Back in the dark ages of hardtails and 2-in. travel forks, I was working summers in a bike shop in Pennsylvania to help fund my new mountain biking addiction. After a short time, I was blackmailed into joining the local crew for a Tuesday night ride. (I was promised that the pictures have been destroyed.) Being new to mountain biking, night riding was a whole 'nother endeavor, and I thought, “That sounds $%^&ing crazy. Let’s give it a try!” So, I invested in my first lighting system, a state-of-the-art (at the time) NiteRider 15w Pro headlamp, and we were off to the woods. I was to find that these rides were not so much about night riding but night drinking. We would head from our small shop in Broomall PA to nearby wooded areas to build a fire, cook some hot dogs, and drink some beers. Other rides were longer and more remote, but we always ended up building a fire, cooking some dogs, and drinking some morebeers. That was my first experience night mountain biking, and I was a believer -- and no, it wasn’t the dogs and beers (although I am a sucker for a good kosher dog and a pilsner ...).
Decades later, after moving to the Reno-Tahoe area, I was open to the idea of getting back into the dark side of mountain biking. I was initially concerned about being a bit lower on the food chain than I was in the suburbs of Delaware and Chester counties, but resident hunter @Andy Mink convinced me that getting eaten was not an issue in the places we would be riding. My next concern was the initial cost of good-quality lighting, so at the recent Big Gear Show, I approached one of the exhibitors, Ledlenser, to inquire about its bike lights and see if it would let us review a system. In transparency, the Ledlenser H19R Signature was provided to us at no cost to review.
As with many brands that make high-end quality lighting, lights for mountain biking are not Ledlenser's main market. Twenty years of engineering flashlights, headlamps, and rechargeable portable lights has made Ledlenser a “Global Leader in Portable Lighting Systems.” In fact, the 2021 ISPO award-winning H19R Signature that we are reviewing here comes with adaptors and mounts for numerous applications besides just cycling. For instance, it has the ability to be underwater for up 30 min., on for a seat cushion used as a flotation device on an airplane, a feature I have no intention of trying out.
How Does the H19R Perform as a Bicycle Headlight?
Amazing. And quite frankly, with a $349.95 price tag, it absolutely should. I have said many times before, quality is rarely cheap. But over the long run, this higher initial price can be less expensive than buying lower-quality products that you end up replacing down the road with a better, more expensive version -- you know, like this H19R, the one you wanted in the first place.
The lighting modes offered on the Ledlenser H19R are so numerous that they could almost make you light-headed (sorry). Starting off, many lighting systems on the market give you the option of a broader light expansion or a finite, more focused one. The H19R not only allows you to combine them, but you can also choose how powerful each one is and even combine different levels of both. Then we get into strobe and blink settings, which can be used to send SOS or confuse attackers; Optisense Technology, which senses ambient light and dims and adjusts glare accordingly; and a 4000-lumen Boost, which is a 20-sec blast of light. All of these features justify the pricing and show that value is indeed there.
The H19R is pretty intuitive to adjust when it is on your head, with no need to look at the buttons. The large center button controls the combined lighting modes, and the two individual buttons on either side control the flood and spotlights independently. You can also control all of the features via your smartphone, which is helpful if you use a handlebar mount for your it; it works very well with little or no lag. In fact, many devices with apps like this (not just lighting systems) could learn a thing or two from Ledlenser. There is also a bracelet controller, but that might be best for an application besides mountain biking.
Helmet or Handlebar Mount?
Many experienced riders believe that in a perfect world, you would want two lights: one on your handlebars to see where the bike is going (similar to your car's low beams), and one on your helmet to see where you want to go (like your high beams). This gets into the question of want-versus-need, and with the flexibility of the H19R, I see no need for the additional handlebar light. Personally, if I have to choose between a helmet or handlebar mount, I will usually choose the helmet because I want to see where I am going, not so much where the bike is being steered. The only time I don’t like a helmet light is if it is snowing, which makes it feel you are going into warp speed.
For the first outing, I chose to mount the H19R to my helmet. The separate light and battery are 13.7 oz, which is heavier than some single-unit helmet lights, which can be only 8 or 10 oz. I used the supplied GoPro attachment on my Giro Montaro for the light and attached the battery to the back of the helmet, so even if a tad heavy, it was remarkably balanced and felt like part of the helmet design.
On the handlebars, the flood mode of the light gave out a very broad splay of light, which did very well even around corners (where you would “look ahead” with a helmet mount), and the center spotlight focused on the trail when going straight. If I were in a very wooded area, I would tone the flood down a setting or two and rely more on the spot, but in the high desert, it worked very well.
So, back to the question, Do you need a handlebar light with the H19R? I would say no, you could get away with this as your sole headlamp. In trying the H19R on the helmet and the NiteRider Lumina 1200 OLED 1200 Boost on the handlebars, a pretty good $159.95 light, I could turn the NiteRider on and off and there was a negligible difference, that's how much more powerful and efficient the H19R is in the Power mode. Not until I dropped down to the Medium level did I see the NightRider make a difference.
One question that always comes up when talking about lighting is battery life. The brands usually answer starting with, “Up to …”. Well, after a 1:30-hr ride, the H19R, using a mix of the high and medium supplied more than enough light and I still had about 33% of my battery left. So I would say if you are smart and conservative, you should easily be able to get 2 or 2.5 hr+ out of a charge. Ledlenser claims a bit more, but I have yet to see a brand that wasn’t optimistic with their "Up to ..." claims. If you need longer battery life, drop it down a setting for the spotlight, and life dramatically increases actually at a rate disproportionate to the loss of visibility; quite frankly, the Power setting was almost too bright in some situations, and the Medium was easier on the eyes.
I like the light on the helmet and would run it that way most of the time, but would be heedful of the first Insider Tip and get the handlebar mount and install it so if it does start raining, or become foggy or even really dusty, you are ready to swap it down to the bars quickly.
Circling back to the cost of quality, "In for a dime, in for a dollar." It is true that the $349.95 price tag is near the top of the spectrum for lighting systems. It is priced on par with NiteRider's Pro 2200 but with a flood/spotlighting combo like NiteRider's premium Pro 4200 Enduro, which is a staggering $649.95 (and still does not have the great phone app). I am not sure what features I would be willing to compromise to spend less. The H17R Signature doesn't have the flood/spot ability. I did look at the NiteRider combo of the Lumina OLED 1200 Boost ($159.99) and the Lumina Micro 900 ($79.99), and for "only" $110 more, IMHO the H19R Sig does a lot more. I am confident that I will not outgrow it.
- Who is it for? Those looking for a feature-packed light that does it all.
- Who is it not for? Weight weenies: all those lumens and features come at a cost.
- Insider tip 1: The handlebar adaptor is lacking but works well for the battery. There is a GoPro mount included with the kit; pick up a stem mount from your local bike shop or Amazon for $10 or $15 but replace the 5mm bolt with a 5mm thumb screw.
- Insider tip 2: HLE (headlamp etiquette) requires that when wearing a helmet light, you remove the helmet or turn off the light before starting a conversation with another rider/person. If not, when you look in their general direction, you will blind them.