issues with the battery as well. Andrew McQuinn says:

…the battery pack is not as advertised. Two of four cells in the battery pack aren’t even real batteries, but rather dummy cells. As it arrived, the 2 working cells were wired in series for 7.2 volts with 2 useless dummies hanging on. As such, the capacity is 1300 mAh @ 7.2v, or 20% the advertised amperage.

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Honestly I couldn’t even find claimed battery life listed anywhere on the product page when I ordered, so I didn’t know what to expect. But providing just 20% of the advertised amperage is completely ridiculous.

Buyer Beware

As many readers pointed out when we first published our light buyers guide back in November, there are many inexpensive light options out there beyond the big names on our list. However, clearly there are benefits to buying reputable brands from reputable sellers. Notably:

  • Shipping and customer service. If I had purchased a light from Chain Reaction Cycles or JensonUSA or even a local bike shop, you can bet I wouldn’t be quoted a shipping date a month out. Plus, I feel confident I would at least get a response from customer service to address any issues.
  • Truth in advertising. When I buy a light from NiteRider or Light & Motion, I expect the lights to be as bright as claimed, and I expect the batteries to last at least as long as stated.
  • Safety. I expect brand name lights to be safe–batteries are packed with reactive chemicals that can pose a safety hazard if they’re not assembled correctly.
  • Trust. How can anyone trust a company that inserts dummy parts into a product? Brands like NiteRider have built consumer trust over a 25-year period and won’t cut corners to undermine the trust they’ve worked so hard to build.

Is buying an inexpensive, no-name light from an Amazon or eBay seller worth the risk? Ultimately that’s up to the buyer. For me, risking $17.56 on a light that might not actually exist wasn’t a big deal but if it had been, say, $50 or more, I probably would have balked.

Still, there’s the off chance that my light might actually arrive one day. If it does, I’ll definitely give it a try and will post my review right here. Stay tuned. 🙂

What has your experience buying cheapo bike lights been like?

WARNING: The battery pack of this light has been known to ignite while charging, causing a fire that destroyed a home.

Warnings added on December 14, 2015.

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# Comments

  • marvinmartian

    I tried out a cheap Magicshine clone and it arrived dead on arrival. I contacted the seller and after finding out that own a real Geomangear Magicshine he advised that I use it to test the battery and light of the non working one. Well the Magicshine lighthead did not work with the cheap battery nor did the cheap lighthead work with the Geomangear battery pack. Never again

  • rynoman03

    I have one of these. It did take a bit to show up. It’s super bright compared to my USA made Serfas 550 lumen light.

    However be very careful to not let the battery charge without you being around it. First charge I smelt smoke\burning wiring. However it still works. I’ve been told by others you can get the battery pack rebuilt or even replaced at Batteries Plus + or other battery shops that rebuild batteries and sell replacement batteries.

    I really just bought mine for the driver and not the battery.

    Would I buy another? Yup! At $17.xx it was a good gamble.

    • Jeff Barber

      Thanks for sharing your experience rynoman03. Getting a battery pack rebuilt is obviously an additional cost of both time and money which most consumers will want to avoid.

  • Corey Maddocks

    I bought a Yinding light from a vendor in China and I couldn’t be happier. The battery pack eventually died, but it actually works with the pack from my Lumentrek light so I am still using it.

  • Jeff Barber

    A ton of comments here and on Facebook! It seems I’ve touched a nerve.

    One theme I’m picking up on (and which I included in my article) is the fact that quality/customer service is inconsistent. Some people claim the lights work great, others claim they smell smoke when they charge the lights. Clearly there are two sides to the story and I tried to make that clear.

    Another theme seems to be that readers own MULTIPLE sets of these lights (more than 1 person claims to own 4 or more sets.) This is either a ringing endorsement or we’re not getting the full story. A person might also buy 4 sets because:

    1. The batteries don’t last like they should
    2. One or more of the sets died
    3. The lights aren’t bright enough by themselves
    4. Replacement parts are good to have on hand

    Finally, perhaps it was unfair to call this a review of the light itself; a better title might have been “Review of the process of shopping for and buying an inexpensive light.”

    It’s true that you can buy 4 cheap lights for the cost of one set from a name brand. However, not everyone wants to deal with the potential hassle or risk their time/money on tracking down a reliable light.

    Additional edit: I should also note that I purposely chose to purchase and review this light because it was so ridiculously cheap and bright. Admittedly it’s an extreme example of the off-brand lights available for purchase online. However, it’s not clear where the line is (is a $40 light a safe buy? how about an $80 light?)

  • Mark Watson

    I own 4 for a very simple reason: One for my helmet, and one for my handlebar (use when needed or as a backup) and a second set for my wife. That’s the whole story. No issues with the lights themselves.
    The nerve that has been touched is that you, yourself, are publishing a review without any first-hand experience of the product itself.
    I read the Amazon reviews before buying my lights and thought there was enough positive ratings to take the chance when I bought my first set. But I do still wonder if how common the negative issues are with these lights. So I clicked on what I thought was going to be a professional review.
    The shipping issues are a problem and I did have a friend who went through the same ordeal (though the lights did eventually show up with an odd english-as-second-language not included apologizing for the delay). But the savvy Amazon user knows better than to just blindly order the lowest price listed for a product.
    The fact of the matter is, that for me, these lights have performed to the level of lights costing 5-times as much.

