With all the bike lights available, how do you pick the best bike lights? Here’s a complete guide to getting the best bike lights at the best price. After all, the most important thing for cyclists is to make sure we can be seen by motorists. The second most important thing is to make sure we can see where we are going. Both of these are vital for safety, which is why I so strongly believe that bike lights are the best thing cyclists can spend your money on (apart from bikes, of course!). The question is, how to choose the best bike lights for your money, with such a vast choice available?
Categories of Bike Lights
Bike lights are designed for two main categories:
- bike lights to use on mountain bikes on mountains and trails; and
- bike lights to use on the road.
These two kinds of bike lights are very different. So start by deciding which type of bike light you need. For most commuters, you want lights designed for use on roads, not mountains. Road/commuter bike lights are cheaper than mountain bike lights.
Important Points to Consider when Choosing the Best Bike Lights
- Power (measured in lumens): the Lumen is the unit for measuring brightness, now that Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) are standard. But while 3,000 lumens is ultra-bright when focused in a laser-like beam, it becomes less bright once it is diffused into a wide angle beam. So you have to factor in breadth of beam as well as power when assessing the brightness of bike lights.
- Breadth of beam: many bike lights are focused to a laser sharp spot so that motorists can see your flashing white light coming for a mile or two. That’s great. But you also need to be able to see your way clearly. So I use two lights – a smaller, sharply-focused, flashing bright light so that others can see me; and a more broadly-focused, bigger light that enables me to see the road ahead
- Battery life
- How easy it is to recharge the batteries: it is best to aim for USB rechargeable batteries
- Side visibility: bike lights that can be seen from the side as well are preferable
- Weight: obviously, on a bike, lightweight is good
- How easy they are to take on and take off your bike – always check this. This should not require a screwdriver!
Front Lights for Road/Commuter Bikes
The Lumintrail Headlight
This is the best headlight I have ever had. It’s almost as good as a car headlight, and makes me feel really safe. I would never cycle at night without it. Once when I forgot to charge it, I took the bus!
When I see motorists who look threatening, I just shine the light in their direction, and they always stop. (For all they know, I might be a motorcyclist, and might make a very big dent in their car.) You can also mount this headlight on your handlebars with amazing ease. In fact, I LOVE this light and have devoted an entire post to a review of the Lumintrail Headlight, here.
The Serfas E-Lume 450 Headlight
Another light so good that it has its own review – which you can see here. I like this light so much that I bought Mrs. Average Joe Cyclist one for Christmas (and some other stuff too – I may be a lot of things, but I’m not cheap!)
The CatEye Econom Head Light
CatEye Econom Head Light Rechargeable HL-EL340RC CatEye is a brand known for quality, which is obviously what you want from something that could save your life.
This front light is powerful enough that you can ride fast, while not being too horrible for oncoming cyclists or pedestrians. A nice plus is the little side lights that improve side visibility. You can buy these from from Amazon for less than $50. It’s cheaper than the Serfas light and the Lumin light, but then it’s not nearly as bright as them. You get what you pay for. For the price, it’s a good light.
Rear Lights for Road/Commuter Bikes
Serfas Thunderbolt (UTL-6) bike taillight
A star is born! This is a great new taillight – very small, inexpensive (less than $40) – that attaches with silicone stays to pretty much any part of your bike. I move it from bike to bike, so I only need one great taillight for three bikes. Read my full review here.
Cateye Rapid 3 rear bike light
This rear light gives great visibility without completely blinding those behind you. A nice feature is that it switches back on in the mode in which you turned it off. This will be a relief to all those who get irritated cycling through their light options every morning, trying to find the one and only mode that they use. Run time is up to three hours on constant, 80 in flashing and 20 hours in rapid mode. It attaches via the new Cateye FlexTight bracket, making mounting and taking it off easy. At less than $20, this light is a great buy.
1W Portland Design Works Radbot 1000
Mountain Bike Lights
These bike lights are all about extreme lighting power, so that you don’t break your neck on a dark log on an unlit trail. Because you need so much illumination, these bad boys are NOT cheap. Personally I will save my trail riding for the day time, but if you want to ride the trails at night and have the big bucks to finance it, here are some options.
Front Lights for Mountain Bikes
The NiteRider Pro 1800 LED Rechargeable HeadLight with Li-Ion Battery is very a respected light that claims to be like having your own miniature sun, and to be the brightest bike lights ever constructed, producing 1,800 lumens with the highest performing Cree LEDs available. It is also complete customizable and comes with both helmet and bar mounts. Reviews of this light affirm that the light is the brightest you can find.
Light & Motion Seca 2200 Ultra Bike Light
The Seca 2200 Ultra Bike Light claims to be like a floodlight and to be one of the brightest bike lights ever made, and to have a long battery life. Reviewers love it for turning night into day, and point out that it is made in the USA!
It is not cheap, but it is not average, either. Reviewers point out that it includes “a very high quality reflector to efficiently direct and sculpt the beam pattern to maximize light output;” and at night on the trails it’s like riding in a bubble of sunlight. The battery pack is big and unwieldy, but the consensus seems to be that this is the best light for your bucks. You could use it to do an all-night endurance race.
Rear Lights for Mountain Bikes
For obvious reasons, it is less necessary to be seen from the rear when you are cycling on a dark mountain than when you are whizzing down a dark highway. Therefore, any good rear light will do.
Other Great Ways to be Seen on Your Bike
Reelight SL120 bike lights (reviewed in detail here) are a pair of front and back bike lights, powered by electrodynamic induction. This basically means that power is generated as your bike moves, by a pair of spoke-mounted magnets passing over a copper coil (inside the light unit). Once you have them mounted, they are always on. You don’t have to remember to keep the batteries charged, or even to switch them on. As long as you’re moving, your Reelight SL120 lights are on. Note that they are not bright enough ON THEIR OWN (in my opinion) for you to be safe from cars. Pair them up with another set of lights, and you’re golden. They are just great as backup lights that are always on.
MonkeyLectric Bike Lights
I am a great fan of MonkeyLectric bike lights, reviewed here. They enable you to be seen from miles around. They are especially good for side visibility, which is often neglected, but they are also clearly visible from behind and in front. And they’re cheap to run too, not to mention cheerful!
A set of MonkeyLectric Lights consists of 32 tiny, full-colour LED lights (or 10 if you buy the cheaper version), mounted on a flat, boot-shaped piece of plastic which fits perfectly and easily onto the spokes of a bike wheel. I love mine, and wouldn’t do a winter night time ride without them. I have now bought a set for all three of my bikes, as the price has gone down to around $60 per set. I often get people coming up to me to compliment me on the lights, and ask me where I got them. And the other day I cycled past a small boy who stared at me with open-mouthed admiration. As I went past I heard him yelling, “Wow, cool!!!” Not a bad thing to hear from a kid when you’re over 40 (trust me, I never hear it when I’m not on a bike).
Best of all: they are incredibly robust and just last forever – years and years, through rain, snow, and sleet!
We hope this guide is useful for you, and will help you find the best bike lights for you!
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