We all know how important it is to be seen while riding a bike on the road. Being seen during the day is more challenging than you think if you’re not wearing a luminous bib, and let’s face it; it’s not cool to wear one of those.
Having a Bike light on during the day may seem like a ridiculous thing to do, but it’s not. Have you seen how cars, trucks, etc., now have running lights on during the day so that it’s easier to see them? You need to do the same on your bike; having a light that flashes during the day is an excellent way of ensuring that you’re seen.
Choosing the best bike light for you
Advances in lighting technology over the last decade has had a significant impact on bike lights. The invention of the LED (Light-emitting diode) has enabled bike light manufactures to produce some of the brightest lights available today.
Types of Bike Lights
External Rechargeable Battery
These types of lights have an external power pack that’s mounted on your bike somewhere. A powerpack has the potential to run two lights. Placement for the powerpack will be dependent on what you want; mine fits into the water bottle holder, other types come in a small frame bag while others mount directly onto your frame.
This system’s advantage is that you’ll get a bigger battery to run your bicycle light longer. Some designs allow you to run multiple lights from a single power pack. One downside to this system is the weight; most systems will be three times heavier than a bike light with the battery built into it.
Internal Rechargeable Battery
These types of lights have been around for quite a few years. With the advances in battery technology, they’re continually improving. These batteries tend to be Lithium-based, which gives you the same amount of energy right up until its depleted. This means that you don’t get a drop in brightness that you do with Alkaline batteries.
The battery’s size will dictate how long it lasts and is measured in milliampere-hours (mah). The longer a manufacturer says the light will last, the bigger the light.
The advantage of this type of light is the battery will last longer than your normal AA battery lights and will save you money in the long run as you don’t need to purchase any replacement batteries. One downside to this type of light is that if you forget to recharge the battery, you can’t just replace it.
PRO TIP: All batteries need to be constantly topped up once you start to use them, don’t put your light away for the summer and keep charging them at least once a month.
Replacement battery lights
These lights are becoming less common now. Personally, I wouldn’t go back to this type of light. They usually use AA batteries and while they can be Lithium rechargeable batteries, I’ve found that they don’t perform as well as the other two types of light.
An advantage of this type of light is if you carry a few spare batteries, you can replace them when they run-out. A downside is that the light will fade as the battery’s discharge. This may not be noticeable at first, but you’ll end up replacing the batteries before they’re fully discharged.
Types of Bike Light Bulbs
Traditional incandescent Bulbs
These are what the older generation grew up with, Light bulbs that have an element running through the centre of the bulb. This element then has an electrical current passed through it to heat it, which in turn produces light so that you can see from it.
This type of bulb requires a lot of power to heat the bulb, around 90% of the energy used to light the bulb is wasted heating the element. These types of bulbs aren’t energy efficient and only last a short time due to the element burning out.
Halogen bulbs work in the same way as incandescent bulbs but are around 30% more efficient and will last longer. These have a tungsten filament that’s sealed into a glass bulb filled with a mixture of inert gas and a small amount of halogen such as bromine or iodine.
While these are more efficient, you still lose a lot of energy heating the lighting element, and they’re a lot less efficient than LED lights.
LED bicycle headlights don’t technically have a bulb; they’re light-emitting diodes which are semiconductors that are coated in a protective layer. This layer is then used to focus the light in a pattern of the manufacturer’s choice.
These types of bulb are incredibly efficient and use very little electricity to power them, meaning they last a very long time. There’s also no drop off in performance with this type of bulb which is good and bad, with the other two you get a visual indication that the batteries are depleting as the light gets dimmer. This doesn’t happen with LED’s they just stop.
How bright should your bike light be?
While there’s no right or wrong answer to this question, you’ll need to take into account the conditions you’re riding in. Riding on a well-lit road or an urban city, you should look for a light between 400-800 lumens. At these level’s you don’t blind the other road users, but they can definitely see you coming.
If you’re riding off-road at night, you’ll want lights that are 1000 lumens or above to ensure you have enough light to see all the obstacles you may encounter.
The older style bulbs are measured in watts, but as stated above an LED isn’t a bulb and as measured in lumens. A lumen is a measurement of luminous flux that is calculated by the total amount of light emitted in all directions.
Lumens won’t tell you how far your bike light will light up the road ahead, for that you would need to use a lux measurement. Lux is a measurement of the total illuminance that falls onto a surface at a given distance.
Light Beam Angle
The beam angle is critical. This dictates how far your light beam will travel. Having a wide-angle on your light means that you can’t see very far in front, but this is ok if you’re riding on well-lit roads where distance isn’t an issue but making sure other road users see you is.
