Bike lights are increasingly becoming a very important piece of accessories to have especially when it comes to safety.
They serve 2 purposes; for you to see and be seen.
With so many models in the market today to choose from, it doesn’t come as a surprise that the most commonly asked question among cyclist is;
Which is the best bike lights to buy?
How many lumens do I need?
There are many things to consider such as the brightness levels, the number of light modes, battery life, the material used, quick-release mounting types, beam patterns, and more.
I’ll cover these in detail on this page to help you find a good a reliable bike light.
A Quick Glance : Our Favorite Bike Lights
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Things to Consider When Buying Bike Lights
Type of Cycling You Do
I’ve seen many people make this mistake during their buying process.
They go for the one with the highest lumens rating that they can afford.
While this might be the safer option to go with, it’s not always the right option and by knowing how lumens work, you might even save some money.
A higher lumens count doesn’t necessarily mean a brighter light.
Geek Tip : You don’t need lights with the HIGHEST lumens rating.
99% of manufacturers today specify the brightness in terms of Lumens, except maybe for a German company, Busch & Muller.
While there is nothing 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.
Lux vs Lumens
What’s a Lux and why is it a better interpretation of the brightness?
Imagine the car salesperson telling you that the gas tank of the car you’re buying is 20 gallons.
Would you know how far 20 gallons will last you?
It depends on several factors, like the engine capacity right?
Lux is the measure of a light’s intensity and it affects what you see.
- Lumens : The unit used to represent the amount of light, aka brightness emitted by a single source.
- Lux : The unit used to measure the amount of light in a specific area, a certain distance from the source. In other words, it’s a measure of the light’s intensity.
- Beam Angle : The coverage of the light beam in front of you. A higher beam angle results in a diffused beam pattern (lower lux), while a lower beam angle results in a focused beam pattern (higher lux). A beam angle of around 20 to 30º is what you should be looking for.
Headlight Visibility Range
Like I mentioned in the section above, most bike light manufacturers specify the brightness in lumens.
Take 2 different lights with the same amount of lumens and their visibility range could differ.
It all depends on whether the light beam’s patterns, narrow or wide.
Geek Tip : For a headlight where you can clearly see 40-50 feet in front, the lumens count usually falls somewhere between 300 to 500 lumens.
How Fast Do You Usually Ride?
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.
The slideshow below shows you the changes in light coverage as the lux reading goes up. Photos credit to Busch & Muller.
Types of Bulbs (LED vs non LED)
Did you notice that most bike lights in the market today use LED or Light Emitting Diodes?
Well, there’s a reason for that.
- Energy Efficient : High-quality LED lights are 80-90% more energy-efficient than traditional light bulbs which means that you’ll have longer battery life.
- Less Heat : Up to 95% of the energy in LED lights is converted to light and only around 5% is wasted as heat. Compared to traditional bulbs, which does the exact opposite – 95% into heat and 5% into light!
- Longer Durability : LED lights are generally don’t burn out or simply fail. Over time, they experience what industry experts call lumens depreciation, whereby its brightness gradually decreases.
- Light Direction : LED emits lights in a specific direction. This property of LED enables bike light manufacturers to accurately control the light beams to shine to where matters most.
Now I don’t see any reason why you should even consider non LED bike lights!
Geek Tip : Go for LED bicycle lights as they’re small, energy efficient and last forever (well, almost).
Number of Lighting Modes
Most bike headlights these days come with at least 4 modes; the standard High, Medium, Low, and Flash mode.
Some go as high as 7 like the Exposure Lights Sirius.
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 light modes.
It’s important that you buy headlights with Flash/Strobe mode.
Most headlights today have them. But for some strange reasons, there are still lights without them.
Geek Tip : You don’t need a bike light with the most number of light modes.
You can still find bike lights using disposable AAA batteries today in the market.
For a longer battery life and durability, I’d recommend going with USB rechargeable batteries. Most USB rechargeable lights either use the Lithium-Ion (Li-Ion) or Lithium Polymer (Li-Pro) batteries today as they are lighter, smaller, and have much more capacity.
You’ll be provided with a micro USB out from the box when you purchase.
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.
