How functional does a gimmick have to be for it to stop being called a gimmick? Consider down-tube storage compartments for example. They seemed like a novelty at first, but use one for long enough and you might wonder why they’re not on—or in—every new bike. Travis Engel had a similar experience testing the Bookman Volume 800 and Volume 1500 bike lights. They’re loaded with gimmicks, some of which should probably be standard on every light. Still, they’re not quite perfect.
Bookman has a real modern-young-urbanite vibe. I bet their company Zoom meetings are awash with phrases like “hyperlocal” and “livable cities,” or at least their Swedish equivalents. Bookman is based in Stockholm, which totally tracks given that Stockholm is one of the most livable cities on the planet. Bookman’s products seem to be designed primarily around ease of use. Like pedestrian lights that dangle from zippers or reflectors that work like slap bracelets. Same goes for their cycling catalog. It reminds me of the mid-2000’s when Knog Lights reigned supreme. Remember those days? When everyone had colorful silicone Frog lights between their colorful silicone Oury grips? Bookman’s minimalist “Block” and “Curve” lights harmonize with your bike in a similar way, but the new Volume lights are shaped much more like a traditional, techy bike light, with one clicky round exception.
Seeing Lights in a New Light
The knob may be what gives the Volume light its name and grabs all its headlines, but what actually caught my attention first was the fact that it runs on a replaceable battery. I never understood why this wasn’t more common. Pry your way inside most rechargeable lights, and there’ll be a relatively familiar-looking cylindrical battery cell. It’s just hard-wired in. Seemed to me like a swappable rechargeable battery would be an easy way to soothe the range anxiety of long-distance cyclists or last-minute night riders. Sure, that battery will be bigger, more expensive and harder to find than the AA you’ve got in your old VCR remote, but carrying a spare sure beats what I’ve been doing. My long-distance / multi-day light is way bulkier and brighter than I need. I just use it because bigger lights tend to get longer-lasting batteries. When I set out to try something different, it wasn’t the Bookman Volume. It was a no-name light from Amazon … and it didn’t go well, despite its “versatile illuminations” and being “designed for professional night riding.”
I should have known by the $20 price tag that this 800-lumen TOWILD was a little suspect. But this was Amazon, not AliExpress. What could go wrong? Well, turns out, the button could not function, the charging port could not line up, and the whole thing could just not turn on. Of course, TOWILD wasn’t my only option. Fenix comes to mind, and they have a few good replaceable-battery lights that seem much more legit. But their prices are a lot closer to Bookman’s, and their lights don’t have near the refined design sensibilities. So, Bookman sent me the Volume 800 and 1500. The charging port lined up, the light turned on, and the button worked. Yes, there’s still a button.
The knob serves only as a mode adjust, which is probably a good call. It might be too easy to accidentally turn the light on while being stored or transported if all it’d take is the flip of a switch. In fact, there’s a clever feature that essentially disables the “on” button when that knob is in its brightest setting. Otherwise, a long press of the button turns the light on or off, and a tap switches it between solid and flashing. The knob, of course, adjusts the brightness levels or switches between the various flashing modes. But I’ll cover that when I get to the on-bike experience. We still have to install it.
The Volumes use a Garmin-style mount, which is the sort of thing that seems great on paper but raises questions in practice. Lights are not GPS units. They’re heavier and bulkier. And unlike a GPS, a light often needs to be repositioned to suit the moment. But it seems like Bookman took pains to fortify the mounting hardware. The handlebar clamp feels every bit as stout as a light mount should. And it looks clean, with two interchangeable bands to suit 31.8 or 25.4 handlebars. There’s no clumsy stack of shims or hose-clamp-style straps. It’s as sleek and well-designed as you could hope for.
On the light itself, the mounting surface is replaceable if there’s ever a problem. And there was a problem … kinda. After my very first off-road ride, I unbolted that mount to see how it functioned, and one of the tiny plastic tabs that helped keep the mount centered had broken off. But it didn’t really matter. The matching contours of the mount and body kept the whole assembly centered just fine. When the bolt is tight, it still feels solid. There’s a sturdy metal threaded insert in the light body itself, and a trustworthy M5 bolt holding the mount together. In fact, I kinda wish the included GoPro mount would have eschewed the Garmin interface altogether, and just bolted straight to the body. If you can put up with using a GoPro-style thumb screw whenever removing your light, it could have been sort of a “heavy duty” option. After all, there’s so much straightforward utility in this light.
A Second Power
Of course, that utility includes the replaceable battery. An eighth of a turn with a coin opens the well sealed back door and the battery slides out. Again, these are not traditional batteries. The Volume 800 runs on a battery size that’s sometimes called “18650,” while the 1500 uses a “21700,” but there are several different types of each, The ones you’ll find on Amazon are unlikely to work with the Volume. Bookman will soon be selling and distributing the batteries for spares and replacements, but there’s no word yet on price. The fanciest ones I could find are about $15 each, and even if a bona-fide Bookman battery goes for twice that much, that’s not bad.
Regardless, this means I wasn’t able to test out the experience of bringing multiple batteries on a multi-battery ride. But I did manage to track the run times of each light. I only recorded the full-power modes, but the 800-lumen Volume went for 3 hours, 12 minutes, while the 1500-lumen lasted for 2 hours, 40 minutes. Bookman claims three hours for each, so I’m calling that fair. And speaking of fair, I’ll start my ride impressions with a significant criticism.
