How to Choose Bike Lights

Lester Perry | Mon 3rd Aug 2020 04:20

If you are riding a bike in winter or after dark, bike lights are essential. But, without trying them out it can be hard to know what to choose. So, we've put together a list of our lights for 2020 with a handy comparison tool so you can visualise light output. See how bright the lights really are and see our recommendations.

Don’t be “that person”, we’ve all seen them while out and about, from a distance you’re not quite sure if it’s a cyclist, but as you get much closer it’s apparent that yes, it’s a cyclist. If they’d have had good lights on their bike you’d have seen them from much further away, allowing more time to avoid them and giving them more room as you pass.

Lights on your bike serve two purposes, one is for other road users to see you, and the other is so you can see where you’re going. Depending where you’re riding your lighting needs may differ.

In NZ, by law if you’re riding on the road at night the minimum requirement is a White or Yellow front light, and a Red rear light. These lights need to be visible from a minimum of 200 meters and can be fixed or flashing. Fortunately these days any decent light easily surpasses the 200 meter rule, with many now visible over a kilometer away.

Light Comparison Tool

Select a light from each drop down menu to compare light output

Front lights:

Front lights are available in two main types, one has an internal battery, and the other an external battery. Internal battery units keep the whole light compact and lightweight, but in general the battery capacity is limited compared to the external option, consequently the lumens available from the light are generally less in an internal battery style light. These days any quality light is either rechargeable via USB or a standard plug into the wall style charger, generally dependent on if the battery is internal or external. No more rifling through your drawers for some spare batteries!

The influence of technology has influenced all aspects of the humble bike light, with some units now available that can sync with your bike computer and automatically adjust their beam intensity based on speed and ride profile so you get more light when you’re riding faster while conserving battery power at slower speeds. They automatically adjust to ambient light conditions and battery capacity to extend your ride.

Rear lights:

Rear lights are vital when cycling on the road, besides being a legal requirement a flashing rear light attracts the attention of other road users. As with front lights, they’re available in a range of brightness, runtime and mounting options.

Brightness:

The most common measurement of brightness of bike lights is a “Lumen” ; this number gives a value to how much light comes out of the unit, this can be focussed into a condensed beam, or spread out over a wider one. The difference in beam intensity alters how bright the beam appears to the eye as essentially the Lumens being output are spread over the beam size.(ie smaller = brighter, larger = dimmer). Be conscious of what your needs are, as the brightest light may not actually be the best for you - perhaps a lower power but longer run time is more suitable?

Run Time:

Run time is highly varied across different light models. Depending on battery style, mode you’re using, and overall lumens, run time of your lights will vary hugely. We recommend utilising the correct mode for your situation to get the most out of your battery charge. If you’re in a well lit area there’s no need to be using the highest power mode and sap your battery unnecessarily, save the battery for when you need it most.

Mountain Biking:

When Mountain Biking we suggest a high powered, external battery style light on the handlebar with a good spread beam, coupled with a helmet mounted light with a focussed spot style beam. The combination of helmet and bar mounted lights for off road use means you’ll get a great spread of light, and be able to see obstacles regardless of where you’re riding or how technical the terrain is. If you’re looking to do a good amount of night riding, at a minimum aim for a light that has an output of 800 Lumen, we’d suggest over 1500 is ideal. Higher end lights may be supplied with a wireless remote, when mounted beside your cockpit controls you can easily adjust through lighting modes on the fly.

Road Biking:

For cycling on the road at night a light with an internal battery mounted on your handlebar will generally do the trick up front, while a red flashing unit will cover the rear. It's worth having both fixed and flashing modes on your lights to cover all scenarios. If you’re cycling in a well lit area (i.e. a city) a flashing lower powered front light will attract attention, while a quality flashing rear light is comfortably visible in both dim or lit areas. If you’re looking to do lengthy night rides consider using a lower output light with an external battery to give you a longer run time. We recommend ideally running 2 lights front and rear, this enables you to run both a fixed and flashing light front and rear for maximum visibility.

If you’re using a light with over 1000 Lumen output while on the road, it’s worth dropping down to a low power mode and pointing the beam down so as not to dazzle oncoming vehicles. Some lights are supplied with a beam that’s specifically shaped for road use, with a wide, flat beam rather than round shaped.

As much as having lights when cycling at night is vital, research shows that riding with a flashing, daylight-visible rear light is the single most effective measure a cyclist can take to increase their likelihood of standing out to drivers during the day.

Commuting:

When commuting in lit areas the most important light for you is a red coloured rear flasher, followed by a white/yellow coloured front light. When selecting a light consider your commute length and how powerful you need your lights to be (i.e. if your commute is well lit a lower powered light with longer run time may be fine). We also recommend both fixed and flashing lights front and rear for maximum visibility. Again, lights with suitable modes for use during the day are ideal.