By John Marsh, Editor & Publisher
Cost: 120GBP (approx. $150) for ICON; 150GBP (approx. $188) for ICON+
Available: At company site and online retailers
How obtained: review sample (tested: ICON)
RBR sponsor: no
Tested: hundreds of hours
Reactive, Be-Seen Flashers Perfect for Daytime, Urban Use
If you’re a regular RBR reader, you know that I’m a major proponent of running full-time front and rear flashers on the bike. (See: Why Not Lights? for the numerous reasons I think they add to rider safety.)
Where I ride, in suburban Atlanta (a car-choked city, to be sure), I believe running full-time flashers is simply the prudent thing to do. And in urban settings, while running errands by bike or riding near dusk or dawn, flashers just make sense, as well.
Over the years, I’ve tried numerous different types of lights. Almost all of them were purpose-built as “to see” lights (headlights, at least) with various flashing modes built in. Not so with the See.Sense lights: These are designed and built in Northern Ireland as “be seen” lights and are simply the best set of flashers I’ve ever had.
Form Follows Function
Because they’re built to purpose, See.Sense front lights don’t look like other headlights, which typically take the general shape of a small flashlight. In fact, as you can see in the above photos, the company’s front and rear lights look identical – except for the red plastic inner rim that denotes the rear light. The shape, and the simple tool-less strap-on mounting allows for a less-obtrusive addition to your handlebar and various options for mounting the rear light (seatpost, saddle bag, etc.)
See the photos of how I have the lights mounted. In the rear, I run the strap around the seat bag mount that attaches to my saddle rails, allowing the light to rest on top of the seat bag, which gives me full, unimpeded access to the bag. On the bar, I have the light tucked under my computer, partially in front of the stem cap. This gives me clearance to grip the bar as close to the stem as I care to.
As for materials, the case is a tough plastic called Luran S, and the fresnel lens is made of Lexan (according to See.Sense, “the same tough polycarbonate used in the helmet visors in the Apollo moon missions!”). I can attest to the toughness of the earlier version of these lights. I tried mounting the rear to my seat bag using Velcro. A big bump sent it crashing to the road. The lens popped off but otherwise the light was none the worse for wear. It’s IP67-certified as water-resistant to 1m for 30 minutes, too, so you’re good to go in any rainstorm.
The Magic Happens Inside
It’s what’s inside the small form factor (5.8 x 3.8 x 4.8 cm), lightweight (64g each) lights that makes them stellar performers.
First off, they’re seriously bright, without “dazzling” others, as See.Sense puts it. Each features two CREE LEDs, with the ICON front light pumping out 320 lumens, and the rear 190 (with red LEDs). The ICON+ lights kick that up to 250 lumens in the rear and 420 lumens in the front.
Unlike other lights on the market, See.Sense. avoids using a narrow beam of light, and instead uses a fresnel lens to disperse the light more than 180 degrees. The lights are super bright only when they need to be – in places where a cyclist is most at risk, such as at intersections, in traffic, riding through an underpass or facing oncoming headlights at night. ICON reacts to your situation on the road, flashing brighter and faster at these critical times. (At the end of almost every ride I take, I ride through a very dark underpass just before turning into my neighborhood. It’s reassuring to see the front light start to speed up its flash pattern and get brighter as I enter the darkness, knowing that the rear is doing the same thing.)
A built-in accelerometer and other sensors feed data through a microcontroller that analyzes the data to set the optimal flashing pattern and brighness while simultaneously optimizing the current for the longest possible run-time. (On the preferred flash mode setting, the run time for these amazing lights is about 15 hours.)
If you ever want to see just how bright and fast these lights can flash, set them in the auto on/off mode and touch your bike in a dark room in your house. You’ll instantly be in the middle of a disco-worthy moment.
Easy to Operate, Some Nice Touches
The auto on/off mode is the default mode for these lights – and I see no reason to use them any other way (even though there are other options; more on that to come). You simply turn on the lights while mounted on your bike, and they automatically come to life with any movement. They automatically shut off after 3 minutes with no movement.
So you never have to bother turning them on or off. You simply grab the bike to ride, and park it afterward. The lights will come on and stay on as long as you’re moving. Three minutues into any full stop, with no movement, and they’re off again.
The only minor quibble I have with this mode is that the sensors are so touchy that you can’t do anything to your bike (air the tires, remove something from the seat bag, etc.) while it’s parked without the lights sparking to life. It makes perfect sense to me, though, that the electronics are so sensitive – and it’s reassuring to see them work so well.
