K-LITE ULTRA LD (LOW DRAG) DYNAMO BIKE LIGHT
159g (lamp) £159.99
The K-lIte Ultra Road LD (Low drag) is as its name suggests, a new model designed specifically for road riders who want a bright lamp but with minimal drag. I can confirm that drag is phenomenally low-virtually feels like it’s switched off, when its most definitely on. The old horses for courses line apply here.
Lower overall and low speed output may be a turn off for tourists, tandemists and recumbent riders. However, minimal resistance and produce optimal power is an obvious boon for Audax enthusiasts and riders with posh winter/trainers.
Pros: Virtually no discernable drag, decent output for dark roads.
Cons: Less punch at lower speeds, output doesn’t rival its bike packer siblings.
Externally, it looks identical to the Bike Packer Ultra, albeit with less bulk. In keeping with the family, it’s a beautifully made, sealed fit ’n’ forget system, reckoned to give ten years' service. As a side point, after a year’s continuous service our Bike Packer Pro V2 developed an unexpected fault and Kerry replaced without question or hesitation.
The casings are 3D printed in house, which allows rapid changes in production run. Thee feature a TPE rubber casing, an integral heat sink (or thermal core) allows weight savings, while also reducing thermal junctions and therefore, more efficient cooling. Being a road specific model, it sports three square tech spot lenses, which employ collimator technology and are designed for road-specific riding. Switchgear and other accessories are fully compatible.
However, there are a wealth of differences. The Ultra Road was devised for more competitive riding achieving a steady 30kmh average over 100km. It “only” delivers 750 lumens but bear with me, optics and delivery are key to any systems efficiency/output.
Indeed, Kerry tells me he developed the system so the light
knows exactly how fast you are travelling and delivers to suit, more when its required, less when it’s not - at least that’s the theory and, spoiler alert, that seems to bear out in practice. Unlike its siblings, the low drag version forgoes the low-speed power booster, and I was a little conscious of reduced stand light punch at junctions, or just stopping for a rest/equipment check.
Now, hub dynamo choice has some bearing on this too. Kerry has been defaulting to a SON deluxe low drag hub. I default to a Shimano Ultegra on my Univega and Shutter Precision PD8 and SL9 on my fixed gear winter/trainer. All three units deliver excellent output, although the latter is the most obvious pairing, given the minimal drag design brief. More about this later.
Now a quick word about these. Kerry practices what he preaches when it comes to continuous improvement. Ours included the Go-Pro type, which I wasted no time in porting to my test bikes.
Composites feel reassuringly solid and even the zip ties are a notch better than most, ensuring a very secure tenure, even to narrower diameters. Even though there’s a lot more standardisation these days, some bars, including the Soma Condor aren’t completely uniform. As with its siblings, the lamp can be mounted up or down without affecting performance. Beneath the bars looks sleeker, making best use of empty space, in my book.
In short, lower than a snake’s testicles. I wired up to the Univega for a fortnight - an unusual choice perhaps, given the lamp’s intended purpose. However, Ursula is my daily driver and racks up many thousand miles. The K-Lite Bike Packer Ultra is usually switched on, since I’m often out very early in the morning, or late at night and typically along unlit lanes. Now, paired to the Ultegra hub, drag isn’t invasive with the Ultra.
Wiring up the Road LD and spinning the wheel, I was astonished by just how little resistance was apparent. It was like having the Ultra switched off. I had another quick check - yes, the lamp had come to life.
Now, on some favourite loops, I’m averaging 17, maybe 17.2mph. In comparable conditions, average speed was 18.6 and resistance palpably lower, encouraging a quicker tempo, which compensated for the lower, maximum output. 250 miles later, I switched the low drag unit over to my fixed gear winter/trainer - a much lighter, faster build, closer to the intended audience. Initially, it was wired to the PD8 and once again, I was stunned by just how little drag the system produced and how little resistance I had to overcome. As before, I had to check the switch and lamp were producing light - they were.
Performance gains were on a similar scale - averaging 19.8mph against 18.6, which is quite significant over the course of a day/night ride. Again, the quicker tempo meant I could maintain consistent output from the lamp, although, given the moderate mid 70s gearing, some more intense, drawn-out climbs had me missing the Pro V2. Switching over to the SL9 proved the most harmonious union in terms of resistance, although again, there was that slight trade off when hitting the summit of steep (1 in 7) climbs.
I was warned this might take a little longer to come on stream but given a firm spin, left and right diodes sprung to life and not I the glimmer sense. Rule of thumb, bargain on 15mph plus before you start getting close to the full 750 but dynamo hub will also influence this - closer to 13mph, paired with the Shutter Precision SL9 and running 700x30 tyres and a 76 inch gear.
Attaining this speed is hardly a challenge on a frisky road build. I have mixed feelings about daytime running lights but often run my dynamos during the day, the minimal resistance means you can run the light with no power robbing trade-off.
At that point, the trio of spot beams cast a decent, pure arc of light, 50lumens shy of Exposure Revo, which delivers a maximum of 800lumens and was a permanent feature on my Univega’s bars for seven years.
However, while the Revo/Ultegra pairing hardly created much resistance, it was discernably more than he K-lite family, (low drag in particular). In practical terms, though outputs are similar on paper, using the K-Lite Low Drag, I had more light to navigate by, with less effort. The stand light function is less generous than its Bike Packer siblings, particularly the Ultra, though has held charge for a few minutes.
Coming from the Bike Packers, this was initially a little unsettling but in practice, no drama. (Although being someone who primarily rides far from the maddening crowd, along pitch black lanes leading to the arse-end of nowhere, I felt a little easier with my ORP Smart horn in flashing mode).
Again, on longer climbs, particularly when paired to the SL9, power fluctuates a little but not an issue, providing you’re keeping a steady tempo and aren’t charging tech via their twin port charger.
At a steady 18mph plus, the spot beam gives sufficient navigational punch, more than I was expecting along the backroads, although along the darkest sections, I missed the Bike Backer series’ 1300lumens. On the flip side, while very assertive through sub/urban and town centre contexts, it didn’t dazzle, or antagonise. Not that this has been a major problem with the Bike Packers, given stop-go traffic meaning you’re peeling along at a slower pace, so not necessarily unleashing full power.
At its most basic, assuming you’ve got a suitable dynohub wheel, you can get started with a lamp and basic “single lead” (lamp to hub connection) for £197.75, although the Simple Bar Switch (which allows you to turn the system off and plug in the USB charger) brings the price to £235.34. In my view, the additional features are well worth the additional outlay. However, budgets are budgets. Even so, the latter set up is still £5 cheaper than the Exposure Revo with basic switch.
Like for like, i.e. with USB charger and switchgear, the K-Iite Ultra Road LD saves a tenner compared with the Sinewave Cycles Beacon Light & Charger. Both offer 750 lumens, although the Sinewave has a slight edge in terms of low-speed output but then, drag is negligible with the K-lite. Again, all three units ae fairly closely pitted in terms of optical quality, although while it doesn’t come close to the Bike Packer units, the Exposure Revo has an edge over the Ultra Road LD, if you’re straying from asphalt.
There is no doubt that the K-Lite Ultra Road LD does exactly what it promises and to a very high standard. It’s a serious investment, but this is the case for all high-power dynamo lamps. Not only is it very competitive on price, it matches several in terms of output but drag is phenomenally low. Ultimately, it’s not better, or worse than its siblings and choice boils down to horses for courses.
Gun to my head, go for the Ultra Road LD if you are a faster long distance audax rider, or high-end winter trainer. Its Bike Packer siblings remain a better option if you are tackling the very darkest roads or, fancy some mixed terrain action.