Gemini Olympia 1800 lumen headlight review

I've been night riding on mountain bikes for almost two decades now. Originally it was with those hideous grey box lights you'd get from Eveready. They were like trying to ride with very small candles, so ultimately pointless. Then Vistalite brought out the 420 series of lights, the ones that used four Duracell batteries each and produced 2w of power. I had two of them, mounted below the handlebars for the full 4w of blinding power. This now meant that proper off-road night riding was possible. Well, things were all relative back then. Don't forget this was back when 1.95" tyres were fat and braking was by cantilevers. Speeds were slow, so the lights didn't need to be mad powerful. 4w was pretty good, certainly enough to get the full flavour, even if the batteries did only last forty minutes. from then it was through a series of Cateye units at ever increasing costs, but their batteries were never that good. They used to need charging for something daft like twelve hours for forty minutes output. And you couldn't leave them on charge as they were not intelligent units. In the end I just used the Vistalite things for a decade and had slightly crappy night rides.

Scroll forward fifteen years and we now have the Chinese Magicshine type CREE lights, with in excess of 1,000 lumen light outputs and batteries that can last a full rides' duration for under £50 a set. Kind of got spoilt a little bit. I've a set from C and B Seen that have seen almost a full years' action and have been lovely. Nice bright lights with a reliable battery pack. So when I got sent an 1800 lumen Gemini Olympia unit for review, I was prepared to be unimpressed. Another 600 lumens shouldn't make too much of a difference, eh? We all know how reliable these measures are....

Fitted to my bike I went out on Wednesday for an early evening dusk ride. Not quite light, not quite dark I was unimpressed with the Gemini unit. The beam seemed very focused and not far reaching. The rubber band didn't hold the light very well and it would rotate on the handlebar when the button was pushed. The low setting on the light seemed totally pointless. Hmmm, not good.

But that's a dusk ride for you; not the best time to be testing lights. Saturday night comes around; X-Factor or a ride out? Still got the Gemini Olympia fitted to the bike, so put its little brother, the 850 lumen Xera on my helmet, and out I went.

Proper dark, proper test. Now I get it! The low setting worked very well on the uphills and along the North Downs Way. Just enough power to see. Move on to some wooded singletrack, up the power to full. Way too much. Lit the trail up well ahead. Don't need that much power so dropped it to half, which was more than ample. You see the focused light beam makes good use of the light output. Instead of being like the Chinese lights, where ultimate power trumps optics, here the optics seem to trump power and are the better lights for it. With the Gemini you get a nice even spread of light that seems to work better with my eyes. The Chinese lights give a very bright centre spot, a dark ring, then a bit more light. Not at all natural. With the Gemini units I was able to cover ground a little faster, even on the lower middle setting. Naturally having sets from the same manufacturer on my head and handlebars was clever as they gave the same beam configuration.

So, the high power setting. What's that for then?

Going fast that's what for. No idea why but coming down Reigate Hill it all seemed to gel for me. The focused, high power light meant I could look ahead and into the trail and just go for it. With the Chinese lights I tend to not look forward but slightly off to the side. Indeed I've been considering getting a second head unit for ages now, but could never quite think why. Now I know - just to fill in the blanks.

Now Gemini won't want me to point this out, but the Olympia retails at something like £210 with the four cell battery and decent charger. The head unit you can get for £90. Far be it for me to point out that if you already have a decent battery, and a quality charger, then you don't need to shell out on the full new kit. Just buy the head unit.

Overall I'm very pleased with the Olympia. Decent output, eye friendly beam and excellent quality. What's not to like? Not convinced that I can go back to a Chinese unit, not until they resolve the optics.

13/10/2013 update: Been using the Gemini Olympia now for a few weeks. It's a really good quality bit of kit with an excellent bean pattern. I've settled down to just using it on medium, so now the battery lasts ages. Talking of which, the battery I use is a four cell unit from C and B Seen. It has shrugged off cold weather, wet weather, warm weather. It works for a minimum of four hours. For the money this is a superb bit of kit.