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Buyer's guide to the best smart bike lights

Smart Lights
Joseph Delves
28 Jul 2017

Smart bike lights are trying to make the roads a safer place but which one is for you: See.Sense Icon, Garmin Varia or Fabric FL?

When is a light not a light? When it’s an intelligent, motion-sensing warning system that responds to what’s happening on the road around you, that’s when. And this new breed of smart light looks set to be the future of cycling.

Here we've had a look at three market leaders - See.Sense Icon, Garmin Varia or Fabric FL - to see how they compare and whether they can make your journey that little bit safer.

See.Sense Icon

The See.Sense Icon is one great example of a smart light. The original See.Sense light was operated by motion gestures – a cool, innovative feature but perhaps too clever for its own good.

For the Icon, See.Sense listened to user feedback and fitted a more conventional on-off button, as well as a second CREE LED to boost output (up to 210 lumens) and improved waterproofing.

It’ll even send an alert to your smartphone if someone tries to nab your bike while you’re at the café stop, and like the original See.Sense, the Icon’s motion sensors make it flash faster and brighter at junctions  and when cars approach.

Buy now from Wiggle for £149.99

Garmin Varia

The Garmin Varia is another brainy light system that’s been catching our eye lately (it’s clearly doing its job).

Paired with a Garmin Edge GPS, the front light responds to your ride data, projecting further ahead as your speed increases, while the rear increases in brightness as drivers approach from behind.

But perhaps the cleverest part of the Varia system is its Rearview Bike Radar, a bar-mounted display that indicates the relative speed of approach and ‘threat level’ of the eight closest vehicles.

We love it. It’s like being a fighter pilot, but on two wheels!

For a full review: Garmin Varia review

Buy now from Evans Cycles for £259.99

See.Sense Icon vs Garmin Varia: The stats

See.Sense Icon Garmin Varia
Run Time 12 hours Front 2.5hrs, Rear 4hrs
Price Rear £65, Set £120 Set £240; Radar £160

Fabric FLR30 AND FL300

Let’s hear it for Fabric’s bright new offering, dreamt up to make every ride a little less risky. This smark bike light came into the office for review later than its rivals, but was no less impressive for being the new kid on the block.

In an advert it would happen like this: At the HQ of bike accessories company Fabric, a thrusting male execuitve stands in front of a white board and says to his colleagues,‘OK, people, any ideas how we can make our bike lights even safer?’

Up shoots a hand and a keen employee says: ‘How about we put four lights on top of the front light to convert it into a blinky, so that when the battery’s too low to light your way it’ll still make sure you’re seen.’

‘I like it,’ says the go-getter exec, scribbling ‘home-safe option’ down on the whiteboard.

A second employee now raises his hand, ‘Hey, why not put a gizmo in the rear light, so that it can tell the bulb to increase in intensity as your bike slows down?’

‘Hell yeah!’ says white board man, ‘Now we’re really cooking with gas!’

And as he writes down ‘brake light like on a car!’ the room erupts into a cacophony of vulgar whooping and gratuitous high fives…

In reality, like many great ideas, these two innovations were probably just scribbled down on the back of a fag packet outside a pub.

But scribbled down they were and then made a reality in the form of the Fabric FL300 front light (the silver one above) and the FLR 30 (the other one).

The FL300 has a 300-lumen beam with a burn time of two hours (double that in home-safe mode), is
made from aluminium, and is dinky enough to fit on your bars or your lid.

The 30-lumen rear light, meanwhile, has an accelerometer to increase brightness as your bike’s speed drops and a burn time of 8-9 hours.

Both are waterproof (bar a dunking) and can be recharged via a USB port. Both, too, are definitely worthy of a polite round of applause.

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