Review: Cat Eye Volt 1200 (HL-EL1000RC) front light

The Cat Eye Nano Shot was a good beginner “to-be-seen” light. I found the 206-lumen output a little limiting after a while, especially in the irregularly illuminated streets of Metro Manila. For a better night riding experience, I needed more powerful equipment.

 

I bought this monster while vacationing in Shinjuku in the summer of 2014. Let’s see what it’s got.

FEATURES

  • Two white LED emitters with OptiCube optics and reflector design
  • 6200 mAh, 3.6V replaceable cartridge battery
  • Mounts via FlexTight bracket
  • Five modes
    • Dynamic: 1200 lumens @ 2 hours burn time
    • Normal: 600 lumens @ 5 hours burn time
    • All-Night: 200 lumens @ 17 hours burn time
    • HyperConstant: 200 lumens + 1200-lumen flash @ 14 hours burn time
    • Flashing: 100 hours burn time
  • Rechargeable via included micro-USB cable

IMPRESSIONS

Out of the box, this thing is hefty at a rated 214 g. It’s nowhere near as sexy or as discreet as the Nano Shot is, so it may look out of place on a sleek road bike, but it’s also six times as powerful.

The black cartridge battery makes up two-thirds of the Volt 1200’s length, and attaches to the lamp body via three hex bolts. Theoretically this design means you can carry a spare battery and swap it out when it goes flat.

The box contains the Volt 1200, the FlexTight bracket, and a stubby micro-USB cable.

Along the top edge of the aluminum lamp body is a row of heat-dissipating fins, which surround the lone control button. As with the Nano Shot, it has an internal red LED which glows in depleted-charge conditions. The underside contains the mounting latch for the FlexTight bracket (the same one the Nano Shot used, and still works well!) and the rubber grommet covering the micro-USB charging port.

Underside of the Volt 1200 as mounted. The Nano Shot has a rail that went in the FlexTight mount, while the Volt 1200 has a foot that wraps around the outside of the mount.

So, what you would need 1200 lumens of light for? The first time I tried it at maximum output, I let out an evil, maniacal cackling laugh – such was its power. That 1200-lumen rating isn’t for show; it’s the truth. Let’s just say you could temporarily blind people with this monster if aimed incorrectly, and its max power is great for riding trails at night if you were so inclined.

With that power comes a surprising amount of heat. Best not to rest your fingers on the lamp body at full power, because it can get quite hot. No scalding risk at any other setting, though.

BEAM PATTERN AND MODES

 

Cat Eye provides small cutouts at the sides for side visibility – not much, but anything is better than nothing. With the Volt 1200 dipped 10 degrees to avoid blinding dazzle, the beam is as wide as my cross bike’s handlebars, but the optics throw it down the road a considerable distance. It’s a tightly controlled rectangle of light, minimizing light throw into wasteful upward angles.

Yet, the real draw with this light is its versatility. When riding at night, I use it most often in the half-power, 600-lumen “Normal” mode. This is enough to illuminate the road, while warning people and traffic of your presence – for five long hours. So useful and so effective is the Volt 1200 at half power, that I’m now convinced 600 lumens is the absolute minimum light output for any front light worth my consideration. Anything less potent is a back-up light at best.

If you’re like me, and ride around with lights even in sunlight, the HyperConstant and Flashing modes are useful. HyperConstant mode is a steady 200-lumen beam with an intermittent full-power flash, and best used as a less-annoying version of the Flashing strobe mode. Better yet, they draw less current, so battery life lasts even longer.

LIVING WITH THE LIGHT

A long prod of the button turns it on and off. Once on, it rotates around the four main modes, starting from full power, then weaker with each press. A quick double press gets you in and out of Flashing mode.

The programming of the control button could be better. If it were up to me, I would step up in power with each press, and reserve the double press for going in and out of the full-power Dynamic mode instead.

Battery removed using a 3 mm hex key for the bolts. SD card for size comparison.

