As a preamble, let me declare that I am in no way affiliated with Princeton Tec and that I stand to gain or lose nothing by expressing my opinions about their products.

A year ago, I needed a light for both cycling and skating, powerful enough for seeing and being seen in urban traffic, and with the capability to rapidly switch between the two modes, which means helmet mounting. So I went searching the web. Among the most interesting finds was Bike Magazine’s December 2007’s test of eight LED trail lights – the Princeton Tec Switchback are HID not LED, but the tests were otherwise informative. I ended up with a shortlist of two candidates : the Niterider TriNewt and the Princeton Tec Switchback 3.

As MTBR’s light shootout illustrates, the Switchback 3 is far from being as powerful as the Nite Rider Trinewt, but it has twice the autonomy (six hours at full power) which is important because on a skating raid I want reliable lighting that can last the whole night. Its list price is 40% lower price and it features a blinking mode which I find useful for surviving the daily commute among zombie drivers with mobile phones. Considering the startled looks on people’s face when I ride across town, I’m guessing that the Switchback 3 is plenty powerful enough for that purpose – it even gets me well noticed in daytime, especially on blink mode.

But power is not everything. In addition to the power, the Switchback 3 has a well designed beam pattern with enough reach for moderately high speeds in the dark, and enough width close up for seeing what you are sticking your wheels into. The two outer beams provide the reach, and the diffused center beam provides the breadth. The regulated power supply ensures stable lighting power whatever the state of the lithium-ion battery (which charges in two hours). With battery, the Switchback 3 is 300 grams heavier than the Nite Rider Trinewt, but if I need to lose weight I’ll start with some body fat. In addition, the weight of the light itself is very low and the hefty remote battery can be stuck near the center of gravity, where its weight is not a concern.

The whole system is watertight – even the connectors are very well designed. During the year it endured heavy rains with no problem although one handed connection and disconnection is a bit difficult with wet gloves.

The lamp not only looks solid – it most definitely is very solid. Skating in a traffic jam, as I passed a stationary dump truck I ducked under its rear and forgot about the light topping my helmet, thus underestimating my height. The light smashed hard into the dump. While my head strapped to the helmet stopped my upper body, the rest continued and I fell down on my ass. The light took the full brunt of the shock of my skating 93 kilograms – backpack not included. That was enough to make it pop out of its otherwise sturdy quick-release tool-less helmet mount, but I was able to slide it back in right away and it is still as secure as before. There is now a dent in the frame, but the frame played its role right as the slightly recessed optics did not suffer the slightest. The system has been performing nominally ever since.

I love this light and I think that my security on the road has markedly improved since I have been wearing it. Here is another review from Crankfire and one from Metro Sucks – both go along the same lines.

My only gripe was that the extension cord was too short. For applications such as roller skating raids and even for exploring the catacombs of Paris (hint – mount it on the side of the helmet to avoid bumping into the low ceiling all the time) really for anytime a backpack is worn, the original extension cord is perfect for having the accumulator pack in the backpack and the lamp on the helmet.  But for strapping the battery on my bicycle frame while using the light on the helmet mount, it is far too short. Of course, mounting the lamp on the handlebars would not require an additional extension, but on top of the additional flexibility, helmet mounting allows me to point the beam towards the direction from which I want to attract attention – for cycling and skating, that provides appreciable extra security in dense urban traffic. So I went looking for an extension cord that is longer than the one supplied with the package, but did not find anything like that.

I asked Princeton Tec support for help and the extremly helpful Rob confirmed that instead of a longer cord I could chain two of the original ones. But I only had the one shipped with the lamp and searching for Princeton Tec Switchback extension cord only yielded pages of shops displaying the description of the accessories kit sold with the lamp. None of those seems to sell the cord itself.

I asked Rob again and his reaction utterly surprised me – he simply offered to ship me an additional extension cord… Free of any cost ! That is support above and beyond the call of duty. The Switchback’s price led me to expect good support, but I have often been disapointed by other companies pretending to care. That was not the case with Princeton Tec : those guys plainly turned a slight gripe into complete satisfaction – with a cord now long enough I have nothing left to complain about. Considering the cost of an extension cord, one could see their reaction as just good commercial sense – a happy and probably returning customer for a few dollars, but it is not everyday that I stumble upon a supplier with that sort of intelligence. It looks like I am not the only one to have had that sort of experience with them. Thank you Princeton Tec – next time I need a lamp for anything, you can be sure you’ll end up shortlisted at least !