If you're looking for a decent commuting light set with a few extra talents, the Cateye Sync Set Core and Kinetic is an interesting proposition. Its smartphone app system will control all lights in one place and even let you know how much battery you have left. If only the front light had a bit more power, it would be easier to recommend.
- Pros: Battery data is very handy; 'Sync', 'Kinetic' and 'Find Me' functions are all useful
- Cons: Mode switching with app can be frustrating; instructions a bit lacking; front light could be brighter
I'd normally start a light test by looking at build quality but let's get straight down to the exciting stuff, because these lights aren't quite like the sort of cycle lights most of us are used to. These two light units feature Cateye's 'Sync' technology, which allows you to control their operation wirelessly via a downloadable smartphone app.
I reviewed the Lezyne Connect Drive Pair light set not long ago and slightly mocked the fact that its users could operate the front light via a handlebar-mounted wireless controller, which was itself situated a matter of centimetres away from the light's own body-mounted on/off/mode button. The Cateye system is a little different and a little more advanced, because via the Sync app you can turn all your lights on at once, see the battery levels of each light, and change not only each individual light's function mode but a group of lights' mode at the same time.
Getting up and running is relatively simple. Download the app, follow the instructions while it finds any Sync-compatible lights in range, and get both front and rear lights connected. One fun feature you'll only discover once you've got everything sorted is the 'Find Me' facility. If you've lost a light down the back of the sofa, tap the 'Find Me' button on your phone screen and the relevant light will flash to signal where it's hiding.
Switching on any or all lights sees the app replicate the function of a mechanical button (both lights also have physical body-mounted buttons for on/off and cycling through light modes). You just press the on-screen icon for a couple of seconds and hey presto, we have light. However, changing mode using the app requires some pretty accurate touchscreen poking and patience. I initially practised off the bike and it was pretty frustrating even then, as the app tends to spend a second or two thinking between modes before being ready to switch to another.
The supplied paper instructions are also at times confusing and not particularly complete: they don't even take you through the app functions. For example, with the Kinetic (rear light) app section, as well as on/off there are two further switchable toggles titled 'Mode Sync' and 'Kinetic'.
You'd expect Mode Sync to allow both lights to cycle through complementary modes at the same time but it doesn't do this, at least not in the case of this front and rear light set. However, it will do it with any combination of Kinetic and separately available Sync Wearable lights (you can have up to seven lights registered to one app). The frustrating thing is this Mode Sync button appears on the Kinetic's page even if you don't have two or more Mode Sync-able products for it to be applicable.
The Kinetic button is easier to understand. Thankfully, those maligned paper instructions do reference the 'Kinetic' function, which is actually quite a clever feature. Tell your Kinetic light to be in Kinetic mode, and when its inbuilt accelerometer detects you decelerating, the rear light will illuminate at a constant 50 lumens ('High' mode) for 2.5 seconds – a bit like a vehicle brake light. Incidentally, the Kinetic mode syncs across all Kinetic or Wearable lights, so when activated, all your Sync red lights will turn to constant High mode at (roughly) the same time.
Those might be the USPs, but how do the Sync Core and Kinetic stack up as a straightforward light set? Let's start at the front with the Core, which aesthetically seems the more impressive of the pair. I can't find any details from Cateye about what the body is made from, but it feels to me like a fairly sturdy composite or plastic, with a textured matt surface. It might not quite exude the same indestructibility of a CNC'ed aluminium body, but its impressively grippy nature means it won't slip out of your grasp particularly easily.
The Core body features a rubber on/off/mode button on the top, and that's surrounded by a charge indicator light. The OptiCube lens has two dog-ears that run along either side of the light body, providing some quite effective side-on visibility. And the mini-USB charging port is smartly protected by a rubber bung that remains attached to the body when removed. It's one of the best-designed light bungs I've seen. Now there's a compliment.
Mounting is made via a FlexTight bracket, which features a toothed band that tightens as you turn its large knurled wheel. The light body then clicks into place on top. Removal is easy and everything works OK. It's certainly better than fighting with rubber O-rings, although the actual mount doesn't feel super-robust.
The rear Kinetic light is much more in-line with rival products, with a translucent red plastic body and a silicone rubber strap handling holding duties. That said, it does seem a little better made than many other rear lights I've tested recently and, as with the Core, it also has an effective charging port bung that won't go missing. Also like the Core, there's a rubberised button to work the light manually.
On max High output mode the Core's beam is rated at 500 lumens, and I can quite believe it because its illumination is on a par with the Lezyne Micro Drive 500XL I tested here. It's decent enough for urban or commuting use, but at this price I'd want a little more puff. In full 500-lumen High mode it's good enough to spot things 20 or 30 metres up the road, but visibility soon gets tricky any further forwards. With the probably more frequently used Middle (150 lumen) mode, it works fine to augment street lighting.
There are only five mode options, but that's not necessarily a bad thing as most requirements are covered. In this case, High mode will run for 2 hours; Middle mode runs for 9 hours; the Low (100 lumens) mode will last 15 hours; the Daytime HyperConstant mode (which alternates between 500 and 100 lumens) does 18 hours; and the ultra-efficient 100-lumen Flashing mode will last 130 hours. Recharging time in my experience took between four and five hours.