Having a narrow beam means that you could miss an obstacle like a car door etc. but if you’re riding off-road having a combination of both a wide and narrow beam light means that you should see all obstacles with enough time to avoid them.
Ideally, the light you choose has a feature that can vary the beam angle to suit where you’re riding. If this isn’t possible, it may mean that you require two different lights if you ride between well-lit roads and unlit areas
Light Security and Portability
The ability to easily remove your lights from your bike is a must unless you have a secure lockup for your whole bike. Most lights come with either a quick release catch or a quick release attachment where you remove everything from the bike.
If you are commuting to work, then you’ll probably have the ability to deal with any size light by placing it in your locker. However, if you have just nipped to the shops, you won’t want to be carrying around a large light.
This is where you’ll need to think carefully about what you need as there’ll be a compromise, the longer the battery life, the bigger the light will be.
However, having an internal battery will be better if you intend to carry your light compared to an external power pack. Lights that have external power packs tend to be quite a lot heavier and a lot bulkier. I’ve an external power pack that I use to ride at night on my mountain bike as I can have a brighter light to see obstacles sooner so I can take avoiding action.
However, this system isn’t something I want to be attaching and constantly removing due to the time it takes to run all the wires. It’s also very bulky even for commuting, that’s why I use a different light like the (INSERT LIGHT LINK HERE) more convenient for quick removal.
Bike Light Reviews
Garmin Varia UT800 Smart Headlight
Thanks to technology advances this light can sync with your Garmin bike computer allowing your computer to control the light for where you are. Or at least this is one of the selling points, in practice I’ve found that the computer wants to have the light on full all the time.
Normally this wouldn’t be an issue, but due to the size of the light, I then found it wouldn’t last the four hours stated. However, multiple lighting modes give you great flexibility. The high mode on 800 lumens means you’ll burn through the battery in just over an hour.
While 800 lumens are too bright cycling on well-lit roads, it really comes into its own if you’re cycling in unlit areas allowing you to avoid the obstacles that approach out of the darkness.
The build quality is as good as you would expect from Garmin equipment and comes with the ability to mount the light under an out-front aero bracket for your Garmin computer. This allows for your handlebars to stay clean; the light is securely mounted out the way and doesn’t shine on your computer screen.
Knog PWR Commuter Road Riding Light and Power bank
This light is programmable light via the mode maker app, a novel feature that allows you to tailor the light to your needs based on your cycling environment. The light also doubles up as a power bank if you wanted to use it that way as well.
The light pattern has a wide arc which is nice as you can see obstacles on the peripheral of the light. I feel this has compromised the light a little as the amount of illumination on the road was less than others on test here. That said if you combine this light with a more focused light, it works exceptionally well to give you a lot of visibility in front of you.
Upon testing the light, I found it lasted just over two hours on full power. While this isn’t massive its long enough for most commutes to work, the other modes I thought weren’t worth the effort as they’re all below 320 lumens and as such would be better as a power bank than a light in my opinion.
NiteRider Lumina 1200 Boost
I found this to be an excellent all-round light. The illumination was good; I ran it on medium when on the road as this was 550 lumens. In this setting, I found that the light only needed to be charged every 3 days. This could be down to the fact that my commute to work was only 28 minutes each way.
My commute did combine well-lit roads and unlit gravel paths. This allowed me to utilise both the high and boost function of this light to significant effect.
The difference between the 1000 lumens and 1200 boost is noticeable, but to be honest isn’t really needed. In high mode, you’ll have plenty of light to see a reasonable distance up the path allowing enough time to avoid obstacles.
The two flashing modes utilise 1000 lumens ensuring you’re seen from a reasonable distance away.
Cycle Torch Shark 500
I think the light beam on this light is suitable for allowing you to see quite a distance up the road on full power. This is a focused beam light, while it will enable you to see what’s in front, you could miss a hazard when turning a corner.
When used in high mode at 500 lumens, I found the battery life to be poor. The manufacturer states that it should be good for an hour and a half. Testing showed it just didn’t last that long around an hour and a quarter at most.
The light attaches to your handlebar via a rubber strap. This is a quick release system and means that you take everything with you when you detach the light from your bike. You’ll get three different length straps as standard and should fit all sizes of bars.
At 800 lumens you certainly get noticed as you travel up the road if the light is on full beam constantly, you’ll be very disappointed with the battery life. The manufacturer state’s an hour and a half at 800 lumens, in reality it’s just less than an hour and a quarter.
That said on well-lit roads you only need to have it on a medium setting, and you’ll get just over three and a half hours of light. Still not the four hours stated by the manufacturer but good enough for most commutes to work.
