Saturday, November 20, 2010

Commutah with a computah?? Cygolite Expilion 250 review - it's just right

I have a small collection of existing lights that are plenty effective for either trail riding or commuting - but recently purchased one of  Cygolite's latest - the "Expilion 250" as it has additional features especially suitable for commuters.   One of those existing lights is the Cygolite Trion 600, which has become my go-to handlebar light for the past two years due to it's performance, ease of use and reliability.  Consider the Expilion 250 a well matched smaller sibling with a few extras.

 Finer points of the Expilion 250:
  • One piece design
  •  Battery is easily removed / replaced
  • Chargeable via USB port
  • Lightweight enough for helmet mounting
As for the one piece design:  It caters well to transitioning off and on the bike.  There is no fussing with Velcro straps & cables.  It helps give pessimists the impression that bike-commuting is relatively fuss free. As anyone who bike commutes knows -  when people are on the fence comparing means of transportation they are often at looking the weaknesses or inconvenience opposite their current system. This is one less thing.

Removable battery:  No-brainer here.  Current lithium based battery technology is very impressive - but they still can fail or die out with time.  Having the ability to swap out the battery addresses serviceability and you can bring an extra along for both run-time and the all important redundancy factor.

USB port charging:  I had initially shrugged this off as unnecessary extravagance.  After all, just about every light system available now can run on high for 2.5 hours or more.  My commute is anywhere from 40 to 60 minutes one-way, so why bother?  Worst case you can reduce the output and have plenty to get home safely.  Fact is, I just like being able to top it off at work - knowing I have more than double the capacity required.  This feature really does help increase flexibility for folks who might do lots of work related traveling.  For example: I have a co-worker who flies in from Chicago every Monday - then heads back home on Fridays.  With a one-piece light that requires no special charger - it's that much less fuss.

Lightweight:  At 130 grams it can be used as a dedicated helmet light without causing major imbalance or neck problems.  This is exactly where mine stays - again contributing to simple transitioning.

Light, handlebar mount, helmet mount and US quarter for size reference

Battery removed - simple twist & lock installation - but watch it (or don't)!  The light turns on immediately when you put the battery in.

Wall socket adapter and included USB cable.

Handlebar mount includes adapters for 25.4-31.8mm Ø bars

USB input charging jack with rubber seal

On the household glass head

While charging - light remains red

Done charging  = green. 
Also green during operation with blinking that increases in speed when battery power starts to dwindle.

So the big question of course with any lighting system:  "how much power she got?". For practical application:  Plenty.  I have used the Expilion 250 all by itself on many rides and have found it to have enough light to be used by itself.  That said,  I prefer to use it in tandem with the handlebar light.  It's in this configuration where the it really shines (grrroannn..) especially during pitch black or rainy commutes. With the handlebar light, one can flood the immediate path ahead to illuminate road hazards without blinding oncoming traffic and use the helmet light to project further ahead or around - and if necessary (yes sometimes it's necessary) blind side-street traffic. 

Side note on lighting in general related to commuting:  I have found motorists seem to respect the handlebar mounted lights more than the helmet light by itself.  Theory:  The handlebar light has the same presence & stability as motor-vehicles.  Motor vehicles are far more likely to scratch paint = more respect than bobbing helmet light - which obviously to the sub-conscious is *not* a motor vehicle likely to scratch paint. 

The following photos are an unfair comparison (in terms of overall output)  - but should serve well to demonstrate the beam pattern against the Trion 600 and the very popular Magic-Shine.   The Expilion 250 is rated by Cygolite at 250 lumen's - the Trion 600 (ready for it?) 600 lumen's and the Magic-Shine a slightly optimistic 900 lumen's.

Overall distance here is almost exactly 100' from the lights to the line between the woods and driveway looking straight ahead.  Camera was set at F stop /  4.0 with a time value of 1.3 seconds.  I'm no expert with photography so go easy on me.

Cygolite Trion 600 -  floody buddy

Magic Shine showing her well defined lines

Cygolite Expilion 250 -  very bright and localized. Quite good considering it has less than half the lumen's

The photos clearly demonstrate the beam pattern of the Expilion is more spotlight / less flood than the 600 or more lumen systems which is to be expected.  This offers enough "hotness" to provide well projected illumination - without losing too much light to excessive dispersion.  My advice - use the Expilion exclusively on your helmet to allow pointing the light where needed.  Usually one points ones head in the direction they want to look or go -this'd be a win-win.

Overall I give this light a 4 out of 5. It'd be nearly a 5 were it not for one issue:  The mount tolerances are too tight!  I don't remove my light from my helmet so it's less of an issue for me personally - but if you need to mount and remove the light from the mount  regularly you will find it very difficult to remove.  I remedied this by carefully whittling away some of the material from the light mount slides and retaining plastic spring / lever with an X-acto knife.  It works easier now, but still offers more resistance than preferred. 

UPDATE- Cygolite has responded to the mounting issue

Here's where to look at more detailed specs: 

MSRP is $ 139.99 - shop around some and you can find it for $20 less.  I happen to know this bike shop..  


  1. Thank you for the exemplary quality review. I plan to buy a Cygolite ExpiliOn 250 also for the facts of fine write ups like yours. Am indebted for your work, thanks again,

    Reid Welch

  2. Reid,

    Thanks & glad to have offered some information you found useful. Your going to love this little light.