I’ve been a firm believer in the quality and reliability of USE Exposure lights for year, which I why I chose them as the only light I retail and loan out to clients on guided rides – so I’m well aware that I come at this review with a potential for bias, BUT, after years of singing USE’s praises I’ve had plenty of people ask me ‘why bother spending that much money when I can get a cheap Chinese light off eBay for £20?’
We’ve all heard the horror stories of Chinese chargers catching fire, but there are also plenty of folk out there using them without problem and loving their bargain lights. On the flip side there are plenty of riders who’ve had years of use out of their USE lights and sing their praises highly. Being on the USE fan side of the fence I figured it was time to try out the competition and give them a fair shot at challenging my old trusty lights.
With Strathpuffer on the cards I figured it was the perfect time to pitch the two lights against each other, head to head in the toughest 24hr MTB race in the UK. To make things fair I ran a brand new USE Exposure Toro against my eBay bargain (a 3CREE XML T6 5000LM LED Solarstorm). Both lights were fully charged out of the box and fitted side by side on my bike at the start of Strathpuffer. As the sun set I got ready for the showdown, the plan was simple, one lap on one light, the next lap on the other – and to give the eBay bargain a fair shot at this it got to go first while the legs had one less lap of fatigue in them. That was the plan at least…
While riding to the startline in the cold, the rubber band that hold the Solarstorm light onto the bars failed, maybe due to the cold, maybe a manufacturing fault, maybe user error, but it failed. After a hasty dig through the spare box a back up rubber band from someone else’s eBay bargain light was found and substituted in. 1-0 to the Toro, it made it to the startline without a hiccup.
As I set off up the fireroad climb and clicked my Solarstorm light on for the first time excited to see what it could do I hurriedly cycled through the light output options trying to find high power, full beam – it didn’t seam to be there!?! After a few cycles I realise I did have high power full beam, but that the beam pattern was so narrow and focussed it was essentially a rather bright spot light. Uh oh I thought, this could be interesting on the single track further around the lap. I was expecting with three LED’s to have the option of a narrow beam or a wider spread of light, but all three appear to focus on the same narrow spot and shed very little light elsewhere. 2-0 to the Toro and I’d not even turned it on yet!
I cautiously hammered into the first bit of singletrack trying as best I could to not be intimidated by the lack of breadth to the light my bar light was shedding, I switched on my helmet light (the same one I have used for years and planned to use when also using the Toro on the next lap) but still struggled to ride at ease with such narrow quantities of light on the trail, then I hit the first rocky technical descent and as the bike rebounded off the trail beneath me the barlight started to jump up and down clearly not being held firmly enough in place by it’s elastic band. This I’m afraid to say is where the ‘fair chance head to head review’ ended, I switched on my Toro and rode the next 4 1/2 laps of darkness with unfaltering light being cast in usable and manageable pattern across the trail in front of my with not the slightest hint of movement no matter how rough my riding got (and at 2am my line choice was getting pretty shoddy!). 3-0 to the Toro.
I continued to use the Solarstorm on the climbs saving my Toro for the singletrack. If you are looking for a seriously bright commuting light, or something for gravel riding at night then maybe a £20 light off eBay will fulfil your needs, but if you are riding technical trails, weaving singletrack and proper off road MTB routes I can’t see how the narrow beam and insecure mounting of the Solarstorm would provide anything but a dangerous ride.
I really tried to love it, who wouldn’t love a £20 bargain light? But head to head there is just no competition – the USE light has a far superior mounting system, faf free cable free design, significantly more useable beam spread and I know if I ever have a problem with the light I can call them up and they’ll help me out. The Solarstorm is a bargain, and as a headlamp it would be a useable light (although it is far too big to be helmet mounted) but until the cheap Chinese lights come with a firm mounting system, decent beam spread and I stop hearing stories of ‘another charger fire’ I’m going to be sticking to the old trusty USE lamp that, come to think of it, is still hanging off the front of my bike – maybe I should go pop it on charge ready for it’s next adventure.