Cateye Volt 1200 Review

The best way to decide what to spend on lights seems to be:

1. Think of a number that scares you.
2. Double it.

All joking aside, the more you spend on lights, the better, especially if you’re going to be commuting on unlit roads and paths.

Light technology has come on leaps and bounds in recent years. Not so long ago, to achieve the sort of power discussed in this review, you would need a bar mounted headlamp with trailing wires and an off board battery attached elsewhere on the bike. Advances in both battery and LED technology means that these days we can pack high output lights into smaller, lighter packages, which can be directly mounted onto the handlebar (or helmet). Furthermore, manufacturers have moved away from proprietary connections and wiring looms and fallen into line with the rest of the electronics industry by using USB connectors. This means that if you lose or misplace your charger, you probably already have a compatible charger from another device you own, and you can charge the lights on a PC or Mac at work.

Cateye Volt 1200

The Cateye Volt 1200 sits at the top of the Japanese company’s range of rechargeable LED headlights, bashing out a claimed 1200 lumens output. It achieves this using 2 super bright LEDs and clever use of optics (although the distributor told us that all the LEDs they use are rated at 300 lumens and therefore the claimed output is achieved using optics). Regardless of how they’ve done it – this thing is bright.

The unit itself appears well built. Visually speaking, this isn’t a Lezyne, by any stretch of the imagination. The 1200 is very Japanese – more about function than form – and certainly doesn’t have an aesthetic that would suggest it is a £150 product. It’s build quality confirms that it is a premium product, as does the quality of packaging (something electronic companies are learning from Apple – from a customer experience standpoint, packaging is now as important as the product itself).

Mounting the light is simple. No tools are required – simply wrap the FlexTight bracket around the bars and screw the plastic tightener closed. The light then slides on from the front until you hear and feel a positive click, and you’re done. To remove, there is a small button on the bottom of the light that releases it from the FlexTight bracket. There is also a helmet mount available – although I personally think this light might be a little heavy for helmet use.

Charging the Volt 1200As mentioned, charging is simple. The micro USB port is hidden behind a rubber gromit (which protects the internals from the elements) and a full charge takes 8 to 14 hours. An 80% charge is achieved in 10 hours. I find plugging the light in as soon as I returned home is enough to ensure the following morning the 1200 is ready to roll.

In the dark
My commute is split into 2 very different segments. On the way home at night for instance, the first section is bike path. It is unlit, rough, and frequented by other cyclists, dog walkers and joggers. The second section is busy main roads, all uphill, and has almost every obstacle the department of transport could throw at a cyclist.

Setting off, with my breath turning to mist in the cold night air and the moon peering from behind wispy Autumn clouds, I plunge down into the all consuming pitch black of a forested track just off the main road outside work. My senses take a couple of seconds to adapt, but the Volt 1200′s beam pattern is wide enough to give me a good sense of the path ahead even if my side vision is hampered by the darkness. Once adjusted, the 1200 lights up enough of the trail for my to pick a line confidently, albeit not quite at the same speed I would during daylight hours. Once through the initial forested area, I hit a small section of road and then onto a cycle path that takes me over a disused railway bridge, through a tunnel, over a village green, and then alongside a golf course – all unlit. Over the bridge visibility is already reasonable due to light pollution, but once under the cover of trees it is again pitch black – particularly through the tunnel. Again, the 1200 lights the way more than competently, and at no point am I concerned over what might be ahead. The beam pattern is such that even when the 1200 is pointing towards the floor, enough light is cast in front to ensure you can see what’s coming before it’s too late. The only issue I found was other path users – the light is too bright for them to see, so I have to cover the unit with my hand until they pass.

Comparisons on dirt path
Volt 300 on full power:
Volt 300 on path

Competitor 900 lumen light on full power:
900 lumen competitor

Volt 1200 on full power:
Volt 1200 on path

Comparisons on unlit road
Volt 300 on full power:
Volt 300 road

Competitor 900 lumen light on full power:
Competitor 900 lumen on road

Volt 1200 on full power:
Volt 1200 on road

The second part of my commute is more about being seen than seeing. The roads are well lit, there is plenty of traffic, and the Volt 1200 is actually too bright at 1200 lumens to be used in conjunction with traffic. Instead, tone the 1200 down to hyperconstant (that means a constant medium output combined with an awesome, headache inducing flash) and traffic is well aware of you.

In terms of run time, Cateye quotes the following:

Dynamic mode:approx 2hrs
Normal mode:approx 5hrs
All-Night mode: approx 17.5hrs
Hyper Constant mode:approx 14.5hrs
Flashing mode: approx 100hrs

In normal use, it’s difficult to confirm these figures. On the path, I run the full 1200 lumens mode, and on the road the hyper constant mode. The light lasts about 2 days worth of commuting when used like this – approximately 2 and a half hours ride time.

Conclusions
All in all, I am very impressed with the Volt 1200. Visually, it doesn’t look different to budget lights, which in terms of anti-theft might be a good thing, but you don’t feel you are buying into anything special (say for instance compared to a Lezyne Deca Drive or Mega Drive). However, once you are past the ordinary looks, there isn’t much to mark the Volt 1200 down on. It’s super bright, has a wide yet full beam pattern, is suitable for unlit situations and in traffic or built up areas, is easy to mount/dismount and charge, and seems to live up to the expectations placed on it from the manufacturer’s specifications.

If you are looking for a high output light without breaking the bank, this is the obvious choice. A great light from Cateye and one that will be staying on my bike.