- For the same weight, Lithium-based batteries hold more charge.
- For the same volume, Lithium-based batteries hold more charge.
Battery size, capacity, and life are relatively proportional. Longer battery life would require a larger battery capacity and hence a larger size.
That’s the reason why lights with above 1000 lumens come with a separate rechargeable battery pack. Another reason is to avoid the battery pack overheating the entire light body.
What’s considered a good battery life?
Some lights like the Cygolite Expilion 850 takes things up a notch with a user-replaceable rechargeable battery. With this, you can have the option of carrying a spare rechargeable battery if you forgot to charge.
Geek Tip : You don’t need a bike light with the most number of light modes.
Handlebar Mounting Options
With most bicycle lights today, the 2 most popular mounting options 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.
On Top of the Handlebars
- Pros : Easy access to the buttons, to adjust the tilt, and to tighten the straps
- Cons : Crammed cockpit, especially on narrower handlebars below 40 cm wide
Below the Bike Computer Unit
It certainly looks better with this but it does come with a downside; it’s harder to access the light and buttons while riding.
- Pros : Very clean cockpit look as the light is out of your sight
- Cons : Buttons are not that easily accessible while you’re riding
Read More :
In Front of the Handlebars
Knog came up with a creative way of mounting the light which gives you the best of both worlds. One such example is the Knog Blinder Mob.
- Pros : Clean cockpit look
- Cons : Handlebars might be a little cramped if you’re using a narrow one below 40cm
Budget Bike Lights
Knog PWR Road 450
The PWR is Knog’s latest addition to their already solid lineup of bike lights.
With the PWR Rider, not only you’ll get 600 lumens of light output, but you’ll also get a power bank to go with it. That’s why it’s called PWR to begin with.
The battery pack can be used to power the headlight as well as charge all your other electronic devices while riding. To put things in perspective, you can charge an iPhone7 from flat to 50% and do an hour of riding at 600 lumens.
Best of all, you can program the light modes to suit your needs through their ModeMaker app.
Light and Motion Urban 700
The Light and Motion Urban 700 is the smaller version of the popular Urban 900 which is available with the rear light, in a combo light set.
The only significant difference between the 2 models is the brightness level. At 700 lumens, it’s ideal for everyday riding through well-lit streets.
Other than that, you still get all the good stuff Light and Motion is well known for; FL-1 certified, CREE LED, and a durable, waterproof body but at a lower price point.
Lezyne Micro Drive 600XL
Don’t be fooled by this small and compact headlight. It’s seriously bright for its size at 600 lumens.
Couple this with the Enhanced Maximum Optical Reflection lens, you’ll get built-in side visibility which is important for riding around urban areas.
If you’re particular about colors, there’s good news for you. There’s a silver color model besides the standard black to choose from.
Lights for Daytime Riding
Specialized Stix Elite 2
The best cycling lights will allow you to see and be seen. The Stix Elite 2 does a great job of both. This light includes a night and day mode, with enough brightness for you to be seen, whether it’s day or night.
The two headlight system puts out up to 200 lumens with 2.5 to 112 hours running time depending on brightness mode. Two stead beam modes allow you to light your way depending on light conditions, while flash modes maximize your visibility to motorists.
A battery indicator lets you know when your batteries are near the end of their life. The light plugs directly into a USB port for charging with no need to keep up with a cord.
The Femto is one of the latest compact lights from Lezyne, taking over from the hugely popular Lezyne Zecto. If you’ve been following Lezyne, you’ll know that they manufacture some of the best cycling accessories today.
This compact bike light has a maximum brightness of only 15 lumens, making it only suitable for daytime riding. Choose from 5 different light outputs and you’re set to go.
If you ride a lot in urban areas, you’ll like their Wide Angle Optics lens which provides a 270° of visibility. Couple that with 20 hours of use time and a USB rechargeable battery, this is a handy light for commuters.
Knog Blinder Mob Kid Grid
The Kid Grid is part of Knog’s Blinder Mob’s headlight line up.
What’s unique about the Kid Grid is it uses 16 Surface Mounted LED lights that produce 80 lumens at its maximum brightness. It comes with 5 light different modes which you can toggle between Steady High, Steady Low, Strobe, Fancy Flash, Eco Flash.