The battery sinks into the rear cavity of the light body for mounting. This can seize up and prevent future removal, so regularly keep this clean while you still can.

My main complaint with the Volt 1200 is its susceptibility to corrosion. Maybe it’s because of my sweat, but after two years, it’s grown raised blisters all over and a green powder between the top cooling fins. It’s all cosmetic, mind you; it’s ugly but doesn’t affect the light’s functionality or performance, but I suspect it’s also responsible for permanently seizing the cartridge battery inside the light body.

If you have a Volt 1200, make sure you regularly remove the battery and clean its mating surfaces with the light body – maybe even grease it as protection from seizing.

Cosmetic corrosion on the underside of the Volt 1200’s aluminum body.

Cosmetic aluminum corrosion on the Volt 1200’s top side. Note the greenish tinge between the fins. None of this affects operation or safety, though.

That said, that 6200 mAh battery holds its original rated charge excellently into its third year of use, unlike the Nano Shot’s piddly 1050 mAh cell, so the seizing isn’t much of a problem. The Volt 1200’s shining moment was the December 2015 Subic-Masinloc-Subic 200 km brevet, where I put it in service for the entirety of my 11-hour effort. Switching between modes accordingly, but always in operation, it was never in any danger of running out of juice.

When depleted, it’ll take fourteen hours to recharge. If you have a high-current USB charger (around 1 A of output), the wait is cut down to eight hours. Personally, I use the Volt 1200 all week, and charge it on weekends or while asleep.

SAMPLE BEAM SHOTS

All photos were taken with a Panasonic Lumix LX5 at ISO 400 sensitivity, an aperture of F/2.8, and a 1/2-second shutter. The Nano Shot is shown mounted on the handlebars, but was turned off the whole time.

Volt 1200 – OFF

Volt 1200 – ALL-NIGHT mode @ 200 lumens. (HYPERCONSTANT mode is comparably bright.)

Volt 1200 – NORMAL mode @ 600 lumens.

Volt 1200 – DYNAMIC mode @ 1200 lumens.

VERDICT

The Volt 1200 is not anybody’s idea of cheap. It also offers a lot of value. With its powerful twin-LED emitter and good beam-shaping optics, it gives you plenty of usable light output.

For some perspective, to get a front light with anywhere near 1200 lumens in the past, the price of admission used to be more than twice what the Volt 1200 cost.

Add to that its monolithic battery capacity and well-considered modes, and you have an versatile, investment-grade front light that is in no danger of becoming obsolete any time soon. If you ride a lot at night, it will definitely save your skin.

Highly recommended – even over its newer Volt 1600 brother.

Riding in the rain, part 3: Technique and strategy

So, now that you’re dressed for the part and your bike is equipped accordingly, how do you go about the business of actually riding in the rain as safely as you can? Today we’ll talk about just that.

AVOID RIDING OVER LEAVES, PAINT AND METAL

When dry, fallen leaves, painted lane markings and manhole covers are rather harmless and can be ridden over with no penalty. This takes a treacherous turn when the road becomes wet, as nowhere else will you find less grip.

While you still have the luxury of clear skies, practice riding in such a way that you actively avoid or reduce your tires’ interactions with these road features.

Unfortunately, there will be instances where you just cannot avoid these. Local infrastructure repair crews, in particular, love covering up road repairs and potholes with large rectangular steel plates. In these situations, slow down your approach, and try to ride over them as upright and as straight as possible. Do not attempt to steer or brake while riding over large steel plates, as the tendency is for your tires to slip.

Finally, if you encounter an incline or ramp made of metal in the rain, get off the bike and push it uphill. Attempting to climb wet metal ramps is a pretty bad idea, trust me.

APPROACH DRAIN GRATES AND RAILS AS PERPENDICULAR AS POSSIBLE

In places where you have to cross large fissures in the road, such as railway tracks and drain grates, the last thing you want to happen is for your front wheel to fall into them. Once your front wheel falls in, the road fissure ends up becoming a long rut that your wheels will follow, and it can be hard to fish them out of it.

