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As modern LED and battery technology continues to raise the performance bar, the new wave of high-powered bicycle lights currently hitting the market are without doubt the most powerful and efficient we have ever seen. Remember the days of sealed-lead acid batteries and halogen globes? We do too, though thankfully those days are long gone! But as compact and as eyeball-tearingly powerful as some front lights have gotten (how’s that 6000-Lumen Halo light from TrailLED?!), sometimes it’s easy to forget that rear lights are also improving too.

For road and urban riders, having a highly visible rear light is arguably more important than having a stoopid-powerful front light, mostly because you don’t have eyes in the back of your head. And quite frankly, we need to give drivers as much help as they can possibly get when it comes to noticing us on the road.

The Vis 180 tail light from Californian company Light & Motion is a great example of how modern lighting technology is making us more visible, and (hopefully) safer. 70 Lumens of LED-driven power, a claimed 6-hour run time, and a compact alloy body make the Vis 180 one of the big boys in the lighting game. Does it live up to the price-tag? Read on for the full review!

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The original Vis 180 was first introduced in early 2011. It entered the scene as the first rechargeable tail light on the market, setting the bar for everyone else. Nowadays, I wouldn’t even consider buying a new rear light that isn’t USB rechargeable. Since that first model, the Vis 180 has received a number of updates that have seen increases in both LED power and battery efficiency. As with all Light & Motion lights, the Vis 180 is 100% designed, engineered, tested and assembled in their Monterey factory, with up to 80% of the end product utilising materials sourced within the US. When we last checked out the Vis 180, it was still 35 lumens which seemed quit powerful at the time. Now, it’s been ratcheted up to double the output with a full 70 lumens!

“Refined rear lighting ideal for cyclists whose protective visibility is paramount. The Vis 180 was engineered to redefine bicycle tail-lighting by providing a distinct 180 degree spectrum of light. Powerful red LEDs coincide with hi-intensity amber side lighting giving commuters peace of mind to focus on the road ahead. Simple and secure seat-post mounting allow tool-free removal and installation between various bicycles. Micro-USB charging gives users a straightforward solution to charge almost anywhere. The Vis 180 sets itself apart as the premier tail-light cyclists can rely on.” – Light & Motion

The Light & Motion Vis 180 Light features:

  • Power: 70 Lumens
  • Dual LED array for 180-degree visibility
  • Durable Alloy body
  • Tilt-adjustable mount w/rubber mounting strap
  • USB Rechargeable Lithium Ion Battery
  • Separate battery charge and status indicator
  • Settings: High Pulse, Low Pulse, Solid & Paceline
  • Run Time: 6 hours (High), 12 hours (Low)
  • Certified to the FL-1 Standard
  • 2-Year Warranty
  • Claimed weight: 102 grams
  • MSRP: $100 USD / $150 AUD

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Measuring 8cm in length and 3cm in width, the Vis 180 is one of the larger rear lights I’ve used. The light body is constructed with an alloy casing, which gives it added strength and durability over an all-plastic light. It does mean that the Vis 180 is relatively chunky though, coming in at a confirmed weight of 108 grams. Along with the light body’s dimensions, the Vis 180 certainly has ‘presence’ when mounted to your bike. The Vis 180 uses a single black button on its right side that turns the light on and off, as well as cycling through the 4 power settings. On the other side of the light body, an opaque rubber shield covers the micro USB charging port.

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The Vis 180 features a pivoting arm that can be opened and locked in place via a red button. The pivot arm clips securely into a receiver mount, which uses a rubber strap to mount the light to your seatpost. Should anything happen to the light in the future, this rubber strap is replaceable, as is the receiver mount and the adjustable pivot arm. Take note however, the rubber strap does need to be done up quite tight to secure the mount in place. If you’re gentle on the tension, the light will annoyingly shift out of place at the lightest touch.

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The adjustable pivot arm is ideal for those riders who may be swapping the Vis 180 from bike-to-bike. My mountain bike has a much slacker seat tube angle than my commuter bike, so being able to easily remove the light, strap it onto the other bike and quickly adjust the angle of the light body makes my life just a little less painful than it already is.

