How to Choose Series [5] Bike Lights

I hate to say it, but the evenings are getting quite darker a little early. The clocks have gone back so the days are getting shorter. Commuting to work through a dusky greyness and back in the dark makes it difficult to see and be seen. If you’re out riding home late or cycling early, it is definitely time to start using your bike lights again. If you are wondering what type to buy, here’s a guide on how to choose from the dizzying array available to buy.

My first experience with bike lights was a few years ago when I pedalled through all types of terrain at the countryside. We would ride through the night on our brand new mountain bikes and would need strong lighting. My choice back then was a cheap name that that held 2 batteries, weighted a ton, and turned off in just one hour. I learned my lesson.

Two weeks ago I ran a 100k for charity and needed reliable bike lights for my aid team which was on bicycles. I suggested them to buy VARTA bike lights, which cost £25.69 (roughly $40). They worked great.

The best bike lights

Why Use Bike Lights

Bike lights are there to help you see ahead of you, and depending on where and when you ride – bike lights are there to help you be seen.

If you have been riding out during evenings in winter, particularly in suburban or urban areas, you will know how invisible a cyclist or pedestrian with absolutely no reflectives and lights is.

The Law

We all know this. It’s not only about safety; it’s actually the law. Here’s what is says.

  • Have working lights that are in good condition.
  • Have a flashing or steady white front light that is facing frontwards and visible from the front.
  • Have a flashing or steady red rear light that is facing backwards and visible from the rear.
  • Have lights turned on when anytime you’re cycling in darkness.

Know that the police can stop you in case that you ride in the dark without bike lights. Of course, the law is different in the US and the UK, but is basically the same thing – it starts with a telling off and can escalate up through a fixed penalty notice with an order to buy lights.

Types of Bike Lights

As I already mentioned, well-lit bicycles should have front, side and rear lights to ensure proper visibility. For riding or commuting after dark on roads with no ambient lights you need a high-output lighting system for increased safety.

High-output lights: They offer powerful illumination and are rechargeable (latest models). Perfect for all conditions, higher priced, yet they offer more brightness than safety and backup lights.

Front, side and rear safety lighting systems: They help you be seen in low light conditions. Go for the bright ones – they will also enhance visibility in daytime. However, don’t opt only for safety lights as they don’t offer enough brightness for proper visibility. Key differences between safety bike lights include: the number of LEDs, mounting options, and whether they feature disposable or rechargeable batteries.

Main Lights

The high-output lights you will be using on your bicycle. You will find a wide variety of models on the market, but usually higher priced options have better batteries and improved brightness. From my experience, expect to spend about £28-£30 (about $43-$48) on a good set.

The main lights usually take disposable (a few flat 2032 or AA, AAA) or rechargeable batteries.

Most high-output lights have a plastic bracket and you attach it to the frame.

Best for: Riding in suburban and urban areas, commuting

Not great for: Lighting up the street or trail ahead when there are no ambient sources, unless you choose a higher priced product.

Notable brands: Blackburn, Cateye, Varta, Smart

 Main bike lights

Backup Lights

The small two LED lights. They can be rechargeable or battery powered. Backup lights are attached with a rubber strap, so they are quite easy to handle and move them between steeds, and they are extremely easy to take off and on when you stop.

Best for: Putting them in your pocket or bag just in case that you stay out more than intended. Great in case that your main bike lights fail, or just need some additional visibility.

Not great for: Brightness. Not as visible as main lights, so I don’t advise using backup lights as your ONLY light system.

Notable brands: Bontrager, Knog, Niterider

 bike backup lights

Off-road Lights

Perfect when riding a MTB on the country lanes in darkness, or for cycling on trails with no lighting. This is the brilliant light system that will actually light up your way.

Know that these batteries last only a few hours between charges and usually take a USB charger. Pay attention using them in town – you probably don’t want to dazzle the drivers. Most off-road lights come with different brightness settings, so don’t forget to keep them on a lower level on road – this will save battery power, too.

Best for: Proper visibility on trails or roads, ie for unlit country lanes or off-road riding.

Not great for: Rides longer than a couple of hours. Urban roads where the high output could disturb oncoming drivers.

Notable brands: Exposure, Lezyne, Hope

 bike off-road lights

Helmet Lights

There are a few manufacturers that have recently started producing lights designed to be attached to helmets.

These helmet lights can be rear or front lights only, or a set-up that actually combines both.

Great for: Extra visibility around the city, or extra illumination on the trail.

Not great when: Forgetting about bike lights. Don’t use them on their own, as you will not be road-legal.

Notable brands: Exposure, Topeak, Louis Garnea

 bike helmet lights

Comparing Light Performance

LEDs: Durability and energy efficiency make LEDs the most used products in this industry.

Lumens: A lumen is the standard measure of brightness. It defines the intensity of a certain lighting unit. Almost all companies provide a lumen rating. Check this one next time you purchase bike lights.

Beam pattern: In case that you commute on illuminated roads, you might want to opt for a front light with a narrow beam. On dark trails or roads, you will want to choose a wide-focus beam for enhanced peripheral vision. It is extremely difficult for cyclists to compare beam patterns, but as a general rule, for higher light output go for a higher priced model.

How to Choose Bike Lights Batteries

When you want to purchase bike lights you can choose from models thar run on rechargeable or disposable batteries.

Common rechargeable batteries include Lithium Polymer (Li-Po) and Lithium Ion (Li-Ion). These are lighter, more powerful, and smaller than disposable batteries, making them great for bike lights.

Know that most rechargeable lights take a USB cable and may even have a built-in USB connector so you do not neet a able to charge them at all.

In the next article we will discuss the best bike computers. Stay tuned!

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