To avoid this, approach them with as big an angle as you can make. A perpendicular approach is best.

AVOID RIDING IN GUTTERS

I mentioned earlier that rainwater serves as lubricant for all sorts of debris particles to worm their way into your tire and cause punctures. Guess where most of the debris comes from?

The flow of car traffic through streets naturally pushes debris off the road and into the gutters on the sides. When you ride in them, your tires pick up all that puncture-causing junk. Trust me, you don’t want to suffer the misery of trying to patch an inner tube in the rain.

BRAKE EARLIER

This applies especially for rim brake users. Since the brake track of your wheels is much closer to the wet road surface, it’s inevitably going to get wet itself. The brake pads have to get rid of the water on the rim before they can do any actual deceleration.

Compensate for this by braking earlier. It’s also a good habit to frequently test the amount of braking power you have on hand. Even if the brake lever feels crappy, you’re still cleaning out the water from the brake tracks by doing so, aiding future stops.

Disc brakes are far more effective, braking power limited more by tire traction rather than the brake hardware itself. That said, always assume less grip is available in the rain, so brake earlier too.

WATCH OUT FOR STANDING WATER

Large puddles and flooding are facts of life in our country’s rainy season. Try to avoid these bodies of standing water as much as you can. The danger is not in the water itself, but the ruts and potholes that lurk hidden in them. Hitting these at speed effectively blind is not going to end well. With rim brakes, fording standing water obviously means your brakes get wet and become less effective until you dry them off.

Don’t worry too much about hydroplaning – the phenomenon of water totally separating a tire’s contact patch with its ridden surface. The round profile of a bicycle tire tends to cut through water, instead of letting it pool in the contact patch as it does with car and truck tires. Hydroplaning is pretty much an impossibility with bicycle tires, even with slicks.

DON’T STOP SPINNING THOSE PEDALS

The longer you keep your legs moving, the better able you are to fend off the chills, which are the biggest cause of sickness. Keep your blood going and your core temperature up by turning the cranks at a comfortable cadence.

AT THE END OF ALL YOUR WET RIDING…

While you’re outdoors, do a quick rinse of the bike. This will dislodge the dirt it’s picked up along the way. It’s best to do this soon after stopping because it will become harder to remove once it’s left to dry on its own. A gentle stream from a garden hose is enough; don’t use water under pressure as this can blow out grease from your bearings and seals.

Wipe down with a rag afterwards, paying special attention to the chain. Slathering on a quick coat of wet chain lube will help fight off rust.

This whole procedure shouldn’t really take more than five minutes – after which, head indoors, strip off your wet cycling kit, and give yourself a nice shower!

Now get out there and ride safe.

Riding in the rain, part 2: Equipment

Previously I talked about dressing for the part if you want to ride in the rain and not feel miserable about it. Today I’ll be going over the preparations I would suggest for your bike, as well as other equipment.

SLATHER ON SOME WET CHAIN LUBE

Now is the time to go over your chain with degreaser to strip it of any old dry chain lube it has left. While some dry lubes still work in the rain, they’re not the right tool for the conditions, and you’re leaving some drivetrain protection on the table.

Tri-Flow Superior Soy is my go-to wet chain lube.

 

Once you degrease your chain of dry lube, apply wet chain lube into its links and roller pins. These are usually made up of plant-based or synthetic oils, instead of the wax that makes up many dry lubes, so they are more tenacious and will provide more consistent protection for your chain in the wet.

Wet lubes do attract more dirt, though. Fortunately, the air has less suspended fine dust and dirt in the rainy season, so wet lubes don’t have to contend with it so much.

EYE YOUR TIRES

Your luck with punctures worsens in the rain, I’m afraid. Wet roads and standing water act as lubricant for debris particles to worm their way into your tires’ tread, eventually breaching the carcass and pricking holes in the inner tube.