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Additionally, you can mount the Vis 180 directly to your saddle bag, jersey pocket or backpack by ditching the receiver mount and using the pivot arm on its own. In my experience, this mounting style only works if you can tighten the pivot arm and get it to lock into place securely. Typically that’s the case with a thin mounting strap, like the one pictured above. But if that mounting strap is a little thicker and the ratchet doesn’t lock into place, the pivot arm will open to the next ratchet point, and the light will promptly bounce off at the nearest sign of a pothole or speedhump. This could be a deal breaker for riders who have limited seatpost real estate, as the Vis 180 does require at least 45mm of vertical space to fit the strap and receiver mount.

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As for the Vis 180’s lighting performance, I have consistently been impressed with its visibility, both at night and during the day. In fact, since using the Vis 180, I’ve been making use of it on my daytime commutes as well as for early morning road riding and nighttime mountain biking. The light certainly lives up to its name, with excellent 180-degree visibility thanks to the primary red LED light and the side amber LED’s. In all 4 modes, the amber side LED’s pulse constantly.

However, I initially I didn’t get along with the Vis 180, as I was a little surprised to find out that there were no flash settings in any of its 4 modes. Instead, the light features a High Pulse mode, a Low Pulse mode, a Steady mode and a Paceline mode. So I spoke with Kevin Mitchell, who heads up Global Sales with Light & Motion, about the lack of a flash mode on the Vis 180. “Pulse is the future of bike lights” Kevin explained. “It is legal, whereas a flashing tail light is illegal in many places. It is also less obnoxious than a flash, yet equally noticeable to drivers.” Those are all fair points that I do not disagree with, but when I’ve grown up almost exclusively with flashing tail lights on my push bikes, I’ll admit that I was still finding it odd that the Vis 180 was designed to be flash-less.

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There are many lights we have used previously that I’m comparing the Vis 180’s performance to, but to give you a visual point of reference, I’ve picked out 2 more recent lights to offer some side-by-side comparisons. As I mentioned earlier, the Vis 180 has been on the market for nearly 5 years now, so relative to other rechargeable rear lights, its design may be starting to show its age. In the photo above, there’s the 65-Lumen Flare R light from Bontrager in the middle, and the 35-Lumen Saber from NiteRider on the left. The Bontrager Flare R light is one of my favourite lights at the moment, as it uses a very compact design along with an excellent daytime flash setting. The Flare R isn’t quite as powerful as the Vis 180, and it only gets 4.25-hours of runtime on full power (compared to 6-hours with the Vis 180), but it does come in a much smaller package.

In regards to overall power output and visibility, I do have to say that the Vis 180 is the best tail light I’ve used. It isn’t the most powerful on the market (try the 160-Lumen Rotlicht light from Lupine!), but it is up there alongside the 75-Lumen Exposure TraceR and the Knog Blinder R. That said, Light & Motion do verify the outputs of their lights to the FL-1 standard, so you know you’re getting all (if not more), of the Lumens that they claim. As a point of reference in the below photo, the Vis 180 is the top light, the Flare R is the middle light, and the Saber is the bottom light.

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Aside from its overall power, I’ve gradually become a fan of the pulsing beam pattern. When comparing the Vis 180 to other lights, I had a friend ride along with the lights on their bike, whilst I drove behind in a car. In the case of the Vis 180 and its pulsing beam pattern, I wholeheartedly agree with Kevin’s comments regarding the flash vs pulse debate. The Vis 180 is hella noticeable on the road, but without an intense flashing mode, it’s far less distracting for other road users. When compared to a strobe-like flashing light, the pulse mode also makes it easier for drivers to better judge your riding speed, and therefore the distance between their car and your bike. It’s not to say that flashing lights don’t have their place, but for night time use, I’m now much more likely to reach for the Vis 180. I should note that if you are on a ride and the battery is getting low, the light automatically switches into the Paceline mode, with only the side amber LED’s pulsing on their own. This clever function will get you several more hours out of the battery, making it an excellent emergency mode. On the note of the Paceline mode, this was primarily designed for use within a road bunch, so as to not blind or distract other riders behind you. The Vis 180 will get you up to 32-hours on the Paceline mode.