The on-off button acts as a battery charge indicator with blue 50% or more, Yellow between 30% – 50%, and red less than 30%. When testing on full power after the switch turned red, the light turned off 8 minutes later.
When I used this light on my commute, combining well-lit roads and unlit gravel paths, I’d no trouble seeing a reasonable distance in front of me. The light has also had a new lens recently and now gives good side visibility.
LEZYNE Connect Smart Bike Light
I liked this light a lot, it’s very bright and depending on the light mode that you’ve chosen can control the tail light. That said there are way too many light modes to choose from and they aren’t grouped together in any logical sequence.
You can change the light modes by downloading and installing the Lezyne app. You even have the option to turn the light on and off via the app. I chose to just use the button as I found the app to be cumbersome when just wanting to start my commute.
I ran this light on the Blast setting quite happily as this is 500 lumens. The overdrive setting is 1000 lumens which I only used on the unlit portion of my ride. This enabled the battery to last just over five trips or two and a half days before I needed to recharge it.
The build quality of the light is good; the aluminium body of the light has a good feel to it. The only let down for me was how it fixes onto the handlebars, this fixing has a very cheap look and feel to it, I’m not sure how long the rubber attachment will last.
However, you can unscrew this from the light and attach a GoPro mount to the light, which then allows you a lot more mounting options.
Cateye Volt 500XC
The smallest and lightest I tested for this review. The light is bright at 500 lumens and does light up the road in front of you; unfortunately, the light doesn’t last long when used on full power. The size of the battery is tiny compared to the others in this review, lasting about an hour.
I found that I needed to charge this every day to use on my commute to work. If this is your only source of light and you get a puncture, then you could find that you run out of light if your commute and puncture repair time take longer than an hour.
That said this light is excellent for removing and placing in your pocket without weighing you down. The light uses a rubber band in securing to the handlebar, the rubber band shipped with the light will fit a standard bar, but if you have aero bars, you’ll need to order the extended band.
CYGOLITE Metro 1100 Pro
This light produces a good beam of light which has depth and is wide enough to light up the width of the road you’re cycling on. There are 9 lighting modes programmed on to this light, but I found that I only really needed two medium and high.
Commuting on medium, I found the light to be bright enough on the lit roads while being noticed by other road users. Switching to unlit gravel paths high beam seamed right increasing the brightness to see a reasonable distance in front to miss the obstacles around you.
Switching to boost mode made the light brighter than most of the lights here on review but comes at the expense of the battery life, which lasts less than an hour in this mode. I found that using a combination of medium and high mode, I was able to go 3 days before charging the light.
I did like the daylight flashing mode and felt that you were seen from a reasonable distance away by the other road users.
Teminice Rechargeable light
Not the brightest at 400 lumens but the outstanding feature I like about this light is that the beam angle doesn’t blind oncoming road users. The angle of the beam is such that it works very much like a car’s light on a dipped beam.
Due to the beam pattern, I found that the light on the road was excellent for seeing oncoming obstacles. I would have liked more light on the unlit gravel section of my commute but the illumination from this light was adequate to avoid all obstacles and see where you’re going.
The light is nice and light. I’d have liked the body to be made from aluminium to give it a bit more robustness. I dropped this light cracking the plastic body on the back. The light still worked, but it was no longer waterproof.
Battery life is exceptional, I only needed to charge it once a week as it lasted over 5 hours on full power. I didn’t use the second dimmed mode as I felt there wasn’t enough light for road use.
LXL rechargeable light
The most compact light on test here, I was pleasantly surprised by the compactness of the light, meaning that your handlebars are kept relatively clutter-free. The light attaches to the bar via a rubber mount that I suspect will break over time but while testing the light stayed in place securely even over bumpy terrain.
There are four lighting modes, but to be honest, three aren’t good enough, in my opinion, to ride with. The only mode I used was high; I found that to be bright enough for my commute to and from work.
The battery life is impressive, considering that it only has a stated 500mah internal battery. I needed to recharge the light after two hours of use on high, which equated to 2 days of commuting. With such a small battery, charging takes a couple of hours before its ready to go again.
Cycling Ambition Recommendation
If you’re after combining your light with your computer mount, I would recommend the Niterider Lumina 1200 combined with NiteRider Unisex’s K-Edge Garmin Pro XL Combo Mount. This is one of the best bicycle lights you can buy with good overall light illumination, and when you need that extra boost, it has it to give.
Best value for money light is the CatEye Ampp 800 the midrange price combines with the excellent build quality and the superb light coverage you really can’t go wrong with this light.