To defend against this, inspect your tires for any bits of debris that are sunken into the tread area. Any pieces you find, you should pry out with a little pick. Granted, you should be doing this even in dry conditions, but in the rainy season you will have to do so more frequently.

If you’re used to running high pressures on your road bike’s tires, I suggest cutting down 10 psi. This will let the tire deform a little more while riding, increasing its contact patch however slightly.

PREP YOUR BRAKES

Rim brakes need more preparation for wet conditions. It’s just the nature of the beast. Because of the closeness of the rim’s braking track to the ground, it’s more prone to picking up debris. The soft material of the brake pads picks these up, which can scratch up the braking track and deteriorate the wheel’s integrity faster in the long run. You’ll have to repeat the habit of prying away debris with your pick, this time from the brake pads.

With much harder pads and a more central brake rotor, disc brakes are better equipped to deal with the wet, and will require less maintenance. Like rim brakes, however, they’re not much use if the rotor is contaminated with oil. Take a paper towel, squirt some isopropyl alcohol into it, and wipe down the surface of the braking track or brake rotor. This removes contaminants and improves the bite of the pads. A contaminated brake rotor is easy enough to clean, but contaminated pads are a different matter and should really be replaced right away.

Needless to say, of course, if your pads are thin you should replace them ASAP, especially for rim brakes. You don’t want the bare metal of the brake pad carrier to do the braking against your wheels – they’ll gouge the brake track.

GREASE YOUR THREADS

Water brings the potential of corrosion in your bearings and bolts. Inexperienced cyclists usually don’t give this any importance…until their seatposts, bolts and bearings seize up and become very hard to remove or rotate.

 

Combat this by cleaning and regreasing these parts. Grease is very often your last line of defense. Headset lower bearings, in particular, are very susceptible to corrosion, especially if you ride without fenders. If you haven’t serviced your hubs’ bearings in a while, now’s the time.

For seatposts, grease is usually the way to go. However, if either seatpost or frame is made of carbon, don’t use it. You’re better off either running it dry, or using a carbon assembly paste such as Finish Line Fiber Grip.

TURN ON THE LIGHT

With the rainy season usually comes poorer visibility, with shades of gray overtaking summer color. Us cyclists have a very real danger of becoming lost in the proverbial haze, so we have to fight for our visibility with lights.

I’m a huge proponent of driving and riding with lights on regardless of the time of day – simply because a vehicle or cyclist more visible to other road users has greater potential for safety. This comes into play more when conditions become overcast.

The more lights you can run on your bike, the better. I would insist on two rear lights as the bare minimum, so you always have a backup in case one light conks out. For front lights, I suggest getting something with at least 600 lumens of output.

FENDER DEFENDER

They add weight, are tricky to fit, and arguably don’t look cool, but full-length fenders are your best friend in the rain. Riding through wet streets without them usually results in a brown stripe up your back and a butt cold with street water from the rooster tail your tires kick up.

The faster you ride, the more important that forward bit of your front fender is.

If you like riding through the rain at speed, the front fender’s projection forward of the fork crown ensures that you don’t end up eating the murky water you ride through.

Not immediately as obvious is the protection a set of full-length fenders provides for your bike! They practically eliminate contamination of your lower headset bearings from standing water, and they also shield your front derailleur and bottom bracket.

 

Unfortunately, full-length fenders for road bikes are very hard to find in the Philippines. I had to import mine from overseas. They also require a bike that can fit them, with a complete set of eyelets at the dropouts, the fork crown, seatstay bridge, and chainstay bridge. Fitting them is also a ridiculously fiddly process especially on your first DIY attempt. For comfort in the rain, though, it’s all worth it.

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Now that you have your clothing and equipment ready, in the next installment, I’ll discuss the nitty-gritty of actually riding in the rain safely.