I don’t think the Vis 180 is perfect however, and that’s especially so when compared to newcomers on the market that are offering similarly high power in a smaller package. It would be nice to see a design that doesn’t take up as much space on the seatpost, and I think a wider strap would also provide a more secure mount. One other area for improvement is the battery indicator, which is a tiny LED located on the underside of the light body. It’s quite awkward to see when the light is mounted onto your bike, and relocating this LED to the top or side of the light body would make it easier to identify remaining battery life at a quick glance.

Bottom Line
Those niggles aside, the Vis 180 light has a lot going for it. It has impressive power, it’s highly noticeable on the road, it features great adjustability and it is built tough. I’m a fan of Light & Motion building their lights in the US, and I like that they stand firm on their FL-1 testing standards. I also like the fact that I only have to charge this light once a week.

Looking for more information on the Vis 180 and the Light & Motion range? Check out the links below. And for those who have any personal experience with the Vis 180 light, why don’t you leave us a comment below?

USA: www.lightandmotion.com
AUS: www.jetblackproducts.com

29 COMMENTS

  1. I own a 60 Lumen Moon Shield, awesome stuff, keeps all cars off me! Would like to see a review of the new Cateye Rapid X3, looks even better and is brighter with 100 Lumen.

  2. First I’ve heard of flashing rear lights being illegal. How does everyone else make/sell them? I have the VIS 180 micro and bought it without knowing it pulsed instead of flashed. IMO, the pulsing isn’t near noticeable enough for the city where there are a ton of cars and other ambient lights. I recently picked up another light that does random pattern flashes and I like it a lot better.

    Besides, this is my safety we’re talking about. I’ll take my chances on running an illegal light if it means I won’t get hit by a car.

  3. I’ve had a 180 on the back and a 550 on the front for a few years now, and I think they’re great. However, the 180 could use a few things. It could be smaller, yes, and I agree that the battery indicator light is in an awkward place. The rubber USB cover ripped off rather too easily, though I still have it and it still fits snugly on the light. A sturdier cover would be good. I would appreciate some permanent mounts for my two bikes, as the rubber ones have failed for me in the past if I haven’t noticed that the strap is seated properly. Having said that, if it’s on properly I’ve never had an issue. I will have to check to see if they have screw-on mounts available.

    Generally, I’d like to see a few more brightness levels – it’s not so much an issue with the rear light, but the front 550 that I have only has three steady levels and only one flashing level. A lower-light flash as a ‘pathway mode’ for the front lights would be good, if they haven’t done so already.

  4. Here’s another extremely satisifed L&M customer. I’ve had a Vis 360 for 4 years, Vis 360+ for 2.5 years, and Seca 700 for 6 years now and they all see VERY regular use (360+ is used literally daily). I’ve only had one minor warranty issue (power button fell apart) and they fixed it very promptly and even replaced the glass on the front light because they saw it was scratched. Ha – seriously. These guys are great and yes they are slightly more expensive than others, but I couldn’t be happier with them.

  5. “First I’ve heard of flashing rear lights being illegal. How does everyone else make/sell them?”

    They are illegal in parts of Europe where flashing red lights are limited to emergency vehicles.

  6. Been running that as a taillight year round for at least three years and it’s been solid. The battery lasts forever in the lowest mode, and it just works. That said there is room for improvement… the battery port and power button are too similar, it rotates too easily on the seatpost, and I’d really love to see it remember the last mode you were on when you turn it on instead of having to cycle through all of them to get to the one you want.

    Also, flashing is illegal in Germany, among other places. Pulse > flash.