The lights do have an on/off button on the face of the light, so if you want to manually control it, you can. Holding the botton for a couple of seconds turns it on and off. Pressing the button momentarily switches from flash to steady light mode on both the front and rear lights.
Among other nice touches are the rubber mounting adapters that are designed to “plug into” the micro-USB charging ports on the back of the lights (see photos). This obviates the need for any rubber flap that covers the port; I have other devices that utilize such a flap, oftentimes so flimsy I’m afraid it will tear off. Then what?
While it’s a good design in that respect, the inset port has one bothersome flaw: It sometimes takes me multiple tries to get the little micro-USB plugged into the receptacle, which is recessed a few millimeters into the light. You can’t see the receptacle at all when you’re plugging in the charging cable, so it’s completely by feel.
Smartphone Connection Adds Useful Functionality
As with so many modern bike products these days, the See.Sense ICON lights feature an optional smartphone connection (via Bluetooth) that allows you to check your battery levels, control the brightness of the lights, pair the lights and set both crash and theft alerts. To use the smartphone connection, you simply have to download the See.Sense app, available for both Android and iOS.
I love technology and use my iPhone for all manner of things. But while a couple of the functions available through the app are truly useful, others just strike me as tech overkill.
First off, the battery level reading on each individual light is quite useful. There’s no guesswork needed (see the screen shot from my phone); the app shows you to the percent how much battery life is left in the charge. You can get a battery reading manually when you turn off the lights by counting the number of flashes of a little green light in the corner of each light, but it’s a fairly wide-ranging approximation.
You can also use a slider on the app to set your preferred brightness for the lights, and change the mode and flash pattern. The brightness setting can help extend the run time and can come in quite handy if the battery level drops fairly low, and you want to make sure you make it home with the lights still running.
An argument can be made for the utility of setting crash and theft alerts using the app. However, similar features are built into other apps and devices including computers, helmets, locks, etc. I won’t use these features with the lights.
The real “overkill” feature is the ability to “pair” the lights, so that when you turn on one, both come on. If you use the auto on/off mode, there’s no reason at all to “pair” the lights.
The Bottom Line
The See.Sense ICON lights have some extremely minor negatives, but those are far outweighed by the myriad extremely beneficial positive features of these full-time flashers. Designed to be the premier, tech-driven “be seen” lights on the market, they achieve their aim.
These are simply the best set of flashers I’ve ever had. It’s the tech inside that makes them stellar performers. See.Sense. avoids using a narrow beam of light, and instead uses a fresnel lens to disperse the light more than 180 degrees. The lights are super bright only when they need to be – in places where a cyclist is most at risk, such as at intersections, in traffic, riding through an underpass or facing oncoming headlights at night. ICON reacts to your situation on the road, flashing brighter and faster at these critical times. The sum total are flashers than can helpkeep you safer on the road.
I highly recommend these lights if you’re in the market for a set of full-time flashers.
John Marsh is the editor and publisher of RBR Newsletter and RoadBikeRider.com. A rider of “less than podium” talent, he sees himself as RBR’s Ringmaster, guiding the real talent (RBR’s great coaches, contributors and authors) in bringing our readers consistently useful, informative, entertaining info that helps make them better road cyclists. That’s what we’re all about here—always have been, always will be. Click to read John’s full bio.
i purchased these lights when they were originally offered a few years ago before all the comments started about being visible during daytime rides. They have performed flawlessly as described. I plan to buy the newest version of these lights for my second bike.
John Marsh says
I still have the old version, too, on my wife’s bike. The new one’s have been significantly improved. You’ll love them.
Jon Peck says
They sound great, but my Knog “be-seen” lights work very well at a much lower price.
I was an early adopter of SeeSense lights and own all 3 versions including the latest ICON+ John’s review is spot-on. These are the best lights I’ve ever owned. Daytime use should not be optional just as wearing a helmet shouldn’t be. Non-helmet wearers need not respond.
John Schubert says
Seth, be careful what you wish for. Under normal daylight conditions, a bicyclist with no lights, wearing black clothing, can easily be seen from 200 yards. How much victim blaming do you want when a negligent motorist hits a bicyclist? We get enough victim blaming already without our clamoring for more excuses for yet more victim blaming.
John Marsh says
John, I don’t think Seth was doing any victim blaming at all. I think he, like me, is acknowledging reality, that there are so many distracted motorists these days (and so many traffic-choked roads on which we’re forced to ride — if you live in or near a big city like I do) that adding safety features like full-time use of lights is just the sensible thing to do.