FENIX BC26R Bicycle Headlight
Endurance cyclists, randonneurs and gravel cyclists have a unique set of requirements. Unlike mountain bikers, we do not crave the highest lumen, nor are we weight weenies like our road racing cousins. What we value is - reliability, run time, and convenience. This is the feature set that the Fenix BC26R offers in droves. I've tested this bicycle light for over eight months in the Himalayas. It has been my daily driver and I've used it for all my bikepacking and gravel adventures. Here's what I think of the Fenix BC26R.
I received the Fenix BC26R in its official retail packaging. The packaging is a typical Fenix plastic see-through box. In the box we get -
- Fenix BC26R Bike Light
- Fenix 21700 Rechargeable 5000mAh battery
- Quick-release cam-based tool-less bike mount
- Rubber shims for mounting it on narrow (25.4) handlebars
- USB-C charging cable
- Spare rubber O ring
- Warranty card
Build, Fit & Finish
The BC26R resembles a loaf of bread with its rounded top and flat underside. The underside has built-in slide rails for the mount. This elongated flashlight form factor is reminiscent of Fenix flashlights. It is a simple design, easy to hold and use as a flashlight. Useful when out bikepacking or while fixing a bike late at night. The sides have fins that run along the length of the light for grip and better heat dissipation. There is a single power switch on the top. The power switch looks classy in a bronze finish and features a built-in led that acts as a battery level indicator. The LED turns red while charging and green to indicate a full charge. The USB-C charging port is located below the light and covered in a thick rubber seal. Fenix has finally ditched the Micro-USB port for all its latest lights. It means I need just one cable in my bikepacking handlebar bag (Thank You Fenix!). On the back, we have a plastic tail cap that accommodates the humongous 21700, 5000mAh battery. The supplied battery is a Fenix 5000mAh ARB-L21-5000 Li-ion battery. The tail cap threads feature a rubber "O ring" to keep the elements out. This BC26R doesn't stray from the core Fenix DNA. It is dust-proof, water-proof and shock-proof. The light is IP68-rated. It can survive submersion in 1 metre of water for up to 30 minutes. Fenix indicates that the BC26R is drop tested and withstands drops from 4.5 ft in altitude.
The 21700 battery is a rechargeable lithium-ion cylindrical cell defined by its 21mm x 70mm dimensions. The 21700 is a fast-growing battery size as modern flashlights and other high-drain devices require increased battery capacities for extended runtimes. 21700 is a universal battery standard and that makes it easy to source. If you have the older 18650 batteries lying around then you can buy an ALF-18 adapter to convert it to 21700. The choice of the battery directly correlates to how long you can use the light. An easy-to-source non-proprietary battery makes any light future-proof. I wish more manufacturers worked with a similar premise.
Features / Notes from the Field
For the past 8 months, I've been using the Fenix BC26R in the Himalayas. This includes about 10 overnighters and 3 longer (more than a week) bikepacking trips and daily bouts of gravel riding in my neighbourhood.
I've used it through the monsoon season and I can vouch for the fact that it is waterproof. The 2022 monsoon has been long and harsh. Through 3 months of rain and slush thrown up by cars and trucks, it's been unfazed in its water-shrugging ability. Moreover, it has survived being hosed down by a pressure washer after every ride.
There have been 2 instances where I've ridden with the BC26R through the night. In both instances, I had to cycle back from a bikepacking trip. Through these overnighters, the 600-lumen mode lasted me for 8h:40m and 7h:10m hours. In the latter journey, I used the turbo (1600 lumen) mode for a sketchy descent and that reduced the run time. This long runtime at 600-lumen brightness makes this light unique and an excellent candidate for brevets. Because the average speed on brevets is under 25kmph, the 600-lumen mode does a good job of lighting up the road. The fact that the battery is replaceable works in this light's favour. If I do happen to run out of juice I can simply swap the old battery for a fresh one and be on my way in under 30 seconds. In the case of a light with a built-in battery, I'd have to wait for the non-replaceable battery light to charge.
Top Tip. Apply a small dab of vaseline to your tail cap threads. Not only does it keep things waterproof but helps improve O ring life by keeping the rubber supple and lubricated.
My usual daily ride is a 15 km winding single mountain road to the highest point in the neighbourhood (Nathatop). This route has a 900m+ elevation gain. Most days I like to watch the sunset at Nathatop which means that I have to descend after dark. On this descent that has no guardrails, I use the 1600-lumen turbo mode. The 1600-lumen flood light lights up the corners and gives ample warning to any oncoming drivers. I have to make sure that the light is angled down to avoid blinding the incoming traffic. If you do a lot of these short hard rides, then the turbo (1600 lumen / 2 hr runtime) mode makes a lot of sense, for ascents and normal (under 30 kph) riding the 400 /600-lumen mode suffices.
While the low (50 lm / 65 hr) mode may be low to ride with, it is excellent for camping. It offers the right amount of light for camp chores after the sun goes down. For cooking, setting up camp, and night light, the low mode is perfect. I'm happy Fenix chose to include this long-running (over 2.5 days) mode as a part of this light. It has been my go-to mode for camping in all my bikepacking adventures.
