Knog PWR lights review
Knog has unveiled the next generation of its cycling lights. The new range, dubbed PWR, sees the Melbourne-based company exploring fresh capabilities for the lowly bike light. After years of integrating batteries into its lights, Knog is now separating them so they can be used for other purposes. At the same time, owners can program PWR lights to suit their specific needs.
For some, this won’t be the first time they’ve seen the PWR range. Knog launched a Kickstarter campaign for the new lights in October 2016 but decided to abandon it after a weak start. The platform that had worked wonders for raising awareness and enthusiasm for its Oi bell was proving to be equally susceptible to pushback from unsatisfied backers that had suffered from slow delivery and a 1% failure rate for the new bell.
So rather than develop the new PWR range with an audience of backers, Knog opted to take the traditional route for bringing the new product to market. The decision meant that the company could uphold its standards and contend with the inevitable production delays/difficulties without the risk of disappointing customers keen to enjoy the new product.
A lust for power
After making a name with its diminutive Frog over 10 years ago, Knog’s lights have been growing in size and getting more powerful ever since. While the essence of the Frog lives on in the Blinder MOB, the new PWR range builds upon the intentions of the Blinder ARC while adding extra adaptability to the lights.
Knog’s new PWR range comprises two subsets: the smaller, lighter Charger lights (PWR Commuter, PWR Rider) and the bigger, more powerful Modular lights (PWR Road, PWR Trail, PWR Mountain). The thinking behind each is quite distinct, where the former is largely a standalone light while the latter comprises interchangeable components and accessories.
The Commuter is the smallest light in the range while the Mountain is the largest. Each model in between gets bigger and heavier as the capacity of the battery increases along with the maximum output of the light, as shown in the table below:
Charging times for each light are relatively brief. The Commuter requires 3.5hr while the Ride, Road and Trail will take 5hr to fully charge. There are two ports for charging — USB and micro-USB — and at least one cable is supplied with each light to help with this (Charger lights are supplied with a micro-USB cable; Modular lights also get a male-female USB cable).
There is more to each PWR light than just illumination. The batteries can also be used as power banks for recharging a variety of portable electronic devices (e.g. smart phones, music players, some cameras, and gaming devices). Importantly, there is no need for an adapter, just plug the device into either USB port of the PWR light to start recharging it.
The recharging capability of each light increases with the size of the battery. Knog’s in-house testing with an iPhone 7 has shown that half of the Commuter’s battery capacity will recharge the phone to 10%. By contrast, half of the Rider’s charge will to get the phone to 35% compared to 75% for the Road, while the Mountain can almost fully-charge a pair of iPhones. In each case, there will still be enough power left in the battery to run each light in steady mode for one hour at either mid- (Commuter) or maximum output (Rider, Road, Trail, Mountain).
As one of the pioneers of USB-charging for bike lights, this is an interesting step forward for Knog and bike lights in general. While it’s not the kind of feature that many buyers will have ever considered, it does add to the utility of the product, and in some cases (e.g. overnight adventuring), may transform it into an invaluable accessory.
Mix and match
Knog’s Modular lights (i.e. PWR Road/Trail/Mountain) comprise discrete yet interchangeable light head and battery modules that can be re-assembled as desired. In this way, buyers can boost the capacity or output of the light by swapping between modules, or, use the battery module to power accessories such as a headlamp, Bluetooth speaker, or a lantern.
Such modularity may not appeal to all shoppers, but it does a lot to transform a bike light from an almost disposable product to become something that is expandable and adaptable, even when the user’s needs change. To this end, Knog will be selling the Modular lights in complete sets (as set out in the table above) as well as individual modules that can be purchased separately and assembled as desired.
Customising the output of the lights
Knog further strengthens the adaptability of the PWR range by handing over the keys to the functions of the light itself. Those keys take the form of a desktop app called ModeMaker (to be released late-September/early-October) that allows owners to decide the operating modes of all PWR lights.
According to Knog, ModeMaker will be a web-based app that will run on PC and Mac desktops. Once the light is plugged in via USB, owners will be able to select from a library of new modes or they can create their own. They will also be free to delete unwanted modes and arrange them in any order they choose. Each light must have at least one mode loaded while the maximum is seven.
This is the first time that a light manufacturer has given buyers the freedom to program a light. Admittedly, it’s not a feature that buyers will be likely to use on an ongoing basis, but it does a lot to increase the appeal of Knog’s new lights.
Prices and availability
The prices for the Knog’s new PWR lights are as follows:
PWR Commuter: AUD$75/US$55
PWR Rider: AUD$90/US$65
PWR Road: AUD$120/US$90
PWR Trail: AUD$160/US$120
PWR Mountain: AUD$270/US$200
LIGHT HEAD MODULES
600 lumen: AUD$50/US$35
1,000 lumen: AUD$70/US$50
1,850 lumen: AUD$135/US$100
Knog will be staggering the release of the new lights over the coming months. The Rider and Commuter will be available from the end of August; the Road and Trail, mid-September; and the Mountain, January 2018. Some accessories, such as a helmet mount for the PWR Road and Trail will be available mid-September, while an extension lead, frame mount, lantern, speaker and headlamp are expected to be released January 2018.