  7. Love all my L&M products, my only comment on my Vis 180 is after a wet or just dirty ride the pivoting arm is very difficult to move because of the gunk buildup, its important because to remove the light (and not the mount) you need to adjust the pivoting arm to click the release button

  8. Maybe make flashing for the US where cyclists are getting mowed down by distracted/drunk/road raging drivers left and right, and a pulsing version for everywhere else?

  9. Have been running this light for two years. I love it despite some gripes. The amount if light is great and the pulse mode is the future that people don’t know about. Battery life is great, and charges pretty quickly.

    The pulse vs flash debate shouldn’t exist as flashing lights are annoying to ride with let alone expect other people to look at. Doesn’t everyone hate looking at flashing lights? Isn’t the point NOT to be hit by a car?

    My gripes with the light are that the rubber strap is too narrow and long. It’s long enough to easily fit a large aero-seatpost if you need a bright light for night riding on a TT bike. Around a 27.2 seatpost you have to pull it really tight and cut half of it off. I feel like if it were wider and better able to hold the weight of the light you wouldn’t have to pull it so tightly. Also, the adjustable clamp on mine is hard to use and IMO clipping it to something isn’t really an option. To close the mech, what ever you’re clipping it to has to be very thin and even then mine has come off.

  10. (sorry for my english, i’m French) All my lights front and rear are from LM; had two solites on the front and a stella now with a battery in my saddlebag; that’s my second rear vis180 in 4 years now and very satisfied. They have endured the worst conditions daily , no problem (except (2 times) when it refuses to charge; in this case dismount the device, unplug the battery and reconnect ??).

    My Sony Xperia z3 compact has a magnetic plug for charging via USB; no need to remove the cap for introducing the plug, and more immune to water i suppose ; search “LED Aluminum Metal Magnetic Charger Cable For Sony Xperia Z1 Z2 Z3 Compact” on eBay. That would be much more convenient on a future iteration of this rear light. And why not an external battery for the VIS180 like the stella ? One big battery in the saddlebag and two plugs? Very satisfied and hope you the best.

  11. Now I am not a fan of pure flashing lights (prefer a small strobe inside a steady light), but if the argument is that they are reserved for emergency vehicles, then it would seem they are more visible. Otherwise emergency vehicles should adopt pulse lights, no?

  12. I own the Flare R and I’m very happy with it.

    I just want to point out, that in the comparison shot, if that is on “constant mode”, then it’s only 20 Lumen (not “full power” as stated). It only operates at 65 lumen when in “flash” mode (its flash is not a regular on/off either, which I think is good).

    The article also incorrectly states the battery life. It’s actually 5.75 hours in “day flash” (it’s only 4.25 hours in “steady”).

    Additionally, the Flare R incorporates a “5% limp home mode” which operates the light in a lower power when battery is almost depleted. This actually lasts 2 hours as well, and it’s quite reasonable, especially at night.

    Anyway – the Vis 180 looks great too, I just wanted to point out the incorrect points re the Flare R. Cheers.

  13. @JBikes. The FlareR also has a strobe setting as you describe. It’s called the ‘Night Flash” mode, and it actually lasts 23 hours (+2 hour limp mode) whilst still hitting 65 lumen in the peaks of the strobe.

  14. Light & Motion is a great company, with top-notch customer service. I own three of their headlights: TAZ 1500, Urban 800, and an old ARC HID on its second battery pack. I don’t own a Viz 180 because, even with its upgraded light output, it’s a dated product overdue for a redesign. My biggest gripe is there’s no good way to mount it on my bike. My seat post is completely blocked by a Moots Tailgator rack and bag (no light loop on the bag). Seat stay mounting is the obvious solution, but the Viz 180 can’t be leveled on a seat stay unless you mount it upside down which makes it likely to fall off the bike.

    What tail lights do I like? At the high end, Dinotte Lighting’s Quad Red is both lighter (88 g) and brighter (200 lumens) than the Viz 180. It also runs longer (at comparable output), has an aluminum case with an IP67 water resistance rating. The pulse mode is a bit different than L&M’s, but equally effective. Finally, it comes with eight different mounting clamps. This level of excellence comes at a steep price: $189.

