A smart mode that makes a lot of sense and a long burn time are paired with mounting options that fit under the cables, fit oval-shaped aero bars, and an included GoPro mount to make for a genuinely decent light
Includes a GoPro mount
Operates while charging
Smart mode is useful
Mounting system is solid
Works with oval-shaped aero bars
Easy to switch on accidentally
Still using the outdated micro-USB port
Charging port is inconvenient to reach when riding
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We previously reviewed the Giant Recon HL1600 and added it to our list of the best bike lights available, and the Giant Recon HL1800 is a follow up that makes only small changes. The landscape has changed a bit though, and there are a lot of excellent lights available closer to the price and lumens of the HL1800. That leaves the question open, does the HL1800 still deserve a spot on our list?
We've spent the time riding in the dark to figure out what works about the updated HL1800. We looked for anything it may have lost and checked to see if the promises made have been followed through. If you are looking for a powerful, self-contained front bike light, keep reading to see what we think of this new version.
Design and aesthetics
The Recon HL1800 is cuboidal in shape, with a slightly curved upper surface and rounded edges. The front plastic covering dictates the shape of the beam with a pair of LED bulbs sitting next to each other each with their own reflector housings. Move to the sides and you'll find another lens on each side where the front bulbs intentionally leak a bit of light.
Half of the housing - the front third and most of the top - is made from aluminium, while the rest is plastic. The aluminium housing that acts as a heatsink, so make sure there's air moving over it.
Inside the light is a 6,400mAh Li-Ion polymer battery that occupies almost all of the space. Charging that massive battery gets handled through a micro-USB port sitting centred on the front underside of the light. At the surface, over the port, is a rubberised cover and the port sits a sizable distance below. Make sure you've got a cable with a narrow head if you don't want trouble getting it inserted.
Roughly centred on the bottom, from front to back, is the mount in the form of a slide with a depression at the rear. The system makes it easy to remove the light without removing the mount. The connection is solid and you'll hear a loud click when it's in place. The HL1100 and the HL1800 use the same mounting hardware but it feels equally solid under the 190-gram weight of the bigger light.
Flip the light to the top and the only feature is the power button at the front. Turning on the light requires a long press and the surround for the button serves double duty as the only feedback for mode and battery remaining. Once turned on, the button surround will glow with colours that represent the available battery left. Green is 100-70%, orange 70-40%, red 40-20% and under 20% gets you a red flash. Those percentages correspond to the remaining burn times, and the exact number of minutes you get will depend on the brightness setting. There are six of these in total: High 1.5hrs (1,800 lumens), Middle 3.5hrs (900 lumens), Low 7hrs (450 lumens), Smart Mode Day 40hrs (100 lumens > 450 lumens); Smart Mode Night 3.5hrs (900 lumens), and Flash 65hrs (100 lumens). The light retains the mode selection through a power cycle.
There are two scenarios where I tend to use lights. The most common scenario is that it's winter and the day is so short that I'm leaving before sunrise, coming back after sunset, or both. I've tested this light extensively in that scenario.
Using it like this is when the smart mode really shines. As a general rule I don't use smart modes on lights because I need to know exact runtimes. If I have a light that changes brightness it could leave me short on burn time with miles left to cover. I also tend to always ride at about 800 lumens so that, again, limits the usefulness of smart modes. The Giant HL1800 smart mode is different.
Instead of trying to create a need where there is none, the HL1800 simply automates my normal use. Switch the light to the smart mode and the power surround will flash blue for a few seconds. I did discover that during this time it's impossible to power the light down, but once the start up finishes, an inbuilt light sensor takes a reading and decides what power to set the light to. If it's bright outside, you get a flashing light for visibility during the day. If it's dark out you get medium power (900 lumens) which is enough light for fast riding while retaining battery life.
That smart mode behaviour is perfect. If you are riding through a long day, it makes sense to switch the light on at the end of the day as the light starts to wane. The light will be flashing and as the last bit of sun slips away, it will switch to a solid light when needed. That's how I might use the light manually and having it automated makes life easier.
The other time I tend to use lights is when I'm trying to ride through the night. In this scenario, the HL1800 really comes into its own as something special. At half-power, you get 900 lumens and a burn time of three hours and thirty minutes. If it's not raining you can plug in a USB battery pack and at half power or less, it will run indefinitely. The power button is easy to press when it's cold and brainpower is lacking after hours of riding. It remembers the power mode it was last in so set your desired power ahead of time and there's even less to think about.
Whatever your preferred use, the excellent mounting options really seal the deal. The included mounting strap system is thin enough to easily sit under cables as they exit the bar tape, and there's a longer strap for oval-shaped aero bars. Including the GoPro mount option makes for even more mounting flexibility.
For those wondering about beam shape, it's a concentrated oval. There's very little light falloff and it's not quite a perfect circle as the two lights sit next to each other. This is a road specific beam pattern and it works in that context. You'll see what's ahead of you and that's it.
The Giant Recon HL1800 is a genuinely useful light for multiple scenarios of night-time riding. It's not without its quirks, such as it can be easily switched on and the now-outdated micro-USB is hard to access whilst riding, but the smart mode perfectly matches normal road riding requirements and the mounting options should suit everyone.
It's not perfect, but it offers great functionality, a lot of power and decent run times at a great price.
Tech Specs: Giant Recon HL1800
- Price: £119.99 / $175.00 / AU$179.95
- Size: 103x32x47mm
- Weight: 190g without mount
- Colors: Black
- Output: 1800 lumens
- Runtime: High (1800LM) 1.5hrs, Middle 3.5hrs (900LM), Low 7hrs (450LM), Smart Mode Day (100LM>450LM) 40hrs; Smart Mode Night (900LM) 3.5hrs, Flash (100LM) 65hrs
- Battery: Li-Ion polymer battery (6400mAh)
- Water resistance: IPX6
- Certifications: ANSI-Standard FL-1
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