Why Do Outbound Bike Lights Look Different from Everyone Else?
Looks certainly aren't everything, but they're also not by accident, and they can tell you a lot about the motivation and engineering behind a product. To that point, our bike lights look very different from everything else available out there and it's not just to be different, it's all directed first and foremost by the intended application, which lends several advantages to this simple shape change.
Outbound's Hangover Helmet Light (front) next to other companies' lights (back)
Let's take a closer look at the Hangover, designed for helmet mounting and MTB trail riding specifically. What's immediately obvious is that it looks like nothing else no the market: it's wide, flat, and has an enormous optic. Competing lights have traditionally been long, slender tubes, more resembling LED flashlights but with bike mounts grafted onto them. Well, it's not for aesthetics, what's the reasoning behind this shape and why does it matter?
First priority for every light we make is to have a finely-tuned beam pattern, which requires not just a custom optic, but more real estate, as the larger the optic, the more precise control we have over where every lumen is projected. Using a single, large LED and optic is extremely limiting, which means a slender tubular package is pretty restrictive, thus we decided to position the optic along the length of the battery instead of just on the tiny end, to make the optic large, while still having a compact overall shape.
Another motivation for rotating the battery is the intended mounting location: on your helmet. Sure, most lights can be mounted on a helmet or your bike's handlebars, but we use a very different beam pattern for helmet lights than the bars, because they work very differently, so why not make the mounting system more optimized for a helmet too? We used an industry standard Action Camera style mounting tab, which not only allows numerous third party mounts on the market to be used, but rotating the battery cell also allowed us to tuck the mount up onto the backside of the light instead of underneath. This positions the light up to 1" closer to your head than other lights that have to stick the mount on the bottom of the light, which means the weight is suspended on a shorter lever arm so you don't feel the effect of the weight flopping around as much as if it's sticking way up in the air. Not to mention, less chance of snagging branches.
Outbound Hangover (top) and various other popular bike lights (bottom)
Another key advantage of the large optic is efficiency. By spreading out more, smaller LEDs we're able to run each at lower current density and thus higher efficiency, reducing the heat out of each and spreading it out, of a larger area, further reducing the required thermal mass. All of this translates to less power consumption (longer runtime) and smaller heatsink (lower weight), both huge advantages for a self-contained single-cell bike helmet light.
But perhaps our favorite feature that results from this shape has nothing to do with actually running the light on the trail, it's that we don't have to have a "lockout" mode for safety. That may sound silly, but a typical 1,000+ lumen bike light pumps all those photons through a single tiny lens, which can generate a shocking amount of heat when absorbed by dark clothes or other surfaces. How much heat? Enough to melt the vinyl seats in our van in a matter of seconds (yes, Matt did this with a competitor light that shall remain un-named).
This actually happened in our demo van passenger seat, the Not-Outbound light was pointed down at the vinyl seat and started smoking quickly
Since all Outbound lights use a significantly larger optic, that makes the intensity emitted at any given point much lower, so it's physically impossible to melt anything. Still, doesn't mean we want your light using all it's battery when you toss it in a bag, so we designed the button to prevent accidental activation, but more on that in another post.