    At the low end, I’m pretty pleased with the Performance Axiom 60 (a re-badged Moon Shield). This single-LED product has tons of light output and can be purchased for about $25 if you wait for a sale. The mounting system is one of those rubber strap systems we all hate, but there’s a tilt adjustment and it works fine on a seat stay. If it ever does fall off, I’ll just buy another one. The Dinotte is certainly better, but this light works great as a backup, loaner, or redundant light.

  15. I have a Cateye Rapid X2 and I love it. Puts out a lot of light (50 lumens max) and only weighs 31g. I do really like the side light on this guy though. My Cateye has some side light, but it’s more ambient than direct. I thought $45 was steep for mine, but after seeing this price tag, the Cateye seems like a bargain now! This light does have some nice bells and whistles though.

  16. There seems to be some discussion in this topic about general “blinking” modes. Can someone explain the benefits of each mode? My light has 4 blinking modes, standard flash, a rapid flash with a bright burst (rapid), a pulsing mode, and an extremely bright and rapid flash (no change in light intensity). I just wonder if anyone has found a certain type of blinking to be better in traffic.

  17. Have the smaller version of this and the 500 lumen front. Fantastic lights. Pulse mode in the rear, I’m not sold on, but I do like it in the front, as it allows me to have a single light to see and be seen with instead of two, and prevents that weird strobe hangover headache when I get done my hour long ride home from work.

  18. Also happy L&M customer but as many folks point out the rubber mounting straps are not user friendly. They move around too easily, are often hard to charge in place, require two hands to take off, etc. I ride my bike (and charge my 3 L&M lights) just about every day and wish they would go back to their more permanent mounts with a single handed quick release slider.

    Personally I’m going to hold off on purchasing any new lights until they switch from micro-usb to usb-c standard. A fully reversible plug is going to be a killer feature and hopefully lights will even be able to charge faster (5 amps vs 1.8 amps). I also hope L&M makes their usb plugs less recessed in the light body so different style usb cables are more likely to be compatible.

    Great to see there are as many bike light geeks out there like me.

  19. Like others I’ve had the Vis180 with an Urban500 for the last 3 years. Both solid lights. Only gripe I’ve had as described in the article is losing one off a saddle bag when the latch didn’t latch completely. My fault but….

  20. What the guys from L&M are missing with their pulse mode is that more and more cyclist use their lights during daylight and would like to maximise their visibility with the proper flashing mode. Users know what they want…
    Also other manufacturers that don’t offer maximum output in a flashing mode will loose some sales for the same reason.

  21. Lost mine off the back of my saddle bag the first week Not the best belt clip/ no tension to keep it on a bag’s light belt like a planet bike blinky. power button and charging button have been the same color and shape in the past. One you peel away to charge the other you press. Not to smart. Rubber strap is too skinny to keep the light from swinging around. Grit gets in the hinge and prevents the quick release capability. Packaging is horrible. Lots of gripes but love there lights. Lights made for commuting with side lights are what we need. Not blinding mountain bike lights.
    Wish they improved their product in a shorter time period. Known problems tend to stay around for years.

  22. A driver coming up behind a cyclist at 45 (or more) MPH needs a distance of about 2 1/2 telephone lengths to recognize there is an object to avoid then maneuver the car around that object. All rear bike reviews should include a (night) photo of the light at this distance, up close photos don’t really tell us much.

  23. I have the Flare R and find it completely satisfactory. That said, the new Specialized version has one feature I would really like. It plugs directly into a USB port for recharging. No need for a cord and tiny, finicky plug.

  24. Love my Urban 550 + Vis 180. I don’t know how people are breaking them mine have held up very well over thousands of miles with only small complaints. Front light turns on horizontal axis with slightest bump of the hand or knee. Got several from my field rep for super cheap. Great lights, my vis 180 has strobe, older version maybe? Not cheap but worth every penny.

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