Warts and all
The edge of the bulb reflector sits a little forward of the light body, which means a significant amount of the light’s power will be shining somewhere in your peripheral vision, or maybe even right at your vision’s center if you need to look down at your front wheel. I don’t understand how Bookman missed this. Every other light I have in my collection has some sort of hood over the reflector, or the entire reflector is flush with the edge of the light body itself. I noticed the problem on my very first ride, and thankfully, my every-ride essentials kit has a healthy roll of gaffer tape. That did the trick quite nicely, and I eventually fashioned a more permanent “hood” out of a square plastic bottle and epoxied it to the light. But that’s not the only way around it. On my gravel bike, I’ve got a GoPro-style mount that sits underneath my GPS, and the offending blinder is blocked from view by my Garmin Edge 130. And of course I didn’t notice it at all when it was on my helmet, though the Volumes aren’t meant to be helmet lights.
Point is, there are ways around the reflector issue. And I think the lights are worth it, because the Volume is actually a pleasure to use. First, as a straightforward bike light, it’s refreshingly simple. I find that a lot of lights that over-tech the beam shape will leave a bit of a no-man’s-land between the center focal point and the outer rim. The Bookman casts a wide, even net. That’s mainly why I didn’t like it as a helmet light. From that high up, it flattened everything out too much. On a handlebar, it was broad and bright. Not that Bookman is marketing this at the helmet-and-handlebar crowd, but it’s a perfect standalone handlebar light. The only time it came close to falling short was on extremely high-speed straightaways, and that was only with the 800-lumen version.
With all 1,500 lumens blazing, I never felt like I was out-riding its reach. In fact, to spend a couple sentences actually comparing these two lights, your top anticipated speed is what should determine which one you buy. Sure, it’s cool that the 1500 has a burly aluminum body, but the mounting hardware is no different. It’s really all about the brightness. If you know you’re going to be bombing down empty pavement at 40 MPH, you should spring for the 1500. For commuting, for gravel, and especially for singletrack, I like the 800. To be fair, mountain bikers don’t seem to be Bookman’s target audience. My broken stabilizer pin issue may be evidence of that, though I suspect it happened on what was technically a gravel ride. So, take my trail-oriented advice with a grain of salt, but I’d rather not need separate lights for separate disciplines. That’s why I did a little of everything with the Volume lights, and I found it handled rough terrain just fine.
And that’s even with those “in-practice” shortcomings of the Garmin mount. I never had it fail on me, but it doesn’t rest dead-center all the time. Though it was never loose in any way, and I wouldn’t describe the motion as “play,” there was a degree or so of left-to-right freedom after the light was clicked in. Thanks to that broad, even beam, it never bothered me in the slightest, but it bears mentioning. Similarly, I’d love to see future Volume lights feature a security lanyard, just like my Garmin GPS units have. It doesn’t take much to knock the Volume light loose. In the several weeks I had the lights, I never fully ejected it, but I once noticed it was askew by 30 degrees or so after I’d carelessly leaned the bike into a bush. It’d be nice to be able to tether it to the bar so it won’t disappear if it gets bumped in just the right way while you’re dismounting or porting the bike. Still, just like the protruding bulb, I’m not calling that a deal-breaker. Because the knob actually lives up to the hype.
Before I used the Volume, the mode-adjust knob just sounded like an aesthetic feature. Everyone loves analog these days. But it’s so much more than that. Most obviously, there’s the ease of switching between modes. You’re not cycling through your three types of flashes to get to your high- or low-powered setting. And you’re not trying to remember, “Is this the eco mode? Isn’t there a lower-power setting?” You can tell exactly where you are because there’s a physical counterpart to what setting you’re in. It’s immediately understandable. It made me hate my digital microwave that much more. Knobs are great. And I’m someone who likes to switch between brightness levels a lot. I only want to be in my full-power mode in the moments I need it. While I’m rolling, I can dip into it if I’m in a cruxy short descent on a rough fire road, and can go two clicks back to a mid-power setting to get back to cruising speed.
It also makes the process of turning it on and off easier. I remember my first light that “remembered” the setting I was in. If I stopped for a moment on a long climb and turned off the light to save battery, I didn’t have to thumb through to find where I left off. Unless I was in that “locked” full-power mode, but that was simple enough to get back into. And that’s doubly helpful when I was in the flashing modes. That’s when I’m out in the real world, with stuff on my mind and traffic at my back. It’s a single tap of the button to go into the flashing mode, and once you’re there, there’s no stopping and waiting for a second when you think “is this the intermittent blink or the steady blink?” That’s second from the forward-most setting. Right behind the “pulse” setting.
Despite all that praise, these lights aren’t perfect. Of course, there are those design flaws, but also there’s the price: $109 for the 800 and $163 for the 1500. Lumen-for-lumen, that’s $20 to $30 more than you’ll pay an established brand like Niterider or Lezyne. It’s $40 to $50 more than budget-oriented brands like Planet Bike or Cygolite. But it’s hard to compare prices on products with incomparable features. I’m not going to tell you the Volume lights are more technically advanced than most—or even any—of the leading lights out there. That’s not the field Bookman is playing on, though maybe they’ll go there someday. In fact, with a few minor tweaks, the Volume lights could be real contenders for cyclists who couldn’t care less about modern urban design, but appreciate their nuts-and-bolts functionality. But for now, I’m glad to see someone offering features that will shake up the lighting market. Even more glad to say that those features are not just gimmicks.
- The knob makes brightness selection easy
- The knob makes the on/off function more intuitive
- The knob allows for faster swaps between blinking and steady modes
- The knob looks cool
- Replaceable battery for theoretically endless run time
- There are hacks to fix my number-one “con” below
- Distracting, almost painful glare due to poor bulb and reflector design
- Garmin mount is easy, but not the most secure
- Minor durability concerns in the light’s mounting hardware
- Aftermarket batteries not available at the time of review
- Similar brightness lights are available for cheaper
See more at Bookman.