Everything is so smart these days. We have smart phones, smart cars, smart TVs. So I’ll have to say, my eyes kind of rolled when I got a hold of Blackburn’s top-of-the-line light and saw it was called the Central Front Smart Light. But truth be told, it is kind of smart. The light has a sensor on top that monitors ambient light and when in smart mode it will automatically adjust lumens accordingly. Mount up for a pre-dawn ride, flick on the light in smart mode and as the sun comes up the Blackburn backs off the brightness to conserve battery. This is especially good for commuters who may need to light their way home on the same charge. Want to take matters into your own hands? That can be done too. The light has high and low mode positions and a flash sequence. The lumen range is 18-500.
There is something ballistic about the Blackburn Central Front Smart Light. The light kind of looks like the gun used by the John Malkovich character in the movie “In the line of Fire.” That’s mostly due to the Blackburn’s size and shape because from a materials standpoint the light is mightier than the gun. The Malkovich weapon was made of plastic so the wannabe presidential assassin could get through a metal detector. The Blackburn would set off major alarms if it were in a piece of carry on luggage. And that’s a good thing. The light has a sturdy, half metal, half plastic body and feels like it could survive a decent impact.
I put the Central Front Smart Light through its paces during several bike commutes. A 3 hour round tripper that includes an hour in the dark going in and a 2 hour return trip in the late afternoon Los Angeles sun. No matter what light I have, I run it full blast going in and flash coming home. The Blackburn’s three LEDs did a good job illuminating the imperfections (and there are many) of Venice Blvd and Highland Ave. The light even caught the eye of a homeless person trying to sleep on a Hollywood sidewalk. The beam is street worthy but a little too narrow to light a trail on a nighttime mountain bike ride. As for flash mode, it was not as good as others I have used from Nite Rider and Exposure. Drivers did not seem to pick up on the pulsating light like I am normally used to.
Blackburn makes no attempt to pass off its Smart Light as sleek or compact or aero or anything other than bright and functional. That said, the light does take up a fair amount of cockpit space. I run a Garmin 810 and I like to mount it on my stem. As for lights, I prefer to thread clamps under the cables on the bare section of bar between the tape and stem. Getting the 810 into its mount with the Blackburn already clamped to the bars in my preferred location was pretty much impossible. The light is that stout. Sliding the light off then twisting in the Garmin then returning the light to its mount was the sequence required. I tried my wife’s Garmin 500 and found it made a better roommate. I also put the Blackburn’s clamp over the cables and mounted it more outboard. That configuration also created adequate clearance when paired with the larger Garmin. Four handlebar shims are provided for smaller diameter bars but they can also provide clearance to route the cables through the clamp.
The tool-less mounting bracket may be the highlight of this light. It fastens using a single swing bolt. The knob is easy to grab and turn, even while pedaling. The light slides on and clicks into the mount. A release tab is pressed for removal. But the best part is the mount’s pivoting action. Precisely aiming the light to the right and the left is a breeze. Just grab the light and turn. The bracket ratchets both ways, three clicks in either direction. That’s pretty smart too. It would be nice if the light came with a helmet mount. The light weighs in at 195 grams so it might make things a little heavy on the lid but it would be one way to clear out a crowded cockpit.
The fuel gage was just so-so. When the dial is clicked to one of the four on positions, a small LED lights green for 75 to 100 percent charge, orange for 25 to 75 percent and red for less than 25 percent. The problem is the color coded indicator does not stay on leading to some guess work as to how much juice is left. Blackburn says the fuel gage light turns off to conserve battery. I never drained the battery mid-ride but the indicator was of little help letting me know where things stood. Blackburn says its Smart Light in smart mode will burn for 12.5 hours, 1.5 hours in high mode and 3 hours in low or strobe. As an experiment, I left the light on until the battery died. It easily surpassed the strobe spec but in the last hour of blinking the light was dim.
Charging is done with the provided USB cable. Samsung Galaxy users will notice that their phone charge cable will also plug into and charge the Central Front Smart Light. Ok, that’s smart. Charge time for the lion battery is 4 hours. The charge light turns green when fully charged.
Blackburn can call their light smart if they want to. At 119.99 they can’t exactly call it cheap. But riding in the dark or in traffic or both is no casual proposition, especially in a crowded metropolis like L.A. You need to have your wits about you. You need to be safe. You need to be smart.