The rear Kinetic light has six modes – High, Low, Flashing, Rapid, Group Ride and Daytime Hyperflash, with run-times ranging from 50 hours for Flashing to just 1.5 hours for constant High. Recharging takes just over two hours.
In terms of visibility, it's pretty good. Certainly, for anybody approaching you directly from behind, even the lowest 30-lumen flashing mode will gain their attention. Daytime HyperFlash leaves no excuses for not seeing you, and Group Ride is a great option for considerate social riding as it doesn't blind nearby wheelsuckers. Only side visibility lets things down, which is strange considering the front light's side-visibility-specific dog-ears.
At £119.99 for the set, the Core and Kinetic are certainly not terribly priced, especially when you consider the added tech that they flaunt compared with non-syncable light sets. Even compared to the Lezyne Connect Drive Pair they look decent value.
However, as much as I like the aesthetics of the Core front light, it's not the Sync system's strongest product. It's not particularly talented in terms of luminosity and you could happily switch it on and cycle through modes manually without even using the app.
Thankfully, you can buy these lights individually and, when it comes to the Kinetic rear light used in conjunction with additional Sync Wearable lights, I think the system makes much more of an argument for itself. I'd be tempted to invest in a rear, red-light-only Sync system to make the most of that app control, both in terms of light mode selection and battery level data.
Finally, one neat little trick I discovered in use is that, once your lights are synced, you don't even need to use the app to turn everything on. Simply turning on one of your lights with its body-mounted button will cause all the other lights linked to your system to come on in whichever mode they were switched off. As that's another little talent Cateye didn't bother mentioning in the instructions, it leaves me wondering what else the system might do.
Decent light set with fun, effective and fairly useful smartphone app control
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Cateye Sync Set Core & Kinetic Front & Rear Light Set
Size tested: 500 lumen front, 50 lumen rear
Tell us what the light set is for and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
A smartphone-app-controlled front and rear light set, aimed mainly at urban riders or commuters.
CatEye says about the Core front light: "A powerful main front light that's the cornerstone of the CatEyeSYNC lighting system. With 500 lumens and excellent side visibility, the SYNC Core gives you the power to see and be seen. Can be used alone or – better still – combined with other CatEyeSYNC enabled lights for unparalleled levels of 360-degree visibility, day or night."
CatEye says about the Kinetic rear light: "A CatEyeSYNC-enabled light that increases your visibility as you slow. With a built-in accelerometer that switches to burst mode as you decelerate, SYNC Kinetic gives you an extra level of defense. Use alone or in combination with other models in the CatEyeSYNC family for unparalleled levels of 360-degree visibility, day or night."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the light set?
Cateye lists these details:
Sync Core front light
Compact and lightweight rechargeable headlight
Lithium-ion battery can be charged via Micro USB
Mode memory function
Versatile FlexTight bracket
Sync Kinetic rear light
Max 50 lumens
Built-in acceleration sensor for Kinetic mode (automatically turns on High mode when deceleration is detected)
Mounts securely to the seat post with the rubber band (Ø12-32 mm)
Lithium-ion polymer rechargeable battery
USB rechargeable (Micro USB cable included)
Low battery indicator
Mode memory function
Battery Auto Save (The mode automatically changes to flashing when the battery power gets low)
Main LED for visibility from distance
Nicely made; front light body is a composite of some kind, so not as obviously tough as aluminium.
Although the instructions aren't very good, the basic system is very intuitive.
Front clamp is quite secure but could be more robust. Rear clamping system – a rubber O-ring – is ultra-simple.
Both stood up to shower tests very well.
About par for the course, although rear light's 2.5-hour charge time is nice and quick.
Front light really should be a bit brighter at this kind of point in the market. Rear light was surprisingly effective.
Seem sturdy enough for daily use if handled with some consideration.
Both are suitably light.
Lots of points for the smartphone app control, but overall performance makes the set seem a bit pricey.
Tell us how the lights performed overall when used for their designed purpose
The app control system worked very well for the most part, although switching between apps is a little fiddly. In terms of power and ride performance, the front light is slightly less powerful than I'd like, but the rear light is very effective.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the lights
Smartphone app is not just novel but useful, too.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the lights
Probably the lack of outright front power.
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
It's a little bit pricey for the modest front light performance, but not too far off the money when you consider the added tech value involved. For example, it's a little cheaper than the Lezyne Connect Drive Pair, although the Sync Core front light is not as powerful.
Did you enjoy using the lights? Yes
Would you consider buying the lights? The rear light, yes.
Would you recommend the lights to a friend? The rear light, yes.
Use this box to explain your overall score
Although the smartphone app-control technology is impressive and largely effective, the performance of the front light is only 'OK'. The rear light is quietly impressive, though, and I'd give that at least an 8 on its own.
About the tester
I usually ride: Islabikes Beinn 29 My best bike is: 25-year-old Dawes Galaxy
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, touring, sportives, general fitness riding, mountain biking, leisure