Putting the lights to use
For this review, I was able to spend a week with pre-production samples of the PWR Commuter, Rider, Road and Trail. Based on the features alone, I was already impressed with each light, and each one lived up to expectation, as well as the asking price, once I put them to use.
Knog has always had a strong sense of style for its products, and in this regard, PWR lights are as slick and attractive as its previous efforts. There is no sign, however, of the company’s previous penchant for bright colours and playful styling. PWR lights are a decidedly utilitarian effort, and while the simple black alloy cylinders may not excite devotion, they have a very sturdy feel.
Operation: Knog keeps things simple by providing a single button (Commuter/Rider) or a twisting light head (Road/Trail) to operate each light. The latter is spring-loaded so it flicks back to its starting position. Pressing and holding the button, or twisting and holding the light head, for a second or two turns the unit on/off. After that, each press or twist toggles the unit through six light modes (steady-hi/steady-mid/steady-lo/steady-pulse/flash/eco-flash).
There is a red button on each PWR light for releasing the light head (Road/Trail) or the cap at the rear of the unit (Commuter/Rider). Removing either will reveal the USB ports for charging/re-charging. A rubber o-ring holds each in place so a bit of effort (and a firm grip) is required.
All PWR lights have a battery level indicator comprising four spots. As the battery is drained, the spots disappear, and when the final spot starts to flash, there is around 3-5% of charge left in the battery.
Mounts: A bolt-on silicone strap is supplied for securing the Commuter and Rider, while the Road and Trail make use of a more conventional plastic-moulded clamp.
Those that are familiar with Knog’s lights won’t be surprised to see a silicone strap. However, it has been beefed up considerably, which does a lot to provide a sure hold on the handlebars and should prevent it from snapping unexpectedly. Two holes mean that the strap will work for standard and oversized bars.
A ratchet ring is incorporated into the strap so that the Commuter and Rider can be rotated in 10° increments for adjusting the direction of the beam. This ratchet also makes it possible to twist the light unit out of the way when stretching the strap around the handlebars to mate with the hook.
The extra bulk that has been added to strap means more effort is required to secure the light. I found that a decent effort was required to secure the strap around 31.8mm bars, and an even bigger effort was required to release it. As a result, I was inclined to leave the light on the bike until it was absolutely necessary to remove it. A longer tab at the end of the strap would make the strap easier to use, but it would look untidy.
The plastic mount provided with the PWR Road and Trail is more user-friendly. The simple hinged clamp (sized to suit 31.8mm diameter with rubber shim to suit smaller sizes) is easy to fit around the bars while the threaded clasp allows it to be adjusted with ease for a sure hold.
The head of the mount slides into the body of the Road and Trail units. There is a spring-loaded tab that snaps into place in one of two positions along the length of the light; winding out the threaded knob then locks it into place so the light won’t rattle. I found it was a simple matter to remove the light from the mount every time it needed charging.
Compared to the silicone strap, the clamp was much more convenient to use, and the offset design meant that the light could be positioned above or below the bars to line up with the front wheel. The Road and Trail still threaten to add clutter to the cockpit of any bike, however the upcoming helmet mount and extension packs include a GoPro-compatible tri-prong fitting that might allow these lights to be integrated out-front with the mounts for some bike computers.
Output: The Charger lights have a single LED that creates an elliptical beam for broad illumination of the road/path ahead. By contrast, the Modular lights are not only more powerful, they have the benefit of extra LEDs to strengthen spot brightness. In case of the PWR Road, there are three LEDs, while another nine are added to the PWR Trail to take care of all the flash functions.
Side-by-side, the PWR Trail was clearly the brightest performer that provided the broadest beam and the greatest penetration of the dark. As such, it was the light of choice when riding along unlit paths and roads, however the PWR Road was pretty good, too.
All of that power was a little wasted on lit roads, at least in terms of lighting up my way. The Commuter and Rider seemed more than adequate, at least on familiar roads, however I always felt more confident that oncoming traffic would notice me when using the brighter lights.
As for operating each light while in motion, there wasn’t much to separate the Charger lights from the Modular lights. The twisting-action of the light heads of the Modular lights was something of a novelty, but it didn’t make them any easier to operate.
Finally, I didn’t get a chance to experiment with the ModeMaker app because it was still in development. Nevertheless, I find it a compelling prospect, primarily to dispose of those modes I’ll never use and to rearrange the remainder into a more pleasing sequence (e.g. I’d rather start the light up in low power).
When riding in the dark, there’s no such thing as too much light, provided the battery has enough capacity to serve the duration of the ride. Therefore, for those looking at the PWR range, I’d recommend the brightest light that you can afford.
With that said, spending more on one of Knog’s Modular lights will provide a more adaptable and expandable system. Plus, these lights have a mount that is more convenient to use on a daily basis. There is a lot of competition in this space though, and those looking for a bargain will find lights that are cheaper, brighter, or both. However, none of them will be able to double as power banks, nor will buyers get a chance to customise the light modes.