Another unique feature is its cable-free charging, where you can insert the light directly into a female USB charging cable.
Smart Bike Lights
Garmin Varia UT800
The Varia signifies Garmin’s entry into the bike front light market.
It comes with 800 lumens and 4 lighting modes – high, low, flashing, and auto. Being an intelligent headlight, it pairs with the Garmin Edge computers, allowing it to adjust the light beam pattern according to your speed.
The faster your speed is, the farther away it shines and vice versa.
The unique thing bout the Fly12 is it combines a headlight with an HD bike camera.
The ultra wide-angle camera (135˚ field of view) records audio and video at full HD at 1080p, 60fps. It also has a High Dynamic Range (HDR) option which allows you to record videos with amazing clarity under difficult conditions.
It can connect automatically when connected to the Garmin Edge computers via ANT+, or to your smartphone via Bluetooth.
The CycliqPlus software allows you to seamlessly overlay ride data (speed, HR, power, etc) onto the videos for quick sharing.
Exposure Lights Sirius MK8
The Sirius is a great looking headlight from the British brand, Exposure Lights. It’s now in its 8th iteration (hence the MK8), so you can be sure that a lot of work has been done to improve it based on the cyclists’ feedbacks.
Its body is constructed from an anodized aluminum casing, making it very durable. At full power, the single CREE shines at 750 lumens, but with a shorter burn time of 1.5 hours. As you tone down the brightness, the burn time increases up to 36 hours for flashing mode.
There are altogether 7 modes for you to choose from including High, Medium, Low, Flashing, and Day Bright which is useful to ensure you’re seen by other road users while riding during the day.
Lights for Night Riding
NiteRider Lumina Pro OLED 1100
A premium, super-bright headlight by NiteRider with an OLED display on the top.
The multifunctional display on the NiteRider Lumina has a built-in battery indicator that shows you exactly how much battery is left in percentage and estimated run times so you don’t have to worry about running out of battery juice again.
This light is powered by the industry-leading CREE LED lights with a wide beam pattern.
Specialized Flux 1250
When you’re riding at night, you need maximum visibility, and that’s what you get with the Flux 1250, which offers enough brightness to light the way. It features six settings ranging from very low to steady high, allowing for plenty of versatility to meet a wide variety of light conditions.
It also includes a daytime flash setting for visibility in light. Battery run time varies from 20 hours for the flash setting to 1.5 hours at the highest setting with the Flux 1250’s 3400 mAh lithium-ion battery. With an IPX7 waterproof rating, this light will hold up to the wettest weather.
The Flux 1250 attaches to your handlebars with a quick-release bar mount.
Cygolite Metro Pro 1100
This Cygolite Metro Pro 1100 high-end bike front light from Cygolite is the first to exceed 1000 lumens with a single LED which is quite an achievement itself.
At 1100 lumens, the Cygolite Metro Pro is suitable for both on and off-road riding. There are 9 lighting modes to choose from; more than enough to cover all your riding needs.
The unique thing about Cygolite is the SteadyPulse mode where the LED light shines a solid beam pattern and a pulse simultaneously to alert oncoming vehicles.
Frequently Asked Questions
In the preceding section, I tried to cover as much as possible, but there are a few particularly common questions cyclists have about bike lights.
I’ll address them below.
How many lumens do I need for road cycling?
If you’re riding mostly along unlit bike paths, then you can go up to 800 lumens such as the Exposure Lights Sirius.
As I’ve mentioned above, you don’t need the highest lumens for 2 very simple reasons. If you’re riding on the road, you could risk blinding the oncoming cars.
Secondly, running on the brightest mode will significantly shorten the battery life.
Is it illegal to ride without lights at night?
Depending on where you’re located, it can be against the law to ride your bike without lights at night.
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.
For safety and visibility purposes, I strongly recommend you to use one.
What are CREE LED?
CREE LED lights are manufactured by an American company, CREE who is the industry leader in LED lighting.
It was started back in 1987 in North Carolina. Today, CREE manufactures top-quality lights and they are widely used indoor, outdoors, and in LED lights.