The days are getting shorter again, which means night riding season is here!
A good lighting system is essential to keep the riding safe, and the stroke high. For me, a typical setup will consist of (at least) two powerful lights: one handlebar light and one helmet light. The handlebar light provides a tunnel of light on the trail ahead while a helmet light tracks head movement. So when you’re peeking around the bend, it’ll be lit even when your handlebars have not yet made it through the turn. Given the twisty-turny nature of mountain biking, the latter is as, if not more, important than the bar light.
But powerful lights need mighty battery packs, and frequently these batteries are external and a bit of a hassle to deal with. For complete freedom of movement, I am a big fan of the self-contained light concept in which the battery and light are integrated into one package. However, this convenience often comes at the expense of battery life. Outbound Lighting is a young-ish but popular player in the high-end lighting game. The company started with a successful Kickstarter campaign to bring their automotive-grade lights to the masses in mid-2018. The Illinois-based brand has since sold over 5,000 of their US-designed and built lights, and they sent along their The Evo Downhill package, which consists of the Trail Evo for the handlebars and the Hangover for the helmet, to test.
The beefy Trail Evo is meant to provide up-close and mid-range fill light, while the Hangover provides a wide flare. And, appealingly, there are no wires! We put this fully self-contained package to the test on some classic PNW trails, and in a variety of weather, to see how these lights — and batteries— performed.
But first, some science talk
LUX and Lumens and Beam Patterns, oh my!
Now, before you ask. I cannot tell you the exact Lumen output for these lights. It’s not a thing Outbound lists in their product descriptions. They believe that Lumens alone are a limited measure of the quality of a light or the visibility it provides. Instead, for the Outbound engineers, it’s a balancing act of Lumens, Lux, and beam patterns.
For example, one can have a super bright 3000-Lumen spotlight, but where are those Lumens directed? You really can’t see much outside the narrow tunnel it creates. In comparison, the average halogen bulb in a car’s headlight emits around 700 Lumens in low beam and 1,200 Lumens when in high beam. That’s a lot of visibility for a relatively low amount of Lumens.
And so, Outbound modeled their designs based on automotive lights. They spent a lot of time studying beam patterns, and rate their lights on measurement of a light’s intensity —or brightness if you will— at specific points in that beam pattern, which is called Lux.
A narrow beam, for example, sends a lot of powerful light far down the trail, but has a tendency to create a tunnel with a harsh dropoff, which is draining on the eyes and mind while riding at night. A wide flare may not allow you to see as far, but it does illuminate your peripheral vision, allowing you to see more of your surroundings. Ideally, one would have a combination, or a balance, of both.
In the Evo Downhill Package, Outbound believes to have found that balance — one that offers real-world performance instead of mere “brightness”.
But if pressed for numbers, Outbound states that the Trail Evo competes with lights at 2,000 Lumens and the Hangover with those claiming to have 1000 Lumens.
OK, science talk done. Now let’s find out how these lights look and perform.
While unboxing the package, I was immediately impressed with the design of these lights. They just look sturdy, clean, and sleek.
The Trail Evo light features 9 LEDs in a rectangle body made of cast aluminum and a rubberized upper. The package is about 3.5” wide by 2” tall and 3” deep, and weighs 312g including the mount. The bracket-style bar mount can accommodate various spacers for different bar diameters and features a horizontal click-in system with a lever release. It looks surprisingly small for such a beefy light, but also undeniably sleek and user-friendly. Since the light sits in front of your bars, the whole package takes up less than half an inch of bar space.
The Hangover helmet light, named after Sedona’s signature trail, is actually quite slight for carrying an impressive six LEDs. With the GoPro style mount included, the Hangover weighs 138g on my kitchen scale. The body is 3.5” long, only an inch tall, and less than 2” deep.
The all-black bodies feature a single, winter-glove-friendly one-inch power button, a USB-C port, a lighted indicator to show mode and battery life, but nothing else. They look super sleek, but also, importantly, rather crash-proof.
On the trail
Without needing bulky mounts or battery packs, the whole lighting system is among the smallest high-output packages I have ever used. Just stick the adhesive helmet mount onto your helmet, click in the bar light, and you’re off! There was no need for installation instructions or even an adjustment period to speak off. It’s highly intuitive for anyone who’s ever used a bike light of any kind.
When I double-checked the bar light to ensure it was fully clicked in, I did notice the teensiest bit of wiggle room between the Trail Evo light body and mount but that was never apparent while riding. In fact, I was thoroughly impressed with how this small mount could hold a rather heavy load. I fully expected to watch the bar mount rotate and slowly drop as it succumbed to the weight with every bump or jump, but it never did.
The only downside is that the helmet mount relies on a 3M Adhesive sticker. So once you decide to mount the light, you can remove the body but the mount needs to remain on the helmet, unless you use a different GoPro helmet mount.
As far as operating the lights goes, I really appreciate the simple, one-big-button approach. Press once to turn the light on, another push to toggle through to the next setting, and a longer, two-second press to turn the light off. No need to complicate things.
There are six modes to choose from, WIth a run time between 10 hours (strobe) to 1.7 hours.
A first in my experience, Outbound offers an “adaptive setting,” which slowly tapers down the light’s brightness as you ride to make the most of your battery life, which is super cool. And you know it works well when you don’t even know it’s working. The light grew gradually dimmer over the course of the ride, but my eyes adjusted naturally and I noticed no real lack in output. For more XC-style rides, you could put in the adaptive mode and never touch your light again.
With that said, I did still switch to high mode for the more technical sections, and medium when following someone else’s wheels or on the long forest road climb up. I didn’t use the low setting much other than on a rare paved section — for my comfort and skill level, it was too dim for singletrack. However, it could be a good option for mixed terrain bikepacking trips, or nighttime road rides.
The light coming from the Trail Evo on the bars is wide and evenly distributed — gentle, even. More like a flood of lighting rather than a crisp tunnel. It allows me to not only see my surroundings, it actually helps my depth perception, which is usually lacking in night riding.
The helmet light provides a more punchy and narrow beam, but it’s noticeably square and not round like a spotlight. The light field is wider than most helmet lights on the market but still throws light further down the trail than the Trail Evo. This helps you see what’s ahead and sheds some extra brightness on particularly techy sections.
Together these lights create what Outbound calls a “light carpet” rather than a tunnel. Not only do you see more, but you also strain your eyes and mind less, making the whole night riding experience more fun (and safe, probably).
I also love the shallow profile of the Hangover — to avoid getting snagged in branches — and the fact that it’s really lightweight for its output size.
Now the battery life is plenty for post-work rides but would be a problem for 24-hour or endurance events. Luckily, Outbound thought of that. Not only do the lights charge super fast (—in between night laps—), you can also charge on-the-go. Both lights have pass-through USB charging, meaning you can carry an external battery and charge while you ride.
While some people may get a kick out of riding in a narrow tunnel surrounded by pitch darkness, I prefer to see my surroundings. With a wider field of vision, I get to pick more line options, and my mind won’t run wild with all the things that could be lurking in the darkness. The Evo Downhill Package by Outbound Lighting is the best lighting system I have tried in years. Not only does it provide the lighting I need on the trail, but it also comes in a super sleek, self-contained package. No wires, no bulk, no hassle. Just, pure night-riding joy.