The BC26R comes with a 600-lumen flash mode that is activated by pressing the power button twice in rapid succession from any mode. I love this quick access to the flash mode. You don't have to cycle through multiple modes to access this mode. Multiple flash modes are overkill and I'm glad that Fenix chose to go with one flash mode at the right lumen. 600 lumen makes you visible on the brightest sunny day. The purpose of daytime running lights is not to light up the road but to make you more visible on the road to other drivers.
A Danish study found that the accident rate is 19% lower for cyclists with permanent running lights mounted.
Because Fenix makes many excellent EDC flashlights some of you may be wondering if you can achieve the bicycle light functionality by using the Fenix ALB-10 adapter with an existing flashlight. I have done the very same thing for one winter, but I find that the BC26R is a more elegant solution. Here, I think it is important to point out the design decisions that make the BC26R much more than a flashlight and a "proper" bicycle light
The Fenix BC26R features a 100º wide beam reflector angle built in. This is much wider than normal EDC Fenix flashlights. The wider beam pattern gives the rider spatial awareness as you're able to see the sides of the road/trail. This is even more useful when you have to plan a good line through non-metalled roads.
Side visibility slits
The flashlight features two side slits that light up when you turn on the lights. These side slits are too dim for the urban environment but on dark rural roads, these side slits help make the rider more visible from a side-on perspective.
Recessed light with a roof
Light designers forget that a bicycle light is supposed to light the road and not the rider's eyes. The BC26R LED is inset into the body to reduce glare. It features a well-designed lip on the top which means the beam doesn't dazzle the rider and helps preserve his night vision even when riding out of the saddle.
Mount supports sideways movement
The proprietary Fenix mount allows for side-to-side angle adjustments of roughly 30° to each side with indexed positions. This means I can dial in the angle of the light to point it where I want without having to take the light off the handlebars.
The symmetrical reflector on the BC26R may not provide for an anti-glare cut-off facula line but on the flip side, it means you can mount the light upside down or on its side and yet benefit from a uniform beam pattern. This is useful when you have handlebar bags that may impair the light and you need a creative way to mount the light.
However, not everything is rosy with the BC26R there are a few shortcomings with this light. None of these cons is a dealbreaker but they are worth mentioning
Out of the box, the BC26R comes with a proprietary mount. It is an excellent mount but cyclists expect a Garmin / GoPro mount for a much cleaner look. Fenix does make the Fenix ALD-10 GoPro accessory but it costs an extra ₹ 700
If you're an urban considerate cyclist then a facula/cut-off line is a good feature to have to avoid blinding oncoming traffic. Old Fenix bicycle lights like the BC25R and the BC30R did come with this feature but it is not present on this light. I wonder whether it has been taken out to cut costs or because the BC26R is more trail/offroad oriented. However, I miss it when I'm doing a brevet, which is organised on highways. On these rides, I tend to point the light down towards the road to avoid being a d*** to other road users.
Not as compact or lightweight
There's no getting around it. The BC26R is not as light or small as other proprietary battery lights. But given the fact that it chooses a user-replaceable, standard battery size, I'm happy with this tradeoff. Though, it might bother road cyclists, who are looking for the most lightweight alternative.
It is not often that I come across a mass-produced product that feels like it is custom-made for my cycling style i.e. randonneur, gravel cyclist and bike packer. While there are numerous lights out there for road cyclists and mountain bikers which are lighter or have a higher lumen output, there are few products that satisfy the need of an endurance cyclist. The Fenix BC26R combines exceptional build quality with long run times and a standard yet replaceable battery. These characteristics make this light future-proof because I can swap out the battery when the old one starts getting long in the tooth. As a bicycle gear reviewer, I am notoriously hard to please, but with the BC26R, count me impressed. The Fenix BC26R is the best bike accessory I've used in 2022. It deserves 5 out of 5 Lamas.
Fenix BC26R Specs
- Luminus SST40 LED
- Rechargeable Battery included
- Quick Release Design
- Turbo: 1600 Lumens, 3.5 hours, 554 ft
- High: 600 Lumens, 9.5 hours, 331 ft
- Med: 200 Lumens, 18 hours, 187 ft
- Low: 50 Lumens, 65 hours, 91 ft
- Flash: 600 Lumens
- Single switch design
- USB Type-C Charging
- IP68 Waterproof rating
- Intelligent Memory Circuit
- 100° Wide angle reflector lens
- Battery Level Indicator
- Length: 4.45"
- Width: 1.14"
- Diameter: 1.06"
- Weight: 154 grams (Including battery)
About Bharat Singh Bhadwal
A scientist carving a sustainable living in the Himalaya. Loves ultralight hiking, gravel riding and bikepacking. Has ridden across 23 countries in 4 continents. Does in-depth real-world bicycle gear reviews and Co-founder for GearLama.