    • Jeff Barber

      I don’t disagree with any of your points. Like I said, I’m anxious to fully review this light if and when it arrives. In the meantime, I thought it would be interesting to share my personal experience of ordering the light itself in case others want to know if it’s legit.

      I have until April to request a refund from Amazon so there’s still plenty of time. 🙂

    • Mark Watson

      Cool. I look forward to reading your review.

      I will say, it’s hard to pass-up these lights for the price. Though I am usually a big supporter of my local shop and don’t often buy no-name products I cannot figure out why bike lights are so expensive. It was while researching a replacement battery for a Light & Motion Stella (over $100) that I came across the “Cree” lights on Amazon. It just made more sense to give the cheap lights a try.

    • Jeff Barber

      So Mark, how much did you pay for your lights? Also, what “savvy” tips can you give to others who might be shopping for these types of lights?

    • Mark Watson

      I paid $22.99. As a Prime member on Amazon, I usually opt to buy from a vendor that offers the Prime services. Mostly because I want free two-day shipping but also because Prime means the order is either fulfilled by Amazon or by a preferred vendor. Even without prime you can filter your results by “Prime Eligible” delivery. Also, the vendor ratings are just as important as the product ratings. Most of the vendors offering these lights for under $20 have no rating or have only been rated by a handful of customers. That’s a red flag. Look for good ratings based on a big sample.

  • Kurt Kurtz

    While I didn’t buy this particular light, I bought an inexpensive light for my daughter to use on her road bike at college. It has worked well for 2 years, I would use it even on trails (if I have a back up). I have run a couple of major brands that produce less light , cost a lot more and failed. For the price it is hard to beat

  • Casey Schlarm

    I have this light. It’s fine. It’s probably worth $20. But, it’s not even remotely comparable to high quality light from a reputable manufacturer.

  • Fitch

    The Cree XML T6 is a 1000 lumen light for less than $20 on Amazon. Fantastic light that I used and abused all season long – I got a second slightly better one for my helmet and love it. Just sharing!

  • santiagj

    I have purchase this light and has used it as a helmet light. You are right about the shipping times as well as the claimed features. However for $20 bucks what else can you expect. I normally do 10 to 20 night rides per season, each ride is about 3 hours long. This set up is just fine. Buying a really expensive set just don’t cut it for me. If you are like me and ride in a group this set works just fine for the price.

  • Defshark

    I have 2 of these lights on for my mountain bike and one for my road bike.They both work very well. No issues with burning smell while charging or dummy batteries. Bought both off of eBay for 16 for one with free shipping and 24 with free shipping both US sellers and received within 2weeks. Also 2 friends have now purchased these same lights after seeing mine. Worth the 3 light brightness settings and a flash mode for each setting. They work as expected and as advertised for me.

  • badrider

    Same thing happened to me when they missed the delivery date by 3 days I canceled and bought light via prime. Cost a little more but they got here and they seem to work.

  • EmuEmu

    I bought the 5,000 lumen SolarStorm from ebay $25 AUD. it arrived in time. is marginally brighter than my knog 550 but practically the same. Battery lasts *much* longer than on the knog 550s or 640 – i’ve ridden them flat but the solarstorm I’ve not yet ridden flat. I’ve had it nearly a year and never had problems with the charger smelling like burning etc. Maybe I got lucky but I’d definitely buy another.

    I’ve ridden with people who spend hundreds on a light and this was in practice just as good. I tend to mount it on handle bars and put a knog light on my helmet – not having wires to a battery the knog are more convenient on the helmet. However with the superior battery life this the one I rely on even though it much cheaper. I have spare knogs I so I can swap thess if I need to.

  • StaranCycles

    Good article Jeff.

    A solid group of us have done 24hr races for the last decade, the common trend (in almost ever csde) is that anyone who spends less than ~$125 will find themselves walking out at some point.

    The other thing with some cheapy lights is that they just aren’t tidy packages so you wind up struggling with cables and electrical tape.

    My advice is to spend a little more than $100 on something from a company that focuses on riding lights vs less from a battery/electronics company.

  • kawazoomer@hotmail.com

    I have purchase 3 of these style lights. They all look the same but have different manufacturers names on them. The only difference that I noticed was that one a little cooler that the other two in regards to color temp, a little less yellow, more to the white/blue.

    As far as batteries. People have to rethink the way they do things. Adapt or die. I use one of these http://a.co/5DBX33T (Amazon mini charbroil charcoal grill) in my garage to charge all my batteries. Now you might argue that getting an expensive name brand which will relieve your worries about your house burning down. It is just a false sense of security, Do you trust one of the largest electronics manufacturers Samsung and their newest Note cellular phone? These batteries are used in e-bikes, cars, drones, Radio contolled toys and other hobbies, yes even lights for bikes. If you are going to charge batteries, put them in a grill in your garage or outside and charge them. Or you could make your own battery bunker. http://www.flitetest.com/articles/lipo-battery-bunker
    Stay safe. It is ok to buy Amazon lights for 17 bucks if you charge your batteries in a safe way. Being safe requires you change the way you think about charging batteries.

    • Jeff Barber

      Good point: rechargeable batteries from any company, and in any device, can cause a fire.

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