Before we jump into the details, here's an interesting fact:
When it comes to using lights while riding, be it day or night, there's no debate about it.
So the question becomes:
Read on as I'll share with you what to look out.
In case that you're unaware, there are local laws in every state in the U.S. that regulates how bicycle lighting are used. There are also similar laws in Britain and Germany.
While each state might have a subtle difference between them, it's generally accepted that you should have both active and passive lighting on your bike.
Active lighting refers to the usage of bike lights, both a headlight and tail light.
Passive lighting refers to the presence of reflectors mounted on the bike.
Alternatively, you can also check your local bike club's website for the specific law in your respective states.
Most bike lights from reputable brands these days usually comply with the law's requirements. So let's put that aside and jump in the other important details.
When it comes to buying the right bike lights, you really need to ask yourself this:
For headlights, here's what we would recommend:
For taillights, here's what I would recommend:
Did you notice that most bike lights in the market today use LED (Light Emitting Diodes)?
Well, there's a reason for that.
Having said all the above, I don't see any reason why you should even consider non-LED bike lights!
Believe it or not: You don't really need a light with the highest number of lumens.
Let me tell you why below.
99% of bike light manufacturers today specify the brightness in terms of Lumens, except maybe for the German company, Busch & Muller.
While there is nothing inherently wrong with using Lumens, there is another way to do it, which is better but less talked about.
Let me introduce you to the term Lux.
So what's a Lux and why is it better interpretation of the brightness?
Imagine the car salesperson telling you that the gas tank of the new car you're buying is 20 gallons. Would you know how far 20 gallons will last you? It depends on the engine capacity right?
Like I mentioned in the section above, most light manufacturers specify the brightness in lumens.
Take 2 different set of lights with the same amount of lumens and their visibility range could differ. It all depends on whether the light beams are narrow or wide.
A general rule of thumb:
For a headlight where you can clearly see 40-50 feet in front, the lumens count falls somewhere between 300 to 500 lumens. I wouldn't suggest going for anything below 300 lumens.
Let's assume for a second that you ride at 15mph and using a light with 50 feet of clear visibility.
With that, you'll have around 2.27s of reaction time. That's just about enough time for you to react to any hazards in front.
If you ride faster at 20mph with the same light, your reaction time reduces dramatically to 1.7s. That's just slightly longer than a blink of an eye.
Scroll through the tabs below to see how the difference in lux affects your visibility.
Source: Busch & Muller
Most bike headlights these days comes with at least 4 modes; the standard High, Medium, Low and Flash mode. Some goes as high as 10+ like the Knog Blinder Arc 400.
From my experience, it doesn't matter how many modes are there. It's just a numbers game for the manufacturers to look better than their competitors.
What's more important is how you use the the light modes.
It's important that you buy headlights with Flash/Strobe function. Most headlights today have them, but for some unknown reasons, there are still lights without.
The 2 most popular methods are using straps mounts and clamp mounts.
When it comes to mounting locations, there are various options available, depending on the design of the light.
The Old-Fashioned Way: On top of your handlebar.
Most bicycle lights are still designed to be mounted on top of the handlebars as its the most straightforward way.
The Pro Way: Below your GPS mount.
It certainly looks better with this but it does come with a downside; it's harder to access the light and buttons while riding.
The New Way: In front of the handlebars.
Knog came up with a creative way of mounting the light which gives you the best of both worlds.
You can still find bike lights using disposable alkaline batteries today in the market.
For a longer battery life and durability, I'd you go with rechargeable batteries. Most bike lights either use the Lithium Ion (Li-Ion) or Lithium Polymer (Li-Pro) batteries today as they are lighter, smaller and has much more capacity.
There were major advancement made in lithium batteries in the past 5 years so it's just not worth the effort to keep replacing batteries, especially if you use the bike lights on a daily basis.
The chart above shows why Lithium based batteries are preferred, especially for small electronic devices.
Size, battery capacity and battery life are relatively proportional. A longer battery life would require a larger battery capacity and hence a larger size.
That's the reason why lights with above 1000 lumens comes with a separate battery pack. Another reason is to avoid the battery overheating the entire light body.
So what's considered a good battery life?
Almost all reputable brands published their battery life based on its various light modes. Some even have battery life indicator to show you how much battery life is left for you.
Some lights like the Cygolite Expilion 850 takes things up a notch with a user replaceable battery. You can have the option of carrying a spare if you forgot to charge.
I've made a simple 5 Point Checklist below to guide you in your decision making process for your next set of bicycle lights.
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